Climate Change is Transforming How Plants Grow

Image: Gilberto Olimpio/Pexels

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Contributing Writer 

Recently published research in the journals Nature and Current Biology suggest that climate change is changing when and how plants grow.

Because of global warming, spring has been arriving earlier, which in turn has triggered plants to sprout ahead of schedule. These plants tend to have shorter lifespans because these early-sprouting plants suck water out of the soil at the beginning of the year, leaving a diminished supply to sustain their growth through summer and autumn.

Furthermore, a study from Current Biology found that the UV pigmentation of various flowers has changed in response to the climate crisis and the ozone crisis. Certain flowers have UV pigments that are invisible to the human eye but attract pollinators. The aforementioned environmental stressors can cause these flowers to produce more pigment — making it more difficult for pollinators to find the buds, potentially harming the flowers’ ability to propagate.

Why This Matters: Retaining a healthy flower population is crucial to keeping our food systems functioning. This is one more indication that we must take the loss of nature more seriously. Humans are dependent on nature for nearly every aspect of our lives, which is why the world must commit to protecting 30% of nature by 2030. We don’t have any time to lose!

A Compounding Issue: As the lifecycle of flowers diminishes, plants are consuming much less of the atmosphere’s CO2 than we previously thought. According to the Nature study, lower absorption of carbon by plants hinders the ability to prevent the rapid warming of our planet. 

Matthias Forkel, a co-author of the study, echoed this sentiment in a report from National Geographic: “Plants and ecosystem take up around 25 percent of the human-caused fossil fuel emissions. Another 25 percent is taken up by the ocean, and the remaining 50 percent of CO2 emissions stay in the atmosphere. If plants grow more, they take up more carbon but the effect is small, far too small to compensate for the human CO2 emissions.”

Go Deeper: The hope is that we can significantly limit our global output of carbon dioxide, but if we stay on our current high-emissions trajectory, scientists have some ideas for how an increase of CO2 in the atmosphere could make plants and humans thirstier


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