Why Do Plants Grow Food?

We take for granted that most of our food grows straight from nature. Everything we eat comes from nature in one way or another. 

Even the most processed foods include ingredients grown and discovered here on earth. The most natural foods come from plants, though. Plants yield a variety of food for people to eat, such as:

  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables
  • Seeds 
  • Nuts
  • Legumes

The byproducts of those foods and the myriad combinations provide a kaleidoscopic world of cuisine. People can enjoy and refine their taste, sneak guilty-pleasure sweets, or diet to regain health. 

All of this is possible through the contributions of plants. Even the meat we eat needs plants to grow and thrive. 

Why do plants grow food, though, and how does it all work? Let’s take a look.

Vegetables growing down from plants above

Why Do Plants Grow Fruits?

So, why do measly plants produce some of the most enjoyable and valuable substances on the planet? 

The answer lies in evolution and the ability to spread seeds. 

Here’s a three-sentence crash course on evolution: all life has developed over billions of years. As generations pass their genes forward, adaptive mutations occur. When new genes are better for survival and reproduction, they are passed to the next generation. 

The result? The diversity of life here on earth!

Fruits carry the seeds of the plant from which they grew. There are millions of ways for plants to spread seeds, but one method is to attract animals who swallow the seed and transport it through their digestive systems. 

Animals that eat fruit don’t typically digest the seeds. They enjoy the sugary taste and nutrition of the fruit, but the seed is just a passenger. 

When the undigested seed exits the other side, it’s usually far away from the original plant. This fertilized seed now has an opportunity to grow in a brand new location.

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A Human Example

Take humans, for example. We evolved by eating fruits, nuts, and seeds. They’re so important that fruit is an essential part of a healthy diet. 

We don’t digest all of those seeds, however. Before we had sewage, those seeds would fall wherever we went to the bathroom along with our waste, which happens to be an excellent fertilizer.  

Why Do Plants Grow Vegetables?

In many instances, vegetables serve the same purpose as fruit. They are vessels and protectors of seeds. In other instances, they serve as a source of nourishment for the rest of the plant before its leaves sprout, and the plant can perform photosynthesis.

Take the onion, for example. The bulb of the onion (the part we eat) is the source of the rest of the plant’s nourishment. Planting an onion requires a young onion plant equipped with a small bulb. Place the bulb below the soil and leave the remainder above. 

The nourishment comes from the bulb while the plant matures. You can even see this process take place in your pantry. Lose an onion for a few months, and you’ll find it sprouting different stems that can get very long. 

The plant uses the nutrients and energy from the onion bulb to fuel its regeneration. We enjoy the nourishment and flavor that those nutrients provide, so we use these plants as food. 

How Do Plants Grow and Develop?

There are thousands and thousands of different ways that plants grow. There’s a general process that we can use to describe the growth of most plants, though. All plants utilize seeds to reproduce.

Seeds grow from the plant as it matures. Some plants release seeds with each season. These seeds contain the genes of the plant they’re from. Seeds instinctually go dormant or inactive when the conditions aren’t ideal for growth. 

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Those conditions are water, temperature, and light. The process is “germination.” Water enters the seed and accesses the embryo. Then, the embryo draws nutrients from within the seed to begin sprouting roots. 

Roots dig into the soil and spread out like the branches of a tree. These branches gather nutrients from the soil and feed the seed as it produces a “shoot.”

The shoot grows upward and sprouts above the soil, gathering nutrients from sunlight through the process of photosynthesis. 

Photosynthesis is when a plant gathers sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water and transforms those into energy that can be stored and used. 

Why Do Plants Want To Grow?

The jury is still out on the level of intelligence that plants possess. Plants are sophisticated beyond human understanding in some cases. We might not be able to determine exactly why plants “want” to grow, but we know they have the instinct to do so. 

The ability and drive to stay alive are written in the DNA of plants (and all other species). Reproduction and the ability to live are two of the essential factors that must exist in a species. If those factors weren’t there, the species would cease to exist. 

We might imagine that plants “want” to grow because their genes command them to do so. We could also say that they’re striving to achieve their purpose of reproduction and pass their genes on to the next generation. 

You could look inward and ask yourself why you want to grow. Do you know? Is there a clear answer for your life’s purpose? How about the purpose of life for dogs, cats, bees, ants, or mushrooms? 

Multiply those questions by about 375,000, which is the current number of documented vascular plant species. It’s sort of impossible to know why plants would want to grow, but we should be very thankful they do!

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Biological Needs for Plants To Grow

In a less philosophical sense, plants want to grow because their biology requires it of them. 

Plants have developed with the need to grow and reproduce. They usually produce seeds or fruit when they reach full maturity, which they need to grow to achieve reproduction. 

If a plant doesn’t have space to grow, it probably won’t. If it does grow, it will grow in ways that aren’t optimal for survival or reproduction. 

Some plants that grow in the dark grow taller than they normally would because they are searching for a light source. The sprouted plant reaches out and up, continuing until it finds a source of light. 

If it never reaches that light source, it doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to support itself. The result is that the plant tips over and dies. 

In that sense, you could say that a plant wants to grow to get closer to the sun. It wants to move toward its food source, so it grows. 

Do Plants Make Food in Their Green Leaves?

The green leaves of plants are integral for them to make food. 

Photosynthesis requires something called “chloroplast.” Chloroplast contains a chemical structure called “chlorophyll.” Chlorophyll serves plants by trapping energy from sunlight and transforming it into chemical energy. 

The plant uses that chemical energy to conduct cells, produce more cells, reproduce, and carry on its general way of life. Chlorophyll happens to be the thing that makes leaves and stems green!

That means that plants do make food in their green leaves, and their “green-ness” is very important.