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WHICH IS BETTER, ARTIFICIAL OR NATURAL PLANTS?

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A few days ago I was taking a stroll within the neighbourhood just admiring the scenery and came across a seemingly beautiful sight. It was a storey building of modern architectural design, having reflective glass windows and a pitched roof. It looked like my dream house and I couldn’t help but draw closer to satisfy my fantasy.

It was the greenery of the building that appealed the most. There were plants virtually everywhere all looking green and lustre. The entrance was lined with flowered pots, the balcony upstairs had overhanging vines and the lawn was mowed to green precision. I thought to myself -“the owner must be a lover of nature”. I then proceeded to get a close-up view when I was struck with the reality. They were all artificial. Fake!

“Why would such a beautiful sight be so unreal? If only the plants were real, what a pleasant sight it would have been.” I lamented as I turned around and headed back home.

History of Artificial Plants  

The origin of artificial plants is uncertain but could be traced as far back as ancient Egypt where civilization was believed to have originated. The pharaohs were very majestic in their appearance and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs showed various plant inscriptions attributed to the pharaonic splendour. They could have been carved out of softwood, beaten out of some precious metal or designed with feathers or shells since plastics were not yet discovered then. But all the same, they were artificial and used to beautify homes and other locations.

The discovery of silk in Ancient China in about 2690 BC brought more innovation and popularity to the artificial plant industry. It is believed that the silk trade was promoted by moulding the silk into beautiful plant-like shapes before being sold by the merchants. The elite advertised the business by beautifying their homes with silk flowers while their wives decorate their hair with flowery silk patterns or simply hung them as ornaments on their bodies.  After the discovery of polyester and other plastics in the modern era, artificial plant manufacture and trade became a booming business with China still playing the lead role in that sector.

Pros and Cons of Artificial Plants

The use of artificial plants has survived all through the ages and is still gaining ground with rising population and urbanization. They have huge benefits but there are also some disadvantages. Here is a look at the Pros and Cons of artificial plants.

Advantages

  1. They don’t shed leaves and are not affected by climate. They maintain their ‘fresh’ appearance and appeal all year round.
  2. Little or no maintenance is required. They are non-living things hence no need for manure, watering, weeding or pruning.
  3. Issue of pests and other organisms that feed on plants has been ruled out
  4. Combined purchase and maintenance cost is less. A bouquet of artificial roses may just cost N5,000 in Nigeria while its natural counterpart is sold for about 3 times that amount and would only last a few days. (Exemptions are for premium-end synthetic fibre plants which are relatively expensive to purchase)
  5. They have a long life span. Given the required environmental conditions, they can last at least for at least 5-10 years.
  6. They are easily transferable and can be kept almost anywhere; indoors or outdoors, under the sunlight or in dark rooms.
  7. Being majorly plastic materials, they are non-toxic within certain limits and are safe for kids’ play zones.
  8. They do not influence ambient environmental conditions like relative humidity (This could be a disadvantage as well).
  9. They have more varieties to choose from.

Disadvantages

  1. Some, (like artificial grass) may have high purchase and installation costs.
  2. They don’t have that natural feel and look.
  3. They are non-biodegradable and difficult to reuse or recycle.
  4. They promote global warming by not being able to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as other green plants do.
  5. As they fade, they quickly lose their appeal.

 Environmental Considerations for the Use of Artificial Plants

The advantages of artificial plants for a single user far outweigh the disadvantages as shown in the list above. Most people would rather go for the artificial variant which eliminates the rigours of maintenance and has lots of varieties to choose from. But after a private space has been beautified, what impact is left on the environment and how has it helped to ensure a beautiful space for future generations?

Artificial plants are predominantly made of plastics and it is no longer news that plastics are ranked high on the list of environmental pollutants. The major reason is that plastics take ages to decompose. Thin film plastics may take up to 30 years to decompose in landfill sites whereas thicker plastic materials like water bottles may take up to 450 years to decompose. Those carelessly thrown into water bodies may take much longer to decompose.

Other materials used in making artificial plants are Polystyrene, ceramics, foam, and metal all of which have relatively the same decomposition rate as plastics. Apart from the decomposition aspect, the production of artificial plants may involve the use of Polyvinyl Chloride which is known to produce carcinogens – a cancer-causing compound. Furthermore, the production process involves the release of dangerous gases into the atmosphere like chlorofluorocarbons and carbon dioxide which contribute to global warming and climate change.

Is it Better to Use Artificial Plants Over Natural Ones?

Some proponents of artificial plants might argue that it is far better to use artificial plants than to cut down trees for decorating homes and other places. A typical example is the Christmas trees. According to the American Christmas Tree Association, over 95 million US households celebrated Christmas with a Christmas tree in 2018 of which 82 per cent were artificial.  The figures could rise exponentially when the global use of Christmas trees is considered.

Artificial Christmas trees are more expensive but come in varieties and last much longer than natural ones. On average, an artificial tree may last up to 5 years whereas the natural ones last only about 5 weeks. However, given a 7-year duration, a natural Christmas tree would have grown and produced multiple seedlings so even if it is cut down, it has left behind a forest of trees. Also, after being cut and used as a Christmas tree, it can still be recycled for other sustainable uses.

Thus, whereas an artificial tree would give desired results instantaneously, it could take 450 years to become sustainable during which the environment suffers. Conversely, a natural tree is sustainable the moment it is planted. Till it dies, it would have helped support some wildlife species and absorb harmful carbon dioxide build-up in the atmosphere. Even after death, it still has sustainable uses.

Which Would You Choose?

Until firm regulations are enforced, the choice is yours. Are you for quick gains without care or planning for the future?   Then you might find the artificial plant more appealing. But if you care for future generations and are keen on preserving a healthy environment? Please go for the natural plants. It may be tedious trying to maintain it but in effect, you are working to grow a sustainable future.

 

References:

  1. Tulsa World, ‘Pros and Cons of Real vs Fake Christmas Trees’ https://tulsaworld.com/lifestyles/home-and-garden/, accessed 23 March 2022.
  2. ‘Plastic nature: The Irony of Fake Plants in our Homes’ https://medium.com/@soniasingha/, accessed 23 March 2022.

3.         Pick your own Christmas Tree .org, ‘2022 Christmas Tree Statistics, Facts and Trends’, https://www.pickyourownchristmastree.org/, Accessed 23 March 2022.

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