Flora and fauna is a phrase that is often used to describe life on earth. Broadly, the portmanteau phrase flora and fauna is used to mean ‘plants and animals’, however the meaning is something more specific than that. Let’s take a look at what each of these words means.
Flora comes from the Latin word for ‘plants’. In fact, the goddess Flora is the goddess of springtime and plants. The word flora means the plant life that grows in a specific region or a specific time.
Thus, we can talk of ‘the flora of the Neanderthal period’ or ‘the flora of the British isles’. To stress: flora does not refer in general to all plant life on earth at all times – either the time, or the region, or both, must be specifically defined.
Now we come to the question of what counts as flora. This question is slightly complicated because the Latin word flora often is used very specifically to mean flowers. So, we can say that flowers are most definitely included in the definition of flora. Trees and their fruits, grasses, and shrubs are usually included in the term flora. One key question is whether mushrooms and fungi are included. Usually, mushrooms and fungi are not included. This is because, though they look like plants they are in fact not plants. Flowers, trees, shrubs, and grasses all belong to the plant kingdom however fungi belong to their own kingdom: the fungus kingdom.
The word fauna comes from the Latin word for animals. It is interesting that a young deer is called a fawn because it comes from the same word – faun – which just means animal. Extrapolating from our definition that we have just established for the word flora, we can see that fauna specifically means the animal life of a particular region, or of a particular time period – or both. So, for example, we can speak of fauna of the mesolithic period, or fauna of Europe, or fauna of mesolithic Europe.
What counts as fauna? Well, all animal life counts as fauna. Sometimes, people use the word fauna just to refer to mammals, because they prefer to call fish and insects by separate terms. However, it is fine to refer to fish and insects as fauna. Fauna is any animal that lives in a particular region, or a particular time scale, or both. Human beings are also part of the fauna of this planet, though we do not always acknowledge this fact. When we do acknowledge it, though, we can become more aware of our interdependence with other life forms on the planet.
It is interesting to note that, like the word flora, the word fauna also comes from a Roman god. Faunus was the god of animals, and Faunus and Flora are often seen to be counterparts or lovers.
Bringing flora, fauna, fungi and more together.
Fungi are not really flora – though some people may refer to them as flora. It is worth noting that flora, fauna, and fungi are all part of a larger group which is known as biota. The word bio- as you may already know, comes from the Greek word for life. So, for example, biology is the study of living beings, and biomass is a type of fuel that was once made of organic, living matter. A biography, meanwhile is to write (Greek, graphein) somebody’s life (bio). Biota thus means all living things, and both flora and fauna belong together in the group known as biota.
Scientists often prefer to use more technical vocabulary. Another way of talking about flora and fauna and their relationship to and dependence on each other is to talk of biodiversity. As we can infer from the etymological discussion above, biodiversity simply means a diverse array of life forms. Biodiversity is under threat thanks to human activity such as intensive agriculture, pollution, and corporate greed. It is time that we sat up and took note and made a commitment to care for the biodiversity of our beautiful planet.
Scientists have said that we are living in an era known as the Anthropocene – which means the sixth mass extinction of life on earth, caused by human activity rather than (as was the case with the dinosaurs) huge meteors falling to earth. Many species are on the brink of extinction, whilst others have recently become totally lost to us forever. It is only by turning our behaviour around right now that we can stop this mass extinction event from engulfing the planet and causing the devastating and irreversible loss of so much of our precious flora and fauna.
Take care of our flora and fauna. If we stop polluting our planet, stop eating meat, stop deforesting our beautiful forests and woodlands and reforest the earth instead, consume fewer man made goods, and generally live a greener life style, we will help to protect our flora and fauna for future generations. Take steps today to ensure that all of the days that you spend on planet earth in the future help rather than harm our planet’s flora and fauna.