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How zinnias shaped a budding biologist, and other fun facts about plants

"I've always been really fascinated by plants, even from a young age," says Emory biologist Roger Deal. "Their lives are so interesting, even though they are stuck where they are born."

Deal's roots are in Columbia, South Carolina, where his father was a physician and his mother loved to garden.

"My first plants were zinnias," he recalls. "I was about 10 and my mom and I went to the garden store where I picked out a packet of seeds. You have these little dry things that look like pieces of dust. All you have to do is put them in the ground and get them wet, and then you have a whole organism. I thought, 'Wow, what an amazing life cycle! How does it work?'"

Plants go back millions of years, when the Earth's atmosphere contained very little oxygen. "Where did all that extra oxygen come from? It's a byproduct of plants," Deal says. "All the energy that we need to live also comes from plants. And they're beautiful – they're an important part of our aesthetic. We are basically tied into plants in myriad and intricate ways."

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