Lawn, Landscape, Garden, Medicinal Plants

Virtually all the life found on Earth needs the process of photosynthesis to survive. The process is carried out by all plants, algae, and even some forms of bacteria. The term ‘photosynthesis’ refers to the ability to capture the sunlight’s energy and then use it to produce oxygen (O2) and convert glucose (sugar) into energy. Herbivores and omnivores then eat the plants for energy and carnivores dine on the herbivores and omnivores. Basically, photosynthesis is the catalyst for the circle of life.

Understanding What is Photosynthesis

The photosynthesis process occurs when a plant takes in carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2)) from the soil and the air. The plant’s cellular system then oxidizes the water, so it loses its electrons, and the carbon dioxide is broken down, so it gains electrons. The process turns water into oxygen. Also, carbon dioxide is turned into glucose. The plant can then effectively release the oxygen and store energy within its glucose molecules.

Chlorophyll Within a Plant

Lawn, Landscape, Garden, Medicinal Plants

All plants have small organelles within their cells. The organelles are referred to as chloroplasts and they are used to create energy from the sunlight. The chloroplast has a thylakoid membrane that features a light-absorbing pigment referred to as chlorophyll. If you ever wondered what gives plants their emerald hue then chlorophyll is the answer to that question. During the process of photosynthesis, the chlorophyll starts to absorb energy from the red and blue light waves, and that energy is reflected in green light waves which is why a plant appears green.

Clearly, the above description is a simplified viewpoint and there are actually numerous steps involved in the process of photosynthesis. Basically, there are two major stages involved in photosynthesis: light-independent reactions and light-dependent reactions.

Light Dependent

The light-dependent reaction occurs within the plant’s thylakoid membrane. The process needs a steady stream of light to progress which is why it is referred to as ‘light dependent’. The chlorophyll rapidly absorbs energy obtained from light waves. It is then converted into chemical energy referred to as molecules NADPH and ATP.


The light-independent stage is referred to as the Calvin Cycle which occurs when the stroma (the void area located between the thylakoid membrane and the chloroplast membrane). This process does not require light which is why it is termed, light-independent. The energy from the NADPH and the ATP molecules quickly gather carbohydrate molecules from the carbon dioxide.

Understanding C3 and C4 Photosynthesis

There are different kinds of photosynthesis such as C3 and C4. Most plants use the C3 process which involves producing a three-carbon compound referred to as 3-phosphoglyceric. The transformation takes place during the Calvin Cycle. Eventually the 3-phosphoglyceric.goes on to become glucose. The C4 photosynthesis process creates a four-carbon intermediate compound that works by splitting into carbon dioxide. With the C4 photosynthesis process, high levels of carbon take place. Plants capable of this form of photosynthesis have adapted to survive with much less light and water.

Where is Photosynthesis in the Future?

Scientists are looking at the possibility of using photosynthetic organisms to create clean-burning fuels. At the University of Turku in Finland, a research group used green algae to manufacture hydrogen. The green algae have the capability of producing hydrogen for a few seconds when they are exposed to dark, anaerobic (oxygen-free) conditions and then taken for light exposure. The researchers formulated a way to extend the algae hydrogen production by up to three days.

Advances in artificial photosynthesis have also been achieved by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. They devised a way to create an artificial system that uses nanowires to capture carbon dioxide. The wires are only a few billionths of a meter in diameter. They effectively feed the microbe system, so they reduce carbon dioxide by using the energy of the light.

The scientist then went on to study an artificial photosynthetic system that involved engineering bacteria to create liquid fuel via the sun’s light, carbon dioxide, and water. Typically, plants can only harness around one percent of solar energy and use it to create organic compounds through the process of photosynthesis but with the scientist’s artificial system they were able to harness 10 percent of the sun’s energy to create organic compounds. Clearly, studying the natural process of photosynthesis helps to find new sources of renewable energy. To create carbon neutral and clean-burning fuels.

Photosynthesis Simplified

The process of photosynthesis basically refers to plants using the sun’s energy to create sugar and energy that the plant can use and store. The plant uses the sun to create energy to grow strong and tall. Once it reaches its full growth potential, it stores the sugar and energy. When you or an animal eats the fruit or vegetable then you become a part of the process of photosynthesis as your body uses the stored energy for its own fuel.

Needed Light Levels for Plants

Every type of plant needs different light levels.

  • Direct Light: Light streams through your west or southern-facing windows. Cactus and supplements require direct light to thrive.
  • Bright Light: This is not direct light but more of a medium-light It occurs when you place the plant right next to a window that receives no more than one hour of direct light per day. This form of light works well on plants that thrive indoors.
  • Medium Light: This form of light is obtained from when a plant is positioned about half the distance between a back wall and the window. It is bright but not direct. Palms, philodendrons, dracaenas, and other medium light-loving plants.
  • Low Light: A low light area is about 7 feet from windows and has no real natural light. Only certain plants can adapt to such situations.
  • Artificial Light: This form of light is obtained with full-spectrum lights that are designed to imitate the sun.

Are Your Plants Receiving Enough Light?

Lawn, Landscape, Garden, Medicinal Plants

If plants do not receive enough light to photosynthesize then they will fail to thrive. The leaves will start to yellow and fall from the plant. Spindly stems can also develop. A plant can also receive too much light which causes paling foliage and crispy brown edges on the foliage.

Understanding ‘what is photosynthesis’ is important because all of life relies on the process for survival. Also, gardeners need to have a basic knowledge of the process to help ensure that their plants flourish.