Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Tale of Adaptive Landscape Management


Like most designed landscapes, the entry garden for the Landscape Architecture Facility at Mississippi State University began with a plan. Specifically, this one:

I was asked to develop a planting plan in the summer of 2005, and I decided to focus on low maintenance plants to reflect our department focus on sustainable landscapes. Students helped to install plants in 2006, which looked like this:

Most of the plants did well and adapted to the sticky clay soils and persistent summer droughts. Drip irrigation was provided for the first year and then removed. Organic mulch was added periodically and the mineral soils developed a nice thick organic layer. Other than for establishment, no supplemental watering, fertilizing, or pesticides have been used. The perennials blossomed and established a quick cover within a year's time:

The trees and woody shrubs took time to grow and changes were already happening in the herbaceous layer. Some plants died out from drought or accidental weeding while others were planted to replace them. Volunteer herbaceous plants came in from local sources-- including native strawberries, evening primrose, and asters. Volunteers can spread rapidly and take advantage of late winter seasons where there is little competition. The evening primrose gave quite a display such as this:

Student workers in the garden were trained to use adaptive landscape management which they learned under one of my co-workers, Dr. Tim Schauwecker. Adaptive management, as defined by Holling, is decision-making as changes occur via system monitoring. An example of this in the landscape consists of allowing plant volunteers to come into the garden that are complementary to the already existing plants. Student workers in the LA garden actively pulled out any exotic invasive species such as Johnson grass or privet, while allowing others to exist. Some plants that took over aggressively, such as the evening primrose, and were pulled occasionally to keep them in check.

The garden today, 12 years later after install and shown above, has settled into a comfortable, more stable, plant community. Stable in the sense that vegetative changes will and are allowed to happen but there are no large wholesale changes to the landscape. The student managers allow plants to come in if they fit into the garden niche and offer a role through flowering or by providing other benefits. Plants that grow too large, or competitive, or are not suited-- are pulled out. Gardens are partnerships between the landscape and the people that care for them. By understanding the vegetative trajectories, or seres of a garden; and by allowing complementary plants to enter into that system from birds or wind; the garden co-evolves into a community of plants that exceeds the vision of the original designers or managers. Land managers--gardeners-- are really vegetative artists and allow the colors of plants to wash into the painting/plantings. We need to recognize that gardens are temporal and that all living things change. By listening to the land and allowing living things (plants and animals) to breathe and exist within the garden structure, the landscape renews itself. Gardens should, and need to be-- dynamic, instead of a static system.

Friday, August 18, 2017

How do you sample your yard to measure for biodiversity?

You can take samples in your yard just like urban researchers do, such as those in the Ecological Homogenization of Urban America project, hosted by a team of intercollegiate scientists. Funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the project personnel are trying to understand if cities that have similar road patterns, housing areas, and similar vegetation types create a distinct urban ecology that occurs across a continent (visit the project website at Scientists from leading universities in six U.S. cities: Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Phoenix; are participating in understanding their local environment. They invite the public from that area to let them come to their residence and sample their yard. To do this, they:

  • Identify and map all of the plants that are growing there.
  • Take soil samples
  • Take measurements of atmospheric conditions such as air temperature, humidity and soil moisture content.

After a few months of sampling, they send homeowners a report of their ecological index score. If you live in those cities, contact the research team to sample for you. If you don't, you can DIY by taking your own samples to see what you have. We look forward to their results.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Urban Flora resources by country

The following literature sources were first published by Steve Clements from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens in the December 2002 online issue of Urban Habitats journal:

"Following is a list of some urban floras from around the world, in alphabetical order by city. Apparently no floras are available for 27 of the 50 most populated cities in the world, as listed by One World - Nations Online (2002) (

Beijing (China)
He, S.Y. (1992). Beijing zhi wu zhi [Flora of Beijing] (2nd ed., 2 vols.). Beijing: Beijing chu ban she: Xin hua shu dian Beijing fa xing suo fa xing.
Belfast (Northern Ireland)
Beesley, S. & Wilde, J. (1997). Urban flora of Belfast. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, University of Belfast.
Berlin (Germany)
Böcker, R., Auhagen, A., Brockmann, H., Kowarik, I., Scholz, H., Sukopp, H. & Zimmermann, F. (1991). Liste der wildwachsenden Farn- und Blütenpflanzen von Berlin (West) [List of the wild-growing ferns and flowering plants of (west) Berlin]. In A. Auhagen, R. Platen & H. Sukopp (Eds.), Rote Listen der gefährdeten Pflanzen und Tiere in Berlin 1990 [Red lists of endangered plants and animals in Berlin 1990]. Landschaftsentwicklung und Umweltforschung, 6, 57-88.
Buenos Aires (Argentina)
Guaglianone, R. (1980). Algunas hierbas espontáneas en los espacios verdes de la ciudad de Buenos Aires [Some spontaneous weeds in the green spaces of the city of Buenos Aires ]. Buenos Aires: Municipalidad de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Secretaría de Educación.
Calcutta (India)
Manilal, K.S. & Sivarajan V.V. (1982). Flora of Calicut: the flowering plants of the greater Calicut area consisting of the western sectors of Calicut and Malappuram districts. Dehra Dun: Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh.
Chicago (United States)
Swink, F. & Wilhelm, G. (1994). Plants of the Chicago region: an annotated checklist of the vascular flora of the Chicago region, with keys, notes on local distribution, ecology, and taxonomy, a system for the qualitative evaluation of plant communities, a natural division map, and a description of natural plant communities. Indianapolis: Indiana Academy of Science.
Delhi (India)
Maheshwari, J.K. (1963). The flora of Delhi. New Delhi: Council of Scientific & Industrial Research.
Dublin (Ireland)
Doogue, D., Nash, D., Parnell, J., Reynolds, S. & Wyse-Jackson, P.S. (Eds.). (1998). Flora of county Dublin. Dublin: Dublin Naturalists Field Club.
Frankfurt (Germany)
Bönsel, D., Malten, A., Wagner, S. & Zizka, G. (2001). Flora, fauna und biotoptypen von haupt- und güterbahnhof in Frankfurt am Main [Flora, fauna and biotypes of the main and freight railroad yards in Frankfurt am Main] (Kleine Senckenberg-Reihe 38). Frankfurt am Main: Senckenberg Naturforschende Gesellschaft.
Glasgow (Scotland)
Dickson, J.H. (2001). The changing flora of Glasgow: Urban and rural through the centuries. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Guangzhou (China)
Chun, W.Y. (1956). Flora Gwangchownica [Flora of Guangzhou (Canton)]. Guangzhou.
Hou, K. & Chen, H. (1956). Guangzhou zhi wu zhi [Flora of Canton]. Zhongguo ke xue yuan: Hua nan zhi wu yan jiu suo. Beijing: Ke xue chu ban she.
Helsinki (Finland)
Kurtto, A. & Helynranta, L. (1998). Helsingin kasvit. Kukkivilta kiviltä metsän syliin [Flora of Helsinki. From flowering stones to forest floor]. Helsinki: City of Helsinki Environment Centre and Helsinki University Press.
Hong Kong (China)
Hodgkiss, I.J., Thrower, S.L. &. Man, S.H. (1981). An introduction to the ecology of Hong Kong (2 vols.). Hong Kong: Federal Publications Ltd.
Thrower, S.L. (1971). Plants of Hong Kong. Hsiang-kang chih wu [Parallel English and Chinese text]. London: Longman.
Jakarta (Indonesia)
Backer, C.A. (1907). Flora van Batavia. Deel 1, Dicotyledones dialypetalae (Thalamiflorae en Disciflorae) [Flora of Batavia (Jakarta). Part 1, separate petal Dicotyledons (Thalamiflorae and Disciflorae)]. Jakarta: G. Kolff & Co. Mededeelingen Uitgaande van het Departement van Landbouw 4: 1-405.
Miquel, F.A.G. (1837). Disquisitio geographico-botanica de plantarum regni Batavi distributione [Discourse on the botanical geography of the plant kingdom distributed in Batavia (Jakarta)]. Leiden: P.H. van den Heuvell.
London (England)
Burton, R.M. (1983). Flora of the London area. London: London Natural History Society.
Los Angeles (United States)
Abrams, L. (1917). Flora of Los Angeles and vicinity. Stanford, CA : Stanford University.
Madras (India)
Barnes, E. (1938). Supplement to the Flowering plants of Madras City and its immediate neighbourhood. Madras: Superintendent, Government Press.
Mayuranathan, P.V. (1929). The flowering plants of Madras City and its immediate neighbourhood. Madras: Superintendent, Government Press.
Madrid (Spain)
López González, G.A. & López Jiménez, N. (1991-). Flora de Madrid [Flora of Madrid]. Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid:
Cutanda, V. (1861). Flora compendiada de Madrid y su provincia, ó, descripcion sucinta de las plantas vasculares que espontáneamente crecen en este territorio [A summary flora of Madrid and its province, or, a succinct description of the vascular plants that spontaneously grow in this territory]. Madrid: Imprenta Nacional.
Melbourne (Australia)
Jones, D. & Jones, B. (1999). Native plants of Melbourne and adjoining areas: a field guide. Hawthorn, Victoria: Bloomings Books.
Gray, M. & Knight, J. (Eds.). (1993). Flora of Melbourne: A guide to the indigenous plants of the greater Melbourne area (3rd ed.). Society for Growing Australian Plants Maroondah, Inc. South Melbourne, Victoria: Hyland House.
Mexico City (Mexico)
Rapoport, E., Díaz-Betancourt, M.E. & López-Moreno, I.R. (1983). Aspectos de la ecología urbana en la ciudad de México : flora de las calles y baldíos [Aspects of the urban ecology in the city of Mexico: flora of the streets and wastelands]. México: Editorial Limusa.
Moscow (Russia)
Poliakova, G.A. (1992). Flora i rastitelnost starykh parkov Podmoskovía [Flora and vegetation of the old parks around Moscow]. Moscow: Nauka.
Mumbai (India)
Graham, J. (1839). A catalogue of the plants growing in Bombay and its vicinity; spontaneous, cultivated or introduced, as far as they have been ascertained . Bombay: Government Press.
New York (United States)
Moore, G., Stewart, A, Clemants, S., Glenn, S. Ma, J. (1990-). New York Metropolitan Flora Project. Brooklyn Botanic Garden:
Plzen (Czech Republic)
Pyšek A. & Pyšek P. (1988). Ruderálni flóra Plzne [Ruderal flora of the city of Plzen]. Sbornik Západoces Muzea v Plzeni. Príroda, 68,1-34.
Rome (Italy)
Anzalone, B. (1996). Prodromo della flora romana. Parte Seconda: Angiospermae, Monocotyledones [Preliminary study of the Roman flora. Part II: Angiosperms (Monocotyledons)]. Annali di Botanica (Roma), 54.
Celesti-Grapow, L. (1995). Atlante della Flora di Roma [Atlas of the flora of Rome]. Rome: Argos Edizione.
Anzalone, B. (1994). Prodromo della flora romana. Parte Prima: Pteridophyta, Gymnospermae, Angiospermae, Dicotyledones [Preliminary study of the flora of Rome. Part I: Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, Angiosperms (Dicotyledons)]. Annali di Botanica (Roma), 52, suppl. II.
St. Petersburg (Russia)
Shishkin, B.K. (Ed.). (1955). Flora Leningradskoi oblasti [Flora of the Leningrad oblast]. Leningrad: Izd-vo Leningradskogo universiteta.
Santiago (Chile)
Navas Bustamante, L.E. (1973-79). Flora de la cuenca de Santiago de Chile [Flora of the Santiago de Chile basin]. Santiago: Ediciones de la Universidad de Chile.
Shanghai (China)
Hsu, P.S. (1999). Shanghai shi wu zhi [The plants of Shanghai] (2 vols.). Shanghai: Shanghai ji shu wen xian chu ban she.
Borrell, O.W. (1996). Flora of the Shanghai area. Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria: William Borrell.
Singapore (Singapore)
Keng, H. (1990). The concise flora of Singapore. Kent Ridge, Singapore: Singapore University Press.
Sousse (Tunisia)
Brandes, D. (2001). Urban flora of Sousse (Tunisia). Botanisches Institut und Botanischer Garten der TU Braunschweig.
Sydney (Australia)
Carolin, R.C., Tindale, M.D. & Beadle, N.C.W. (1994). Flora of the Sydney Region. (4th ed.). Chatswood, NSW: Reed.
Warsaw (Poland)
Sudnik-Wojcikowska, B. (1987). Flora miasta Warszawy i jej przemiany w ci∏agu XIX i XX wieku [The urban flora of Warsaw and its transformation in the 19th and 20th centuries]. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego."

Friday, May 26, 2017

An Urban Sustainability Reading List

Blueprint for a Sustainable Bay Area, Urban Ecology, Oakland, CA, 1996. An extensively illustrated look at how the San Francisco Bay Area can become more sustainable, written for a popular audience.

Ecological Design, by Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 1995 (reviewed in 1996 #1). An elegant, theoretical look at principles of ecological design, as applied in settings such as sewage treatment marshes, industrial ecosystems, and ecological buildings.
The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawken, Harper-Collins, New York, 1993 (reviewed Winter 1994). A visionary work looking at how economics can be retooled to support the restoration of natural systems. Discusses specific mechanisms such as green taxes, and provides a theoretical overview of “sustainable businesses.”

End of the Road: The World Car Crisis and How We Can Solve It, by Wolfgang Zuckerman, Chelsea Green Publishing, Post Mills, VT, 1991 (reviewed Spring 1993). Dealing with the growth of automobile use is one of the biggest challenges of sustainable urban development, and this entertaining book systematically lists steps to end the “car crisis.”

The GAIA Atlas of Cities: New Directions in Sustainable Urban Living, by Herbert Girardet, Anchor Books/Doubleday, New York, 1992 (reviewed Spring 1992). A beautifully illustrated popular overview of urban history, problems and futures, with emphasis on developing world megacities. The book’s final section, “Healing the City,” summarizes themes such as urban greening, energy efficiency, recycling, alternative transport, and traffic calming.

Green Plans: Greenprint for Sustainability, by Huey D. Johnson, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1995. A look at how national green plans can set the stage for sustainable development, with examples from The Netherlands, Canada, and New Zealand.

Making Development Sustainable: Redefining Institutions, Policy, and Economics, edited by Johan Holmberg, Island Press, Washington, D.C., 1992. A reader covering topics such as public institutions, public participation, environmental economics, sustainable agriculture, and industry. Contains a good chapter on “The Future City.”

Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on Earth, by William Rees, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, 1996 (reviewed in 1997 #I). A popular book with catchy illustrations in which the author presents a “footprint” model for determining how much land area is required to support urban inhabitants.

Planning for a Sustainable Environment. A Report by the Town and Country Planning Association, Earthscan Publications, London, 1993. A thorough but dry consideration of topics such as land use planning, energy policy, ecosystems, natural resources, pollution, waste, transport, regional planning, and economic development, by a Sustainable Development Study Group consisting of many leading British researchers.

Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development, by John Tillman Lyle, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994. A lengthy examination of theoretical and practical aspects of ecological design, covering topics such as solar design, water conservation, waste assimilation, and building construction.

Reviving the City: Toward Sustainable Urban Development, by Tim Elkin and Duncan McLaren, with Mayer Hillman, Friends of the Earth, London, 1990 (reviewed Spring 1992). A look at sustainable urban development from an environmental perspective, emphasizing steps to address energy use and pollution rather than social issues or land use.

Shaping Cities: The Environmental and Human Dimensions, by Marcia Lowe, Worldwatch Paper 105, The Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C., 1991. An excellent, concise overview of ways that cities can be made more sustainable, including discussions of urban form, transportation, energy use, water use, housing, land use, and social justice issues, with examples from around the globe.

Sustainable America: A New Consensus, President’s Council on Sustainable Development, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1996. Although a consensus document that doesn’t go nearly far enough in some ways, the PCSD’s report does outline many useful principles and examples of sustainable development, and is remarkable in that it exists at all.

Sustainable Cities, Graham Haughton and Colin Hunter, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd., London and Bristol PA, 1994. A thoughtful and thorough analysis by two English academics, focusing on environmental aspects of urban development but bringing in social and economic factors as well. The authors adopt a strongly international perspective and discuss historical ideas about ideal city form as well as current implications of the Earth Summit’s Agenda 21. A potential textbook for university courses.

Sustainable Cities: Urbanization and the Environment in International Perspective, edited by Richard Stren, Rodney White, and Joseph Whitney, Westview Press, Boulder CO, 1992. An excellent international survey of sustainable urban development issues, edited by three geographers associated with the University of Toronto, with sections on western Europe, eastern Europe, Africa, Canada, the U.S., Latin America, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Nature Custodianship in Cities

"The trick is to include nature as a fundamental part of cities – not a tacked on afterthought. What most urban ecologists call for is a larger rethink of cities as natural ecosystems with their own metabolism – a blend of natural space, wildlife and built structures, not unlike a river with a beaver dam. Instead of adding green to urban blueprints, they argue for the “biophilic city,” an urban space that is natural in its own right, with green included from the ground up. Features such as living walls, in which greenery is planted vertically, or cookie-cutter parks may amount to little more than green-washing, argues Joseph Juhasz, a professor emeritus in the architecture faculty at the University of Colorado at Denver. “They dress up the city, grow cucumbers on the wall, but they don’t deal with the fundamental problem – we have to build in a manner in which the site does not dictate the building.” Like many environmentalists, Dr. Juhasz says urban planners too often settle for short-term design that leaves a long-term footprint. “We have lost a sense of custodianship. Will their great-grandchildren be happy with what they have built?”"--Erin Andersson,

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Effects of biodiversity and environment-related attitude on perception of urban green space

“Green space in cities contributes to the quality of life for city dwellers, e.g., by increasing the opportunity for recreation. However, perception of urban green space is influenced by multiple factors. We investigated effects of biodiversity and environment-related attitudes on visual and auditory perceptions of urban green space. Field measurements of biodiversity were conducted in six sites across an urban gradient in Gothenburg, Sweden, and three categories of biodiversity—high, medium, low—were established. Households were sent a survey on aesthetic perception of urban green space, sound perception and the importance of trees and plants for the perception of bird species. Each respondent focused on the site that was located nearby. The environment-related attitudes comprised “Nature-oriented” and “Urban-oriented” persons and were based on participants’ own attitude estimations. It was shown that participants’ “subjective” aesthetic and sound-related perception of urban greenery were in line with the “objectively” measured subdivisions of high, medium and low biodiversity. So also were their estimations of the importance of trees and plants for perception of bird species in urban greenery, although differing only between high and medium/low biodiversity conditions. Persons rating themselves as highly nature-oriented were shown to give higher scores to urban green space aesthetics and to value greenery-related sounds higher, and to attach greater importance to trees and plants in their perception of bird species in urban greenery, than less nature-oriented persons. Highly urban-oriented persons compared to less urban-oriented persons did the same, but only regarding urban greenery-related aesthetics and sounds of nature. We conclude that environment-related attitudes influence perceptions of green space. Moreover, our findings support the idea that biodiversity per se also influences perceptions; people value green space significantly more with high than with low measured biodiversity. Urban planning needs to provide city inhabitants with green spaces that are species-rich, lush, varied and rich with natural sounds.”
Gunnarsson, B., Knez, I., Hedblom, M. et al. Urban Ecosyst (2017) 20: 37. doi:10.1007/s11252-016-0581-x

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

(Nothing But) Flowers

Talking Heads, Naked
Written by David Byrne • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it's nothing but flowers

There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
You got it, you got it

We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
We got it, we got it

There was a shopping mall
Now it's all covered with flowers
You've got it, you've got it

If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
You've got it, you've got it

Years ago
I was an angry young man
And I'd pretend
That I was a billboard
Standing tall
By the side of the road
I fell in love
With a beautiful highway
This used to be real estate
Now it's only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
You've got it, you've got it

This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
You got it, you got it

I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
You got it, you got it

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
You got it, you got it

I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
You got it, you got it

We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries
You got it, you got it

This was a discount store,
Now it's turned into a cornfield
You've got it, you've got it

Don't leave me stranded here
I can't get used to this lifestyle

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