My new word for the week is phytobuffering: Using plants to prevent problems at sites where pollutant contamination issues might be expected. (It’ll be my next password too: P#yt06u773r1nG.)
Phytobuffering summarizes a new way to think about using plants to control pollution in the landscape. It comes to me from the new bookPhyto, by Kate Kennen and Niall Kirkwood.
Phyto bursts the balloon of exuberance about phytoremediation that was floated in the 1990s with limited results from just a few tests. Unfortunately, studies on the internet that are cited over and over again have perpetuated lots of misinformation and helped to hold the field back from gaining its true place in the urban and brownfield landscape toolbox. The truth, according to the authors, is that phytoremediation is great in many instances and not practical or beneficial in others.
Enabling the reader to understand where phytoremediation and phytotechnology can be used is the purpose for the chronology of chapters and detail provided within Phyto.
I learned that pollutants can be remediated through a number of plant-based ways: In the soil by plant roots/microbes (rhizodegradation); taken up and destroyed by the plant (phytodegradation); volatilized as a gas from the plant (phytovolatilization); metabolized during growth (phytometabolism); stored in plant biomass that is later removed (phytoextraction); extracted by the plant from water pulled up for plant growth (phytohydraulics); held where it is in the soil (phytostabilization); and filtered from polluted water by plant roots and soil (rhizofiltration).
Yet with all those benefits, phytotechnology has just a 1% market share of pollution remediation techniques. Why? Lack of staff knowledgeable in plants and crop culture, and firms placing greater reliability on traditional engineering practices are in good part to blame. The book Phyto will help create plant expertise.
Authors Kate Kennen and Niall Kirkwood are Boston-based landscape architects. Kate’s company is Offshoots, Inc., a practice focused on productive planting techniques and phytotechnology. Niall is a professor at the Harvard University of Graduate School of Design who has authored other books on post-industrial and brownfield landscapes.
The authors worked with a community of 47 contributors for scientific content, case studies and review. It was written for college students and professionals needing a design, horticulture and construction reference. The bibliography of scientific references is pages long, but the book is easy to read, although plant and/or landscape/design knowledge is helpful.
The information in Phyto is presented sequentially and structurally to help the reader create a framework for understanding both how plants do the job and where they should and should not be employed. Extensive plant lists and case studies are used throughout.
The authors introduce design strategies that can be used anywhere, while the plant lists lean to the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic US. Expanding plant lists to cover more of the United States and North America is a good reason for the authors to recruit additional collaborators and plan a second edition.
Phyto is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to expand their understanding of the role of plants in functional landscapes.