Connect One Design Shout Out

The Plantium is made for landscape professionals BY landscape professionals. To that end, it’s been an exciting summer in the Colorado mountains and the Connect One Design landscape architecture team has been hard at work. Check out Connect One Design in the media. We couldn’t do what we do without an amazing staff and The Plantium software!

Here’s just a few fun pics from the field. Enjoy!

 

Importance of the Allergy Friendly Landscape

Most of us think summer sneezing just ‘comes with the territory’ but did you know that you can alleviate some of it with an allergy friendly landscape!  As landscape professionals, the concept of an allergy friendly landscape is a crucial one. Regardless of the scale of a project our understanding of high pollen generating plants is critical to making some changes for the better in our cultivated landscapes.

Wind blown pollen

Wind blown pine tree pollen. Makes me sneeze just looking at it!

Background

Most of us suffer from just a little sneezing and sniffling from seasonal allergies but the implications of high pollen rates can be far more serious. “Deaths from asthma continue to climb each year at alarming epidemic rates”.1 While the causes of these increases can be debated it is clear that high pollen rates play a role in many health related issues, especially in the young, old and those with compromised respiratory and circulatory systems.

Studies have shown death rates among high-risk populations increase on days with high pollen and high pollution. Similar to the association of very hot or very cold weather to higher death rates, one cannot attribute it directly to the weather condition but rather see a correlation in high-risk populations.2 Impacts like thunder death outbreaks also bring home shocking impacts of high pollen in urban settings.3

So, how did we arrive at the increases in allergies and asthma? We all know the issue relates to high pollen counts, but what is pollen and has atmospheric pollen been on the rise in recent years? Pollen is the microscopic grain carrying the male gamete of a plant that will pollinate (via transport by insects, birds, wind, etc.) the female ovule of a plant. This microscopic grain is both an irritant and a nasal allergen in humans (and other animals; yup, dogs get allergies). Anemophilous plants generally cause the most allergies because they pollinate primarily by wind. The pollen grains of those plants are light and small, in order to be easily dispersed by the wind (and therefore tend to stay airborne and easily breathed in by humans). The role of female plants in an allergy friendly landscape is critical because they are attractive (for sure 🙂 )! The pistil of female plants is STICKY in order to capture the pollen grain. In an allergy friendly landscape female plants (and flowers) are important because they both do NOT produce pollen, AND they pull pollen out of the air with sticky attractiveness! Two other important aspects of pollen creation are important to understand as well – pollen production is increased dramatically with additional CO2 in the atmosphere (urban settings) and changes to the timing of pollen generation is being sparked by increased climatic temperatures.

Microscopic Helianthus Pollen

Microscopic Helianthus Pollen – it sure looks like it would irritate anybody’s nose!

So what does this have to do with the cultivated landscape and an allergy friendly landscape? This is where the concept of botanical sexism comes into our vocabulary. “Arborists often claim that all-male plants are ‘litter-free’ because they shed no messy seeds, fruits or pods. In the 1949 USDA Yearbook of Agriculture, which focused on trees and forests, this advice was given to readers: ‘When used for street plantings, only male trees should be selected, to avoid the nuisance from the seed.’ In the years following, the USDA produced and released into the market almost 100 new red maple and hybrid-maple-named clones (cultivars), and every single one of them was male.”4 At The Plantium, we believe male cultivars have an important place in the landscape, but it is important to understand that the use of male (and only male) cultivars and overall plant selection play the most important role in developing an allergy friendly landscape.

Scope and Scale

When and where it is important to think about an allergy friendly landscape? There are many projects where understanding the right plants for a low allergy and allergy friendly landscape are important. Being conscious of pollen generation on all your projects can help address the growing issue of high pollen in the cultivated landscape. Our responsibility as landscape professionals should be taken seriously! Consider your client when embarking on a residential design. Just asking the question about any allergy or asthma sufferers in the household (and then designing an allergy friendly landscape) can help make a successful landscape and a happy client. Allergy friendly landscape plant selection is most important around high risk populations, including playgrounds and senior living projects. Finally, projects in urban centers should be addressed carefully as the greatest population of allergy and asthma sufferers per capita reside in cities.

Amaryllis Stamen

Up close and personal on the Amaryllis stamen. The sticky pistil of an amaryllis flower gathers up all this pollen for fertilization!

Making Great Plant Choices

All of this background begs the question… what do we do now? Here are a few thoughts.

  1. Understand and educate yourself on the benefits of the allergy friendly landscape.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the OPALS rating system. Thomas Ogren created the first and only known rating system that ranks the allergy potential of plants.
  3. Discuss the need for an allergy friendly landscape with your client.
  4. Educate yourself on types of plants that might fit in an allergy friendly landscape and follow a few best practices such as:
  • Gender balance the landscape.
  • Use fewer wind pollinated species.
  • Encourage sterile cultivars and showy flowers (most plants with big colorful flowers are insect pollinated! Bees welcome?!).
  • Avoid high pollinators: male only willows, poplars, aspens, ash, (fruitless) mulberry, cypress, junipers, yews, myrtles, currants, etc., olive trees, Bermuda grass. Fruit trees are good but nut trees tend to be allergenic.
  • Develop maintenance manuals for your clients that encourages trimming of existing high pollinators and good maintenance of installed plants (e.g. trimming privet before it flowers). The Healthy Schoolyards Initiative5 has a great start at a list of maintenance measures that can be undertaken on existing landscapes.

The Politics of Allergy Friendly Landscapes

While it appears uncertain that low pollen ordinances are having an impact, landscape professionals should be aware that there are a growing number of urban centers enacting pollen control ordinances, including Pima County, AZ, Clark County, NV, Albuquerque, NM, Phoenix and Tucson, AZ, and El Paso, TX, among others. Other cities such as Louisville are embarking on some truly innovative approaches to understanding and addressing the epidemic.

Conclusion

While we can thank pollen for so many wonderful things like solving murders (it’s a plant’s fingerprint!), determining the age and quality of coal seams, and our delicious fruits and vegetables we now need to be stewards of our own air and address the issue of excessive pollen in our cultivated landscapes!

References:

  1. http://www.academia.edu/4110694/Politics_of_Pollen_Article Copyright 2001, Tom Ogren
  2. http://www.webmd.com/allergies/news/20000427/high-pollen-linked-death#1
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-38121579
  4. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/botanical-sexism-cultivates-home-grown-allergies/
  5. http://www.healthyschoolyards.org/

Image References

https://commons.wikimedia.org

Using Denitrifying Plants in the Landscape

Turns out we have an addiction in this country. “Call it the nitrogen fix. It is like a drug mainlined into the planet’s ecosystems, suffusing every cell, every pore — including our own bodies.”1 In response, some jurisdictions (apparently finding dealing with addiction at the source – i.e. agriculture, wastewater, feed lots, poor landscape practices, etc. too difficult) are requiring the end user of non-potable reclaimed effluent to utilize only denitrifying plants in the landscape. Their theory being that if the ornamental plants can take up the nitrogen, then problem solved.

This discussion of overabundance of nitrogen in our water and soil could get really scientific, really fast (and unfortunately make for very dry reading) so instead I’m going to keep things pretty simple and straightforward and provide some great resources for seeking additional information.

The nitrogen problem. “Over the last century, the intensive use of chemical fertilizers has saturated the Earth’s soils and waters with nitrogen. Now scientists are warning that we must move quickly to revolutionize agricultural systems and greatly reduce the amount of nitrogen we put into the planet’s ecosystems.”1 Excessive nitrogen leaches into waterways, feeds algal blooms and contributes to eutrophication of water systems….. effectively starving plant and aquatic life of oxygen. It can even starve our children of oxygen, known as Blue Baby Syndrome, as a result of nitrogen contaminated drinking water.

The good news. Nitrogen is an inorganic compound which, unlike other macronutrients, can be turned to gas and released into the atmosphere. More good news. This means that the use of denitrifying plants can be addressed via phytometabolism in a relatively short period of time and presents good opportunities for field application.2 “Since all plants use nitrogen and support denitrifying bacteria, any kind of plant can provide some form of nitrogen remediation from soils and water. However, the method that provides the quickest remediation tends to be a system that includes plants with very high growth rates and evapotranspiration rates. Nitrogen is used up quickly, or the plant acts like a large reactor, priming the soil bacteria for speedy conversion of the nitrogen into a gas. Plants species that produce a lot of biomass have been those most successfully used in studies to remove high levels of nitrogen in soils and groundwater.”3 Some would then argue for the use of bluegrass and other fast growing turf, but studies have shown that a mixed species landscape will produce a more diverse microbial soil, and therefore denitrify faster via plants AND bacteria.

Finding the right plants. While in no way an exhaustive list, the book Phyto: Principles and resources for site remediation and landscape design, suggests a brief list of high biomass plants such as Bambuseae, Brassica juncea, Brassica napas, Cannabis sativa, Linum usitatissimum, Panicum virgatum, Populus, Salix and Sorghum. Additionally, some high evapotranspiration-rate plants include Alnus, Betula, Eucalyptus, Fraxinus, Populus, Salix, Sarcobatus vermiculatus and Taxodium distichum. Again, while not an exhaustive list one thing to note is that these tend to be high water use species. In a large scale remediation setting this is desirable (because you are purposefully applying large amounts of contaminated water), however, it tends to fly in the face of end user goals in the ornamental landscape that are working hard to reduce overall water consumption.

Unfortunately, it would seem that municipalities, especially in drought plagued areas trying to encourage water reuse, may end up further discouraging effluent reuse with these unnecessary regulations and may find themselves dealing with unintended consequences, such as forcing the use of plants that require even more water to both thrive and denitrify the soil. It is clearly a discussion worth continuing.

 

I’d like to thank Kate Kennen for the amazing information gathered from her book for this article. Kate is always an inspiration and this book is an INCREDIBLE resource for all practical applications, large or small, for phytoremediation and productive landscapes. It is a must read!

Find Kate here….  http://offshootsinc.com/

Find her book here…. https://www.amazon.com/Phyto-Principles-Resources-Remediation-Landscape/dp/0415814154

  1. Fred Pearce. Copyright 2009. http://e360.yale.edu/mobile/feature.msp?id=2207
  2. Kate Kennen and Niall Kirkwood, Phyto: Principles and resources for site remediation and landscape design. Routledge, 2015. Figure 3.1, Page 63
  3. Page 128

Plant Knowledge in the Landscape Industry

‘You can only learn about plants by getting dirty.’ That’s what a new friend of The Plantium said to us recently over a glass of wine. It resonated. Plant knowledge takes time, testing and retesting, observation and patience. Building knowledge takes a willingness to experiment. How much does plant knowledge matter in our industry and is it on the rise or decline in the landscape industry?

As landscape professionals we are facing several key trends in the horticulture industry, not the least of which is what Russell Cummings coined as ‘V squared’ – volatility and velocity.1 Our clients’ demands are shifting quickly and these clients are rarely patient. With ecological factors like drought tolerance and native (to name just two) here to stay, demands are becoming more refined, requiring landscape professionals to possess a sophisticated array of both environmental and aesthetic plant knowledge.

Young students and professionals leaving their respective institutions (universities and botanic gardens) may find themselves facing even greater challenges. ‘In the past, there has been a good deal of wrangling over how important plant knowledge is to the profession, with claims that many landscape architects are regressing in plant prowess. With such an array of vital skills needed in landscape architecture, it can be difficult to decipher whether or not an area such as plants necessitates further learning.’2 Institutions are struggling to making difficult decisions regarding where to spend the precious little time they have with their students. Industry professionals are also increasingly mobile following personal and professional opportunities and finding themselves in very different bioregions at different points in their professional lives.

The usefulness of technology in knowledge management is a foregone fact yet the plant industry lags behind. Without technology assisting landscape professionals capture what they have learned much plant knowledge is lost in this diverse, fickle and fast-paced industry. Students and professionals have to be armed with the ability to make quick, environmentally intelligent decisions regarding plants. Students and professionals need to spend less time hunting through hundreds of books and websites to find plant information and more time getting dirty putting the right plants in the ground and watching them thrive. Technology must be in place to capture these evaluations and allow our professionals to retain this personal and institutional knowledge. ‘Data, data everywhere’ as Cummings said. Professionals, budding professionals and our academic institutions should be asking themselves ‘How can you use your information for faster and better quality decisions?’1 The Plantium looks forward to continuing this conversation among the academic thought leaders in late March at the CELA 2016 conference where we will pose the same tough questions. http://www.cela2016.com/

  1. Russell Cummings – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140914082436-3143364-the-top-5-trends-for-horticulture
  2. Paul McAtomney – http://landarchs.com/top-10-names-in-planting-design/

Pick Plants with Emotional Intelligence

Selecting the right plants for a design regularly becomes one of the most time consuming portions of a design project for me.  Like all designers, I have my list of go-to plants; the tried-and-true plants that thrive and provide a lot of visual interest.  But every landscape calls for unique plants, whether for a unique function or to highlight a specific spot.  When you are trying to pick plants…. those few perfect plants, from the thousands of possibilities, it is easy to have time fly by and, before you know it, you have skipped lunch (maybe even dinner) and still have to select more plants.

Of course, the more conditions you add to a specific selection, potentially the more amount of time it takes to make the right choice.  This is especially true when you are working in less familiar territory.  If you need a Mediterranean garden, I can rattle off a list of plants a mile long that would fit.  But what about when that garden is going to be located adjacent to a disused rail line, and I need plants that will help detoxify the soil in addition to looking great?

This is where The Plantium will step in.  For the last couple of months I have been speaking with landscape architects and designers, environmental planners, urban planners, conservationists, and many others, asking the question: What environmental factors impacting plants do you regularly consider?  All of these responses are being used by The Plantium to improve their database of plants so that the selection process will be easier, no matter the situation.  So when you need to know what plants will thrive along a disused railroad track, you can search for plants that are tolerant to copper, arsenic, and petroleum products, three of the most common pollutants along rail lines.

What are some of the most common environmental factors design professionals consider when selecting plants?  There are the apparent ones (and ones that The Plantium already supports) such as sun exposure, water requirements, and soil conditions.  Some of the other commonly mentioned factors were:

  • High wind conditions
  • Heavy metal tolerance
  • Pollution remediation
  • Intermittent water inundation
  • Nitrogen and phosphorous uptake
  • Air pollution tolerance
  • Early establishers in disturbed landscapes
  • High UV radiation tolerance
  • Pine needle and leaf-litter tolerance
  • And many others

Some of these factors are certainly specialized to specific design sectors, but others are ones that designers need to deal with on a regular basis.  For instance, in Northern Utah we receive approximately 15% more UV radiation than at lower altitudes.  Several plants have foliage damage at our elevation if they are planted in the direct sun.  This is just one example of why I am excited to see these factors added to The Plantium’s database.  Look for that in future updates!  Until then, happy planting!

Check out the entire white paper. CLICK HERE

Guest Author:

Benjamin George, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning
Utah State University

Fun Facts: Planting Design ‘at Altitude’

This short article attempts to bring some clarity to the complicated discussion of “designing at altitude.”

Everyone acknowledges that elevation plays a role in plant growth. The most widely known and visible example of this is the phenomenon known as Treeline. (Check out this article for a great explanation). But there is significant confusion among landscape professionals as to how and why elevation affects the plants you can grow in a cultivated setting. In fact, many commonly held beliefs are misconceptions or generalizations applied erroneously to all high elevation areas.

What truly changes as altitude increases, and how do these changes affect plants?

There are four factors that are universally tied to increased elevation:

  • Decreased temperature (generally)
  • Decreased atmospheric pressure
  • Increased exposure to overall solar radiation (on clear days)
  • Increased UV-B Radiation

All of these affect plant growth to varying extents. Decreased atmospheric pressure can translate to increased transpiration rates (the loss of water through plant leaves), however the lower air temperatures at high altitudes often negate this. Increased exposure to solar radiation can result in higher photosynthetic rates. Conversely, increased exposure to UV-B radiation impairs photosynthesis in many species of plants. And while exposure to both types of radiation increases with elevation, this is only on clear days, the number of which varies significantly by location, regardless of altitude.

Of the above elements, decreased temperature is the most universal change, and most likely the one that has the biggest impact on ornamental plant survival. Temperatures decrease by about 3.5 deg. F for every 1,000 feet in elevation gain. These cooler air and soil temperatures can affect many facets of a plant’s growth including seed germination, bud break, photosynthesis rate, flower season, and even pollen formation.

What isn’t a factor of elevation change?

Many other things attributed to increased altitude are not actually direct factors of elevation change, but rather location-specific environmental characteristics, such as:

  • Increased exposure to wind
  • Decreased available moisture
  • Shallow or poor soils

These are often applied generally to all high elevation settings, but in fact are highly dependent on the individual location.

Other environmental characteristics are actually a combination of latitude and altitude together, such as the perception of a shorter growing season. In central latitudes there is very little difference between the growing season at sea level and the growing season at a higher elevation. However, the closer you get to the poles, the more pronounced the difference becomes.

Sourcing plants from outside your elevation: Does it matter?

It is not a surprise that the same plant grown in a different area may appear different. Distinct temperature ranges, soil types, humidity, etc. will cause a plant to display different characteristics as it adapts to its environment. Species sourced from alternate regions may even have divergent genetics. An example provided by the Larimer County Ag Extension is Redbud (Cercis canadensis). Trees from seeds collected in northern areas (Wisconsin, Minnesota) are much more hardy than seeds collected from warmer climates like Oklahoma or Texas.

Regardless of elevation, it is always a good idea to source your large material from a climate comprable to that of your project. The years the plant has spent adapting to a similar climate will prepare it for successful establishment when you transplant it at your site. Compounding the stress of transplant with the stress of a wholesale change in growing environment will only increase the chance of death or failure to thrive.

The Takeaway:

At its core, successful establishment of ornamental plants depends on day length, season length, high and low temperature tolerance, and moisture/nutrient availability. The environmental factors that your site experiences must be taken into account when creating a design and selecting plant material, but elevation does not need to be added as a mysterious compounding factor.

If you think a plant can withstand your temperatures, moisture level, water, and exposure: give it a try, and let others know what you find out!

References:

http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/content/94/2/199.full

http://northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/why_is_the_treeline_at_a_higher_elevation_in_the_tetons_than_in_the_white_m

https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1842/283/worre3-4.pdf?sequence=2 (Georgraphical variation in Sitka spruce productivity and its dependence on environmental factors)

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.502.5473&rep=rep1&type=pdf

http://www.life.illinois.edu/ib/514/K%F6rner_2007.pdf

http://www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/143.html

Larimer County Ag Extension