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Plants grow in the most amazing places !

What is Phytotechnology?

Phytotechnology is the strategic use of plants to solve environmental problems by remediating the qualities and quantities of our soil, water, and air resources and by restoring ecosystem services in managed landscapes. Traditional phytoremediation has been largely focused on the soil and groundwater clean-up of hazardous waste sites in removed locations. Phytotechnology expands this umbrella to include many of the natural resource management challenges we face in cities, on farms, and other landscapes more integrated with daily public activities. Wetlands that treat wastewater, rain gardens that treat stormwater, poplar tree plantings that treat soil contamination, urban tree canopies that treat air pollution, specialized plants that treat decommissioned mine sites are just a few examples of phytotechnologies.

The diagram to the right offers a visual understanding of the intersection where phytotechnology is particularly active- the intersection between our water networks, our plant/soil/nature networks, and our engineered networks of pipes/buildings/urban infrastructure. Phytotechnology uses science and engineering to design systems where plants can thrive and also come into contact with polluted resources- resources that humans depend on for survival and health. When plants come into contact with polluted resources, they use a number of different physical and physiological mechanisms to sequester, uptake, transform, or limit migration of contaminants so that the safety of our soils, waters, and air can be improved for human use. Plants are particularly good at this since they have been practicing and providing these services naturally since the beginning of time. Designing plant-based treatment systems usually is much more cost-effective, and in addition to treatment of natural resources, plants offer many other ancillary benefits such as habitat, livability, emotional connection/stress reduction, and property value increase.

Phytotechnology is a very diverse and multidisciplinary field, including biochemists, analytical chemists, plant physiologists, botanists, ecologists, engineers, designers, landscape architects, health scientists, toxicologists, and horticulturists. In close partnership with these scientists are the regulators who support phytotechnology permitting and the industries that actually build the systems and apply them in the landscapes. Increasingly, phytotechnology is also including a new sector of professionals who are specialized in the on-going maintenance of these systems.

Plant Profile of the Month

March, 2014

Plants are the foundation of phytotechnology. Microbes are very important as well, but we usually have less choice with them, other than managing the suitable habitat. Each month, we will offer a story about a plant that is useful in phytotechnology applications. 

Scirpus acutus - Hardstem Bulrush

Mostly dormant over winter, Scirpus acutus nevertheless holds a bit of fire in its crown. And if you ever chance to look at the roots of this plant, they are bright fiery red as well. The bulrushes have long been used as choice species for wastewater treatment wetlands, as they tend to form deeper root systems than many other wetland natives, even compared to Typha latifolia (aka Common Cattail). And its winter dormancy means an annual re-charge of nitrogen uptake, converted to biomass production. As its common name implies, this bulrush has very stout round stems and forms tight ornamental clumps, but rarely tries as hard as Cattail to form monocultures. Nothing is quite impervious to the chewing of a nutria, but Hardstem Bulrush seems to get left alone more often than not. In the wild, this plant favors freshwater wetlands, although it is tolerant of salty water and high pH substrates. The birds find use in its tall stems to hide their nests, and its seed heads are like candy to many ducks. Post-harvest secondary uses for this plant include fiber for weaving and biofuel feedstock. 

Latest Phytotechnology News

New International Short Course- Microbially-Driven Facilitation Systems in Environmental Biotechnology

This year, the University of Milan will host an international short course of the EU-US Taskforce on Biotechnology Research, working group of Environmental Biotechnology. The event builds on the...

Short Course in NY- Working with Plant Allies to Manage Healthy Water in Urban Landscapes

June 10-14, 2014 at the Blue Deer Center in Margaretville, New York

This course explores the interface of our modern green, blue, grey networks in cities- that is, the interactions between...

New product may compete with use of phytotechnologies and protect persistent pesticide use in crops

Catalyst Agtech, an Israeli company run by CEO Shalom Nachshon, has developed a chemical catalyst that speeds up the decay rates and break-down of persistent pesticides, such as atrazine. Using...

Request for Post-Doc research opportunity

One of our IPS community members, Eucharia Nwaichi, is looking for a 4-6 month phytotechnology research opportunity to fulfill requirements for a UNESCO grant she is applying for. She will have...

PhytoNews Issue #1/2012

Plant technologies and environmental solutions

Welcome to the inaugural issue of PhytoNews, the official newsletter of the International Phytotechnology Society. Professor Ian Balcom of Lyndon...

Diagram authored by Rene Kane for SPROut and used by permission of SPROut

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