Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
Climate Change and Native Plants
AS CONCERN GROWS ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING, including the impacts on native plant species and communities, our interest also is growing in the ways that plants and landscapes can help lessen the impact of widespread climate change. At the Wildflower Center, we are working to create new tools for addressing this challenge, using what we already know – and what we can learn – about native plants and landscapes.
It has become distressingly clear that we can’t continue to discharge greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere at ever-increasing rates and escape devastating results. Edward Mazria, an internationally recognized architect, explained at a conference held recently at the Wildflower Center that the current concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has already reached a level (about 380 parts per million) that can cause higher average temperatures, eradicate species of plants and animals, kill coral reefs and accelerate the melting of polar ice caps.
Improving the energy efficiency of buildings can help enormously, since buildings consume nearly half of the energy we produce. So can carbon sequestration, which is the process by which greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere and “stored” in the soil, the ocean or other places where they do not contribute to global warming. Plants, of course, are a fundamental “consumer” of carbon dioxide. Restoration of carbon-consuming forests, grasslands and wetlands is one recognized strategy for sequestering greenhouse gases.
Challenged by various standards for “green building,” architects and engineers across the country are accepting the challenge of creating structures that save water and energy. In the same way, smart landscaping design can greatly reduce energy use and emissions from mowers and other equipment, while also minimizing water use. The Sustainable Sites Initiative is a new effort to develop performance standards and guidelines, modeled on the familiar LEED Green Building program, for large-scale landscapes such as parks and open space, corporate campuses, roadsides and industrial parks. This partnership involves the Wildflower Center, the American Society of Landscape Architects and the U.S. Botanic Garden.
Austin, Texas, is a leader among U.S. cities fighting climate change. Under an ambitious plan adopted by the Austin City Council, the city will use alternative fuels, energy conservation, building codes and other tools to help the city, businesses and individuals reduce their carbon footprint to zero.
So it’s fitting that the Austin-based Wildflower Center should be involved in a series of studies that use welldesigned urban landscapes to reduce the carbon footprint. On our site, we are evaluating the performance of different native plant mixes as green roof material and looking at real-time temperature readings to document the cooling advantages of green roofs in our subtropical climate. At Escarpment Village in Austin, people can tour one of the Center’s pilot green roof projects. Our scientists also have developed a web-based tool for calculating the actual carbon balance of specific buildings and landscapes.
This spring, as I admire the striking beauty of the Center’s gardens, I am reminded that by increasing the use of wildflowers and other native plants – in sustainable landscapes, on rooftops, near our roads and our houses – we can help ensure their survival and our own.
— Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director