Wildflower Center Researchers Describe How to the Environmental Risks of Limited Plant Selection in Landscape Design

by | May 23, 2007 | Pressroom

AUSTIN, Texas– Reliance by landscape designers on a small selection of often non-native plant species limits landscape design and poses significant environmental risk according to a recent report published by researchers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

“The growing challenge for designers who pursue environmental sustainability is not only landscapes that require less water, fertilizer and maintenance,” said Dr. Mark Simmons, ecologist at the Wildflower Center. “but also the effects that their entire design, including plant selection, will have on and off their project site.”

Plantings based on a limited appreciation of regional ecology can cause ecological problems, including the introduction of invasive species into the project environment and surrounding ecosystems. Along with habitat loss, invasive species are considered a major cause of reduced biodiversity and species extinction.

“Although regionally native plants might offer a more sustainable alternative to plants commonly used in landscaping, they are often rejected due to lack of availability,” Simmons said. “Too often, landscapers overlook a plant’s geographic origin because it is thought to perform a specific function well and to thrive in harsh environments. Fortunately, there is growing evidence that native species can outperform their exotic counterparts both in appearance and their ability to establish themselves and thrive.”

The report proposes that environmental designers investigate their native landscapes and use the ability of local plants to solve design problems. It calls on the landscape design industry to explore the science and principles of ecological restoration, consider using regional native plants to solve design problems and learn about the threat that invasive plants pose to our natural landscapes.

The report titled “Exploiting the attributes of regional ecosystems for landscape design: The role of ecological restoration in ecological engineering” is published in the July issue of Ecological Engineering: The Journal of Ecosystem Restoration. Co-authors for the report include Heather Venhaus and Steve Windhager, Ph.D.