Picky plants: Growing green in difficult environments
Author: Elise Catterall
Plants have a few basic needs for survival: light, water, air, nutrients. Not all environments in Australia can satisfy these needs, but there are ways to work around this.
A recent article in The New Yorker introduced us to an innovative product invented by Dutch Engineer Jurriann Ruys to restore vegetation to arid and barren landscapes. It also got us thinking about how challenging the Australian environment can be for new tree growth.
The Cocoon, produced by Ruys’ company Land Life, is a donut-shaped waxed-paper shell that is buried underground, protecting a tree-sapling and supplying it with water. It biodegrades at just the right point so the tree has enough root growth to reach groundwater and survive on its own in its harsh environment. Now three years old, it has been implemented across Mexico, Cameroon, Malawi, Peru, Chile, China, Greece, Israel and Dubai, both in direct partnership with villages, and in partnership with organisations like the United Nations and the World Wildlife Fund.
Cocoon incubates the tree until it establishes a suitable root system, but alongside this, Land Life – guided by local experts - chooses and plants species of trees that will best suit the environment.
Even in the harshest environments, there are certain trees and plants that will grow and even thrive. Plants native to an environment are more likely to thrive purely because they have adapted to the soil, climate and other environmental aspects of the area, compared with other plants.
In environments where water is scarce – common in Australia – plants have adapted to survive through several mechanisms. Root length is one; roots of all plants need to reach groundwater, but in arid environments, this water storage is harder to access. Many plants, including species of eucalyptus, acacia and oak, have adapted very long roots for this purpose. Foliage is another mechanism. As we see in cacti and succulents, some plants have developed water storage systems in their leaves, which allow them to go for long periods without rain. The waxy coating and thick leaves of eucalypts also work to prevent water loss. Yet another adaptation can be the life-cycle itself – some plants (including mesquite and some acacia species) grow, flower and seed in a matter of days when water is available and then will remain as seeds or rest until water is available again.
Although a lack of sunlight is rarely a problem in Australia, plants have also adapted to survive with limited sunlight, for example in rain forests. Plants grow multiple leaves to increase their surface area for photosynthesis, grow tall to compete for light, climb the trunks and branches of trees to reach the sun and even photosynthesise with less sunlight.
Aquatic plants have also adapted to suit an environment that has less sun and, at times oxygen, than other environments. Adaptations such as broad, floating leaves with large surface areas, and funnel-like stems to draw oxygen down to the roots, make many plants suitable for aquatic environments.
Guides and advice are available to help you plant and grow the best adapted plant for your environment, so reach out to your local council or native nursery or find your local branch of the Australian Plants Society, Bushcare, or Landcare group.
- Watch the video introducing Land Life’s innovative product, the Cocoon
- Join a Landcare or Bushcare group and get involved local environmental projects.
- Choose plants that are water friendly and environmentally appropriate with this fact sheet
- Learn more about some amazing adaptations in Australian plants
- The New Yorker
- National Geographic
- Planet Ark
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation
- Missouri Botanical Garden
Subscribe to Positive Environment News.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.
- Super coral to resist ocean warming »
- Beach cleanup leads to turtle comeback »
- Nestlé to go fully reusable and recyclable by 2025 »
- Woolworths, Coles remove plastic bags from stores ahead of schedule »
- Planet Ark and Bingo aim for the top with a bold new vision »
- The bush stone-curlews are back in town »
- Dutch scientists developing smart app to measure water pollution »
- Guilt free tea-bags, frozen food and paper drinking straws »
- Italian sheepdogs become little penguin protectors »
- Paper or plastic? »
- Woolcool turns waste wool into insulation wonder »
- Indigenous women helping to conserve glowing turtles »
- Taking sustainable fashion to new heights »
- HP's plastic recycling program is turning Haitian pollution into printer cartridges »
- A year in review - Australian natives made some great comebacks in 2017 »
- Vast new ocean reserve created off coast of Mexico »
- Reconnaissance to protect the Great Barrier Reef »
- Koalas found in national park after decades of absence »
- Top Australian sustainability award winners announced »
- Revolutionary eco-friendly furniture the way of the future »
- The calming effect of contact with nature »
- Aussie innovators compete for the climate on the world stage »
- The Australian second-hand economy is booming »
- Fighting waste with Fortunate Food »
- World's largest trees given new hope for preservation »
- Southern states are bankrolling businesses in the War on Waste »
- Nearly 400 new species discovered in the Amazon »
- How far would you go for fair trade fashion? »
- Brush-tailed phascogale makes a surprise appearance on revegetated islands »
- What do Smiths, Kathmandu and Jurlique have in common? »
- Facing down fast fashion with up-cycled clothes »
- Decades of community action brings a disappearing frogmouth back from the brink »
- Back from the brink: recent 'baby boom' offers new hope for endangered southern right whale »
- How indoor plants can give city-slickers a literal breath of fresh air »
- Island sanctuary brings hope to dwindling quokka population »
- 1.5 million people, 12 hours, 66 million trees: India's commitment to The Paris Agreement »
- The little Brown Antechinus makes a comeback at Sydney's North Head »
- ABC's War on Waste creates unprecedented demand for sustainable coffee cups »
- How you can make the most of Planet Ark's new research into outdoor learning »
- Capturing Carbon to Tackle Climate Change »
- Futureproofing the Lockyer Valley with 20'000 trees »
- Dugong Numbers on the Rise Again in the Great Barrier Reef »
- Answering the Call to Connect With Nature »
- Scientist Discover Massive New Forests »
- Australia's First Rescued Food Supermarket is a Win-win for the Planet and Those in Need. »
- New London Levy to Halve 'Lethal' Pollution »
- 'Creature Compost' - Zoo Reduces Landfill and Generates Income »
- Travel Companies Put Kindness Before Profit in Animal Tourism »
- Thousands of Birds Descend Upon Inland Lakes »
- Trees Help Beat Urban Heat »
- Chile's National Parks Expand by 10 Million Acres »
- Old Televisions Converted to Bee Hotels »
- What if Rivers Could Sue? »
- Access to Nature Should be a Human Right - Report »
- Rock-Wallabies Fighting Back »
- Scientists Use Tasmanian Devil's Immune System to Beat Cancer »
- Sending Packages Using Green Logistics »
- New Coral Reef Rewrites Textbooks »
- Tetra Pak Sets Industry Benchmark with Science Based Target Approval »
- Launch of Positive Environment News »