GAINESVILLE — Sometimes, good ideas are borne from opportunity. When Kayla Hess was working on her master’s thesis from the University of Florida, she sampled a wetland on a proposed development site just north of Gainesville. In the process, she found 273 types of plants.
About 80 species were native plants commonly used in urban landscaping.
“The number of native landscaping plant species illustrates the potential waste of plant materials if these species are not salvaged,” said Basil Iannone, Hess’ thesis supervisor and a UF/IFAS assistant professor of residential landscape ecology. “After looking at the list of plants, we realized that there were a lot of good landscaping plants that could be used on the site. We found 31 of these species are potentially well-suited for the harsh soil conditions found in newer residential developments.”
Vegetation examples from the construction site include red maple, American holly and highbush blueberry. Red maple serves as a shade tree and provides habitat to birds and pollinators. American holly is a small tree or large shrub that can provide privacy, while highbush blueberry is a lower-growing shrub that can function as a shorter perimeter hedge.
Iannone and Hess talked about her findings with Taylor Clem, then an urban horticulture agent with UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County and now the director of UF/IFAS Extension Nassau County. The three discussed how we can use plants at construction sites that might otherwise be tossed.
Out of that, a new UF/IFAS Extension document emerged.
The UF/IFAS experts devised a couple of strategies to salvage plants from construction sites:
• Developers can harvest vegetative material before clearing the land. Harvesting these species and using them in landscaping can cost less money and energy than growing new plants and transporting them from other locations. They can either replant them into the landscapes of newly developed sites nearby or use an on-site nursery to store the salvaged plants.
“Salvaging plant species from future development sites could contribute much-needed native plant material to nurseries,” Iannone said. “These efforts can prevent the waste of valuable plant material and reduce the resources required to grow plants for future development sites (such as water, fertilizers and pesticides). One of the biggest challenges for increasing native plant diversity in urban landscapes is the lack of plants for people to purchase.”
For information about proper ways to grow native plants, go to the Florida Native Plant Society website.