Sunday, October 27, 2013

Florida Living Walls by Mother Nature

Really there are not adequate words to use here with the photos of living walls created by mother nature in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.
 Amazingly, these lush living walls have no added soil nor do they boast an irrigation system.  They are buffeted by hard desiccating coastal winds and beat upon with hot sun's rays.  Yet they rival the most beautiful living walls made by us humans.

Nature is the ultimate instructor for green roofs and living walls
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.
Natural living walls on Florida coquina rock walls comprised of ferns and other plants.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tropical and Coastal Green Roof Design with Native Plants, MetroVerde Design Video

Green Roofs are complicated enough to design and build.  But those affected by salt spray and tropical storms are even more intricate and possibly problematic. 

Watch Part One of our Design Video for Coastal and Tropical Green Roofs.  Each part is approximately thirty minutes and will focus primarily on selection and layout of native plants for coastal Green Roofs.  Part Two will be available for viewing later this weekend.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Nature's Living Wall, Another Native Example

I am always amazed with how Nature can design simple but beautiful living walls.  Yesterday I was walking in the Suwannee River State Park and happened upon violets growing out of a cypress root.
Viola sp., Nature created living wall, vertical green
Nature takes the simplistic approach sometimes and creates stunning beauty with amazing complexity.  The old cypress tree's root crevice was no more than a few inches deep and a few inches wide, filled with nothing but sharp, washed river sand; yet the violets were growing in such a happy manner.

Bird droppings had provided a small amount of organic matter such as nitrogen and the like.

The crevice was exposed to moderate sunlight yet was shaded enough to keep the violets from becoming too dried out or desiccated.

Though usually considered an annual plant, native violets may do very well in vertical green applications, especially where shade is involved, even surpassing many other living wall plants in durability under some situations.

I always learn so much from nature.  And importantly, most times nature teaches us about crucial design issues on an incremental basis.  Learning what plant grows best how in what media from looking around as you experience everyday life is   one of the best methods of understanding living wall and green roof design.  One does not have to walk beneath the great constructed living walls of the world to learn about successful vertical green design (though it helps).  Nature too, can teach us incrementally through her selection and use of plants we see appearing in the cracks of walls, on the tops of buildings, across bridges and even growing out of hot asphalt pavements.

You see, nature has first created all plants; from simple crevice growing violets to those in the beautiful man-assembled living walls.

Learning from the original teacher is the best way to learn.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tropical Living Wall and Green Roof Design, Factoring in Frost and Pseudomonas Ice Nucelator

Winter is around the corner.
Ice-frost around a green roof web supporting succulents
 For many green roofs and living walls the change in seasons really does not matter because the system and plants are expected to go into dormancy until the next spring arrives.   For equatorial areas, cold and frost are not typically common concerns either.  Yet for green roofs and living walls  in Florida and other regions where that unexpected frost may or may not occur, ice crystal damage can potentially kill an entire living wall or green roof planting.

And sometimes these unwelcome weather events can happen well above the freezing point.

Understanding the bio-mechanics of frost can help the living wall and green roof designer prepare for possible ice crystal stress on plants used in these systems.

In general, plants used in exterior living walls appear to be more resilient to cold than those flat on the ground. Dismantling one of my oldest walls last night, I was amazed to see one of the cactus plants, Disocactus flagelliformis, not only survive the cold but thrive. Amazingly, most of the literature on the web specifies a minimum temperature of 50 degrees F and clearly warns against frost exposure.

Last year we experienced several nights in the low twenties. However the cactus keeps on growing.

With my curiosity peaked, I researched frost, cold and plants on Google trying to sort through the thermodynamics of air movement, heat and cold transfer and the five different types of frost. It seems that as the ground layer of air cools, the warm air rises. So the vertical positioned plants on the wall could actually be several degrees warmer than those plants on the ground. There are several interesting stories of how orange grove owners use helicopters to keep warm air blown back down into orchards in California on occasional nights with freezing temperatures or where frost may become a threat.

Additionally and to my surprise I read where many plants on the ground support epiphytc bacteria growth of Pseudomonas bacteria, a gram negative bacteria that also acts as an ice nucelator.

From the available literature it seems that the presence of ice-positive Pseudomonas can actually cause ice/frost to form on the plant surface, even at temperatures well above freezing.

Frost damages the epithelial layer, in many instances killing the plant.  Frost can act like a butcher knife on some succulents and cut the leaf surface to shreds, exposing the once protected vascular system to desiccating winds and debilitating sun.  For those cold-tender succulents and living wall plants, an unexpected frost encouraged by unexpected Pseudomonas bacteria may ruin a tropical or semi-tropical living wall or even green roof.

And Pseudomonas bacteria is typically found almost everywhere.  Sometimes there presence is persistent for some reason, possibly due to a per-existing environmental factor that may serve as a natural attractant to Pseudomonas.  In these areas, frost my occur well-above the normal freezing temperatures.

Interestingly however, there is a ice-minus strain of Pseudomonas also, a mutant bacteria that also occurs naturally that does not possess the ice formation encouraging mechanism that its non-mutant sibling possesses.

Leave it to capitalism to go figure out how to profit on these two types of bacteria. SnoMax - made by Johnson Controls - see SnoMax's website, is a product made from the ice-plus variety and is used for making snow! On the other hand, FrostBan - see article - creates a crop resilient to frost. FrostBan was the subject of many GMO battles during the 1980's and early 1990's.

I don't have the testing equipment to see if my Disocactus cactus had the ice-minus Pseudomonas, or if the plant growing vertically with excellent air flow had just avoided the dispersal of common Pseudomonas.

But the fact that it survives the cold and continues to grow on the wall is another piece in the green roof and green wall plant database we are all developing.

There really is so much to learn concerning tropical and semi-tropical green roofs and living walls.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Native Wildflowers for Florida Green Roofs

Enjoy this photo from my archive of the Breaking Ground Green Roof!  Florida native wildflowers are in bloom, including; Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Muhly grass, Mimosa, Yucca and more! :)
Florida Wildflowers on a Green Roof!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sustainable, Creative and Beautiful Stormwater Solutions

Stormwater drainage swales can be Eco-friendly and beautiful. 
Stormwater Swales can add stunning vertical green to the Urban Core

Much of the time they are just mowed weedy areas devoid of vegetation.  However, here is a very successful example of a stormwater swale in sandy soil with mature vegetation planted along the sides and even in the basin.

Trees observed include: Atlantic red cedar, Juniperus virginiana; live oak, Quercus virginiana and long leaf pine, Pinus palustris.

Notice the guard rail to the south of the swale to keep traffic from hitting the trees.  This swale is located at the western end of the bridge on Highway 100 crossing the Intercoastal Water Way heading east into Flagler Beach, Florida.

Kudos to the forward thinking designers!

Living Walls for Sustainable Commercial Design

I was visiting the Town Center in Jacksonville Florida's Southside area this past week when I was impressed with the success of a series of living walls constructed in varying locations throughout the large commercial development.

Living Walls are a great, ecologically friendly architectural addition to any building
The design included several different species of vines and multiple commercially products made specifically to support living wall plants, like the Green Screen free standing system pictured immediately below.
Green Screen trellising system screens a refuse collection area

Unfortunately, the plants used here were not native Florida evergreen vines but rather somewhat aggressive horticultural non-native species.  Substitutions with native species such as coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens (an evergreen) or Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens (another evergreen vine) with beautiful yellow flowers would have added to the biodiversity and provided amazing habitat and beauty.

However I am not knocking the design.  Any vertical green in the urban core has its benefits, from cooling urban heat island effect to cleaning stormwater and air.
Living walls add an interesting architectural twist to design

Living walls create beauty and shade

The important idea is to use and integrate plants in urban settings.  The more vertical green, the more benefits.  Trees also, as we are well aware, can be utilized to create visually interesting architectural points.
Palms as a center piece in the Town Center design

Palms are used to create visual height here along this walkway

On a more limited scale, vertical green systems can be created by the homeowner for a fraction of the cost of more expensive commercial systems and incorporate recycling into the process.

The photo below depicts an example where old chain link fence was used on a vertical wall section below a green roof.  The chain link fencing is quite strong and will provide a trellis system capable of supporting most vines.
Chain link fencing used to create a living wall trellis system

Remember, adding vertical green to the urban core has many ecological benefits.  It is always good to see projects such as Jacksonville's Town Center incorporate vertical use of plants into the architectural and landscape design.