Plants

 
 
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Plants, with their ability to convert sunlight, water and nutrients to biomass, are the food base for the varied forms of animal life. Humans, sitting high on the food web, are directly or indirectly connected to the plant kingdom for sustenance. Plants provide primary shelter or building materials to many animal species.

Plants are used in permaculture in a variety of ways:

•Wildcrafting

The least intensive form of use is to collect the products of plants growing unattended in the wild. Plants for food, fiber, medicine, flavoring, clothing and implements may be found easily in most landscapes. Even in urban areas, the plants growing in unattended 'wild' places may offer a bounty of products.

•Control

Plants may be used for windbreaks, sun traps, visual screening, solar shading, water flow control and other such functions on a site. Usually, when used in this manner, we try to select plants that provide other uses as well.

•Production

Growing of plants for food, fiber or building materials is a major component of permaculture. Cultivation may be intensive, as in an herb garden close to a home, or relatively low care, as in a nut orchard placed near a woodland. A design may incorporate greenhouses, water gardens, keyhole gardens, trellises, and a range of other plantings for productive purposes. The plants themselves may require pruning, pleaching and other forms of care.

•Wildlife Attraction

A healthy permaculture landscape contains animals as well as plants. Planting to provide habitat and food for beneficial insects, birds, wild and domestic animals may be part of the design. Aquaculture may be included.

•Soil Enhancement

All plants provide organic matter that may be returned to the soil. Some plants, however, go further and have the ability to add nitrogen. These are particularly useful for improving the soil for other plants. Plant roots help keep the soil loose and some form symbiotic relationships with helpful subsurface fungi, algae or bacteria.

Notes on Cultivation
Cultivation may increase erosion and loss of soil moisture as soil particle surface is exposed to air. Forms of cultivation that avoid plowing and turning over of the earth will be more conservative of soil and soil moisture. Sheet mulching is one approach to creation of a suitable planting medium without disturbing the soil. Cultivation and intensive planting often leads to a need to adjust to plant predators. The first line of defense is to use a 'pest avoidance' approach by planting plants that take care of themselves. Diversity of plants provides a habitat where 'pests' and 'desirables' are kept in balance and the insects and diseases attacking plants are kept under natural control. Companion planting may provide natural repellents to keep insects away from food producing plants.

A Word on Trees
Trees are one of the most important plant types on Earth. They increase precipitation, modify temperature, greatly reduce run-off, filter air and sediments, reach into and loosen soil, protect against wind and produce diversified environments. A healthy forest will have many layers and different animals and birds will live at each level.
Clearing of land for agriculture and grazing, and clear cutting for pulp and wood products has greatly reduced the tree cover on Earth. Reestablishing forests and planting of trees should be high on a permaculture design agenda.
Forest restoration and ecoforestry practices allow wood products to be harvested without destroying wildlife, recreation and other values of forest habitats.