Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Groasis Waterboxx: Desert Greening, Root Infrastructure Development, Water Savings, Teaching Kids Nature, etc, etc, etc

The Groasis-Waterboxx is a device designed to help grow trees in dry areas. It was invented and developed by Dutch former flower exporter Pieter Hoff, and who won the Popular Science Green Tech Best of What's New Innovation of the year award for 2010.

image - NotCot

Plants on Life-Support
I've never used these Groasis Waterboxx products, but more and more I'm intrigued as I've stumbled across videos, articles and testimonials as to their effectiveness in dryland plant establishment. While the advent of drip irrigation brought hope for saving massive amounts of water and preventing  waste, my dislike for drip systems as a dominant solution practiced by most all professionals came from having the primary responsibility of the maintenance of the system as a landscape supervisor. The various emitter heads easily clogged as a result of the SoCal municipal water loaded with chlorine and it's high mineral content. Not to mention insect intrusion and wildlife desperately chewing and biting the plastic lines in search of a drink. Also,  I've found that many plants become too much dependent on dripsystems and would not mature unless weaned off early and gradually. Many commercial and homeowner urban landscapes have had plants on drip systems for for so many years that basically they are on a life-support system. Disconnect and they do not have the underground infrastructure to survive without it. So training plants as opposed to making them technology dependent interested me more and more. The other drawback with dripsystem maintenance is that the water is always present on the surface which creates damp opportunities for weed seeds to germinate. Mulch helps, but I always wanted to encourage my plants to develop deeper rootsystems into subterranean layers of the earth. This ensures better survival rates, plant vigor and health during the hotter months of the year. Here is what the device looks like.

Image - Goasis-Waterboxx
From the description at the groasis.com website, the waterboxx is quite simply a round device made from polypropylene. The device has a diameter of 20”and is 10” high – about the size of a car tire. The waterboxx holds 16 liters (4 gallons) of water and 75mm (3 inches) of rain is sufficient to fill it 100%. And believe it or not, one box filled with water is enough for an entire year. The waterboxx cocoon is designed to capture both rainwater and dew condensation, which collects in the chamber underneath the cover, and the internal mechanisms prevents the water from evaporating. The cover also helps produce condensation and captures the water by a process of physics. You can plant one or two plants/seeds in the open center pipe sleave in the soil. The water enters the box through the two openings and also the cap can be used to refill if necessary. They have designed optional wind protectors which can be attached if you have an area with strong winds. 

Notice the illustration below of those two pipes which function as a type of siphon and at the same time prevents water in the box from evaporating. There are one or two wicks inside the container on the bottom which then externally tap into the ground beneath the box and drips a small amount of water to the plant daily. After about a year the plants roots should have grown deep enough to reach a subsoil water source on its own (perhaps several feet or meters below ground) you can then remove the box and the plant should thrive on its own. You can reuse the waterboxx multiple times, but the wick must be replaced. 
Image - Groasis.com

This concept biomimics nature in that it forces plant roots to penetrate deeper into the subsoil layers as you can see in the illustration below. Water's movement is dictated by the downward pull of gravity and very little will move horizonally if the soil conditions are right. Even in rocky soils, the water will find the easiest way of penetrating downwards through cracks for which roots will follow. Interestly, some good scientific research has discovered that plant roots actually have a sensory system which will detect the presence of misture, then track water and growing in that direction. Researchers discovered this and published studies back in 2014. They also discovered that providing synthetic fertilizers at planting time in the hole (common science-based planting recommendations practiced by conventional commercial industries) hindered the ability of the plant to develop proper rooting structure. When you find time, follow this link below the illustration here:

Water provides a Hydropatterning Blueprint for Rooting Architecture & "Infrastructure"

The concept of this Groasis Waterboxx is to biomimic Nature, which doesn´t plant trees and shrubs, but rather but sows seed, by means of birds and animals, on top of the soil. Their manure functions as a type pf protective cover so that a capillary column (humidity column) can develop inside the soil. The seed germinates, develops its root in the capillary column and once water is found deeper in the soil, the leaves will develop and evaporation and photosynthesis can start. The problem is not growing trees on rocky soils or in sandy deserts, but planting and germinating and then bringing the tree through the planting period until it has grown enough to get water from the soil's capillary pore structure on its own. This is the what & how the Groasis Waterboxx apparently solves with these problems.

Image - Kevin Franck
You need to understand though what Peter Hoff is talking about when he often references capillary pore structure of soils. Interestingly I experimented with an easy to understand capillary action with an old fashioned traditional glass jar and papertowel project (often used in elementary schools) and a seed from a Catsclaw Acacia (Acacia greggii). The capillary action allowed water to travel upwards through the fibers of the papertowel which lined the outer edges of the glass jar with a couple of inches of water on the bottom of this tall jar. Much like the one I did with several different desert seeds to the right here in 2013. In my 1970s experiment, the Acacia seed germinated and for a couple of weeks, a single white taproot immerged and grew straight downwards. At the bottom of the jar the root spun around the glass bottom several revolutions until finally it triggered top growth of a couple of leaves stems. Aside from the physics involved, the plant clearly had encoded programming instructing the roots to grow furiously fast to reach deeper layers of soil prior to sprouting the leaves. This encoded strategy within the plant's DNA no doubt insured the plant's survival in an otherwise inhospitable desert habitat. So again, the logic behind the waterboxx is to “copy” or replicate what Nature does with a seed when it develops its roots before the actual plant starts to grow above the ground by providing itself with water before the water begins to evaporate. When using the Groasis Waterboxx, the same principle applies here if planting a plant instead of a seed. It is therefore imperative that the tree must be as small as possible. The waterboxx does not disturb the soil and therefore maintains the existing capillary pore structure in the soil.

Recommended Seedling container size & notice
the Mycorrhizal Fungi ?

In all soil there is capillary water action happening, but as soon as the sun rises & shines on the soil the capillary dries up, the Groasis Waterboxx prevents this. Every place on earth has some rain season, even the middle of the Sahara, Sonoran, Mojave, Kalahari, Gobi deserts, etc, where the rain falls and evaporates within days and that is all the rainfall most of these places will receive for a very long time. Therefore the problem is not a lack of water but the rapid capture, storage and slow distribution of water over a period of time to the plants. The waterboxx captures this rainwater and distributes it via an ingenious stand-alone system which also  involves condensation. During the night the temperature of the surface drops lower than the surrounding air due to radiation. Due to the temperature difference between the surface of the waterboxx and the air, the air surrounding the waterboxx is cooled below the dew point and the air condenses at the surface of the waterboxx, forming droplets. The waterboxx’s design not only collects dew but enhances the generation of condensation on a daily basis. This water produced is produced and collected by means of physics is then utilized in small daily dosages throughout the year. To avoid evaporation, the waterboxx cover encloses the tree, therefore neither the capillary nor the distributed water dry out.  The buffer in the Groasis Waterboxx functions as an equalizer of the soil. It avoids extreme temperatures and stimulates the root growth. Here is a video they have created to explain how the system works in replication of nature.
(Word of caution. I'm not a fan of the music they use, so turn the volume low on youtube. I would have preferred a narrator. However it's still educational with the text provided)

Recommended Planting Techniques
Image: Ziska Childs
The beauty of using this Groasis Waterboxx is that they encourage and advise starting with seeds, young vegetables, flowering plants, and young trees. The one of the things I love about their recommendation as far as size is something I have always practiced and advised. Use only one gallon or less. However their advice is not one gallon plants which may still have some root spinning in the container, but rather plants grown in elongated tubes with very young seedlings as shown in the photo at the left in the five gallon bucket. Or you can plant a seed such as emerging seedling germination as seen below with it's tap root at about a quarter inch long. But notice also the young plant in the second photo below the two oak acorns. This would be incredibly effective with bareroot planting projects for forest restorations. 

Images - Groasis.com
When it comes to traditional Forestry or Timber company restoration projects, massive amounts of trees are planted with the expectation that a large percentage with not make it leaving only the lucky few. With such a system as this you could increase survival rates close to 100%. The little chart figure below is desert survival when using their Waterboxx and not using their waterboxx. Think of how high the survival rates would be in chaparral or forest ecosystems if habitat restoration techniques employed this product.

Image - Groasis.com
For best results, they recommend that your plants selected plants should be native to the area you are planting. To make the right choice before planting, you would need to look around the area and take note of the oldest species that are thriving. These are the species that should be planted in the area. Once the species are chosen the planting process would be simple. If you use a capillary drill like the one recommended by Goasis, clean the top layer of the soil by cutting away the weeds, but they insist you not get into the soil or pull the weeds – in other words you don’t want to destroy the natural capillary structure of the soil pores. Dig the small planting hole, approximately 5 inches (10 cm) deep and 4 inches (8 cm) wide. Then put the seedling or sapling with the tree’s roots in the hole and fill the rest with potting soil while pushing towards the roots. Pour a few liters of water through the open center of the Groasis Waterboxx, and ensure the tree and its root make good contact with the soil. Now you can place the Groasis Waterboxx on top of it without its top, place stones in the Groasis Waterboxx to prevent it from being blown away. Continue to add water until it overflows and then place the top on the waterboxx and carefully close it to avoid unnecessary evaporation. Add the two tubes in the top openings and add some extra water on top which will go into the open center of the waterboxx allowing for the soil under the box to remain humid.
Plant instructions for the Groasis Technology
Incorporating Mycorrhizal Fungi and NO FERTILIZER (Synthetic or Organic) at time of outplanting is imperative  (My Own Opinion)

As many here reading this blog know, I am adamantly pro-mycorrhizal and almost zero fertilizers. Mt preferred brand in the United States is Mycorrhizal Application Inc's products under the MycoApply label. Interestingly, on my last visit I contacted PHC's distributor, Lebanon Turf , for all Plant Health Care Inc's products which I used in the past, but they informed me last month when visiting my mother in California that the State did not allow their products inside of California. I was actually looking to test their PHC Tree Saver product (which is mostly P.T. Mycorrhizal spores), but it never happened. No matter, the MycorrApply works great. I'm sure Europe has a collection of good brands available here. Below is a good video example on how dedicated the Groasis folks are to the strict use of mycorrhizal fungi. Below that I've provided a link to their entire mycorrhizal advice and testomonials Library:

Without listing all the videos on using Mycorrhizal Fungi along with the Groasis-Waterboxx, here is one of their Youtube accounts called Groasis Vegetables which contains the entire series of tutortorials of incorporating fungi & beneficial bacteria with the plants
Groasis Vegetables & Mycorrhizae - Video Library
Is it possible to use one gallon container Shrubs/Trees with the Groasis Waterboxx Cocoon ??? 
Most certainly, but you'll have to do a bit of plant root pruning prep to make sure the tree or shrub will form a proper deep rooting infrastructure which is ultimately the goal here. This video below is an excellent ilustration of what to do with container nursery grown plants prior to planting where the root system has a spin around problem. I've used this technique without using the Groasis Waterboxx for decades now and it does not hurt the plant. It simply encourages resprouting  in a downwards movement as you will see with a Mango tree where after 20 days has put on straight downwards growing roots 80 inches deep into the subsoil. Wonderful testomonial video on just how quickly and deeply the root systems are encouraged to grow.

Some Reading References on Perfect Root Infrastructure
How to create the perfect tree: We teach you how to repair destroyed primary roots 
Groasis Waterboxx Removal after one Year
After about one year the plant primary roots should have grown deep enough to reach the underground water and have become strong enough to survive without the help of the waterboxx. This stage becomes evident when the trees exhibit a strong growth phase. When this happens, the polypropylene waterboxx can be removed and used for a new planting. The claim by Groasis is that the polypropylene waterboxx can be reused 15 to 20 more times. This lessens the cost of the box over time. If you haved used model that has a double opening for two or three plants, and more than one plant has suvived, this is also the time to cut the weakest of the plants and leave the strongest one to grow. Below is one of two Groasis Biodegradable Plant Cocoons. The one below is for "Orchard and Garden" while the other which you'll see in a link I'll provide below of both is to be used in remote outplanting projects like "Reforestation and Habitat Restoration" projects. 

Image - Groasis Waterboxx
Introduction of the Growboxx plantcocoon®
Some Groasis Waterboxx Success Stories & their are hundreds, but here are just a few

Image - Groasis-Waterboxx

Sequoia gigantea (Sierra Redwood)
DewHarvest: Sequoia Progress in Indiana with the Groasis Waterboxx

Image - Groasis Waterboxx
This is an Anti-Desertification Project in Kuwait where the plants on the left were drip irrigation and on the right grown with the Groasis Waterboxx Cocoons
Coachella Valley Habitat Restroation Projects and teaching School kids
Image - Groasis.com
Desert Springs Middle School Pipe Canyon Project
Raymond Cree Middle School - Whitewater Restoration Project
Desert HotSprings High School - Dos Palmas Oasis Project
Palm Springs High School - Whitewater Land Reserve
San Isidro Ski Resort in Spain
This video below shows the plantation of trees in rocks. The plantation is in San Isidro ski resort Spain. The planting is above the tree line. The tree line in San Isidro is at 1,800 meters (6000 feet). In winter there is one to two meters of snow on Waterboxxes and their the saplings. The Groasis Waterboxx protects them well. Over 90% of the trees survive. The other kool things is that both mycorrhizal inoculation and companion planting of different trees and shrubs is discussed. The idea is to increase protection from avalanche potential.

The nasty rugged terrain and soil conditions remains me of many of the regions I come from in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs California.
Image - Groasis.com

Image - Groasis.com

Image - Groasis.com
There are lots more things to talk and discuss, but the website is a treasure trove of many other ideas, techniques and successful restoration programs going on around the globe. Click on their website and learn more. I merely tried putting things in logical order and touched on some scientific research here and there which back up some of the ideas they have which even they may not be aware of. Just one more word on subterranean water and plant's preference for this type of water. I've written about this before because of my fascination with hydrological minerotrophic systems. Todd Dawson has spent massive amounts of time research hydraulic lift and redistribution. Here is a link to a post I did and research he did on findings of streamside trees hydrating themselves from deep subsoil layers as opposed to surface waters.
Todd Dawson's Lab - Streamside Trees that do not utilize Streamside Surface Water
Recent Related posts I've published this week associated with Groasis Technology, Companion Planting, Mycorrhizal Fungi, and Habitat Restoration in remote locations
Positive Interactions and Mutual Dependence between two Desert Plants
How to Biomimic Nature's Companion Planting & the Reasons You Should
Is it safe to plant & water California Natives Plants in Summer ?
Some Further Important & Interesting Research References

Researchgate Report: the Groasis waterboxx © - La Primavera Agricultural Cooperative - Italy
Groasis Waterboxx Main Youtube page
Groasis Vegetables & Mycorrhizae - Video Library

Monday, June 27, 2016

How to Biomimic Nature's Companion Planting & the Reasons You Should

For those keenly aware of their surroundings when you're out walking in Nature, you will always find that companion planting is very common. That's what makes various ecosystems everywhere so very unique and successful. Humans now are finding this out as they reverse engineer many of these systems through mistakes introduced by previous bad science which has allowed invasive plants to disrupt these systems. This has happened on every single continent on this planet. The early Native Americans knew the value of companion planting when they created farming systems known as "The three Sisters Farming" no doubt from their observations of how things worked well together in the natural world. In theory, the three sisters crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a "living mulch", creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. But again, this pattern is an unmistakable part of Nature found repeatedly over and over for 10s of 1000s of years. So what happened ?

A California Biologists Perspective - Bert Wilson
"Permaculture, Agroforestry, and Agroecology. These words have many characteristics in common, in terms of agriculture. The concepts from permaculture (permanent agriculture), agroforestry (growing tree crops and vine, field crops together), agroecology (study of agriculture using the basic ideas of ecosystems) are all interrelated. If you think about it, each of these systems is moving agriculture (growing living organisms for the benefit of man) closer to the natural world. The missing component is the integration of wildland plants into the mix. Every time you remove wild habitat, the agriculture suffers in that area; maybe in small ways, but small ways add up to big ways. For example, researchers have found that having strips, or areas of wild plants adjacent to, or growing within field and orchard crop areas support native pollinators such as bees and flies that help to increase pollination of the crops and so increase crop yields."
"Wild plants may support some of the predators and parasites that prey on your agricultural crop pests, and add stability to the immediate habitat, by redundancy. The cultivation of agricultural plants has, by definition, probably net negative impacts on an ecosystem (the practice of agriculture removes soil nutrition from an area, and decreases biological diversity, from microscopic soil organisms to large mammals). Incorporating indigenous plants adjacent to agricultural plantings supports more variety of beneficial organisms, and increases biological diversity, and can add nutrition to the site. Then, if one plant or animal fails one year, there are others to perform that function temporarily. So the 'plant-animal community' of cultivated plants, naturalized and indigenous plants and animals small and large, and other organisms, can recover from adversity more quickly, and reduce adversity's effects. Another analogy is that this plant-animal grouping is like a giant web; if one strand of the web fails, there are other strands to hold the web together. The more interlinking strands, the stronger the web. Also, in terms of humankind, there may be some species, even though we don't realize it now, that could help us to survive in the future. So it is to our advantage to save all the natural habitat that we can. One way is to integrate wild plants into the edges of our gardens, fields, and orchards. Instead of just mimicking nature, how about including nature?"

Image - laspilitas.com
This is Bert Wilson of "Las Pilitas California Native Plants Nursery" who for many years just didn't grow plants for sale, but spent countless hours studying, documenting and educating others on the biological mechanisms in which various plant ecosystems function and operate. While other sites selling native plants have also done this, none come close to the scale with which Bert Wilson attempted to help his customers understand the underground mycrobiological interface which makes the successful whole plant ecosystems in pristine states appear to be so healthy and successful. Interestingly, from my own conversations with him on the telephone in the past, he said some eco-activist organizations were disappointed he didn't take a more active political role in furthering the cause for ecology. Actually he did do this through indepth ecosystem education far beyond anything many of these groups have ever accomplished through their civil disobendience inspired protests and filing a plethora of lawsuits. Bert's writings of the basic fundamentals and principles of how plant systems work are further enhanced with what the Groasis-waterboxx attempts to accelerate in these natural processes as opposed to handicapping them as the conventional science-based practices have done for decades.
This is what happens when science-based practices are shackled to Corporate Business Interests 
For the past 100+ years, human technological innovation has  attempted to harness nature in making what the industry leaders decades ago have always viewed as improving Nature's flaws. 

Image - Utah Wildlife
Of course the theory behind site preparation and grinding up all vegetation into a mulch by a giant Balldozer pulling a roller is that this will (in their imagination) ensure no competition and the resulting nutrients feeding the trees. In actuality they've just eliminated the very mechanisms which would have helped the tree seedling/saplings survival
D-9 Bulldozer site preparation
Same misplaced theory for deep ripping the soil in site preparation. Ensure that no chaparral lignotubers and roots are left to resprout and compete with their precious plantation trees. 
D-9 Bulldozers ripping baparral with anchor chain
Old time outdated irresponsible method for site preparation. Even still, many a practices today are deeply entrenched in the mind of those employed with the Industrial Forestry business model.

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired)
This scene above looks almost exactly like Garner Valley in the San Jacinto Mountains where I once lived for 20+ years. They actually disked this Jeffrey Pine forest floor like this periodically. However this photo is in actually what the US Forest Service calls a scarification program which was done by disking to expose bear mineral soil, as in this ponderosa pine stand in the Pike National Forest of Colorado. Their theory was that establishing newer trees needed site preparation by mechanical seed bed preparation and competition control which they felt was necessary to establish the new pine seedlings. Garner Valley has had numerous such projects done exactly the way you see above. The process ultimately was chaparral cutting, disking, then mulching and smoothing of the ground. Pines were then planted and had to be maintain by hand watering the first couple years by Forest Service personel using an old time farm caterpillar pulling what is known as a Water Buffalo Trailer which were military surplus items provided such government agencies after World War II for their conservation work. Throughout the 1980s, I drove past numerous tree planting projects by the U.S. Forest Service along Hwy 74 through Garner Valley and watch them rip up the landscape of all chaparral, disk & mulch organic material left over and smooth out the surface in preparation of tree planting. After planting for the next two years they used an old Ford Tractor or WWII Farm Caterpillar to pull one of these Water Buffalo Trailers and hydrate the pine seedlings by hand over countless acreas.

Image - publicsurplus.com

Old time Army Water Buffalo Trailer
The Chaparral Institute has done an incredible job of documenting many of these irresponsible outdated practices as used by the U.S. forest Service and Timber Industries whose goal is servicing the land as a monocropped agricultural program. It doesn't matter if their justification claims to be science-based. People are going to have to stop using the term Science in the general sense and understand that many will misuse and abuse that term in justifying a commercial business model. Take note of the terrible aftermath of the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County California and the attempts to reforest Cuyamaca State Park which lost most of it's forests in the video below. Notice the ignorance displayed in attempts at obliterating all chaparral believed to be a major invasive competitor of forest tree re-establishment. 

Chaparral Institute: Loss in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
How the Groasis-Waterboxx can rapidly speed up the process of companion planting
Image - Goasis.com

Oregon State University
The ultimate goal of Pieter Hoff's Groasis-Waterboxx as represented in the animation above is to help facillitate long downward growing rootsystems which will hit subterranean moisture which will provide assured survival success. This is highlighted in the photo at right of a large main taproot of a Western Juniper in eastern Oregon. Create that type of root  infrastructure and you're home free. However, the planting of an additional companion nurse plant will also further the successful survival rate along with other shared nutritional requirements and health benefits further enhanced by the mycorrhizal fungi interface happening between differing plant species. The benefits of utilizing chaparral plants, especially those with incredible lignotuber developing abilities is that they have multiple taproots which drive and spiral downwards deep into the earth. This is why I have often photographed many examples of erosion exposed rootsystems on my own treks for the purpose of illustrating their capabilities. Pieter Hoff's website also has several pages also provide photos of rootsout in the wild dedicated for this same illustrative purpose. For example, this lugnotuber of a plant common to the southwest, Algerita or Mexican Barberry.

by Bob Harms - University of Texas

Mexican Barberry (Algerita) Berberis trifoliolata (Mahonia)

Lignotuber: "A rounded woody growth at or below ground level on some shrubs and trees that grow in areas subject to fire or drought, containing a mass of buds and food reserves."

Nobody ever considers the underground rooting network infrastructure and the successes this creates if grown correctly and they should. Especially where I come from where climate change made worse drought conditions are making it more and more impossible to maintain a healthy good looking urban landscape. People everywhere in dryland regions should seriously start looking for shrubs which would make the best Nurse plant companions to trees they wish to plant. And good looking native ornamentals should be researched first before considering some long time traditional retail nursery alternative.

Image - Groasis.com
You'll notice the design of the Groasis Waterboxx Cocoon actually allows for two plants to be inserted, not just one. In their videos they provide examples of how well this works in the commercial greenhouse and shadehouse vegetable operations where this type of association is desirable. But also in some examples, they show outplanting at remote locations where they have deliberately planted two differing plant species to compliment each other. As the example above which shows Mountain Ash on the left and perhaps a type of Mulberry on the right. 

The Green Deserts' research project in Spain
Image - Goasis.com

Image - Goasis.com (Biodegradable Goasis Cocoon)

Okay yes, size does matter
The concept of planting two companion plants together in replication of what actually goes down in Nature all the time for the past 10s of 1000s of years is not only good common sense, but also thrilling. Think of the possibilities of doing your own experiment and jotting down all the data and making comparisons to the conventional recommendations by the so-called experts using dogmatic science-based conjecture ? Think of how you can instill appreciation and teach your own kids if you have them on how nature actually works. Seriously, they'll never get this from the textbooks at public school. However to get the full benefits, you first need to de-program yourself from conventional  teachings. Realize the "Survival of the Fittest" is now a dead concept. Mutualism rules. Take a closer look at our planet and what this blind faith doctrine has done to overall ecosystem health over the past 100+ years. Look where we are now with climate change. Next, stop being impatient when it comes to planning your urban landscape design. I understand everyone wants instant landscape installation. Hence you've purchased in the past five, fifteen or 20 gallon trees or box container larger specimens. Purchase very  small trees & shrubs which will far out perform any five gallon container or burlap tree or shrub. Ignore those large specimens at the nursery. Forget the 6' tall burlap examples like the illustration below. They will NEVER develop a proper deep rooted infrastructure that the devices from grosasis-waterboxx cocoon will encourage to develop. My only regret in writing this is that I'll never be able to test this in a drylands type climate. For me this patented product came too late. For me I would have loved this device back in the 1980s when I was more heavily involved with looking for the basic fundamentals and principles in how whole plant ecosystems work in cooperation with each other. This is the type of thing that should be taught in elementary schools and fortunately it is being taught and practiced down in Palm Springs, California on some of their desert projects.
Reforestation Groasis waterboxx desert planting experiment with Palm Springs School District

Image - familthandyman.com
The tall tree in the burlap wrapping should always be rejected in favour of something which will outperform it on down the road with far less care and maintenance.  Also less danger of large trees with spiraled girdles root systems which will easily blow over in wind storms.
Gallery of successful plant companions, both for natural biomimetic replication in urban landscaping or habitat restoration
Image - Kevin Franck (2013)

Jeffrey & Coulter Pines planted in among Redshank,
Sugarbush, Scrub Oak, Chamise Chaparral plant community
back in 1983 in Anza Ca, (Terwilliger area)

Image - Kevin Franck (El Cajon, CA 2013)

Torrey Pine & Laurel Sumac
 Rattlesnake Mountain - El Cajon, California

Image - Kevin Franck 

Cuyamaca Cypress in Chaparral Community

(Adenostoma, Quercus, Cercocarpus)

Image by Game Warden Bill Bish

Indian Paint Brush with Artemesia-Sagebrush
An Icon of the Old West, Sagebrush (Atermisia tridentata) is Still Demonized as a Competing Invasive in it's Own Native Habitat

Image - Tarelton State University

Antelope Bitterbrush & Pine Tree

Image - María Florencia Urretavizcaya, Guillermo E. Defossé

 Austrocedrus chilensis (Chile - Argentina)

Image by J. Deacon - University of Edinburgh

Oagan Pipe Cactus in Palo Verde

Image - National Park Service
Saguaro National Monument

The Sonoran Desert studies on companion trees and nurse plants are beautiful examples of how Nurse Plants work and operate in real time. The interesting phenomena of Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution are also points to consider when planning any type of project whether urban landscaping or habitat restoration. And let's not forget the winter dormancy phenomena of hydraulic descent where rainy season moisture is pumped deep into the earth's subsoil layers in recharging subterranean moisture reserves. The goal here is not only immediate and long term survival success, but also the elimination of time wasting and expensive hands on on maintenance. Even in human societies, giving someone a hand up towards sustainable independence is far better than continued welfare hand outs which keeps people on lifesupport. 

Hydraulic Descent An Ecosystem's Tool for Filling Vast Underground Reservoirs

Roots: 'Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution'
Other Valuable Resources for Urban Landscape Companion Planting & Research Studies
LasPilitas.com - Native Plant Communities and Companion Plantings
LasPilitas.com - Easy Companion Planting & Important Things to Know
Lavandula species as accompanying plants in Cupressus replanting strategies: Effect on plant growth, mycorrhizal soil infectivity and soil microbial catabolic diversity
Effects of nurse shrubs and tree shelters on the survival and growth of two Austrocedrus chilensis seedling types in a forest restoration trial in semiarid Patagonia, Argentina

Friday, June 24, 2016

Positive Interactions and Mutual Dependence between two Desert Plants

I caught this older 1978 black and white photograph by accident the other day while looking through some old archived literature on an unrelated subject. Mostly I was looking at mesquite dune references for building windbreaks or shelterbelts with native flora after removal of Tamarisk. I'm ever so thankful I made this find. It needs light shed on it.
Image is March 1978
Four-year old Prosopis tamarugo competing with native
 Atriplex atacamensis in the San Pedro de Atacama salt flat"

And so read the caption under the black and white photograph taken on March 1978 which was found down at the very bottom of this United Nations agriculture website. Can anyone appreciate the inaccurate misleading understanding back then regarding plant inter-relationships and mutualism ? Do I hear "Mother Tree" or "Nurse Plant" from anybody ? No of course not. Back then as today, we use hear people say that beautiful shrub or tree [depending on whether you champion the tree or shrub] in such a photograph seems to have the appearrance of being choked to death or strangled by the less desirable shrub. The times really haven't changed all that much with not only your average Gardener and commercial Landscaper, but also your average Professional Forester. Anyone else notice the word/term, "competing" being used in the description above of the two plants in that black and white photo ? Do either of those plants really look like they're suffering at the hands of the other ? There is an irresponsible blind faith religious concept called "Survival of the Fittest" which has done more harm than good and has set back positive scientific research more than anything else. Even today, Biomimicry leaves a foul taste in the mouths of some Ideologues who cherish an old inept Victorian Era worldview of our planet's natural world. I've seen such plant associations before, photographed them and written about them in this blog. Take a look below.

Photo Image - Kevin Franck (2013
This is an Oak tree at the bottom of my brother's property in  Ranchita California. This region in many ways is very much an interior high desert ecosystem. Very dry, cold/hot and windy at times from  any direction. And yet, take a closer look underneath that Oak tree. On a much closer inspection, this is Chaparral Honeysuckle (Lonicera interupta) and may seem odd at first being way out on this dry flat, especially considering it is still recovering from the infamous Pines Fire of 2002. Most likely some bird stopped at this Oak tree weigh station rest area and took a  dump which may have contained some Honeysuckle berry seeds. Or perhaps a Coyote or some other animal literally dropped by after dining. Yet from the appearance of vigoriously growing foliage, do we see one plant outcompeting the other here ? No!
Photo Image - Kevin Franck (2013)
This group of riparian trees above, Cottonwood, Willow and Mexican Elderberry are also associated with not only Snow Pea, but also Wild Rose. The area is east of Lake Henshaw in San Diego county cloase to the Junction of Hwy 79 & 76. Do any of these plants look to be out competing or chocking out their neighbours in some blind faith concept known as "Survival of the Fittest" ??? Hardly. But strongly entrenched blind faith human dogma concepts are hard to weed out. And yes, many evolutionary concepts which originated from an ignorant Victorian Era have held on to the present. Their continued presence in the textbooks has held back good science and ruined many an ecosystem ever since they were conceived in response to justification of a new preferred  worldview. What is needed is some major deprogamming and re-education.
 The plants in the black & white photograph. Prosopis tamarugo and Atriplex atacamensis

Image - creces.cl
Tamarugo Forest or Bosque
The Tamarugo (Prosopis tamarugo) is a deciduous legume tree growing up to 18 m high, with a crown ranging from 15 m to 20 m in diameter. Its root system consists of a deep taproot (down to 6 m) with lateral roots (down to 1.5 m). Leaves are bipinnate with 10-15 pairs of 5 mm long leaflets. Spike-like inflorescences bear golden yellow flowers. Fruits are peanut-shaped pods borne in clusters, 2 to 4 cm long. They contain an edible pulp and ovate seeds (3-4.3 mm long).
image - Nomad Desert
"The tamarugo is native to Chile (part of the Atacama desert is known as Pampa del Tamarugal). It is also found in Argentina and was introduced into India and other saline deserts of the world. It can grow up to an altitude of 1500 m. It thrives on salty sandy soils or clay loamy soils with a salt encrustation to a depth of 60 cm. It prefers the normal desert climate: high day temperatures, a large day-to-night temperature range, almost total lack of rainfall and intense sunlight. Tamarugo can withstand 10 to 12 months of drought."
Tamarugo mist watering  on leaves
"At the beginning of the 20th century, the tamarugo was almost extinct when a forest inspector noticed its ecological interest and created tamarugo plantations in the Pampa del Tamarugal. Since then, the tamarugo has been used to afforest saline deserts and has increased the overall productivity of the Tamarugal. The tree absorbs air moisture through its leaves and dispatches the collected water to its roots and to the surrounding soil, thus participating in the protection of soil water reserves. It is also a windbreaker and protects animals and people from the sun." 
There are a number of amazing qualities about this species of Prosopis (Mesquite) and others. They can all be long lived. Often 100s, 500 to 1000 years old. One particular tree in South American country of Peru, a Hurango (Prosopis pallida), is in fact called the "Milenario de Hurango" because it has been found to be estimated at 1074 years of age. It was once part of a greater forest which has just about disappeared in the  Palpa region of Peru. As a land restoration tree, the Prosopis species in South America can access subterranean waters 60 meters (almost 200 feet) deep by means of a large tap root. It is one of the few trees/plants which can tolerate saline soils and transform such otherwise inhospitable landscapes into usable fertile soils. Part of the salty soil tolerance comes from it's association with micro-organisms on their root systems. 
Cachiyuyo (Atriplex atacamensis) 'Saltbush'
Taken on November 22, 2014 - Lucas Burchard Señoret

Planta del Desierto. Cachiyuyo (Atriplex atacamensis)
Chiu Chiu. Calama. Loa. Antofagasta. Chile

This plant in the photo above is what is commonly known by name as "Saltbrush" which where I come from is one of the few plants which will grow on saltflats of Coachella and Imperial Valleys. Atriplex is the plant referenced in that black and white photograph at the beginning of this post. It's not exactly an ornamental one we would chose for the urban landscape, nor even a specimen sought after by collectors of California Native Plants, but never the less it does have some amazing beneficial qualities. For example after stumbling upon the subject of Prosopis tamarugo from South America on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website and the negative reference at the bottom of that page where gives the impression that the Atriplex was being demonized as the villan and Tamarugo as the victim. I realized that neither was true because from my own personal experience in researching on how nature utilizes sophisticated complex mechanisms for survival and success, the truth is clear that this has zero to do with "Survival of the Fittest" and more to do with survival of the mutually cooperative. Take a look at this one paragraph from the above book published in January 2007, titled:
"Positive Interactions and Interdependence in Plant Communities"
"Studies by Jose Facelli and Amada Temby (2002) in Southern Australia have also demonstrated a complex array of facilitative and competitive mechanisms working simultaneously in interactions between shrubs and the annual plants that grow around them. Shrubs altered soils, the seed bank, the effects of large vertebrates, and the subcanopy microclimate. But in a very interesting contrast to many other studies in similar systems, canopy effects were negative, reducing the effects of annuals, where as the roots of one shrub species, Atriplex vesicaria, facilitated annual species growing on the edges of it's canopy. Trenching around Atriplex shrubs decreased the abundance of annual plants. Facelli and Temby attributed the positive effects of Atriplex shrubs to hydraulic lift, and the decrease of nearby annuals after root severing to impeding the flow of water from the roots into shallow soils. Both positive and negative effects occurred in this system, but the typical of mechanisms in this system were reversed, with canopies inhibiting and root facilitating understories."
 (book source - short version)
 The mechanical benefits of hydraulic lift and redistribution of water to other plants within desert communities is fascinating and too the ability tolerate saline soils is also important when such soil degradation around the globe is increasing. Aside from being viewed as an important habitat creating tool, there are also some claimed health benefits to consumption of certain varieties. As always, thorough research and investigation on the part of those interested in such benefits and plant identification should be pursued. 
OrganicFacts: Potential health benefits of Saltbush (also known as saltbush or orache) for members of the Atriplex genus
Some concluding remarks on these plants and related ones & their landscape restoration value to people
Photo Image - BBC

The remarkable nitrogen-fixing Prosopis trees are an important source of food, forage timber and fuel for the local people of South America. But what is more important from a restoration self-sufficiency standpoint and something the average person knows very little about (if anything) and very few researchers are able press forward into the mainstream science education are the subjects - Hydraulic Lift & Redistribution - Hydraulic Descent. As referenced above with the plant Saltbush (Atriplex atacamensis) which can pull to the soil surface subterranean moisture to the benefit and well being of other plants around it. So too can the Prosopis species not only employ hydraulic lift and redistribution to entire plant ecosystems, but as other researchers have pointed out, they have the ability of removing vast amounts of surface waters during the rainy season and pumping this water deep underground, recharging aquifers and later utilizing these stores when the hot summer months appear. They also accomplish this task while still dormant in winter. The majority of these old growth Mesquite bosques are long gone. The evidence points to human stupidy and greed as the reason for their absence. The stupidity will be ongoing if they continue to ignore their value in hot dry arid saline soil desert regions which have also increased in temperature due to lack of vegetation cover. The companion planting of differing plant species is also another topic that should be shoved down people's throats until they're blue in the face. It's for their own and nature's good. Even now in one of the other links I've provided below, research is being done on experimenting with companion planting of Lavender & Arizona Cypress which have been observed to form healthier mycorrhizal associations and plant establishment. The old school science-based conventional ways of doing things is slowly killing this planet and biomimicry is going to come to the fore more and more. The bogus reforestation concept of stripping land bare of all competing shrubs so that more economically and aesthetically pleasing trees may flourish has done more harm than good and it continues. Most of this newer scientific understanding of plant mutualism will fall on deaf ears when it comes to human government and giant corporate business interests back by industrial science. However, it's hoped that such info will benefit small communities around the globe, habitat restoration groups, urban landscapers and home gardeners who more often have a passion for the natural world and a biomimetics approach which totally eliminates these destructive conventional science-based technologies. The pursuit of such conventional textbook mandates have over the past 100+ years degraded this planet to the point of serious climate disruption. At the bottom of this post below the references is one such interesting tool which could be of benefit to many. I'll post a link later.

Some interesting links and other references
Food & Agriculture Organization of U.N. - Prosopis Part I

The Huarango and Algarrobo forests of coastal Peru: rays of hope

BBC - Tree planting in the driest place on Earth

Science Direct: Lavandula species as accompanying plants in Cupressus replanting strategies: Effect on plant growth, mycorrhizal soil infectivity and soil microbial catabolic diversity
Hydraulic Lift and Redistribution of Water for the Benefit of other Plants in San Diego County
Adenostoma fasciculatum (chamise or greasewood): Worthless Brush or potential Nurse Plant ???

Photo Image: Groasis-Waterboxx
I have another post on this very subject of mutualism where an ingenius product by a company called Groasis-Waterboxx has experimented throughly [with the help of it's own customers] and successfully in hot dry desert regions around the globe. Even practicing planting with mycorrhizal inoculum and companion planting with two differing species of plants for successful establishment as you see in the photo above. Stay tuned.
Update June 27, 2016: 
Okay, here is the link I've created on companion planting using the Groasis-Waterboxx Cocoon. Their website also has vast amounts of tips, ideas and documented testimonials on the successes with this device. Enjoy:
How to Biomimic Nature's Companion Planting & the Reasons You Should

Image - Groasis-Waterboxx