Thursday, June 26, 2014

Art and Phytoremediation

Stephanie Rukowicz

In early spring, in honor of Earth Day, the adult programs manager at Fleisher Art Memorial, Caitlin Perkins, held an event highlighting art installations around the world, past and present, that use plant-based remediation techniques for land, water, and air.

Here are a handful of the interesting examples Caitlin provided:
Robert Morris, Johnson Pit #30, 1979 in Seatac, Washington.
Marisha Farnsworth, P-Planter, 2012 in San Francisco, CA.
Patricia Johanson, Fair Park Lagoon, 1981 in Dallas, TX.
Jackie Brookner, The Gift of Water, 2001 in Grossenhain, Germany.
HANA water billboard, 2014 in Manila, Phillipines. (scroll down after clicking through this link)

I was lucky enough to be included in the event, and shared with attendees what I’ve learned about the process of phytoremediation. I highlighted the advantages (onsite! low cost! least impact!) and limitations (takes a long time, potential food chain crossover), and then broke down the different ways plants do their work. These processes are also called phytotechnologies.
  • Phytoextraction and hyperaccumulators - Contaminants are taken up into and concentrated in plant tissue. Plant matter then needs to be disposed of properly.
  • Phytostabilization - Focuses on long-term stabilization and containment of contaminant. Root system does the work here. Also called phytosequestration.
  • Phytovolatilization - Contaminants are taken up into the plant where they are metabolized and a less polluting, modified form is released into the air through the leaves (transpiration).
  • Phytodegradation - Contaminants are taken up into plant tissue, where they are metabolized and incorporated into plant tissue, used as nutrients. Also called phytotransformation and "Green Liver Model."
  • Rhizodegradation - Takes place in the soil or ground water immediately surrounding root zone. Microorganisms that live in the root zone do the work here, consuming and digesting organic substances, biodegrading the soil contaminants.
  • Rhizofiltration - Water is filtered directly through roots, and roots do the work here, filtering out the contaminants through absorption or adsorption.
We then talked about how using native plants can help reduce exposure to contaminated soils by stabilizing the soil, reducing the amount of dust that's windblown from the soil, and reducing runoff from storm events by allowing greater infiltration of rainwater. The advantage of using native plants is that once established, they require little maintenance as they are adapted to the local climate, and they allow for habitat restoration of native insect and animal species.

For the hands-on portion of the event, Jeff Quattrone, from the Library Seed Bank, carried through the native plant theme by leading a seed bomb making activity using native perennial seeds including pink tickseed and black-eyed susan.

Seed bomb making activity led by Jeff Quattrone, back center.
Photocredit: Caitlin Perkins.

Program participant making a seed bomb using clay as a base, then rolling in a mixture of growing medium and seeds. Photocredit: Caitlin Perkins.
Overall it was a great event and very well run. My favorite part of the evening was the discussion that ensued during Jeff’s activity – participants sharing ideas how to take action and where phytoremediation could be used to solve local and international problems.
Be sure to check out upcoming events at Fleisher:
The Science and Design of Gardening, led by fellow Master Gardener Trainee Ben Cromie. This summer workshop for adults will take place Tuesdays, 6-8pm, July 8-29.*
Terrariums: Sculpture Gardens Under Glass, led by Jared Gruenwald. This summer workshop for adults will take place Mondays, 6:30-9:30pm, July 7-28.*
Tabletop Gardens, led by Quincy Carpenter. This summer workshop for ages 8-10 will take place July 28-August 1, 9:30am-12:30am.*
*For more information and to register visit or call 215-922-3456.

 Additional Resources and Further Reading:
UMASS Amherst Soil Test
Growing Gardens in Urban Soils
Dig, Eat, and Be Healthy: A Guide to Growing Food on Public Property
EPA’s Brownfields and Urban Agriculture: Interim Guidelines for Safe Gardening Practices
Phytotechnologies for Site Cleanup
Phytotechnology Technical and Regulatory Guidance and Decision Trees, Revised

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