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Plants at the service of the environment: phytotechnologies

Willow
Credit: Espace pour la vie
Willow
Plants at the service of the environment: phytotechnologies

Have you heard about phytotechnologies? These are new techniques that use living plants to clean up the environment in order to solve environmental problems. Water, air or contaminated soil can be purified through their use. Plants are also utilized in the fight against noise and soil erosion or for the rehabilitation of abandoned mining and industrial sites. Phytotechnologies are an interdisciplinary science, bringing together ecology, microbiology, botany, chemistry and landscape architecture.

Illustration of phytotechnologies at the Botanical Garden

In the coming months, installation will begin on the first two stations of a project introducing visitors to phytotechnologies at the Botanical Garden, a project that will then run for a few more years. It will take the form of seven stations, each concerning itself with a different type of phytotechnology and illustrating the power of plants with regard to rehabilitation, decontamination, soundproofing, filtration, stabilization, percolation and purification. The station dealing with decontamination, located at the north end of the Botanical Garden, will allow visitors to see how plants can be used to decontaminate polluted soils. The station devoted to site rehabilitation will be set up at the Frédéric Back Tree Pavilion, where the pond there will be treated to curb the proliferation of its invasive plants. Different rehabilitation techniques will be presented, as well as methods for treating such plants.

Sustainable, environmentally-friendly solutions

Phytotechnologies are innovative systems that are in line with the dynamic of sustainable development. They promote biodiversity in places where they’re introduced, and, an important point, the improved appearance of those places. The most popular include green roofs and green walls, as well as filtering marshes, systems for managing sludge, wastewater or storm water. Among the less-well known are works to stabilize slopes and banks in which plants play a technical-support role, and, finally, phytoremediation. This soil decontamination technique relies on the natural abilities of certain plants to fix and filter elements, but also on their interactions with the soil and the microorganisms it contains. Those plants can break down, restrain or remove pollutants, whether these be organic (pesticides, hydrocarbons, etc.) or inorganic (lead, aluminum, etc.). This is the case with so-called plants known as hyperaccumulators, like the willow, capable of concentrating high levels of heavy metals in their tissues.

Phytotechnologies have a promising future as green technologies, and are a long way from revealing all their secrets. At the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV), studies are being done to improve knowledge of and advance the use of phytotechnologies in Québec and in the world. The phytotechnologies project will provide an opportunity for visitors to learn about this particular expertise.

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