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Look out: plants at work, part 2

One of the biggest green roofs in Québec, at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Credit: Espace pour la vie (Mathieu Rivard)
One of the biggest green roofs in Québec, at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium
Look out: plants at work, part 2

On the occasion of the 14th International Phytotechnologies Conference, which is currently taking place in Montréal, 300 international experts are getting together until Friday to discuss phytotechnologies. It’s not by chance that Montréal was chosen as the host city: the team from the Montréal Botanical Garden and the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV) is a leader in the field. Researcher Jacques Brisson presents the second instalment in an overview of phytotechnologies.*

In addition to their purifying and restorative powers, plants air-condition, filter air, decrease noise, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and control erosion. By what means, or phytotechnologies, are researchers succeeding in taking advantage of these “powers”? Here are three examples:

Green roofs

As an alternative to conventional roofs, a plant substrate helps lessen air-conditioning needs in summer and reduces the amount of rainwater running off the roof to sewers. Moreover, it lessens heat island effects and contributes to the preservation of urban biodiversity. This technology is not new (green roofs have existed in Scandinavia for hundreds of years), but it’s enjoying a growing worldwide popularity. And Québec is no exception.

The Botanical Garden’s Biodiversity Centre has been fitted with a green roof, and the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium prides itself on being crowned by one of the biggest green roofs in Québec.

Plant walls

They’re varied, and range from simple windbreak hedges protecting crops against cold winds or keeping blowing snow off highways, to complex structures of planted willows that have noise-reduction properties. Plant walls can also take the form of module plates or climbing-plant covers applied to building walls, where they also serve as thermal insulation.

Soil stabilization

Through the tangling of their roots, plants help keep soil in place and prevent erosion, especially in areas with steep slopes like certain streambanks or roadsides.

Active continuing research

Our teams are currently involved in a number of concrete phytotechnology projects. Inaugurated at the Biodiversity Centre in the fall of 2016, the Phytotechnology NSERC/Hydro-Québec Industrial Research Chair has made it possible to invest in projects that will lead to an expansion of scientific knowledge. Its goal: to limit erosion and the colonization of unwanted plants on electric power lines and to find plants that are good candidates for the decontamination of sites where electricity poles are stored.

Ultimately, we hope that this work will lend itself to the transfer of phytotechnology to other environmental contexts and its application there.

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Thanks to Danielle Dagenais, professor and specialist in plants and phytotechnology at Université de Montréal’s School of Landscape Architecture, for her collaboration in writing the text.

Learn more about the Botanical Garden’s Pathway to Phytotechnologies.

Discover other phytotechnologies: “Look out: plants at work, part 1”

*This text is an adaptation of an article that appeared in the journal Quatre-Temps, Spring 2011 (vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 11-12), with the consent of the authors.


Jacques Brisson is a researcher at IRBV and holder of the Phytotechnology NSERC/Hydro-Québec Industrial Research Chair. He and his colleagues from IRBV and the Montréal Botanical Garden – Mohamed Hijri, Michel Labrecque, Frédéric Pitre and Marc St-Arnaud – make up one of the most important phytotechnology research groups in the world.

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