Posts Tagged ‘greenspace’

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By: Lindsay Hollingsworth

We’ve all seen them. The mosses creeping up foundations, the tiny leaves poking out from in between bricks, the young trees swaying merrily from their perches within gutters. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably taken secret joy in these tiny spots of green scattered throughout the city, even as those around you talk of untidiness and power washing.

While pursuing my master’s degree in Ireland, I had the opportunity to study these plants, hidden in plain sight in centuries-old stone walls. As I pursued my research, I learned that the scientific community has often overlooked wall plants as a point of potential ecological interest. Even as our understanding of cities as unique ecosystems has grown, wall plants and other urban botanicals remain a relatively underexplored topic. But there’s been just enough research done to give us tantalizing hints at a secret world of plants unfolding, like the frond of a fern, right under our noses – in the cracks and margins of our megastructures, and in the places that have become too ordinary to notice.

Wall rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria) growing on an ancient stone wall (Photo by Lindsay Hollingsworth)

Some research has suggested that, like forests, wall vegetation has successional stages. As city dirt accumulates and concrete and mortar weathered, walls are first colonized by lichens, then by mosses, and then by vascular plants. And as these tiny microhabitats form, wall plants provide shelter for insects and small animals, who in turn may carry seeds to new crannies and crevices. And in some cases, the unique environmental conditions of walls may provide a sanctuary for important local plant species, especially those that might normally make their homes in cliffs and rocky terrain.

It is unfortunate that we know so little about these plants, especially when we could learn so much from them. With so many of us living in cities, and more predicted to migrate to them in the near future, the question of how to make our cities more verdant and sustainable becomes increasingly crucial. 

And this question is perhaps especially pertinent to sprawling cities like Washington, D.C., where urban development covers so much of the surrounding landscape, and where there is an increasing push to incorporate green walls and roofs into our city infrastructure. Understanding the circumstances which allow plants to grow on walls without human aid may help us to more efficiently cultivate vegetation on our buildings. Currently, one of the biggest drawbacks to green walls is the expense and labor required to maintain them. However, better knowledge of what plants are naturally suited to wall colonization in a particular climate, and under what conditions they will do so, could help us better select plants that require little intervention to thrive. 

Green walls on an urban apartment building (WikiMedia Commons)

Moreover, an understanding of wall plants as not just a nuisance or a curiosity, but as an important part of urban ecosystems, may allow us to see and develop our green walls and roofs to support plants and animals beyond our cities. Green walls and roofs have already been deservedly celebrated for their ability to reduce air pollution, but the way in which animals seem to use naturally occurring wall plants for shelter raises some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps if we can explore the potential of green walls and roofs as refuges and habitat corridors, we could create fundamental changes to the types of animals that can use urban spaces. Perhaps instead of being obstacles for migrating songbirds and butterflies, they could be waystations. 

 The next time you see a cranesbill or hart’s tongue poking out from in between the stones of a garden wall or the bricks of the building, I encourage you to stop and take notice. Admire its fortitude, to grow in a place where so few can. Try and see what circumstances, what characteristics of this particular wall have made its small life possible. And remember that even in a city with no forests or fields, we live, always, side-by-side with nature.

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Lindsay Hollingsworth holds a master’s degree in Biodiversity and Conservation from Trinity College, Dublin, where she researched novel ecosystems, agroecology, and wall flora. She completed her undergraduate studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She currently works at an environmental consulting company, and volunteers with the local Potomac Conservancy.

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By Sara Murrill, DC EcoWomen Board Member

Let’s face it, DC is a career-obsessed city. Our jobs here are intense; the grind is nonstop. There’s always more work to do.

Fortunately, there is a reprieve from the craziness. DC has an impressive amount of greenspace, with plenty of biking and running trails through trees and alongside creeks and rivers; spots where you can disappear into the woods and totally forget you are in the middle of our nation’s capital (save a distant siren). Many studies have shown how beneficial greenspace is to physical and mental health. In our overworked, over-connected society, it’s becoming more essential to unplug and immerse yourself in some therapeutic quality nature time.

As someone who has spent much of my career in national parks, I encourage everyone to reap the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors. Make sure you’re properly prepared and then get outside! Here are some tips to living your best outdoor life.

Explore every nature spot you can

From Rock Creek to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to the Capital Crescent Trail, the more you get out there and explore, the more you’ll realize what DC has to offer. Venture out regionally to nearby mountains for weekend trips. Discover world class landscapes and America’s stories by visiting national parks across the country.

You know what is the best thing about Vegas? It’s only two hours from the Grand Canyon. Anytime you go out of town on a work trip or to attend your millionth wedding of the year, research public lands nearby and tack on a visit!

Go off the beaten path

Not literally – please stay on the trail. The most popular places are popular for a reason; visit them to find out why. But the lesser known places are just as amazing even if they’re not as obviously glamorous. A backpack and a tent are a great investment for exploring more remote places. You’ll feel like it’s all your own.

Appreciate nature’s tiny details

Sitting in the same spot in the woods for 40 hours a week for entire summers taught me to really appreciate the subtleties in nature. How many water droplets are on that flower? Is that fluttering butterfly ever going to pause for a rest? Where’s that beetle going? What’s that weird growth thing on that tree? Do the squirrels that I see every day recognize me? Forget everything else and occupy your mind with nature’s curiosities.

Examine your own motives

Another yoga pose on a mountain peak? Are you doing a hike for yourself or for your Instagram? What do you want out of your time in nature? How might your experience change if you only focused on being present in the moment and immersing yourself fully in being outdoors?

Enjoy the natural soundscape

When I first moved to DC, I joined a Silent Hiking Meetup group. I still have no idea who those people were or why they joined – I never talked to them. Presumably, we all understood the power and enjoyment that intentionally tuning in to your natural surroundings can bring. Try it for yourself! If silence isn’t for you, please be mindful (especially in large groups) of your noise levels.

Take some time for yourself

If you can make some time alone for yourself outside, it’s the perfect setting for reflection and inner growth. Sitting by an endlessly babbling creek or staring up at majestic mountain peaks that make you feel like a tiny speck can help bring perspective and a sense of calmness. The peace you build through time spent in nature seeps its way into your normal life. Nature is therapeutic.

Respect ecosystems & wildlife

Please, learn and follow Leave No Trace principles. Many people harm ecosystems without even realizing it. When I lived in the backcountry of Yosemite, a beautiful black bear used to roam near the ranger campsite in the evenings. He minded his own business and we minded ours. One night, a park visitor broke the rules and slept with food in his tent, and our bear took a swipe at the tent looking for a snack. No one got hurt, but this bear was now a “problem bear” and had to be hazed each night so that he wouldn’t return to the area and potentially cause harm. Know and follow all park rules. Respect all wildlife by keeping your distance and do NOT feed or touch them. You are the visitor; this is their home.

Learn, share, and protect!

Check out a ranger-led talk, read up on the park’s history, and learn more about the incredible resource that you’re visiting. The more you learn, the more you’ll come to value these irreplaceable treasures. Share your experience and invite others to join along – preserving these special places will take effort from all of us!

 

Sara Murrill is a DC EcoWomen Board Member. She currently works at the National Park Foundation, the official charitable partner of the National Park Service. Previously, she was a contracted field researcher for the National Park Service.

Captions: Pic 1: Who needs a gym when you can run these trails? Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC; Pic 2: Work trip summer 2018: solo sunrise hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO; Pic 3: Camping in Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, WV; Pic 4: An Avalanche Lily – a bit droopy from the morning dew. Mount Rainier National Park, WA; Pic 5: Me and a friend doing a double arch at the double arch. Creative, huh? Arches National Park,  UT; Pic 6: Channel your inner mountain goat and get outside! Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest, CO.