Top 10 Plants to Work With

National Mall and Union Square; credit: Rendering produced by: Methanoia

There are almost 400,000 plant species in the world, a number changing constantly because of new discoveries and extinctions.  Narrowing it down to ten species was difficult, so we chose based on their peculiar characteristics, such as use, beauty, weirdness, or response to external factors. We also wanted to highlight different families and genuses. The intention is not only to show how amazing and diverse the plant’s world can be, but also to promote the exclusion of other examples from plant-related articles. Follow along and we hope this list can act as a supplementary resource to improving your plant knowledge.  Some you may be aware of, however others may be new.  Regardless, this collection is only a small fraction of the thrilling plants in existence.  After all, these living organisms are crucial to our survival and function as the basis of most ecology presently on Earth. 10. Rainbow Eucalyptus, Eucaliptus deglupta The first member of the list is a multicolored tree that encouraged me to write the article. I did not know about this rainbow tree until recently and for a long time I have been against the use of Eucalyptus as a tree for reforestation. In México, it has been widely used because they grow fast and are easy and inexpensive to maintain. But, due to its height, which blocks the sun to smaller species and to its toxins (terpene and phenol), it subsequently competes with other species. The Eucalyptus slows the growth of many native plants.  On the other hand, if we use this tree correctly it can be used for ornamental purposes and as a great producer of paper, as in the Philippines.  Imagine a forest of colored trees that will become the canvas for colored worlds. 9. Sensitive Plant, Mimosa pudica The first time I touched this herb I thought I had found the missing link, it moves! The name comes from the Latin word for shy, she or he does not like to be touched and “blushes”. The curious movement is produced by a chemical reaction that involves ions of potassium and water.  This ultimately produces a reduction in the cell’s pressure. It is important to know that it can affect some crops and livestock, as this plant spreads quickly with the albescence of a natural predator.  However, it is a positive trait because its roots have bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, benefiting other plants. For gardening, it has a beautiful flower and I consider its introduction as a great opportunity to put kids in “touch” with nature. 8. Peppermint, Mentha x piperita The use of mint is beneficial as a natural pesticide and a preferred alternative to chemical products, which can hinder not only our crops and gardens, but also us as consumers. I selected peppermint because it has a sweet odor and the leaves can make tasteful tea.  Of course, a great homemade Mojito too! 7. Old Man Cactus, Cephalocereus senilis Traveling into the vast desert landscapes in México you can see old people walking in the distance. Certainly they are not real people, they are viejitos (little old man), a columnar cactus that has white hair. Similar to fur, their hair protects them from the sun and curiously falls out with age. It can grow to ten meters allowing it to be used for hedges, however it requires constant sun exposure. 6. Sedum, Sedum spp. I have decided to include this genus because it has an array of species similar in structure.  Yet, sedums can bring an arrangement of colors to projects because of their variety. Their leaves store water for lengthy periods and because of their size they can be used for roof and vertical gardens.  This brings incredible contrasts of textures and colors and helps to preserve the native flora. 5. Citronella Grass, Cymbopogon nardus When I think about how to get rid of the annoying mosquitos I cannot stop thinking about the film “Lilo & Stitch”.  In this film, aliens say that our planet was not destroyed because the Earth is the house of this insect. So in order to maintain the Earth we can use plants to protect us from mosquitos.  The best example is Citronella, a grass from tropical Asia that also brings a nice odor to gardens and houses. 4. Cycads When the character of Ray Bradbury’s short story, Eckles from the “Sound of Thunder”, travels in time to hunt a Tyrannosaurus rex, he achieved something amazing and also witnessed a very different landscape. There is a way of visualizing what he saw. Usually confused with a palm tree, the cycads shared the environment with the dinosaurs. Nowadays, this species is in danger of extinction and because of its slow growth rate, if you find a big one it is probably very old.  Some can live up to one thousand years old! 3. Blue Agave, Agave tequiliana The agaves are a diverse group and are helpful to transform a degraded landscape because they are easily grown and can be reproduced by planting its shoots.  It is critical to refrain from overplanting, because it will decrease the genetic pool. I chose this one specifically because of its beautiful blue color and since its use contributes to the production of tequila. 2. Titan Arum, Amorphophallus titanum The titan arum forms the largest unbranched inflorescence; it appears to be from another world and the scent is potent. It has the characteristic stench of rotten meat, attracting beetles and flesh fleas that usually feed on dead animals.  This process facilitates the plant’s pollination through a curious “adaptation”. 1. Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula In the “Little Shop of Horrors” we find a nerdy florist improving his love scene, supported by a carnivorous plant that adores eating humans. The Venus Flytrap, as it is commonly known, “escaped” from the film, luckily on a smaller scale. With the assistance of tiny hairs, that send a signal to close, it has a kind of stomach where a bug will be consumed after ten days. What a nightmare! This list can serve as a starting point to illustrate how diverse the plant kingdom is.  Additionally, I hope it will encourage discussion about the different uses and curiosities that one can find in our environment. We hope this compilation helps you think about which plants you are going to use in your next project! Article written by Martí Gil

This article was originally submitted to Landscape Architects Network

Published in Blog

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