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Permaculture species information databases?

 
Jay Thomas
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Are there any databases that some of you guys use that contain information about plant species, where they grow best, how to identify them, information about their interactions in an ecosystem, etc?

I heard from an interview with a permaculture guru recently (can't remember which) that he thought every region should have a book written about it that outlines what careful permaculture researchers have learned in the area. What's the closest thing we have to that today?
 
Levente Andras
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Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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The Plants For A Future (PFAF) database is a good start - I found it useful as a reference for temperate climate plants

And Martin Crawford's Agroforestry Research Trust (ART) plant list, to start you thinking of possible species and varieties

... as geoff lawton (one of the "permaculture gurus") hints in one of his talks, the joy of the practice of permaculture is in doing your own research, and building your own "database", plant after plant, rather than waiting for the complete, off-the-shelf database written by someone else. After all, you will have to match plants to your soil and climate / microclimate as well as your needs, possibilities, etc. You may need to use multiple sources none of which will be perfect or complete or have all the answers to your question. By the time you have built up your list of plants - selecting them on the basis of their suitability to climate and soil, and then testing them over time - you may well be in a position to write a whole book on "permaculture in my region".

By the way: To me the expression "permaculture plants" is void of meaning. ANY plant can be a "permaculture plant" if used in the proper place in the proper way.

Best of luck
L_
 
William James
gardener
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Location: Northern Italy
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Perhaps what Jay means when he (and many others) refers to "Permaculture Plants" are:

1) Plants that are perennial or "perennializeable" (can you say that?) or self-seeding.

2) Plants that work well in his bioregion, and for that he should a more detailed question, or look on PFAF.

3) Plants that work well across many bioregions or are generally easily integrated.

4) Are just frickin' cool plants to have for a variety of reasons, the major factor being their uniqueness - whether it works in your bioregion is sort of secondary, you might be able to microclimate it into your place or you just give up on growing it because it won't work for you particularly, but their coolness remains. I have a lot of those (right now mesquite and wasabi).

As for a short answer to this question:
pfaf.org
practicalplants.org
apiosinstitute.org
nafex.org (and facebook page)
botanicalgarden.ubc.ca
wikipedia.org
jlhudsonseeds.net
agroforestry.co.uk
tcpermaculture.com

That should get you started. That's just from my bookmarks.
William
 
Levente Andras
Posts: 153
Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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William James wrote:Perhaps what Jay means when he (and many others) refers to "Permaculture Plants" are:

1) Plants that are perennial or "perennializeable" (can you say that?) or self-seeding.

2) Plants that work well in his bioregion, and for that he should a more detailed question, or look on PFAF.

3) Plants that work well across many bioregions or are generally easily integrated.

4) Are just frickin' cool plants to have for a variety of reasons, the major factor being their uniqueness - whether it works in your bioregion is sort of secondary, you might be able to microclimate it into your place or you just give up on growing it because it won't work for you particularly, but their coolness remains. I have a lot of those (right now mesquite and wasabi).

As for a short answer to this question:
pfaf.org
practicalplants.org
apiosinstitute.org
nafex.org (and facebook page)
botanicalgarden.ubc.ca
wikipedia.org
jlhudsonseeds.net
agroforestry.co.uk
tcpermaculture.com

That should get you started. That's just from my bookmarks.
William


Personally I found I needed a more sophisticated approach to developing my list of plant species.

I had to start from my objectives and the functions I wanted my plants to fulfill. For instance: last autumn I planted a 300 m long hedge around the property, and when designing that, I knew that I wanted that hedge to fulfill multiple functions:

- protection against animals
- windbreak
- edible fruits
- medicinal plants
- bee forage / honey plants
- wildlife sanctuary
- woody material - either for firewood, or other uses, e.g., poles / sticks, etc.
- soil improvement through leaf litter

For each of these functions, I put together a possible list, then I looked at what species could perform multiple functions, and which species were not compatible with some functions (e.g., there are shrubs whose flowers attract insects, including honey bees, but the resulting honey has offensive flavour). Then finally I looked at (a) suitability within my climate; (b) ease of growing (including speed of growth) and (c) ease of sourcing. Possibility / ease of propagation may be another criterion.

I ended up with a list of about 30 trees and shrubs. Most of them very common in Central & Eastern Europe - so can they be called "permaculture plants" ? Yes, definitely (because I use them as part of a permaculture design) but then for a different project / different set of objectives, I would not have chosen them !!

The same principles and processes would apply if I had to design my vegetable garden. For instance, if my objective is to grow nutrient righ food that is also very palatable and very satisfying, I would include lots of annual and some perennial vegetables. If annuals can self-seed easily, that's a bonus. But then I would exclude many so-called "permaculture plants" such as sea kale (you'll find sea kale makes it onto nearly every list of 'permaculture plants'), because, even though it is a perennial and may be easy to grow, it is definitely not palatable, hence it doesn't meet my objectives. I would probably make a different choice if my objective was to grow "famine foods" where palatability is of secondary importance.

 
Ludger Merkens
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Location: Deutschland (germany)
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Even if already mentioned Plants for a future already lists a lot of the features you are looking for:
Have a look at their search form: Plants for a Future (Search)
- protection against animals
- windbreak (hedge plus growth properties)
- edible fruits (split into edible uses like Chocolate, Coffee, Colouring, Drink, Egg replacement etc...)
- medicinal plants (split into a list of medicinal uses)
- bee forage / honey plants (covered)
- wildlife sanctuary (special uses - attracts wildlife)
- woody material - either for firewood, or other uses, e.g., poles / sticks, etc. (growth rate is given)
- soil improvement through leaf litter (special uses - nitrogen fixer)


 
John Elliott
pollinator
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I'm surprised no one has mentioned the USDA Plants database. There's a lot of good information there, and you've already paid for it with your tax dollars. It's not organized with a permaculture bent, that you have to ferret out for yourself, but it can help you decide if a plant is going to fit in with your permaculture design.
 
William James
gardener
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Location: Northern Italy
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One thing that has really helped us as novice tree/bush seekers is to just go to a nearby nursery and try to find someone who has 10 minutes to talk to you about trees. Just today we went and talked to an older woman who has had a nursery for 40 years. There is another guy in the area that has been grafting rare plants for the last 60 years. They have an idea of what species are hardy and what will go well in your bioregion (he said to forget about planting a apricot, for example). The old guy had paw paws (!!) which is a permaculture plant for me for many reasons. There's nothing like the database in the head of human who has been planting for that long.

Sometimes you find that a lot of the plants they sell are landscaping plants with very little functionality, but usually they have something of value, and they know how to grow things, which is what you're trying to do.

Talk to them, do some research on the internet, talk to them some more. Every time you become less of a novice and more able to ask intelligent questions. It also helps you develop your knowledge of goods and services in your bioregion, which doesn't hurt.

The other thing that we have (don't know if other countries have the same thing) is the forestry service that has their own greenhouses for growing small plants for reforesting efforts. They also sell to the public at rock-bottom prices because they are plants that people don't usually want. Their species are attenuated to the bioregion and are plants that people aren't planting but should be for many reasons. The best reason is that they are native and adapted to your place. Our forestry service has a website and a list of their species and I did a selection of all their species and found the ones that interested me most (small hazels for $1.50, can't beat that).

William
 
Levente Andras
Posts: 153
Location: Harghita County, Transylvania, Romania
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Ludger Merkens wrote:Even if already mentioned Plants for a future already lists a lot of the features you are looking for:
Have a look at their search form: Plants for a Future (Search)
- protection against animals
- windbreak (hedge plus growth properties)
- edible fruits (split into edible uses like Chocolate, Coffee, Colouring, Drink, Egg replacement etc...)
- medicinal plants (split into a list of medicinal uses)
- bee forage / honey plants (covered)
- wildlife sanctuary (special uses - attracts wildlife)
- woody material - either for firewood, or other uses, e.g., poles / sticks, etc. (growth rate is given)
- soil improvement through leaf litter (special uses - nitrogen fixer)




That's precisely how I used / use the PFAF database. My point was: it is useful to start with a well-defined objective in mind, and research your plant species around that objective - rather than look for "permaculture plants" (not meaningful to me as a concept or category - ANY plant can be a permaculture plant if used in the right place).
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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A big need. Most ecoregions are just starting. Another tip--understand the climate and soils of the ecoregion to which a plant is native. Within the plants that survive in a place there is a wide range of performance. Local knowledge is around us - nursery growers, home orchard societies, etc. For example... every honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) I have seen in Western Washington is infested with blister aphid and growing slow.
 
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