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Monday, September 12, 2011

Mapping the Useful plants of Townsville

Townsville PermaSurvey Google Map

Its our Approach when entering a new climatic zone to Survey and map the locality of useful species so that we can get a better idea of the range of species that can be used in a permaculture design.

This Teaches us a lot about the climate and helps to ensure a successful design process. By mapping the species we can identify what is likely to grow well in the area and the approximate mature sizes of these plants. It can also suggest useful combinations of plants by seeing what negative or positive interactions these plants have on each other.

By mapping existing gardens and any remnant trees we can also start to understand the history of the place and the Ethnic makeup. Some species may act as indicator species for particular ethnic groups and we can follow this up by making an effort to meet and learn from these gardeners. We get to make new connections and learn more about how to grow and use new plants suited to our area

In Australia this is especially important as the dominant Anglo/European derived ethnic group migrates into the tropical regions and attempts to produce food in a challenging and unfamiliar climate. We are lucky to have had an influx of people from Tropical regions all over the world so that today we have crops from the pacific islands, Asia, Africa and the Americas. By getting to know gardeners from these regions who have settled here we can learn more about how to grow and use their plants in our own gardens.

Some examples are the Islanders and Papuan gardeners to our north who have brought crops like Aibika, a tree 'spinach', Pit pit and who use Pumpkin leafy greens (Tips and tendrils) as a tasty and nutritious green vegetable. Gardeners from Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines can show us how to use Unripe pawpaw (Papaya) as a salad vegetable, how to use new flavouring herbs like hot mint (Polygonum foetidum), sawtooth coriander  and fragrant pandan in our cooking. These people have knowledge of traditional diets rich in fruits and vegetables that are just what we need as we try and transition from a post colonial and post WW2 industrialized diet back to a healthy way of eating.

When designing a Home garden is it is essential to know about the needs and habit of the plants we use. We need to know how big these plants get, what kind of light and water regime they require and particulars like cross pollination or seed saving strategies we need to employ to get adequate and sustainable yields. Books don't do this very well, they often give guides based on other books or on the experience of authors in a place very different to our own. For a given location the size of a tree may vary greatly depending on depth of soil, fertility and climate. If we can see the trees growing locally we have a make a much better guess on their eventual dimensions.  

To do a PermaSurvey you need only a few things. A botanist, bicycles, a street map you can draw on and internet access. First we define our area, for example a suburb, then we casually ride (or walk) up and down each street marking on our map as we go plants of interest.

I define plants of interest in this case as edible plants, herbs, useful support plants like nitrogen fixing trees or wildlife attracting plants (local or exotic wildlife dont have prejudice!). In a place like townsville i exclude some extremely common plants such as the common stringy mango, or tall coconuts. I may include special cultivars of mango or dwarf coconuts. I also mark gardens of interest where there is an abundance of useful plants so that people can see how all the elements can fit together and interact coherently.

Once back home this paper data is tranferred to google maps, honing in on the trees and gardens using streetview. The entry is matched to an open source link on the Internet such as wikipedia. That way people can view and contribute their special knowledge to the body of knowledge on that plant species.

The map then becomes an open source educational resource for any given human settlement. Useful for designers and educators to enhance the botanical literacy of local communities.

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