The productive, perennial plants found in The Elements, our species index, make up the basic units of foodscape design.
Their pattern profiles can be accessed here:
The species index tracks a set of almost 80 descriptive fields for each species. These are grouped into the following:
|Family||Taxonomic group containing one or more genera|
|Common name(s)||Vernacular name for a given species that varies by place or culture|
|Origin||Geographical place of origin for species|
|NA Native status||How plant came to exist in North America|
|Climate zone||Biome categories indicative of general climate patterns plant where plant thrives|
|USDA zone||Geographically defined area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone|
|Sunset zone||Nuanced geographical profile that considers temperature; latitude: elevation; ocean influence; continental air influence, mountain, hills and valleys; and microclimates|
|Growth form||General pattern plant produces above ground|
|Trunk form||Pattern category for the shape of the plant’s trunk|
|Root pattern||General pattern plant produces below ground|
|Branching type||Pattern of how a plant’s branches are organized|
|Texture||Relative perceived surface quality regarding size and shape (not feel) of plant|
|Duration||Category that describes plants seasonality or longevity|
|Propagation||Various ways plant may be reproduced|
|Wildlife attracts||Kinds of wildlife attracted to plant|
|Leaf retention period||Categories that indicate to what degree plant retains leaves year-round|
|Leaf drop intensity||Relative volume of leaves dropped|
|Fragrance type||Type of noticeable odor, if any, eminating from plant|
|Allelopathic||Produces one or more biochemicals that influence the germination, growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms nearby|
|Conditional tolerance||Types of conditions plant can withstand|
|Hazards||Categories of known potential harmful qualities of plant|
|Hazards description||Descriptions of known potential harmful qualities of plant|
|Growth rate||Rate of increase in size over time|
|Expansive||Known to be potentially invasive due its rapid growth in North America|
|Growth habits||Pattern of growth exhibited by given plant type|
|Plant height at maturity, lower||Plant height at maturity, lower end of range|
|Plant height at maturity, upper||Plant height at maturity, upper end of range|
|Trunk height, lower||Trunk height, lower end of range, from ground level to where it starts branching|
|Trunk height, upper||Trunk height, upper end of range, from ground level to where it starts branching|
|Crown density||Degree to which pant’s canopy is closed or open to light pass through|
|Crown spread, lower||Widest dimension of crown, lower end of range|
|Crown spread, upper||Widest dimension of crown, upper end of range|
|Flowering type||Whether plants produce flowers; differentiated slightly for non-flowering plants|
|Bloom time||Season(s) in which a flower or inflorescence may appear|
|Flower color||Categories for color of flower or inflorescence|
|Fruit present||Season(s) fruit is(are) present throughout the year|
|Fruit type||Descriptive categories for fruit|
|Fruit/pod/nut/pine nut size||Relative size of fruit, nut, pod or pine nut/cone|
|Disturbance||Types of interventions necessary to maintain plant at a desirable level of productivity or a given form|
|Maintenance required||Degree human attention a given plant requires based on Growth rate, Maximum harvest frequency, and Productivity|
|Carbon||Relative amounts of dry organic matter plant needs to maintain health and a normal growth pattern|
|Nitrogen (when young)||Relative amount of nitrogen needed to feed plant to maintain normal growth, particuarly when immature|
|Nutrients and minerals||Relative amount of nutrients and minerals needed to feed plant to maintain normal growth and health|
|Pollinator(s)||Type of pollinator(s) a plant needs in order to bear fruit|
|Pest control||Degree of susceptibility to pests needing a companion that discourages pests|
|Sunlight||Relative quantity of sunlight plant needs for healthy growth|
|Humidity||Degree of moisture plant prefers climactically|
|Temp||Specific temperature requirements for plant to maintain health or to bear fruit|
|Water||Relative amount of water plant needs to thrive|
|Soil texture||Type of soil(s) plant prefers in order to maintain health|
|Soil drainage||Ideal soil drainage condition plant requires to thrive|
|Soil fertility||Relative quality of soil fertility plant requires to thrive|
|Root space||Relative root space plant needs in order to grow a healthy form|
|Wind protection||Degree plant requires protection from the wind|
|Support||A structure, living or inanimate, is needed for normal plant growth|
|Soil regeneration||Category for how plant serves to regenerate soil|
|Provides shade||Relative amounts of shade provided by plant to understory or surrounding plants|
|Water storage||Relative amounts of water stored in the body of the plant at times of normal conditions|
|Attracts pollinators||Plant attracts pollinators|
|Attracts beneficial insects||Plant attracts beneficial insects|
|Landscape uses||Various types of landscape functions provided by plant|
|Carbon sequestration||Relative amount of carbon plant extracts from air to build it’s structure, above or below ground naturally, exclusive of management practices|
|Productivity||Degree that plant provides useful products from its parts|
|Food||Plant produces something edible, includes beverages, flavorings, etc.|
|Edible parts||Part of the plant produces something edible, includes beverages, flavorings, etc.|
|Fiber||Plant has parts are harvested for fiber|
|Fuel||Plant parts are harvested to produce energy in any form|
|Fodder||Plant parts are harvested to provide food for animals|
|Forage||Animals may forage on plant|
|Farmeceuticals||Plant has parts that serve a medicinal purpose|
|Useful parts||Plant parts are used for something other than edible, include parts used for fuel, fiber, farmaceuticals, animal feed (forage/fodder)|
|Value-added products||Products that may be made using the plant|
|Maximum harvesting frequency||How often it needs visiting for harvest|
The Species Index includes productive plant species for North America: Many edible and many are useful to produce fuel, fiber, feed and ‘farmaceuticals’.
The Species Index will prove indispensable as we strive to rebuild circular economies for primary production of our basic needs.
We can and must create a new culture around productive plants by regenerating our skillsets around how to grow, use and care for them.
Perennial plants live more than one season. These include perennial-like plants and self-seeding annuals.
- require less work, fewer inputs and avoids tilling, which preserves soil structure
- have extensive root systems that regenerate living soil, which holds more nutrients, minerals, beneficial microorganisms and water
- can withstand extreme weather, serve to sequester carbon and stabilize slopes
Perennial food crops, in particular, are high in proteins, fats and carbohydrates; are not destroyed by harvesting and yield for multiple years.
The Species Index includes plants from all climate zones in the US and Canada and parts of Mexico.
A plant’s performance is governed by the total climate: length of growing season, timing and amount of rainfall, winter lows, summer highs, wind, and humidity.
The U.S.D.A. maps are limited, describing only where a plant may survive the winter.
Sunset’s climate zone maps take all these factors into account and show where that plant will thrive year-round. Even though these are limited to North America, anyone anywhere can use these patterns and find analogs to similar climate zones.
Much of our urban forests stop at the top. The Species Index includes many forbs/herbs, non-woody vines and shrubs of all sizes.
The more levels of natural forest architecture that our productive plants populate, the less work they will be to maintain because they displace unwanted species (i.e. weeds).
A healthy, diverse understory also increases the survivability rate of our urban trees, increasing their resistance and resilience by providing a whole host of ecological functions for the trees and each other.
The Species Index is an integral tool in the foodscape toolkit.
This is how it works:
The Foodscape Tool’s templates filter out plants from the Species Index using its plant patterns profiles and the template settings. Templates are preconfigured foodscape patterns that are customizable and can be used in multiple contexts in our landscapes. By process of elimination, the Foodscape Tool generates a suggested list of plants appropriate for that context.
The plant species generated from Species Index is cross-referenced and linked with a wiki-style library for thousands of productive plants.
The wiki provides thousands of entries in PDF and other multimedia formats that gives the user a wealth of information on plants in this Index and so many more.
One of our project’s objectives is to stimulate a new culture around productive plants by regenerating our skillsets on how to use and care for them.