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Urban Greenery and Its Healing Powers

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A: Stigmatized as undesirable, wild urban plants are part of our collective human experience. Although we tend to think of our cities as concrete jungles, our post-new urban environment is awash in plant life. These resilient plants find distinctive niches to thrive in and inhabit our most derelict landscapes. The environmental benefits of these "weeds" go widely unrecognized when, in fact, this urban ecology can offer a fresh perspective on how contemporary cities perform. In the stressful landscapes of contemporary cities, wild urban plants can provide real ecological benefits, and are the overlooked backbone of an emergent green infrastructure.

Weeds are a renegade green infrastructure, thriving in places most native plants won't grow and providing substantial benefits to urban dwellers. The ecological and human benefits that wild urban plants offer are wide-ranging--these plants capture carbon, are edible, have medicinal properties, create wildlife habitat, retain stormwater, and phytoremediate disturbed soils.


A: By utilizing wild urban plants, we can design with a palette of greenery adapted to disturbed soils, widely available and attractive to pollinators and other wildlife. An informed combination of these factors can help create a pleasant urban meadow. As much as the upfront plant selection needs to play an important role, some designing will come through the process of subtraction. By removing diseased plants, those planted too close together or even the plants that are particularly unsightly or cause allergic reaction, designers can help to make the wild urban meadow tidy and kempt--and more appealing. Through processes of subtraction, addition, optimization and replication, the patchwork ecology of widespread spontaneous vegetation will enable the emergence of a more resilient, adaptable and sustainable urban future.


A: There are so many plants in our urban environment that have been used historically for medicinal purposes. Plants like evening primrose (Oenethera biennis) and common toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) are frequently used in alternative medicine for their range of healing qualities. Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) has a long history of us in herbal medicine for a litany of ailments - from intestinal disorders to depression. Other wild urban plants with medicinal uses include horseweed (Conyza canadensis), broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) and Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin).

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