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Landscape professionals learn about bioswale benefits

Tower Rd bioswale planting
Above: Students in Creating the Urban Eden: Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment (PLHRT/LA 4910/4920) planted more than 1,000 feet of beds along Tower Road from Plant Science Building to Stocking Hall with nearly 1,000 woody shrubs in September 2014.

Nearly 50 landscape architects, environmentalists, educators and others visited Cornell September 17 to learn about the ecosystem benefits of bioswales and tour the runoff-filtering structures on campus.

Bioswales channel water from streets and parking lots into areas where the water can infiltrate into the groundwater instead of entering storm drains and waterways. In the process, they keep sediment and other pollutants out of streams and lakes, reduce flooding and prevent streambank erosion.

They can also provide aesthetic benefits, habitat for pollinators and other ecosystem services, says Nina Bassuk, director of the Urban Horticulture Institute in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science, who led the program along with Peter Trowbridge, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects and retired professor from the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Bassuk’s work has focused on the ‘bio’ aspects of bioswales, researching which plants are best-suited for the tough conditions they face. “We’re testing plants that can tolerate both saturated soil and periodic drought,” says Bassuk. “They also need to be able tolerate salty soil and bounce back from damage when snow and ice are piled over them during winter.” Woody shrubs that can be cut back to the ground and regrow quickly in spring are especially good candidates.

The landscape professionals saw many of those plants in three bioswales they toured while on campus, including northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), shining sumac (Rhus coppalina), creeping willow  (Salix repens), seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides), ) buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and others.

Those three bioswales – the quarter-mile-long Tower Road bioswale, the Rice Bowl bioswales adjacent to the parking lot next to Rice Hall, and the Cornell Botanic Garden bioswale next to the Nevin Welcome Center parking lot – are featured on the new Sustainable Landscapes Trail developed by the Land Team of the President’s Campus Sustainability Committee.

For more information on bioswales, download Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices at the Urban Horticulture Institute website.


Above: Nina Bassuk explains bioswale plant selection to landscape professionals touring the Tower Road bioswale.

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