How 'micro forests' can make an environmental impact with tiny plots of land in big cities

Phillip Palmer Image
Friday, September 2, 2022
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The perfectly manicured lawn can be a neighborhood source of envy. But the leafless yard and immaculately groomed flower beds are consuming space needed for all manner of wildlife.

The perfectly manicured lawn can be a neighborhood source of envy. But the leafless yard and immaculately groomed flower beds are consuming space needed for all manner of wildlife.

Native plant horticulturist Katherine Pakradouni says bugs and birds are running out of spaces to live.

"We have clear-cutted nearly everything."

If big cities want a healthier environment, going small might be the answer. The Los Angeles Parks Foundation has been planting micro forests throughout Los Angeles.

The small forest areas in the Bette Davis Picnic area of Griffith Park is meant to create four layers of life - from top to bottom.

"It becomes a biodiversity magnet. It's becoming a refuge and haven for all sorts of displaced... insect and animal life. It's solving and maximizing carbon sequestration in a small plot," said Pakradouni.

This maintenance-free environment is intentional. Decaying leaves are a source of food for insects, who are the same for lizards or frogs or birds that nest and search for food on the ground, but need the dense shrubbery for protection. Within a few years, newly planted oak trees will increase tree canopy coverage, each layer critical to the survival of all.

"Without having the entire food chain, you can't reach that apex predator and save that species either because at some point that species is dependent on some other species that either eats plants or eats bugs or eats something lower on the chain," she explained.

The 1,000-square foot micro forest in Griffith Park will also help the campaign to appreciate what we might see as abnormal. Plants shutting down for protection in the summer heat can have an appeal as well to those using the micro forest's walkway.

"This whole food web, this whole cyclical process gets to happen when we allow nature to just be nature and to not impose superficial ideas about aesthetics on to a natural system," said Pakradouni.

The site-specific projects don't need to encroach on already used spaces. The indigenous plants can occupy areas as small as 10 feet by 10 feet and be placed on school grounds or along park perimeters, or even on your property.

"It's 100% scalable with the exact same method... that's the beauty of this. It's no different if you do this on a very small footprint or a huge footprint."

Pakradouni spoke about the micro forest technique she uses at a recent Southern California Horticultural Society meeting and is also creating a website to provide step-by-step instructions for anyone who wants to help offset our city's carbon footprint - in the smallest of places.

"My biggest hope is actually how much damage we've caused from all our small habits because you can easily flip that. You can create monumental impact if just a million people do one small thing really well."