Green roofs: what can we learn from desert plants?

In: Israel Journal of Ecology and Evolution

Green roofs in the Mediterranean region are often exposed to high levels of radiation, extreme temperatures, and an inconsistent water supply. To withstand these harsh conditions in shallow soils and poorly aerated growth media, plants must be armored with adaptations. Strategies that have evolved in desert plants can play significant roles in the use of plants for green covers. In the following, we will specifically focus on (1) heat and radiation, (2) drought, and (3) salinity. Further, we will discuss (4) interactions between neighboring plants. Finally, we will (5) propose a design for diverse green roofs that includes horticultural and medicinal products and provides diverse habitats. Many desert plants have developed morphological and anatomical features to avoid photo-inhibition, which can be advantageous for growth on green roofs. Plants exhibiting C4 photosynthesis or crassulacean acid metabolism (CAM) photosynthesis have a protected hydraulic system that enables growth under dry conditions. Furthermore, dew and high levels of relative humidity can provide reliable water sources under limited precipitation. Halophytes are protected against salinity, ionic specific stress, and nutritional imbalances, characteristics that can be advantageous for green roofs. Under limited space, competition for resources becomes increasingly relevant. Allelopathy can also induce the germination and growth inhibition of neighboring plants. Many desert plants, as a result of their exposure to environmental stress, have developed unique survival adaptations based on secondary metabolites that can be used as pharmaceuticals. A systematic survey of plant strategies to withstand these extreme conditions provides a basis for increasing the number of green roof candidates.

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