A Microforest Comes to Stoneybrook

The following is an article by Charles Reith, a new START Board member and the leader of our effort to promote the expanded use of microforests.

START is very pleased with the continued progress of our microforest initiative via our funding partnership with the Florida Veterans For Common Sense, the Sarasota Bay Rotary Club and other local organizations that pledged support. The collaborative is now known as the Suncoast Urban Reforesters or SURF, an acronym that reflects that what we do on land also affects the quality of our coastal waters.

As shown above, the recent microforest installation at Stoneybrook Golf and Country Club involved dozens of community volunteers who installed a 0.2-acre microforest that converted land covered by turf and invasive vines with nearly a thousand native trees and shrubs comprising 50 different species. This and all microforests start with the establishment of a simulated mature forest floor composed of sheet cardboard overlain by six inches of woodchip mulch. The native plant species are densely installed into a planting bed teaming with microbes that promotes rapid growth. This occurs because the dense format creates competition among the trees to race upward to get their share of the available sunlight and the exceptionally rich soil promotes the nutrients and microbial support that sustains their growth rate. As we have noted in previous microforest articles, this is a strategy developed by renown Japanese botanist, Akiru Miwawaki, that has spread throughout Asia and Europe.

The rapid growth of our microforests absorb and divert rainwater back into the atmosphere reducing the threat of stormwater flooding the landscape, eroding the valuable soil and creating polluted runoff downstream in Sarasota Bay. Since stormwater runoff is the source of 65% of the nitrogen in the Bay, a favorite food source for red tide and other Harmful Algal Blooms, this is a major new tool to help us improve water quality in our waterways.

Microforests also provide other environmental benefits by sequestering carbon and providing shade as a hedge against climate change, creating new habitat for wildlife driven away by increasing urbanization and recreation for bird watchers. The growing number of people who enjoy entering these dense forests to sit quietly and observe the wildlife have coined a new phrase for this activity called “forest bathing”.

The Stoneybrook microforest was installed in close collaboration with the Suncoast Science Center or Fablab that engaged high school students in a summer intern program to plan and plant the forest. In the process the students and volunteers of all ages learned about the importance of urban forests in revitalizing the landscape, improving coastal water quality and combating climate change. In fact, all our microforests have been installed in a very participatory way engaging and educating people. Using volunteers to implement our projects is not only more cost effective, but it makes more people aware of how they can lower their nutrient footprint in our waterways.

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