Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An amazing database of about 7000 useful plants (with added QR codes!) - Plants For A Future

If you haven't come across the Plants For A Future website, it's worth taking a look and bookmarking.

They have an amazing database of about 7000 edible, medicinal and otherwise useful plants. It has photos, use information for many plants and a search tool for sifting through the database. One downside is that it is UK focused so Northern hemisphere seasons are shown as well as growing instructions. Also, it's a noble work in progress so forgive them a few gaps (no Pepperberry for example).

I just found out that Water Melon is a rich source of pectin and that a fatty oil in the seed, as well as aqueous or alcoholic extracts, paralyses tapeworms and roundworms. Who would have thought?

Now, my friends tell me I look for ways to use technology where something far simpler will do the job just as well. So, it will be no surprise to them that I also like the QR codes that PFAF provide. The idea is that you can print these to put on signage around a garden (probably a bit overkill at home but useful in exhibition gardens). When people scan them (using a free app on their smartphone) they get directed to the web page for the plant with all the information from the database. I reckon this is a great idea.

I think their reasons for establishing the database are worth reading about too.

Rather than try to rewrite their words I've grabbed this from their site (thanks to their helpful Creative Commons copyright).

Plants For A Future (PFAF) is a charitable company, originally set up to support the work of Ken and Addy Fern on their experimental site in Cornwall, where they carried out research and provided information on edible and otherwise useful plants suitable for growing outdoors in a temperate climate.

Over time they planted 1500 species of edible plants on 'The Field' in Cornwall, which was their base since 1989. Over ten years ago, Ken began compiling a database, which currently consists of approximately 7000 species of plants.

The Plants for a Future Concept

It is our belief that plants can provide people with the majority of their needs, in a way that cares for the planet's health. A wide range of plants can be grown to produce all our food needs and many other commodities, whilst also providing a diversity of habitats for our native flora and fauna.

There are over 20,000 species of edible plants in the world yet fewer than 20 species now provide 90% of our food. Large areas of land devoted to single crops increase dependence upon intervention of chemicals and intensive control methods with the added threat of chemical resistant insects and new diseases. The changing world climate greatly affecting cultivation indicates a greater diversity is needed.

When comparing a large cultivated field to natural woodland the woodland receives no intervention but produces lush growth and diversity of plants and animals. Yet the cultivated land supports very few species. The quality and depth of soil in a woodland is maintained and improved yearly whilst erosion and loss of soil structure plague the cultivated field.

Our emphasis is on growing perennial plants with some self-seeding annuals, a large part of the reason for this is the difference in the amount of time and energy it takes to cultivate and harvest crops. Annuals means the cultivation of the ground every year, sowing the seeds, controlling the weeds, adding fertilizers and attempting to control pests and diseases. It all seems so much extra work compared to planting a perennial and waiting to harvest its yield. Especially when you consider that even with all the effort put into growing carrots their yield for the same area of ground will be less than that of a fruit tree and will only last the one season.

Not only do people seem trapped in a method of growing with lower yields for far more input but also one that is damaging the environment and all the plants and animals that live in it.

Continued cultivation of the soil, whilst creating a desert to most of our wild plants and animals, destroys the organic matter and opens it up to the risk of erosion from wind and rain. The soil structure is damaged and becomes compacted leaving it unable to drain properly or allow plant roots to penetrate and obtain nutrients, and valuable topsoil is washed away in heavy rain.

A cultivated crop such as wheat has all its roots in a narrow band of soil with intense competition between plants for the same nutrients. Any nutrients below this belt are inaccessible to the plants. The crop is susceptible to the same pests and diseases and has similar climatic requirements, if one plant suffers they all suffer. The amount of energy used in producing high yields is far more than the food itself yields in energy. We do not believe this is sustainable.

When looking at woodland, almost no weeding is required, no feeding and no watering yet year after year a host of animals can be found along with the inevitable plant growth. A wide range of plants grows side by side each occupying its own space. Some with deep roots bringing up nutrients from beyond the reach of other plants. When leaves fall they provide nutrients and substance to the soil. Plants with shallow root systems obtain their nutrients from nearer the surface of the soil. The canopy of trees creates a shelter and temperature fluctuations are less extreme in a woodland environment. The soil is protected from erosion.

Woodland sustains itself and is highly productive due to its diversity which leads to a gradual build up of fertility. All the different available habitats allow a wide range of creatures to live in woodland, and the plants, insects and animals all work to create an altogether much more balanced and harmonious way of life. Another benefit of Woodland Gardening is that the high humus content of the soil acts like a sponge to absorb water therefore replenishing the ground water table.

Growing a diversity of plants emulating woodland, we can grow fruit and nut trees, under- planted with smaller trees and shrubs, herbaceous, ground cover and climbing plants. This way it is possible to produce fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves and roots throughout the year. Unlike the majority of cultivated food plants these have not been selectively bred to increase size of yield, reduce bitterness or increase sweetness, yet many of them are delicious and highly nutritious.

We aim to recover lost knowledge and learn more about the hundreds of medicinal plants that we can grow, in a race to find safe natural alternatives to drugs used today. Plants can also provide us with fibres for clothes, rope and paper, oils for lubricants, fuels, water proofing and wood preservatives, dyes, construction materials and more.

A large number of native broadleaf trees are planted to provide natural shelter and wildlife habitats. Trees are the lungs of the planet; they purify the air locking up carbon and have the potential for reducing the greenhouse effect. Trees protect the soil from erosion, encourage rainfall, and regulate the flow of ground water preventing flooding. Fallen leaves are an effective soil conditioner.

The Activities and Services of Plants For A Future

Concentrating on the restoration and conservation of the land we get much satisfaction in seeing the return of a wide diversity of wildlife where once we did not see a bee or a butterfly.

Literally planting for the future. Personal experience of growing the plants is the most valuable way to learn about growing, cropping and utilising them.

Research is on going since much of the information on plant uses has been lost from every day life but is stored in books and research papers. We are collating this information in a more accessible way, in the form of a database, which currently consists of nearly 7,000 species of plants. We can supply information print outs from the database or we can supply the database, for more information about this please ask for the database leaflet. Further research is carried out by visiting gardens around the country recording the results of these visits. Virtually all the plants we grow have never been selectively bred for edibility so there is a huge potential for alternative foods, which careful selection could help to realise.

We have published a 'Plants For A Future - Edible and useful plants for a healthier world'. Visit the shop for more information.

Plants For A Future is a non-profit making resource centre supplying information and where possible the plants. All plants are grown without the use of artificial fertilizers, sprays or animal products. We do not charge for our services but ask for donations to at least cover our costs.

How you can help

We ask that you always enclose a stamped addressed envelope if you would like a written response.

There are always more jobs to do than time in which to do them, so we welcome volunteers to help us with the work.

We are constantly on the look out for new sources of useful plants, particularly from those people who travel to or live in other temperate zones. Please contact us if you feel you might be willing to help. It does not require botanical knowledge, just a willingness to search out sources of seed in that area.

An expert group of editors and contributors to and moderators for the PFAF database and website is being convened online. If you have and would like to share knowledge and expertise on plants, their uses, constituents and cultivation with Plants For A Future website users (160,000 unique users and over 1 million page impressions per month), we would like you to join the group. This is an opportunity to help expand the general pool of knowledge on plants and increase both its quality and its accessibility to botanists, students, plant lovers, herbalists, nutritionists, cooks, gardeners and others.

How much time and effort you would put in is very much up to you, so you will choose your preferred field(s) of expertise and level of involvement.

In addition, we need more funds in order to expand our activities, and get the information across to a wider audience. Donations and legacies of any size are always very welcome. If you would like more information on financial investment please see the webpage, Support Us or email us directly at admin@pfaf.org
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