Phytotechnology, the ability of plants to uptake and remove contaminates from the environment, is gaining attention in the fields of sustainability and landscape architecture. From gas stations burdened with fuel spills, to brownfields contaminated with heavy industrial toxins, cost-effective, natural cleanup methods can be an effective strategy in mitigating pollutants. Phytotechnologies have the capacity to play a significant role in transforming contaminated urban land, providing a more sustainable choice for land planning. They can also be used to help buffer the non-contaminated site, where the risk of pollution could be possible. For this reason, the term ‘phytoremediation’ is often superseded with the term ‘phytotechnology’, a broader category which includes the use of plants to prophylactically buffer contamination, including ‘phytoforensics’ where plants are used as sentinels to track and measure pollutants.

The EPA estimates there are over 450,000 brownfields in the US alone, most in urban areas. Redevelopment of these parcels is critical to sustainable urban land use, and the use of plants is an underutilized remediation strategy. The science of phytotechnologies is often misunderstood by designers, and currently available documentation on the subject is difficult to understand.

Offshoots, Inc. specializes in translating the often cryptic science of phytotechnolgies to designers, and utilizes these technologies in constructed landscapes to create sustainable solutions for land planning and site cleanup. Offshoots provides consulting services to other landscape architects and planners to integrate phytotechnology concepts into their designed works. In addition, Offshoots also engages in full design commissions to create public and private landscapes and green infrastructure utilizing plant based cleanup.

Kate Kennen, owner of Offshoots, Inc., has been conducting intensive research in this field since 2006. She teaches research seminars in ‘Phytotechnologies for Landscape Design’ at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She c-authored a book with Niall Kirkwood, Phyto: Principles for Site Remediation and Landscape Design,  published by Routledge in 2015.

For a good introduction to phyto, see Kate’s recent article in the BSLA Fieldbook: Pollutant Purging Plants