(An excerpt from Gaia’s Garden)
Here are some questions to ask that will help select plants for useful guilds.
- What is the dominant tree species of the community? Is it useful for humans, via nuts, fruit, particular beauty, animal feed, and so on? Is a related tree even more useful?
- Which plants are offering food to wildlife? What wildlife uses them? Are these animals desirable in the yard?
- Are any plants capable of providing food for humans? Do any plants in the community have domesticated relatives that can provide fruit, berries, tubers, greens, herbs, or other products for people?
- Which species are common to more than one community, as opposed to those unique to only one? These may be possible buffer or transition plants to connect a guild to the rest of the yard.
- Does any species show exceptional insect damage, or have large numbers of insects living on it? This might not be a desirable variety.
- What species makes up most of the leaf litter? Would it make a good mulch plant?
- How well, and by what mechanisms, does the community withstand drought or flood? Some desert plants shed their leaves in extreme dryness, a useful quality but not an attractive habit for a major planting.
- Do any plants have bare ground or stunted vegetation near them? This may simply be due to deep shade, but if sunlight reaches the soil near this plant, the species might be an allelopath and worthy of caution.
- Are any plant families heavily represented in the community? If so, domesticated relatives might be successfully substituted.
- Does the community contain any known nitrogen fixers or other nutrient accumulators? These may be critical members and necessary for a related guild.
The answers to these questions will generate a list of species that can form the backbone of a potential guild.
Copyright © 2001 by Toby Hemenway
Selected Excerpts from Gaia’s Garden: