Urban ecosystems are the ultimate manifestation of the dynamic conflict between humans and nature—between our desire for neat, orderly landscapes on the one hand and our fear of messy ecological chaos on the other. This presentation will focus on the plants that grow spontaneously in cities and their remarkable tolerance of their stressful environmental conditions. Cities can be considered “novel” ecosystems that reflect the fusion between the large-scale processes of urbanization and globalization. For better or worse, the spontaneous vegetation in our cities is as cosmopolitan as its people and, quite frankly, better adapted than the native species that historically grew there. In the era of shrinking municipal maintenance budgets, people need to develop new strategies for managing spontaneous urban vegetation that recognizes its significant ecological contributions in terms of temperature reduction, stormwater management, erosion control, wildlife habitat, and pollution mitigation. Essentially, we need to stop viewing these plants as a problem and start seeing them as part of the solution for cleaning up the mess we have made of the planet.
Dr. Peter Del Tredici is an associate professor in practice at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he has been teaching in the Landscape Architecture Department since 1992. He retired from the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in 2014 after working there for 35 years as plant propagator, curator of the Larz Anderson Bonsai Collection, editor of Arnoldia, director of living collections, and senior research scientist. He was the 1999 winner of the Arthur Hoyt Scott Medal and Award, presented by the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College, and in 2013, he was awarded the Veitch Gold Medal by The Royal Horticultural Society (England) “in recognition of services given in the advancement of the science and practice of horticulture.”