CANR department transforms plants into everyday products
Students gather materials, above, to make paper.

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11:28 a.m., Oct. 25, 2010----The long, slender, grass-like stalks of the cattail plant are often seen as a nuisance in the wetlands located at the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR). Luckily, members of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences are transforming the seemingly pesky plants into useful and sustainable everyday products.

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This summer, students from the Governor's School for Excellence and UD's Laboratory Preschool teamed up with Chad Nelson, assistant professor of landscape design, to take part in a handmade cattail papermaking process. The goals of this project included using recycled materials to create something new and appreciating the value of developing long-term projects.

The weeklong process enabled students to harvest, dry and cut up cattails from the wetlands. The students were even able to sample the fruits of their labor, as different parts of the cattail plant are edible. The cattail fibers were then pulverized and suspended in water, after which students used a screen and deckle to form paper sheets. The sheets were then pressed to dry.

“It's an interesting process to transform something that is commonly seen as waste into something useful,” Nelson said.

In conjunction with the cattails, Jules Bruck, assistant professor of landscape design, and John Cox, art instructor, are in the midst of the bamboo papermaking process. Bruck and Cox are testing different ways to print on these materials to promote their value as a usable paper alternative.

Both the cattail and bamboo paper will be featured in an exhibit at the Philadelphia Flower Show in February, 2011.

Recently, Nelson also attended a workshop given by Bonnie Gale, professional willow basket maker, at the Mount Cuba Center, a horticultural institution in northern Delaware. Known as the “fence that can grow,” live willow structures provide a unique alternative to regular metal fencing.

The Department of Plant and Soil Sciences is working with the Lab School to use arbors to provide shade on playgrounds, as well as to implement the use of willow structures to educate teachers and children on sustainable landscape design.

Outside of Fisher Greenhouse, CANR students are currently propagating potential green roof plants as test modules for the green roof installation on Colburn Laboratory, the chemical engineering building on central campus.

With the help of Ed Snodgrass, horticultural consultant for green roof projects, CANR hopes to make sound recommendations on “best use” materials for this project.

Many of these plants -- selected based on aesthetics, shallow root systems, resilience, and low-maintenance requirements -- will later be transplanted to the roof of Colburn Laboratory as part of the green roof installation.

Article by Rachael Dubinsky

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