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Micro forest projects in Sarasota aim to combat climate change

When 4,000 trees and plants are planted on a small parcel of land, a micro forest is created. Micro forests are an environmental strategy to combat climate change by replicating all the benefits of a full forest in local areas, in a short amount of time.

President of the nonprofit Florida House Institute and micro forest project lead Charles Reith has been planting micro forests in and around Sarasota to compete with climate change by utilizing what they can do for the environment.

“A micro forest is a fast-growing native species, very dense and incredibly beneficial in terms of carbon sequestration against climate change, water diversion against flooding, and what we call nonpoint source pollution, carrying pollutants to the Gulf that would cause red tide, and then creating wildlife habitat really fast,” said Reith.

The goal of the project is to grow a 100-year forest in just 10 years. He got the idea from Japanese botanist, Akira Miyawaki.

Miyawaki discovered that when plants are grown in close proximity to one another, they compete for sunlight.

“By planting really close to each other, the plants sense shade stress, they sense that they'd better grow fast or they're going to get shaded out so you're creating competition to make them grow fast,” said Reith.

This micro forest strategy requires three plants for every square meter. Miyawaki’s system focused on land sizes ranging from a 10th of an acre to a whole acre.

Depending on the area where the micro forest is planted, developers must consider what plants would do best in that environment. Recently, Reith worked with volunteers to plant a micro forest at Colony Cove, a manufactured home community in Manatee County.

“We had to be careful of salt spray,” said Reith. “We didn’t want species that would be damaged by their proximity to the somewhat brackish water of the Manatee River.”

At Colony Cove, a third of the micro forest is canopy trees like live oak, laurel oaks and magnolias. The subcanopy comprise trees like sugarberry, with the ground covered by plants like cord grass, shrubs, and tick weed. Reith said the key to creating a micro forest is diversity.

The local micro forest plantings are organized by Sarasota Urban ReForesters. SURF is a collaboration between the Florida Veterans for Common Sense, Solutions to Avoid Red Tide, and the Rotary Club of Sarasota Bay.

Reith has helped arrange four micro forests in the Sarasota area and has another scheduled for planting in August. This micro forest is planned for Community Day School in Sarasota and is funded by a grant from Climate First Bank. The students will do the planting.

“My dream is that someday we’ll be putting in micro forests around the Sun Coast, one every two months or so because there's that much opportunity in terms of perfectly suited places to plant,” said Reith.

Bill Wagy, the president of Bill Wagy Productions, captured footage of the Colony Cove micro forest project available here.

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