(Beyond Pesticides, June 20, 2008) University of Massachusetts (UMass) researchers have identified certain plants that can absorb excess pesticides from soil and prevent their runoff into adjacent waterways. Golf courses typically use considerable amounts of herbicides and fungicides to maintain perfectly manicured greens, much of which ends up polluting water and harming aquatic organisms. This study found that plants like blue flag iris can act as “living filters” on the edge of greens.“
Studies from golf greens have shown that five percent to ten percent of the total pesticides applied are lost in runoff. In worst case conditions, this figure can be as high as 30 percent,” says John Clark, Ph.D., a professor of veterinary and animal science and a principal investigator on the grant. “We have identified plant species that can reduce the amount of certain pesticides in soil by up to 94 percent in the greenhouse.” Blue flag iris reduced chlorpyrifos by 76 percent and levels of chlorothalonil by 94 percent after three months of growth.
The study was funded by the UMass Amherst Environmental Institute, the Massachusetts Pesticide Analysis Laboratory, and the U.S. Golf Association. Interest in “greener” turf management practices have risen lately along with golf’s expansion into developing countries and U.S. land investment in turf. The land covered by U.S. residential lawns, playing fields, and more than 16,000 golf courses could combine to cover a region larger than New England. The pervasiveness of lawn care causes concern over chemical methods.
“Turfgrass chemicals are routinely found in rivers, lakes and reservoirs as well as groundwater supplies,” said professor Guy Lanza, Ph.D., a principal investigator on the grant. “Once in the water, these chemicals affect the health of a wide variety of aquatic organisms, everything from bacteria and algae to fish and frogs. They may also pose a health risk to humans, but this is less certain.”
Professors Clark and Lanza identified 10 plants for a greenhouse study based on aesthetic value, a documented history of removing pesticides from soils and their value as a wildlife habitat. “Plants used in vegetative filter strips (VFS) have to add to the beauty of their surroundings, since they will be viewed by the public, and they also have to be practical for the sites where they will be planted,” says Lanza. “We couldn’t use trees, which are some of the best candidates for removing contaminants, since they can interfere with golfers.”
Additional work will be done this summer to determine the best combination of plants for filtering chemicals, as well as how individual plants handle pesticides. Researchers plan to expand the study to include other contaminants in addition to pesticides.
Lawn care, including golf courses, can be managed using less- and non-toxic and organic practices. For more information on golf visit our program page, and for do-it-yourself advice, see our alternatives fact sheets.
Source: UMass Amherst