Look out: plants at work, 1st part

Marais filtrant de la Biosphère
Credit: Jacques Brisson
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Look out: plants at work, 1st part

On the occasion of the 14th International Phytotechnologies Conference, held in Montréal in 2017, the city hosted 300 experts from around the world between to discuss phytotechnologies. It’s not by chance that Montréal was chosen as the host city: the team from the Jardin botanique de Montréal and the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV) is a leader in the field. Researcher Jacques Brisson presents an overview of phytotechnologies in two phases…*

They work for us tirelessly, never complain, and don’t ask for a penny in wages. The tasks assigned to them are varied, but all of them contribute to the improvement of the environment. Who are these model workers? Plants, of course! And the job they do is called what? Phytotechnology!

Let’s look at some examples of phytotechnologies that clean water and the soil, restore degraded sites and hold rainwater:

Treatment wetlands

These are artificial wetlands intended to process the wastewater fed into them. The principal role of the plants is to promote the work of the microbial flora that performs the biological cleaning processes. Although the primary function of treatment wetlands is the processing of domestic wastewater, scientists in recent decades have developed all sorts of treatment wetland approaches and designs intended for industrial, fish and agricultural wastewaters, among others. The first station on the Jardin botanique’s Pathway to Phytotechnologies, Treatment wetland, is taking shape, and will be accessible to the public in 2018.


By accumulating heavy metals in their tissue or by maintaining flora capable of breaking down organic compounds in their rhizosphere, the plants help rid soil or water of potentially toxic pollutants. It then becomes easy – and economical – to dispose of contaminated plant residue. The use of plants and their associated communities as a decontamination tool is therefore an interesting alternative in certain cases to very expensive traditional soil decontamination methods.

Rain garden for stormwater management

These systems, which include bioretention areas, vegetated strips and vegetated retention ponds, are designed to hold, filter, process and allow the infiltration of rainwater and running water, thereby reducing the peak flow and the volume of water routed to the receiving environment or storm sewers. The use of the work of plants, channeled in the development of phytotechnologies, offers promising solutions for modern environmental issues. Techniques are being endlessly improved, and research efforts aimed at optimizing performance continue, a subject our research teams are actively addressing.

Learn more about the Jardin botanique’s Pathway to Phytotechnologies.

Discover other phytotechnologies : “Look out: plants at work, part 2”


Thanks to Danielle Dagenais, professor and specialist in plants and phytotechnology at Université de Montréal’s School of Landscape Architecture, for her collaboration in writing the text.

*This text is an adaptation of an article that appeared in the journal Quatre-Temps, Spring 2011 (vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 11-12) with the consent of the authors.


Jacques Brisson is a researcher at IRBV and holder of the Phytotechnology NSERC/Hydro-Québec Industrial Research Chair. He and his colleagues from IRBV and the Jardin botanique de Montréal – Mohamed Hijri, Michel Labrecque, Frédéric Pitre and Marc St-Arnaud – make up one of the most important phytotechnology research groups in the world.

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