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FOREST INK: Recovering degraded urban areas with Miyawaki Forests

The small scale forests have been successfully grown on private properties in Japan

Thanks to friend I was given a copy of an article by Alanna Mitchell about the history of Miyawaki Forests (MF) which are small scale densely planted native urban forests, that have been successfully grown on private properties in Japan and elsewhere for more than 40 years.

These forests are named after Akira Miyawaki, a Japanese botanist and expert in plant ecology who specialized in seeds and natural forests. Miyawaki was active in restoration of degraded land until his passing last year when he was 93 years old.

These special forests consist of late succession species planted into richly prepared soils with high organic matter, which often have a minimum of 30 local native species, divided into four structural layers; tall canopy trees, sub-canopy trees, small understory trees and finally shrubs.

Miyawaki Forests are not replacements for our natural forests. They are a means to reforest urban and ecologically degraded settings with the benefits of living plants.

The establishment of these forests can be relatively expensive on a per hectare basis because of the soil preparation, large number of plants along with watering and tending of the growing stand but this is more than made up with a final product in 20 years that would normally take over a 100 years to develop.

Author Alanna Mitchell also describes a number of projects around the world including some in Canada and in particular relates how MF sites are similar to the work published by Suzanne Simard in B.C.

READ MORE: FOREST INK: Dr. Suzanne Simard pioneers work on tree communication

The rapid growth is attributed to a wide variety of densely packed plants supported by a rich organic soil with an abundance of soil organisms including micorrhizal fungus.

In Canada, the organization CanPlant is beginning to track Miyawaki forests and the native plants within them in a database. The CanPlant database, which is still being developed, has records of eight Miyawaki forests so far in Ontario and Quebec and there are plans for at least 10 more in other parts of the country,

Author Mitchell also describes MF experiments in India. In 2010, “Shubhendu Sharma cleared the grass from the 75-square-meter backyard of his family home in the city of Kashipur, in India’s Himalayan Uttarakhand state. Into the intensely compacted soil he planted 224 saplings of some 19 species of shrubs and trees— timber, and guava and mulberry among other fruit trees. Then he weeded and watered and monitored the mini forest. Sharma started to experiment with the model and came up with an Indian version after slight modifications using soil amenders.”

After growing a lush green forest in his own backyard in a year’s time it gave him enough confidence to launch planting MF as a full-time initiative. He quit his job as an engineer at a Toyota factory and spent almost a year to do research on the methodology which he incorporated into a company called Afforestt, an end-to-end service provider for creating natural, wild, maintenance-free, native forests.

Since 2011 the service has been expanded to many countries so anyone can follow the step-by-step process necessary for successful establishment of MF stands.

I have been doing some experiments with bio-char, branch wood chips and compost trying to establish legumes and shrubs in the fir understory on my property but now would like to try some MF plots which may allow me to incorporate some edible tree fruits and berries.

There also might be some interesting education class projects that could produce more green spaces in our communities along with edible plants.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

READ MORE: FOREST INK: Ecotourism in Ancient Boreal forests

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About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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