Plant and Soil

, Volume 372, Issue 1–2, pp 177–193 | Cite as

High water users can be drought tolerant: using physiological traits for green roof plant selection

  • Claire FarrellEmail author
  • Christopher Szota
  • Nicholas S. G. Williams
  • Stefan K. Arndt
Regular Article


Background and aims

Green roofs are often installed to reduce urban stormwater runoff. To optimally achieve this, green roof plants need to use water when available, but reduce transpiration when limited to ensure survival. Succulent species commonly planted on green roofs do not achieve this. Water availability on green roofs is analogous to natural shallow-soil habitats including rock outcrops. We aimed to determine whether granite outcrop species could improve green roof performance by evaluating water use strategies under contrasting water availability.


Physiological and morphological responses of 12 granite outcrop species with different life-forms (monocots, herbs and shrubs) and a common green roof succulent were compared in well watered (WW) and water deficit (WD) treatments.

Key results

Granite outcrop species showed a variety of water-use strategies. Unlike the green roof succulent all of the granite outcrop species showed plasticity in water use. Monocot and herb species showed high water use under WW but also high water status under WD. This was achieved by large reductions in transpiration under WD. Maintenance of water status was also related to high root mass fraction.


By developing a conceptual model using physiological traits we were able to select species suitable for green roofs. The ideal species for green roofs were high water users which were also drought tolerant.


Granite outcrop Shallow soil Geophyte Water relations Trait Sedum 



We thank Ruth Mitchell for assistance weighing and watering pots, planting and harvesting plants. Melanie Deleuze, Beau Picking and Claudia Green also assisted during harvests. Thanks to Burnley nursery staff Nick Osborne and Sascha Andrusiak for technical assistance. This research was funded by Australian Research Council Linkage Grant LP0990704 supported by the Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment, Melbourne Water, City of Melbourne, and The Committee for Melbourne.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire Farrell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Christopher Szota
    • 1
  • Nicholas S. G. Williams
    • 1
  • Stefan K. Arndt
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Resource Management and GeographyThe University of MelbourneRichmondAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Forest and Ecosystem ScienceThe University of MelbourneRichmondAustralia

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