How microforests can make the air cleaner and LA greener

Written by Zoie Matthew, produced by Giuliana Mayo

One year after Katherine Pakradouni helped plant this microforest, it continues to grow and provide a habitat for various creatures in Griffith Park. Her goal is to have many more microforests planted around greater LA in the coming years." Photo by Giuliana Mayo.

Temperatures have been soaring in LA for much of this week, and it seems like the days will keep getting hotter. With climate change happening, and concerns about loss of habitat for creatures big and small, some folks are looking for little ways to make a big impact.

Enter microforests. At their smallest, they’re 10 foot by 10 foot, planted in urban areas with diverse native trees and shrubs to help provide wildlife habitats and clean the air. 

Native plant horticulturist and educator Katherine Pakradouni planted LA’s first microforest in Griffith Park, and says it has already attracted a wide range of animals, including bugs, birds, lizards, and squirrels. 

Western toads that made their way over from the Los Angeles river have even started to nest in the squirrel burroughs — an example of how even a small plot of land can be transformed into a complex ecosystem. 

Pakradouni was inspired by the Japanese ecologist and botanist Akira Miyawaki, who developed a method of rapid forest creation that uses four layers of vegetation — canopy trees, a sub-tree layer, and shrub layers, which are planted in close proximity to each other.

Based around a “keystone” species — such as a native California live oak — micro forests include supplementary native plants that work together to both attract wildlife and to absorb carbon from the atmosphere, while infusing the soil below with nutrients. 

Using native plants is far more beneficial for the ecosystem here than the drought-tolerant “ecoscaping” that has become popular in Southern California, says Pakradouni.

“Rocks and succulents, they reduce water, but they don't solve the biodiversity issue, they don't solve the carbon sequestration issue, and they don't improve soil health in the same way that a really diverse multi-layered oak woodland microforest might,” she says.

While these micro forests might be small, Pakradouni says that planting a large number of them could go a long way in solving our climate and biodiversity crises. 

“When you add it up, it becomes cumulative. Even a small pocket of forest habitat has the ability to sequester a lot of carbon and has the ability to become a haven and refuge for wildlife that is otherwise being pushed farther and farther out of our cities,” says Pakradouni.

Pakradouni will be talking more about her work during a lecture for the Southern California Horticultural Society this Thursday, August 11 at 7:10 p.m. Catch it in person at the Friendship Auditorium or stream it via Zoom.