The plants used in permaculture designs usually have one or several of the following characteristics:

  • Permaculture tries to create a permanent system, so perennials are always preferred over annual plants.
  • Some plants are pioneer plants, plants that can grow in harsh conditions, in poor soils, that need little attention, and improve the area where they grow to make it suitable for other plants.
  • Many plants are legumes. With the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria they convert the nitrogen in the air into soil nitrogen that can be used by other plants.
  • Deep rooted plants mine the subsoil for nutrients. When that plant is cut, or drops its leaves, the nutrients are deposited on top of the soil. The plant matter becomes mulch, and when it breaks down it feeds the more shallow rooted plants.
  • Another benefit of such deep rooted plants is that they can break through hardened layers and clay pans, and improve deeper soil levels that our vegetables would not be able to penetrate.
  • Some plants can be frequently pruned for mulch. Rather than buying mulch you can grow it yourself. That’s where the permaculture term “chop and drop mulch” comes from. Grow your mulch where you will need it, and then just chop it, and drop it right there. How easy is that?
  • Some plants are grown as living mulch. They shade the soil and keep it moist, out compete weeds, and increase the organic matter content of the soil.

That are just some examples, and probably the most typical uses for what I call permaculture plants. But as I noted above, there are many other ways permaculture plants can benefit the system. Unusual edible plants, plants that make good animal fodder, wild food plants, medicinal plants…