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Erin Schroll, John G. Lambrinos and David Sandrock

Extensive green roofs are a challenging environment for most plants, and this has typically limited the available plant palette. However, some functional goals for green roofs such as wildlife habitat require a broader spectrum of plant species from which to choose. In addition, pronounced seasonality in rainfall is a common climatic trait throughout much of the world; yet, few studies have evaluated green roof plant selections or the need for supplemental irrigation in a seasonally dry climate. In a field trial conducted in the Pacific northwestern United States, we evaluated the performance of eight taxa during establishment and under three different water management regimes post establishment: 1) non-irrigated; 2) irrigation based on green roof–specific water conservation guidelines for Portland, OR; or 3) the minimum irrigation required to maintain good plant condition. Plants were regionally available and represented a range of growth forms (succulents, shrubs, grasses, bulbs, and rhizomes) and potential functional attributes (habitat quality, aesthetic quality, and stormwater management proficiency). All eight species had generally high survival over the establishment year, although hardy iceplant (Delosperma cooperi) and common woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum var. lanatum) experienced some overwinter mortality. Species differed in the timing and absolute amount of growth during establishment. However, when the strong effect of initial size on growth was taken into account using analysis of covariance, there were no remaining differences between species in the relative magnitude of growth during establishment. During the summer following establishment, irrigation regime had significant effects on survival and growth, but these varied across taxa. Irrigation had no effect on survival or growth of the succulents hardy iceplant and ‘Cape Blanco’ broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) and the bulb small camas (Camassia quamash). For the other taxa, plant survival and growth generally decreased with decreasing irrigation and many species did not survive at all without irrigation. Several species, particularly the grass roemer's fescue (Festuca idahoensis var. roemeri) and the shrub ‘Lasithi’ cretan rockrose (Cistus creticus ssp. creticus) suffered aesthetically under low irrigation, partly reflecting adaptive responses to drought stress. Weed pressure was high on bare substrate and was enhanced by irrigation, but weed pressure was negligible following canopy closure across all water regimes. These results suggest that succulents, bulbs, and rhizotomous forbs have potential for use on extensive green roofs in seasonally dry climates even without supplemental irrigation. Designing extensive roofs composed of more diverse growth forms will likely require some amount of supplemental irrigation. This study highlights the need to design context-specific green roofs that match appropriate plant selections with explicit functional goals and management plans. This will improve function and reduce the overall costs associated with maintenance.