On a beautiful day in November, horticulture students at John T. Williams Secondary Montessori in Charlotte installed a new ozone garden on their campus to help make ozone pollution visible. A raised bed was constructed near their carpool line. Middle school students helped fill the bed with soil mix. Then high school students added native plants to the new bed, topping it with mulch and carefully watering in everything.
This garden includes a variety of perennials that bloom at different times of the year–spring, summer and fall–for seasonal interest, and many of these plants are great for pollinators. But what makes this garden extra special are the plants that are sensitive to ground-level ozone pollution.
Plants of cutleaf coneflower are included as an ozone bioindicator to help students learn more about air quality. Air pollution affects the health of living things. In people, high amounts of ground-level ozone pollution create a sunburn inside our lungs, making it painful to breathe. In plants, ozone can cause distinctive damage on the top surface of the leaf.
Some plants, like cutleaf coneflower, show damage at very low levels of ozone pollution; which are well below EPA standards. Ground-level ozone causes damage to vegetation throughout the world, including agricultural crops and native plants in natural ecosystems.
Cutleaf coneflower is an herbaceous perennial that grows to five feet or more. Its leaves have a distinctive cut-leaf shape. In fall with the first frost, it dies back to the ground, but in spring it starts growing upward again. Each May, students can setup cutleaf coneflower plants for biomonitoring. Leaves are tagged and monitored routinely through the summer. Ground-level ozone is created when sunlight mixes with emissions from automobiles and industrial factories like coal-fired power plants. In the North Carolina Piedmont, ozone season runs from March through October.
Students enjoy being outside, working on a project to beautify and increase environmental awareness at their school. They look forward to using this garden to learn more about their air quality. This project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Charlotte Rotary Club.
To learn more about ozone gardens and how to install one at your home, school or business, check out our online Ozone Garden Toolkit. To see ozone damage on a leaf check out our new short video below: