Minnesota Department of Transportation

511 Travel Info

PlantSelector Program

flowers along the highway

About

MnDOT’s Plant Selector program, Woody & Herbaceous plants for Minnesota Landscapes & Roadsides, was developed in 1995 and through several phases has been refined to become more user-friendly. The primary goal and objective of this program is to facilitate selecting the most appropriate plants for landscaping on Minnesota Roadsides or Landscapes. Picking plants for roadside planting in Minnesota can be a problematic task considering the constraints within Minnesota.

In developing this "expert system" MnDOT staff did research between 1991 and 1999. Volunteer collaborators and a programming consultant, Michael Max – EnvironMentor Systems made very significant contributions to the program. The initial prototype of the program was first made available in 1997. This original prototype was available on CD-ROM and was limited to only trees and shrubs. In 1999 an expanded version of the CD-ROM was released that included trees, shrubs and plants. The latest version is now available on the web. This is an up to date, easy to follow version that will allow the program to be more widely available.

MnDOT landscape staff obtained in-kind commitments from collaborators (including FHWA) and research funding, in the amount of $37,875, and committed themselves to creation of the most comprehensive plant selection "expert system" of its kind and it was developed to address the needs and problems described below:

  • Improper selection and location of plant species within challenging and disturbed environments has been a common problem throughout Minnesota and the United States. Misinformed and inconsistent decision-making (plant location & selection), resulting in landscape project failures, is a common and costly problem along roadsides. In many cases, such failures diminish public support for roadside programs and may create serious public safety hazards.
  • A wealth of landscape planting publications, reference materials and research data has been available but much of the information has been inconsistent, contradictory and incomplete. Conversely, a lot of needed information has been unavailable or difficult to document.
  • The professionals working with MnDOT’s roadside landscaping efforts, over the past 30 years, have been held in high regard for cutting-edge research, leadership and a wealth of knowledge and experience. But when they leave the organization, much of their knowledge leaves with them unless it can be captured in a retrievable format that can be easily updated, correlated and utilized. 

The project development approach was to enlist experienced and knowledgeable volunteer collaborators, from around the Midwest and Canada, as critical reviewers, who could help MnDOT staff synthesize and validate the research, database and photographic information collected. MnDOT collected, evaluated and synthesized an enormous volume of data sets for the "expert system" 49 fields of information for each of more than 750 trees, shrubs, vine, forbs, grasses, sedges and fern species and over 2600 color photos. When using the "expert system", you can view listings of 159 reference & research publications; 84 professional and academic database reviewers/contributors; and 23 photographers cited for providing the information synthesized into the software system. The design activity or project goals included:

  • Improving the quality of roadside plant selection and management in Minnesota.
  • Creating the first truly comprehensive, reliable and user-friendly "expert system" fortransportation and general landscaping specific to Minnesota conditions and environments.
  • Educating professionals and novices alike in regards to all of the critical fields of information that, in combination, make specific plants appropriate or inappropriate for specific planting sites, conditions, locations and functions in Minnesota.
  • Correlating 650 woody & herbaceous plants with up to 49 distinct fields of query information (site & plant characteristics) along with multiple color photos of each plant’s distinguishing characteristics and Minnesota range maps for native woody plants.
  • Targeting future research to fill in the gaps of any unavailable or insufficient data that is revealed and needed to further develop the "expert system".
  • Forming collaborations and partnerships to increase cost-effectiveness and on-going project development opportunities with a vision of making future project development, marketing, distribution and technical support self-sustaining financially.

A key feature of the "expert system" is its simple, intuitive and flexible presentation of a complex array of extensive data in an integrated manner that can be tailored to the user. Plant characteristics and site characteristics data include:

  • Plant form, height, spread, summer & winter texture, overhead utility compatibility, growth rate, life expectancy, and root type.
  • Flower colors and seasons and fruit types, colors and seasons.
  • Spring, summer, fall, and winter foliage colors.
  • Place of origin, plant community association, succession occurrence, sun requirements, site orientation, and topography.
  • Tolerances associated with soil pH, compaction, salt spray, soil salt, moisture regimes, flooding, depth to water table, soil drainage, drought, soil water holding capacity, soil texture, herbicides, and pollutants.
  • Maintenance implications, planting ease, and windbreak suitability groups.
  • Insect, disease & animal damage concerns, wildlife benefit, plant toxicity, cold injury, storm damage susceptibility, and invasiveness.
  • Allergy intensity for different varieties of plants.

MnDOT landscape staff obtained in-kind commitments from collaborators (including FHWA) and research funding, in the amount of $37,875, and committed themselves to creation of the most comprehensive plant selection "expert system" of its kind and it was developed to address the needs and problems described below:

  • Improper selection and location of plant species within challenging and disturbed environments has been a common problem throughout Minnesota and the United States.  Misinformed and inconsistent decision-making (plant location & selection), resulting in landscape project failures, is a common and costly problem along roadsides. In many cases, such failures diminish public support for roadside programs and may create serious public safety hazards.
  • A wealth of landscape planting publications, reference materials and research data has been available but much of the information has been inconsistent, contradictory and incomplete. Conversely, a lot of needed information has been unavailable or difficult to document.
  • The professionals working with MnDOT’s roadside landscaping efforts, over the past 30 years, have been held in high regard for cutting-edge research, leadership and a wealth of knowledge and experience. But when they leave the organization, much of their knowledge leaves with them unless it can be captured in a retrievable format that can be easily updated, correlated and utilized.

The project development approach was to enlist experienced and knowledgeable volunteer collaborators, from around the Midwest and Canada, as critical reviewers, who could help MnDOT staff synthesize and validate the research, database and photographic information collected. MnDOT collected, evaluated and synthesized an enormous volume of data sets for the "expert system" 49 fields of information for each of more than 750 trees, shrubs, vine, forbs, grasses, sedges and fern species and over 2600 color photos. When using the "expert system", you can view listings of 159 reference & research publications; 84 professional and academic database reviewers/contributors; and 23 photographers cited for providing the information synthesized into the software system.  The design activity or project goals included:

  • Improving the quality of roadside plant selection and management in Minnesota.
  • Creating the first truly comprehensive, reliable and user-friendly "expert system" for transportation and general landscaping specific to Minnesota conditions and environments.
  • Educating professionals and novices alike in regards to all of the critical fields of information that, in combination, make specific plants appropriate or inappropriate for specific planting sites, conditions, locations and functions in Minnesota.
  • Correlating 650 woody &herbaceous plants with up to 49 distinct fields of query  information (site & plant characteristics) along with multiple color photos of each plant’s distinguishing characteristics and Minnesota range maps for native woody plants.
  • Targeting future research to fill in the gaps of any unavailable or insufficient data that is revealed and needed to further develop the "expert system".
  • Forming collaborations and partnerships to increase cost-effectiveness and on-going project development opportunities with a vision of making future project development, marketing, distribution and technical support self-sustaining financially.

In terms of results and significance, the "expert system" has already begun to influence transportation and general landscaping plant selection, restoration and management in Minnesota. Immediate and long-term benefits result from the greatly increased speed, accuracy and comprehensiveness with which the "expert  system" allows a novice or professional to determine right plant, right place, right functions in landscape design.An initial phase one prototype CD-ROM, specific to only woody plants, was developed (1995 – 1997) and distributed (1,000 CDs) beginning in 1997. In its first year of widespread use (1997) the prototype "expert system" received the Minnesota Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architect’s Honor Award for both Research and Communication.  The multi-agency Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee and the Minnesota Horticultural Society also provided MnDOT with special awards for innovation in developing the "expert system". Sales and distribution of the greatly expanded and fully tested phase two  CD–ROM "expert system" for woody and herbaceous plants began in April of 1999. More than 1,900 of the CD–ROMs have been sold. In it’s 3 year of use (2002), the second version of the "expert system" received the Federal Highway Administration, Environmental Excellence Award for Excellence in Environmental Research. 

A key feature of the "expert system" is its simple, intuitive and flexible presentation of a complex array of extensive data in an integrated manner that can be tailored to the user. Plant characteristics and site characteristics data include:

  • Plant form, height, spread, summer & winter texture, overhead utility compatibility,  growth rate, life expectancy, and root type.
  • Flower colors and seasons and fruit types, colors and seasons.
  • Spring, summer, fall, and winter foliage colors.
  • Place of origin, plant community association, succession occurrence, sun requirements, site orientation, and topography.
  • Tolerances associated with soil pH, compaction, salt spray, soil salt, moisture regimes, flooding, depth to water table, soil drainage, drought, soil water holding capacity, soil texture, herbicides, and pollutants.
  • Maintenance implications, planting ease, and windbreak suitability groups.
  • Insect, disease & animal damage concerns, wildlife benefit, plant toxicity, cold injury, storm damage susceptibility, and invasiveness.
  • Allergy intensity for different varieties of plants

You answer the queries or bypass those of less concern, with a click of your computer’s mouse, and the system identifies any and all plants that pass your specified criteria (plant characteristics & site conditions). You can print plant lists with your specified selection criteria as well as detailed fact sheets for each plant. You can also print color copies of the photo images and native range maps.