First Advisor

John A. Yeakley

Date of Publication

Winter 3-3-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Environmental Sciences and Resources


Environmental Science and Management




Stormwater infiltration, Roots (Botany), Storm water retention basins -- Oregon -- Portland -- Case studies, Runoff -- Purification



Physical Description

1 online resource (xiii, 127 pages)


I evaluated the effectiveness of plant roots to increase infiltration rates within stormwater bioretention facilities (SBFs), roadside planter compartments that filter stormwater. SBFs attenuate harmful effects of stormwater by reducing peak flow and retaining pollutants, with increased infiltration that improves both these functions. Researchers have shown that roots can increase infiltration within greenhouse, lab, field, and test SBF settings. However, no researchers have yet measured either the extent to which different root characteristics can increase infiltration or the variation in root characteristics and their effect on infiltration rates among plant assemblages within currently functioning SBFs.

To determine if root-enhanced infiltration was occurring within SBFs, I hypothesized

1) there is a relationship between root characteristics and infiltration during late spring, and

2) seasonal root growth increases infiltration rates. Within Portland, OR, I measured infiltration rate from January 2014 to February 2015 and root characteristics from January-February (J-F) and May-June (M-J) 2014 in ten SBFs with "Elk Blue" rush (Juncus patens) and 1 or 2 trees of less than 8.4 cm stem diameter. During M-J, four root characteristics showed a positive relationship with infiltration rate, and two root characteristics showed a strong positive relationship with infiltration rate within the topsoil. Also, a relationship was shown between the increase (J-F to M-J 2014) in three root characteristics and the increase in infiltration rate.

To determine if root morphology and infiltration rates differed among SBFs with two different dominant vegetation taxa (small and large root biomass), I hypothesized 3) Juncus patens and tree dominant assemblage (greater root biomass) exhibits greater infiltration compared to the Carex dominant assemblage, 4) the increase in infiltration rate and root characteristics from J-F to M-J is greater in the Juncus compared to the Carex assemblage, and 5) root surface area density (RSAD) within Juncus SBFs shows a positive relationship with infiltration rate in late spring. I measured infiltration rate from January 2014 to February 2015 and root characteristics from January-February (J-F) and May-June (M-J) 2014 among five large-root (Juncus and tree) and five small-root biomass (Carex sp) SBFs. Juncus SBFs showed greater values for three root characteristics during J-F and five root characteristics during M-J 2014 compared to Carex SBFs. Also, Juncus SBFs showed an increase from J-F to M-J 2014 for five root characteristics while Carex SBFs showed no root increase. Juncus SBFs showed a relationship with four root characteristics and Carex SBFs a showed relationship with one root characteristic and infiltration rate.

This work strongly suggests plant roots increase infiltration, and thus the primary functions of SBFs. Different root characteristics appear to increase infiltration rate at different depths. Data also show larger-root biomass plants increase infiltration rate to a greater degree than smaller-root biomass plants.

I recommend considering several site and facility characteristics when determining the potential for root-enhanced infiltration. When selecting plant species to enhance infiltration, I recommend using several criteria, determining root characteristic values at certain depths, considering installation approaches, and accounting for regional climate changes.


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