Answer: The following electronic databases can help you choose plant materials for your agroforestry project.
The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) maintains an extensive database at http://plants.usda.gov/index.html. In the column on the left, under Plants Topics, you will find several ways that you can find plants that meet different criteria. "Characteristics" might be a good place to start. Fact Sheets and Plant Guides also provide useful information on specific choices.
Another resource is the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Guide, which offers many useful tools.
For comprehensive help planning your installation, consider reviewing the two volumes of Edible Forest Gardens, by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier (see citation below). These are excellent resources themselves, and they reference many other materials. In volume two, you will find nearly 200 pages of charts and tables in seven appendices. Plants are organized by many different criteria that could be helpful as you work on your design. This resource includes perennials and vegetables, as well as trees and shrubs.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has designed some online tools that might be useful, as well. Most of them are available on the National Agroforestry Center's website (under Tools).
In particular, NRCS’s CanVis can help you visualize how a planting will look immediately upon planting and shows its appearance as the planting ages. It is probably best used with an NRCS professional who is familiar with the program. For more information, visit www.unl.edu/nac/simulation/index.htm.
Jacke, Dave with Eric Toensmeier. 2005. Edible Forest Gardens. Vol. 1 and 2. Chelsea Green Publishing Co., White River Junction, VT. www.edibleforestgardens.com
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