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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

The Berry Prairie has become home to approximately 60 species of native grasses, forbs and shrubs, as well as 8 orders of insects (according to Master's student, Kyle Bolenbaugh, who is studying the green roof).  Of course humans frequent the roof regularly, but this winter we added one more vertebrate species to our Celebrity Spotlight list: a rabbit!

These hippity hoppity little buggers are pretty darn cute.  And of course we love to brag that the roof is a biodiversity hotspot (ha!).  However, they happened to have destroyed every single one of our ball cacti on the roof, putting them on our black list for eternity. 

In all of the red circles there used to be a beautiful cactus.  Now there are only divots to honor our fallen succulents.

Now, cacti are not typically a rabbit's favorite snack.  I am certain you can imagine why.  Spiny, tough, blah.  But they do offer desperate animals one necessary resource, and that is water.

Winters in Wyoming tend to be long and windy, and we don't usually get a ton of snow.  So rabbits and other organisms that are active throughout the winter need an accessible (aka non-frozen and above ground) water source.  If there's no snow nearby, and no other puddles or rivers, the water pooled inside a cactus might be the only or best option.  Despite the spines. 

The photo above shows the poor amputated cactus, post rabbit attack.  The photo below, the former site of a cactus.

Moral of this story: not even heavily armed organisms are safe against the onslaught of thirsty rabbits.

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute

Monday, April 14, 2014

Gardening with Native Plants

This is the time of year where are fingers are itching to get in the dirt, when our seed packets are singing our names, and when gardening blogs are seeing their maximum traffic.  It's almost gardening season, and that means it's time to dream and prepare!

Last month, the UW Biodiversity Institute, in collaboration with the UW Extension, Barnyards & Backyards and the Laramie Garden Club just published a book you might be interested in.  It's called "Plants with Altitude: Regionally Native Plants for Wyoming Gardens."

Inside it is a list of about 40 wildflowers (forbs) and 12 shrubs that are native to Wyoming or just beyond, and that we recommend for gardens because they're beautiful, hardy, water wise and you can find them at nurseries or in seed catalogs.  For each plant, there's a photo and description, along with soil, water and sun requirements, and if it's beneficial for pollinators or resistant to herbivores.

If you're thinking about getting native plants into your gardens this year, this book is a fabulous resource.  And it's cheap - $5 if you buy it in person (UW Berry Center on 10th and Lewis St., or at the UW Bookstore), or $8 if you buy it online at 

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring Awakening

After a long hiatus, the Berry Prairie is beginning to come alive again!  The plants in the photos below are slowly but surely sprouting new leaves, putting out buds, and embracing the 55 degree warmth of spring.

Few-seed Draba (Draba oligosperma) with a few buds on - look for the yellow dots in the photo

 Devil's Gate Twinpod (Physaria eburniflora) decked out in feathers

Hooker's Sandwort (Eremogone hookeri), benefitting from its short stature and warmth of the "soil"

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) bravely putting out new leaves

Black Sage (Artemesia nova) takes the prize for most chlorophyll at this stage of the game!

Stay tuned for more updates - and a story of a rabbit's desperate more to get water over the winter.

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Case of the Missing Flax

 Blue flax is practically a weed wherever it grows.  It's very pretty (love that blue color!), it's tough and drought-tolerant, and it reseeds by the bajillions, which makes it almost noxious in Laramie.  

Except for on the green roof.

We planted 32 individual plants of blue flax (Linum lewisii) on the roof in June of 2011.  They all survived into summer of 2012.  Then the epic green roof fiasco happened, and we moved them from the roof to the golf course and back again.  

Once spring 2013 rolled around... they were gone.  Poof.  Shazam.  What the?

About Blue Flax

From the book High and Dry: Gardening with Cold-Hardy Dryland Plants (Robert Nold, 2008):

"Linum lewisii is a common plant, found throughout the west (Alaska to Mexico), in various habitats.  Linear green leaves on stiff wiry stems to a foot or so... carry a profusion of clustered blue flowers.  Probably best for the wild garden: L. lewisii does seed about furiously."

From the book Wildflowers of Wyoming (Diantha and Jack States, 2004):

"Blue flax has sky blue petals with white or yellowish bases.  The flowers occur on slender, waving stems.  Leaves are linear and about 1 inch long.  Named in honor of Meriwether Lewis, this plant was first collected for science on the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805.  It is found throughout western North America and is common in all vegetation zones."

Why Wont It Grow?

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service's plant guide (access here), blue flax grows splendidly on pretty crummy (infertile, disturbed, somewhat salty or acidic), well-drained soils.  It is winter and drought hardy.  It tolerates lots of sun but can be in some shade (where we planted it in the southwest corner of the roof has some shade).  

The site of the missing flax

Now if that all doesn't describe the green roof, I don't know what does.  It's a mystery.  A cold case.  The lack of blue flax is absolutely perplexing.

Do any of you have ideas?  If so, share them below!

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute