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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Before Its Time

When you live in Laramie, you quickly learn that springtime can be such a tease.  One day it will be sunny and 60, the next a blizzard - and this lasts usually through May!  
The emotional rollercoaster of springtime in Laramie.

But this year, we've had an unbelievably warm "spring," and the plants (and insects - my first honeybee sighting was March 14!) are falling for her tricks.  In fact, one poor soul on the green roof - the Devil's Gate Twinpod (Physaria eburniflora) - began budding out in February, only to get frozen out a few days later.  It became the laughing stock of the garden plants, poor buddy.

But one plant in particular, the Fewseed Draba (Draba oligosperma), is a tough plant that is consistently the first to bloom.  This year was no exception!  This year it began blooming particularly early: March 23.  Last year, it bloomed on April 21, in 2013 on April 30, and in 2012 on March 30.

Fewseed Draba in bloom

Draba buds - more flowers to come!

Maybe it's just not the warm weather though... the blooming plant in question is located on a south aspect of one of the berms we installed last year (inside the red circle below).  That means it likely gets more sun and warmth than other locations on the roof.  Or maybe the mulch is allowing all plants to move ahead in their phenology - and other plants will bloom sooner than normal too.  

What do you think?

Location of the flowering plant in question.

Can't even see the little Drabas from here - but they're there!

We have a long ways to go until Spring actually arrives, and we look forward to seeing how the Berry Prairie springs to life!

Written by Brenna Marsicek, UW Biodiversity Institute

Friday, November 14, 2014

Snowy Slumber

"Change will come as surely as the seasons, and twice as quick."
                              - Louisa May Alcott

Indeed, the Berry Prairie has changed a lot this year.  In a lot of ways.  A new design, a new plant list, a new irrigation system, a new mulch cover, and all just in the time for the snow. 

Laramie experienced a wonderful, long fall.  Temperatures were mild through all of September and October, and only this past week did we get any substantial snowfall.  We're thanking our lucky stars, and hoping this bodes well for the new green roof plants come spring.

But for now, we enter our winter senescence.  Until spring, here are a few photos of the roof as you'll see it.


 Written by Brenna Marsicek, UW Biodiversity Institute

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Green Roof Mulch

The Berry Prairie has a tannish-tone to it these days.  One of the big issues in the original roof was that the black growing medium (the fake dirt) absorbed so much of the intensive, high-elevation sun that it was very, very hot on a regular basis.  The plants did not seem to care for this much, so we've tried to tackle this problem through two different solutions:

1. Pop-up irrigation.  The cool water coming from above (rather than below as with the drip in the previous edition) will help cool all layers of the growing medium.

Photo from Sept. 19

2.  Light-colored mulch.  We used a "rose" colored, 3/8" pea gravel spread 1" deep all over the roof.  This lighter color will help prevent so much absorption and look/act more like a native prairie with their light-colored soils.

You can see the difference in color between the tan pea gravel (right and top of image) and the darker growing medium (left of image)

Written by Brenna Marsicek, UW Biodiversity Institute

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Prairies, Plants and Plots

Wheatland, Wyoming is a small town in the southeastern part of the state which is sometimes described as "more like Nebraska than Wyoming."  Where it's not dominated by agriculture, the landscape around that area is mostly mixed-grass prairie, and receives about 13 inches of rain (this is info you can pull from WyoBio using different map layers - check it out at!).

Satellite image of Wheatland, WY from

Each year, all of the 6th graders from Wheatland come to the Berry Center for a biodiversity day.  This introduces the concept of biodiversity by going to five different stations:
  • "Blackbirds and black birds of Wheatland" in the Vertebrate Collection
  • "Atoms and Food Webs" in the Stable Isotope Facility
  • "Prairie Dogs: Pest or best of the west?" in the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database
  • "Getting to know a few Wheatland plants" in the Rocky Mountain Herbarium
  • "Prairie Structure and Diversity" on the Berry Prairie

Berry Prairie Debut

That means the new Berry Prairie's debut was to 75 twelve-year-olds, and it worked GREAT! 

In the Prairie Structure and Diversity station, each group and I discussed why prairies in Wyoming are shorter than prairie is Wisconsin (rain shadow), why prairie plants have such deep roots (access to water and protection from fire), why fire is so important in these ecosystems (cleans out the shrubs and non-natives and facilitates regrowth of native plants), and why prairie dogs are beneficial to prairie health (mostly due to aeration of the soil and nutrient cycling).  We talked about food webs, who eats what, what happens when you take out a species from the system, and why that's important.

After this, the kids broke into small groups and head onto the green roof, where they surveyed a plot for species richness (number of individual plants of a certain type, the kids counted how many individual grasses, shrubs, cacti and forbs) and diversity (how many species of each type).  

Then we discussed how the prairie might look different or change if it received 10 more inches of rain per year.  Or if fire went through every other year.  And how animals help maintain the prairie ecosystem.

This is always of the best days of the year at the Berry Center, filled with enthusiasm, expanding minds and questions.  It was great to use the Berry Prairie to teach these lessons!

Written by Brenna Marsicek, UW Biodiversity Institute