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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Green Roof Foundations

Penstemon virens blooming on a boulder
in front of the Berry Center.
In Wyoming, survival of the fittest is obvious.  Those which flourish are the rugged and the tough, the adaptable and the persistent.  Plants are no exception to the rule.  To test a variety of factors that impact a plant species’ or community’s success, the Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center at the University of Wyoming is installing Laramie’s first large-scale green roof.  Right now, the roof is more brown than green.  But come the end of June, it will have native plants stationed and ready for action.

The Mission

Install, monitor and evaluate native Wyoming plant species in a human-created environment above the Vertebrate Collections at the Berry Center.  To our knowledge, a green roof at this latitude, elevation and variety (all native!) has not been installed before.

The Environment
Laramie is located in southeastern Wyoming at 7200’ above sea level.  The city and surrounding area receive an average of 11” of precipitation per year – the same as Tuscon, Arizona, and would be classified as desert, was it not for the cold winters.  The area experiences an average of 300 days of sunshine per year, and the strength of the sun is amplified but Laramie’s high elevation.  Wind is an important player here, as wind speeds are commonly around 20 mph and can get as high as 60 mph on a blustery day.

The Questions
  • Can we mimic natural processes by planting native Wyoming flowers, grasses, shrubs and cacti to create a mini rooftop prairie? If not, what adjustments must be made?   
  • Does a green roof at 7200’ above sea level operate the same way as one at much lower elevation?   
  • What traits distinguish those plant species that survive or thrive on the green roof from those that don’t?   
  • Can we draw pollinators, spiders, beetles, and other matrix-level species to the green roof, and how can we foster their presence? 

The Big Picture

Biodiversity is wildly important to the maintenance of a healthy environment in a variety of ways (if you’re not sure why or which ways, do a quick on-line search).  Experimenting with ways to conserve, protect and reestablish biological diversity in an urban environment is as important to future generations as is the protection of natural environments.  The Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center is home to multiple scientific labs for the study of diversity, from genes to ecosystems – and a green roof is one more way to enhance our understanding of community processes.

Stay tuned.  Installation is scheduled for the week of June 27.

Planting of the Berry Center green roof is schedule to
begin June 27, 2011.

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

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