Follow by Email

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bee City

Chicago's City Hall is one of the United States' best known green roofs.  Installed in in 2001, this green roof is actually quite similar to the Berry Prairie in concept: it was installed as an experiment, an education and outreach tool and to create a diverse mini-ecosystem.  They have over 100 species on that roof!  

Chicago City Hall's green roof

Just to add to fascination to intrigue, the Laramie Boomerang featured an AP article this morning about honey bees THRIVING on this green roof.  Over 200 pounds of surplus honey are produced each year from the City Hall Bees, which is five times the state average per hive!  Here's the story.

Now honey bees don't do very well in Laramie - and it's not entirely clear why.  The elevation and short season, combined with the constant wind and frigid winters is likely not an ideal climate for them.  Additionally, the kinds of plants that grow in the Laramie basin may not produce the amount of nectar honey bees need to survive, surmises Dr. Michael Dillon of the Univ. of Wyoming's Zoology and Physiology department.  "I suspect that our beautiful array of wildflowers, while providing a smörgåsbord for our diverse native bees, isn't the all-you-can-eat buffet that honey bees require."  However, other pollinators like mason, carpenter and leafcutter bees are all very adapted to the Laramie lifestyle.  They don't produce honey, but they help produce a diversity of plants!  

We have two little sheds set up in the Berry Prairie to make life more comfortable for our native pollinators.  Here's what the houses look like:

Hopefully some day we'll have a thriving pollinator population too!  If you see a bee on the green roof, please be respectful and tip your hat in appreciation for all they do.  

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Prairie Spotlight: The Asters

It could be argued that asters are the most successful plants in the world. The family named for them, the Asteraceae, is the largest plant family (with nearly 23,000 species!), and contains many familiar wildflowers. Also called the Sunflower Family, the Compositae, or composites, the members of the family are united in having “flowers” that are really inflorescences composed of many small flowers. 

What we perceive to be petals are the ray flowers, in which five petals are fused to make a single ray on a very asymmetric flower. The interior of the “flower” consists of symmetric disc flowers that have five very small, inconspicuous petals (can you find them in the picture below?  Look around the spikey disc flowers for the five petals). 

Some composites, like the common dandelion, have only ray flowers, and others, like pussytoes, have only disc flowers. 

It’s relatively easy to see the many small flowers that make up a sunflower. The disk flowers mature from the outside toward the center.

It should come as no surprise that Asteraceae is well represented in the Laramie Basin, and is the best represented plant family on the Berry Prairie. Growing on the Berry Prairie and currently flowering in the wild are:

Antennaria parvifolia (Pussytoes)

Erigeron pinnatisectus (Featherleaf fleabane)

 Erigeron speciosus (Showy fleabane)

Gaillardia aristata (Blanket flower)

Tetraneuris acaulis (Perky Sue)

Several common shrubs, including sagebrush, rabbitbrush and winterfat, are also composites, though they look nothing like asters. We’ll have another blog about them in the future.

Written and photos by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Undercover Globemallow

Some of you may know Dorothy, the Berry Center's associate director.  She's a native plant guru - slash non-native plant bouncer - who broke the undercover identity of the Sphaeralcea munroana, the horticultural variety of Sphaeralcea coccinea.  As you may have read earlier, Sphaeralcea coccinea is our lovely native plant called Cowboy's Delight or Scarlet Globemallow.  Dorothy noted there were two species that were both labeled Sphaeralcea coccinea, but they had obvious visual differences.  

Exhibit A:

The native Sphaeralcea coccinea is shown on the left, the horticultural variety of munroana appears on the right.

The Culprits:

In the photos above, the plant on the left is Sphaeralcea coccinea, the Cowboy's Delight or Scarlet Globemallow that is native to the Laramie basin.  It has those very lobed, hand-shaped leaves and cantaloupe colored flowers.  The one on the right however, is Sphaeralcea munroana - very obviously not the same species.  This is the horticultural variety of Scarlet Globemallow, which has been bred for gardeners and landscapers.  

It turns out, an out of town plant supplier who grew many of the plants for the green roof had mislabeled some of the flats and sent us both.  Honest mistake, but unlucky for munroana, as our inextinguishable desire for a native green roof resulted in its removal.

Dorothy shows no mercy for the non-native plants.  Well, some mercy, as we kept the plants for give-aways this weekend when the Laramie Garden Club stops at the Berry Prairie on their annual garden tour.

In pulling up the munroana, we were able to determine that this plant, and presumably others, are developing a fine root system! 
The rootball of one of the pulled munroana plants.

Here are the munroanas, shame-faced in their line up.

The Replacements:

To replace the sneaky munroanas, Dorothy grew seedlings of Penstemon glaber v. aplina, or Smooth Penstemon, seeds of which she collected on Pumpkin Vine Pass (south of Laramie on Hwy 287).  The seedlings are growing in little pots on the green roof now (the left side of the tray below). 

Seedlings of Penstemon glaber v. alpina, or Smooth Penstemon, are almost ready for planting on the Berry Prairie.

Smooth Penstemon, or Penstemon glaber v. alpina

And when it's established and blooming, the Smooth Penstemon should look something like this:

Penstemon glaber v. alpina in bloom.

No offense non-natives, but the Berry Prairie is for native plants only.  We're still on track for our goal of recreating a Laramie-basin-esque prairie!
Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Friday, July 22, 2011

"Hi, My Name Is..."

Not a prairie plant guru?  No problem!  Now on the Berry Prairie are plant identification tags so you can stroll through and know what you're looking at.  There are nearly 60 species of grasses, forbs (wildflowers) and shrubs on the Berry Center's green roof, so the name tags will help you recognize a number of the plants that grow in the Laramie basin.  

For additional guidance, pick up a brochure at the gate, which looks like this.

Many of the forbs and grasses on the Berry Prairie now have identification tags to help you recognize them.
An example of a name tag for the Sulfur Flower

Come check it out this weekend with your friends or family!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sod Houses to Skyscrapers

A green-roofed house in Wales
Green roofs are not a new concept.  Centuries ago, Norwegians began using turf roofs to insulate their houses through the long winters, home owners and builders in Iceland and Germany have been improving the green roof technology over the past 250 years, and if you really want to stretch it back, the floating gardens of Babylon were maybe the first uses of green roofs.  Heck, even Frodo Baggins and Laura Ingalls Wilder had one… supposedly.

But green roofs now are different from back then.  You can’t just lay down strips of sod on a building – most buildings aren’t built with a green roof in mind so don’t have the structural strength for it.  Can you imagine how heavy a large scale lawn above your office would be after it rains? (or more applicable to Laramie, after it snows?)

Buildings that are constructed with a green roof in mind can plan ahead for it.  Structural reinforcements are clutch.  In fact, Switzerland mandates that all new buildings possess green roofs or walls - 25% of the surface area must be greened;  Toronto has a similar lawAnd in Dearborn, MI, the Ford plant has a 10.4 acre green roof!  That takes a lot of planning ahead!

Thanks to modern technology, green roofs are more feasible because of:
  • Growing media.  Modern green roofs use soilless “soil” that is lightweight and drains well.  (More on the Berry Prairie soil soon.)
  • Layers.  Multiple layers create a green roof – the roof itself, a water-proof membrane, a drainage layer (involving a series of empty trays for collecting and draining excess water), a semi-permeable membrane to hold some water but drain extra, and the “soil.”

  • Plants.  Not every plant can rough it on a green roof.  Many green roofs use only a select few plant species because they’re tough and stubborn.  (This is where the Berry Center deviates from the norm.)

Not Just for Sedum
In the US, green roofs are commonly planted with sedum – a hard-core plant that can fight drought and extreme sun with the best of them.  This species is good for people who want/need low-maintenance roofs, but it doesn’t do much for biodiversity.  One species can’t attract many or an assortment of pollinators, spiders or birds, and it can’t create a mini-ecosystem.

An entirely different approach to green roofs is growing edibles (check out  Creating  a roof-top garden of tomatoes, peppers, squash and zucchini is a growing trend for individuals and schools, particularly in urban environments were open ground space is hard to come by.  Low cost, few complications, high success and high versatility.

The Berry Center’s green roof is different yet.  By planting almost 60 species of native plants, we hope to create a mini-ecosystem that teaches passersby about what thrives in the Laramie basin – including plants, bees, butterflies, beetles, arachnids and more.

Green Roof Gamble
But the Berry Prairie is experimental – one has never been planted at this elevation, and very few are planted in this style.  Will this approach to green roofing work?  Will the plants survive over the Wyoming winters?  Is the growing medium right for these species?  Will plants regenerate and reproduce to create a self-maintaining ecosystem?  Will it require more water and nutrient inputs than we expect?

“The Grand Experiment” as Berry Center Director Greg Brown likes to call it.  The questions are part of the fun.

It takes a while for plants to established, but we're encouraged that many of them are flowering now.
July 19, 2011

 Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Monday, July 18, 2011

Prairie Spotlight: Cowboys' Delight

While not yet flowering in the Berry Prairie, Cowboys' Delight is a spectacular species  currently in bloom in the Laramie basin.  Here is a preview of what's to come once the species is established on the green roof and flowering.

Sphaeralcea coccinea, also known as Cowboys' Delight or Scarlet Globemallow, in bloom southwest of Laramie near the Colorado border.  Sulfur Flower (yellow) and Purple Locoweed mingle with S. coccinea to create a colorful palette.
Photo by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center
Sphaeralcea coccinea is a delight to behold when in bloom, especially during the harshest and driest years. This salmon- or cantaloupe-colored flower is common along roadsides and ditches, where it endures, perhaps even prefers, withering heat and scathing drought. Also called Scarlet Globemallow or Cowboys’ Delight, this western native is a relative of the tropical hibiscus and the garden hollyhock. All are members of the Malvaceae, or mallow family, that can be recognized, in part, by the monadelphous (fused into a cylinder) stamens that protrude from the flower. The 5- or 10-part stigma, in turn, protrudes from the stamen tube. Members of the Malvaceae also have pretty, stellate hairs on their leaves, which can be seen with a good magnifying glass.

Left: Sphaeralcea coccinea in bloom in the Laramie basin.  Right: Sphaeralcea coccinea planted in the green roof.
Photo by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center

Another member of the mallow family that grows in the Laramie Basin (but not yet in the Berry Prairie) is Sidalcea neomexicana, commonly called Salt Spring Checkerbloom. As you might guess, it grows in alkali flats and other salty places, reaching two feet or so in height. Probably the best known member of the family is Alcea rosea, the garden hollyhock, not native here, but found in Laramie Basin gardens. Originally from China, hollyhock was transported to Europe in the sixteenth century, and from there to North America.  Note the similarity of the genus names—alcea is derived from the Greek word for mallow.

Sidalcea neomexicana, commonly called salt spring checkerbloom, is native to the Laramie basin.

By the way, there is a species of Hibiscus that grows in Wyoming, H. trionum. It really does look like a small tropical hibiscus, but pretty though it is—don’t plant it in your garden! It has become naturalized in much of the west since its introduction from the Mediterranean, and is now considered to be an invasive weed.

Because of its tough character, we expect Sidalcea coccinea to thrive in the Berry Prairie, delighting all of the visiting cowboys for many years to come. If you can’t visit our prairie, look for scarlet globemallow along roadsides in much of the American west.

 Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Associate Director of the Berry Center

Friday, July 15, 2011

Penstemons a-plenty

The Berry Prairie includes four of the 11 species of Penstemon that are native to the Laramie Basin. Also known as beardtongues, many penstemons are adored by gardeners for their form and their vivid colors, which range from white through pink, red, purple and blue. Most of the Laramie Basin species are blue or purple, but P. eriantherus is pink, with exceptionally large flowers, and our P. laricifolius is the uncommon white variety.

Penstemon eriantherus - the Fuzzytongue Penstemon - is native to the Laramie
basin and is planted on the green roof.
Penstemon laricifolius is also a Laramie native. 
Watch for it in the Berry Prairie!

With about 270 species, Penstemon is the largest genus of flowering plants restricted to North America. Many beardtongues grow in very hot, dry sites, and a number of species have limited ranges. Wyoming has 40 species, two of which are endemic to the state, and ten are considered rare enough in the state to be tracked by the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database ( Our only federally-listed Endangered plant species is the blowout penstemon, P. haydenii, first collected in Carbon County in 1871 and “lost” from Wyoming until 1999.

Penstemon haydenii, the blowout penstemon, is extremely rare in Wyoming.  It's found in Nebraska and the southeast flank of the Ferris Mountains in central Wyoming.  This penstemon is not planted in the Berry Prairie. 

Photos above and below by Bonnie Heidel, WYNDD

The name beardtongue refers to the fuzzy staminode (a sterile organ) found inside the flower. Derived from a stamen, the staminode appears to enhance the efficiency of pollination by bees, by either blocking the bee’s exit from the flower, or actually pushing the bee, with her pollen load, onto the receptive pistil. 

Pollination by hummingbirds appears to have evolved multiple times in the genus. Those species are easily recognized by their bright red colors, and are valued by gardeners hoping to attract hummers. However, you won’t find any red beardtongues in the Berry Prairie, as no red species are native to the Laramie Basin.  

We're planning to install a Penstemon Garden in the alley west of the Berry Center.  More information and photos later! 

Penstemon virens blooming in front of the Berry Center on June 16, 2011

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Associate Director of the Berry Center

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Bloomin’ Update

It’s a good sign that plants are taking hold if they begin to flower!  So for your viewing and phenological pleasure, below is a gallery of what’s in bloom.  Stop by to see them for yourselves (there are brochures at the gate to help you identify some of the plants you'll find).

Below, a Devil’s Gate twinpod (Physaria eburniflora) – one of 42 Wyoming endemic species. This species is just starting to bloom on the Berry Prairie.

Here, a blue flax (Linum lewisii) is shown; this is the tail end of the flowering period for this species.

The Wyoming big sage (Artemesia tridentata wyomingensis) is beginning to bloom.

And the prickly pear cacti (Opuntia polyacantha) are blooming in two colors - bright yellow and pink.

So far, there have been a mere two moralities since planting, both of which were fringed sage (Artemisia frigida).  No too shabby!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Prairie Spotlight: The Cacti

The Berry Prairie, and likewise the native prairie, is dominated by grasses.  In fact, there are nine species of grasses on the roof, and they account for ¾ (3,500 individuals) of the plants!  On the opposite end of the spectrum, cacti are the least represented category of Wyoming vegetation; 15 cacti individuals of two species were planted.  The prickly pear cacti are in bloom right now - come check it out!

The prairie around Laramie consists of short-statured plants – short grasses, short shrubs, short forbs, and ground-hugging mosses and lichens.  The consistent and strong winds, high elevation, the lack of precipitation (we receive average of 11 inches of precipitation per year; for comparison, a desert is classified as receiving 10 inches of rain per year or less), and constant sun makes life very difficult for any plant above 3 feet tall.  

Therefore, the cacti that grow in Laramie prairies – and the Berry Prairie – do not look like this:

Cacti in the Sonoran desert - in other words, not Wyoming!

Instead, they look like this:

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) - currently in bloom on the Berry Prairie!
Photo by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center
The prickly pear cactus (Opuntia polyacantha, shown above) is a common prairie cactus that grows from Washington to Missouri to Arizona and everywhere in between.  It has ferocious spines, making it a nuisance for ranchers, unobservant hikers and energetic pets.  However, if the spines are removed via fire, hand or machinery, the cactus pads are palatable treats for wildlife and livestock.  The prickly pear blooms in late spring and early summer, and has yellow, pink or coral colored flowers.  It's actually in bloom right now on the Berry Prairie - come take a look!

Pincushion or barrel cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii)
Photo by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

The pincushion or barrel cactus (Pediocactus simpsonii, shown above) is another common prairie cactus found in most of the western United States.  It does notably better at higher elevations and cooler temperatures than many other cacti do.  This cactus is usually perfectly round, 6” or less tall, and can grow in a wide variety of habitats, from prairie to rocky outcrops to montane forests.  The magenta, pink or yellow flowers appear in late spring and early summer.  

A third cactus species native to the Laramie basin, but not planted on the green roof, is the hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus, shown below), found in the three southeastern counties in Wyoming.   It has small greenish-yellow flowers that possess a citrusy scent.
Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus viridiflorus)

Stop by the Berry Prairie to check out the cacti in action!   

The majority of the cacti are found to the east of the path, which is the driest watering zone on the green roof (more about watering zones soon).

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center, with assistance from Joy Handley, WYNDD