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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Prairie Planted!

If you haven’t walked past the Berry Center this week, you’ll be in for a surprise!   On Monday morning, the green roof was just a flat, brown, gravely space.  But two days, five landscapers, three hoses, an interview, a photo shoot and 4,400 individual plants later, the Berry Prairie is officially installed.  

Visit the Berry Prairie
The Berry Prairie is free and officially open to the public!  But all visitors are required to stay on the path - plants are tender and small, some of them only an inch high, and won’t fare well under a stray boot or flip-flop.

Below are a few photos of the progress and the planted product.  Plants may appear spaced out, but many of them will double, triple, quadruple or more in size over the course of this summer and coming years.  

Signs, pamphlets and other educational additions are in the works – stayed tuned!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Monday, June 27, 2011

How Many Thousands?

All of the plants that will be installed on the Berry Prairie are native to the area around Laramie. Like in the local prairie, grasses will dominate in quantity, but forbs (aka wildflowers) will dominate in diversity. To mimic the native grassland, plant species will be intermixed, avoiding monocultures, while reflecting the natural mixing of species we see in a prairie. For example, a dry area will be planted with cacti, while shrubs will dominate in other areas of the garden, and more mesic species will be grouped together. 
The Berry Prairie will be planted with seven species of grasses and one sedge species (3,267 individual plants), about 40 species of herbaceous wildflowers, (approx. 900 individual plants), three species of cacti and one of yucca (60 plants), and approximately 150 shrubs in eight species. 

If you weren't counting, that's nearly 4,400 individual plants!

Vegetation of the Laramie Basin is largely dominated by grasses, forbs and shrubs.
This is the type
of ecosystem the Berry Prairie seeks to mimic on the green roof.
Photo courtesy of the
Jackrabbit Goes Down the Rabbit Hole blog.

Plant Selection
Life on a green roof is tough: it’s hot, it’s constantly sunny, the soil drains quickly so water can be scarce, and the wind is a bully. So, in addition to being native, plants that made the cut also must be very drought tolerant, not require high nutrient availability, and be adapted to high insolation (sun availability and strength). Of course, those traits are generally necessary for survival in the Laramie Basin, which is one reason that we expect local plants to do well on the roof.

The plant list was put together by local experts. A long list of potential roof candidates was compiled from the Rocky Mountain Herbarium database, which has an extensive collection of plants from the Laramie Basin (40,000 or so verified specimens). 

Then, many of the selected species were chosen by Dennis Knight, long-time faculty member and now Professor Emeritus of UW Botany Department. Dr. Knight is the author of Mountains and Plains: The Ecology of Wyoming Landscapes, the go-to resource for Wyoming plant ecology.   A committee oversaw the plant selection, sourcing and concepts; committee members included:
  • Dennis Knight (retired from UW Botany Department),
  • Charlotte Belton (designer of the green roof, affiliated with the building architecture firm, Malone Belton Abel), 
  • Karen Panter (UW Department of Plant Sciences)
  • Gracie Lawson Borders (College of Arts and Sciences), 
  • Bob Mayes (Science and Mathematics Teaching Center), 
  • Allison Louthan (graduate student in Zoology), 
  • Craig Benkman (UW Zoology),
  • Greg Brown (UW Botany and Berry Center Director),
  • Dave Williams (Stable Isotopes Facility faculty director) and 
  • Kerry Culter (graduate student in Zoology).

The first sets of seedlings arrived early this morning, and more are arriving
as we speak.

Plant Sourcing
Most of the plants that will be installed in The Berry Prairie were procured from commercial growers by the contracted landscaping company.  

Charlotte Belton located a source of seeds for some plants the team wanted to try but which weren't available from  nurseries.  Karen volunteered to grow those at the UW Greenhouses on 30th and Harney Streets in Laramie, just a couple of miles from the Berry Center. 

Mark Bede (landscaper) got Karen the seeds at the end of January, many of which had been harvested in Albany County, and some in Carbon County.  Karen was able to convince a number of those elusive plants to sprout, but due to shortage of time still have a few that will be installed later this summer once they've reached a suitable size. (Thanks to Charlotte Belton who provided a lot of the plant sourcing information!)

The landscaping company (High Land Inc., of Sheridan), the architecture firm (Malone Belton Abel), and some of the eager Berry Center staff will be installing the green roof plants the all week.

Check back soon for updates!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Friday, June 24, 2011

Planting for Habitat, Planting for Education

Mason bee houses will be installed on the green roof.
Green roofs are also called living roofs, and we are really trying to maximize the meaning of that term. In addition to the plants that will be installed and cared for this summer, the Berry Center crew is also attending to other environmental components of the mini-ecosystem.

The various related endeavors will include:

  • Bee houses and water sources to attract and foster native pollinator populations. Native pollinators include a variety of bees, flies, butterflies, even small birds like hummingbirds, and others.

    To the right is an image of the mason bee houses before they are installed.
    Click here to learn more about the bees and their houses. Zach Tuthill, a UW student in Renewable Resources, is building six bumble bee rearing houses for the Berry Prairie as well - pictures coming soon!
  • A weather station to monitor and track temperature, precipitation, humidity, soil moisture, wind speeds, etc. This weather station will also be used by other facilities in the building, such as the Stable Isotopes Facility, for their research.
  • Tracking of nutrient retention and cycling. The green roof “soil” (really a soil-less planting medium) is currently being tested for macronutrients (nitrogen, potassium, carbon, etc.), and will be tested again at the end of the summer. Since this environment is isolated from the true ground, nutrient cycling will likely behave differently.
  • Tracking of matrix-level species, such as spiders and arthropods (beetles, for example) that make the green roof their home.
  • Creating a space for scientific exploration for young children and students. For example, a group of day care children from Cheyenne will observe pollinator sightings on the green roof, and submit the information to a Citizen Science program based in California.
  • Providing outreach to community members interested in native landscaping and pollinators. For example, the Berry Prairie is slated to be a stop on the Laramie Garden Club's garden tour highlighting "young" gardens this summer.
We can use your creative minds to expand this project even further. What are important green roof components that we can monitor during this first year and beyond?

Sunflowers growing in preparation for a Citizen Science project with children from Cheyenne in July.  The sunflowers won't be planted on the green roof, but they'll be  kept there for pollinator experiments.

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

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