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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Be Our Guest!

The Berry Center welcomes anyone to come explore our green roof, which is better known as the Berry Prairie.  In the spirit of Lumiere and Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast, this post is constructed to show you just how welcome you are!

Guest Book and Brochure Rack

The Berry Prairie now features a guest book and brochure rack!  Information about the green roof and the plants it holds, as well as the Berry Center, are available for the taking.  Also, please sign the guest book to say hi and let us know what you think!!

Visitors explore the plants in the Berry Prairie

The first comments in our guest book!

Name Tags 

Many of the plants are labeled for your convenience - and we will continue to add labels as plants emerge from their winter slumber.  If you have any questions, feel free to stop in the main office inside the Berry Center doors and to the left.  Dorothy or I will be happy to provide answers!

Sorry Fito

One group of creatures we don't welcome are pets.  Dogs in particular find the open space an irresistible place to run in, which unfortunately can and has uprooted and trampled plants.  So sorry Fito, you have to stay out. 

 Stop by to check out the Prairie next time you're on this side of campus!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Monday, April 23, 2012

Erigeron the Great

A new addition to the 2012 Berry Prairie blooming-flower roster is Erigeron compositus, sometimes known as cutleaf daisy. This species is one of 46 erigerons that grow in Wyoming, 176 in North America, and nearly 400 around the world. Erigerons are often called fleabanes (because fleas will flee from them), but that name is shared with other genera. Some Wyoming erigerons get quite tall—up to 18 inches or more—but the four species on the Berry Prairie are diminutive. 

E. compositus flowering on the Berry Prairie

The first fleabane to bloom this year, E. compositus is widely distributed in our state, with a preference for rocky sites. When not in flower, it can be confused with another Berry Prairie species, E. pinnatisectus, but close observation will reveal that the leaves of E. compositus are palmately lobed, while those of E. pinnatisectus are pinnately lobed. 

However, unless you live in Albany or Carbon counties, you are unlikely to be confused by these two species in the wild, as the distribution of E. pinnatisectus is primarily to the south of Wyoming (and higher in elevation than E. compositus).

Erigeron speciosus (below) is another beautiful and widely distributed species, which blooms later in the summer, and flowered on the Berry Prairie last year. And one that can’t be confused with any other Wyoming species, E. linearis, is the only yellow-flowered fleabane in the state. Watch for more Erigeron photos as the season progresses!

E. speciosus is a taller, purple-colored fleabane

Any hike in the hills at this time of year will reveal little blooming erigerons. I saw two species during a hike south of Laramie this last weekend, E. compositus, and E. flagellarus. But with 28 species documented from Albany County, I have a whole lot more to watch for, and can’t wait for the next opportunity!  

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center Associate Director


Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring Flower Glamour Shots

The sentinels of spring, the first set of flowers to bloom on the Berry Prairie, the indicators that, at the very least, not everything died on the green roof over the winter.

There are three and a half species in bloom right now on the Berry Center's awakening green roof.  Below is a pictorial guide to their happy existence, a Glamour Shots of sorts, with less hairspray and awkward clothing, and more natural beauty.

Glamour Shots: Pasque, Twinpod, Draba, and Prairie Smoke

Pasque flowers (Pulsatilla or Anemone patens) are a common forb found in foothills of the Rocky Mountain west and northern Midwest, one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring.  The photo below accents the pubescence (hairs) on the stem, which helps the plant retain heat and moisture in the cool spring weather.

The photo below, also a pasque flower blooming on the Berry Prairie, shows the variation in color and height.  This flower is located on the north side of the Prairie, where the water zone allocates more moisture through the growing season.  Does moisture from last summer impact the petal coloration?

Devil's Gate Twinpod (Physaria eburniflora) is a tough little plant found exclusively in central Wyoming - no where else in the world!  We featured Wyoming endemics last summer - read more here

Fewseed draba (Draba oligosperma), as you know, were the very first flowers to bloom on the Berry Prairie this spring.  Their little flowers add a punch of yellow all over the green roof. 

And now for the half-blooming species.  It's not really blooming at all, but it's so close I had to include it!  Prairie Smoke, or Old Man's Whiskers, (Geum triflorum) has these neat nodding buds that turn into whispy tentacle-looking seed heads.  We'll post photos when they get to that point!

General Prairie Status Update

If you're in Laramie, stop by the Berry Prairie to check out the greening up of things.  If you're not in town, here's a snapshot of what we look at these days.  Now, the snow we're forecasted to get this weekend might change how this looks - but the moisture will be nice!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Grasses: Green Machines and Slow-pokes

Why are some grasses (like the lawn) greening up quickly, while others (like the prairie) are slower?

You may have heard of warm season versus cool season grasses. Cool season grasses are greening quickly right now, while the warm season grasses wait for higher temperatures. Cool season grasses grow well when moisture is abundant in the early spring, even though the lower temperatures reduce the rate of metabolism (the process of turning CO2 and sunlight into energy). 

Sandberg’s bluegrass with the C4 grasses
little bluestem and sideoats grama behind.
Warm season grasses, on the other hand, can tolerate reduced water availability to maximize growth when amounts of sunshine and temperatures are high. How do they tolerate the drought? They have developed a method to capture CO2 for use in photosynthesis that does not require their stomata (small openings in leaves that allow gas exchange) to remain open all day. 

For photosynthesis to occur, plants must take in CO2 through their stomata. The CO2 is captured, or “fixed,” by an enzyme that binds the CO2 to an organic molecule, and ultimately the CO2 is incorporated into sugars. Cool season grasses, and most other plants, attach the CO2 to make a molecule with three carbon atoms—this form of photosynthesis is called C3. Warm season grasses fix CO2into a molecule with four carbons. These are called—you guessed it!—C4 plants. Only about 6% of all plant species use the C4 method, but it is quite common in grasses.  

The disadvantage of C4 photosynthesis is that it requires additional steps, and therefore the plant must invest more energy. However, it is much more efficient in fixing CO2than the C3 method, so photosynthesis is more rapid. This high efficiency means that the plant doesn’t need to keep its stomata open as much of the time. Since water is lost from leaves through the stomata whenever they’re open, being able to keep them closed allows the plant to use water much more efficiently, and thereby tolerate dry environments much better than C3 plants. 

On the Berry Prairie, one of the first grasses to show signs of growth this spring was Sandberg’s bluegrass (Poa secunda, shown top right), which is closely related to Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), the most common lawn grass. As cool season grasses, they green early, but, as any lawn-keeper knows, require lots of water to stay that way through the heat of summer.