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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Seeds and Seedheads

There hasn't been much progress on fixing the structure below the green roof, but we do know that there's a bunch of water sitting on the cement deck, and it can't stay there.  It's sounding pretty ominous, but I'll report the final decision when there is one.  The good news is nothing was damaged in the Vertebrate Collection!

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Two species in the Berry Prairie, the two earliest to bloom, are now going to seed!  Our little Draba (Draba oligosperma) began blooming in March, and has erect seedheads with each seed packet looking somewhat like the seeds on a silver dollar tree.  Each seed packet is smaller than a kernel of corn, and each seed just a dot almost not visible.  These seeds are wind dispersed, so the seed packet is light and shaped to catch the breeze.

Keep in mind that the entire plant is smaller than a credit card - so everything is on a miniature scale!

The second species, the Devil's Gate Twinpod (Physaria eburniflora) has a very different seed pod structure, which looks more like a halo of blisters extending from the base of the plant.  The seeds are inside these little pods, and each pod has a tiny hole from which the seeds are shaken out of when it gets caught up in the wind. 

Plants continue to flower on the green roof, though that has slowed down due to a very hot and dry spring and summer in Laramie, and no irrigation for risk of another leak.  The green roof is looking pretty dry and brown, more like an August prairie than a June one.  

Stay tuned for more updates on how we move forward to fix the fiasco!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Ones That Don't Mind

We don't have any updates on the state of the green roof.  And the plants that are still comfortably situated on the green roof don't seem to care about the chaos that has erupted in their neighborhood. 

So to give props to the power of the currently blooming flowers, here is a gallery of the colors present in the Berry Prairie.  All of these photos were taken by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata)

Fuzzytongue penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus)

Hooker's sandwort (Eremogone hookeri)

Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia)

Stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum)

Smooth penstemon (Penstemon glaber v. alpine)

Cushion buckwheat (background white - Eriogonum ovalifolium) and
Sulfur flower (foreground yellow - Erigonum umbellatum v. aureum)

Coloardo Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)
Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Friday, June 8, 2012

Worst Case Scenario

The Vertebrate Collection cases are state-of-the-
art, and didn't allow water to enter and
damage specimens.
As mentioned before, the Vertebrate Collection suffered a near-disaster. The good news is that it appears that no specimens were damaged, in large part because of the state-of-the-art cabinets that were installed when the Berry Center was constructed.

So here's what happened.

Although it may not seem that way right now, the roof beneath the Berry Prairie is also state-of-the-art. It’s made of two layers of impermeable membranes, which sandwich between them a layer of wire (it looks like window screen) and a layer of felt. Beneath the membranes are two layers of closed-cell foam insulation sitting atop a concrete deck, which in turn is atop the steel beams that are visible in the collection room. 

In case you’re wondering what the window screen-like layer is for, it’s the leak detector. It’s possible to attach a sensor to measure resistance in the wire. High resistance means moisture, and the screen should make it possible to pinpoint the wet area. When the roof was installed, some wires were left sticking out, to which the sensor could be attached. However, there would be no way to know there was a leak, and a need to attach the sensor, until water started dripping (no one envisioned flowing) into the room below. So, the decision was made to install permanent sensors that would detect moisture between the membranes before the lower one was compromised.

And here our tale of woe begins.

The installation of the leak detectors, which hadn’t been completed, was begun incorrectly, resulting in penetration of both membranes (see the slits in the picture below?). The first time we turned the irrigation water on, there were big holes in the roof, resulting in water flowing down to, and along the concrete deck, until it plunged into the collection room through the gaps where the drain pipes go.  Think of a draining bathtub.

Worst Case Scenario
The three craters left from digging up the problem areas are still
visible on the green roof.
The holes in the membranes have been mended, but we’re left with a saturated leak detection system and felt layer between the membranes, and a potentially wet concrete deck. We don’t know how wet the concrete is, and are waiting for a contractor to test it for us. But we do know how wet it is between the membranes because we could feel it with our hands. And we know that the only way to dry any of it is to remove at least the top membrane. And to remove the membrane, we have to remove everything above it—the entire Berry Prairie.

We’re waiting to hear what the plan is, and when it will be instigated. I think Brenna and I are hoping to discover this was all a bad dream and we’re about to wake up…

 Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Green Roof Fiasco

It's been mayhem around here.  And not the fun kind of mayhem that results in cooked oatmeal dropping on your head or supergluing a magazine to a coffee table. 
Just some of the specimens
in the Vertebrate Collection

The green roof leaked over the weekend into the Vertebrate Collection.  The Vertebrate Collection houses thousands of bird and mammal specimens from around the world, and we're all keeping our fingers crossed that water didn't get into the sealed cabinets to damage any of the specimens.

Enter Sherlock Holmes

Folks from all over campus who are involved with the green roof either in installation or maintenance have converged upon the prairie to determine the cause of the leak.  Rain and snow had never penetrated the roof before - so why now? 

Was the irrigation not running properly?  Was the drainage system damaged somehow?  An evil green-roof gremlin, up to no good?  

Although all of those possibilities seem plausible, none were the culprit.  

Upon installing the boxes to hold the green roof leak sensors a couple of weeks ago, the contractors cut through both of the water-protective membranes on the roof (they should have only gone through one).  To make matters worse, they didn't seal anything up to protect from the elements, thereby creating a hole in the roof.  

Who loves some good irony?

The water-protective membranes (2 layers of orange material) were both cut through to install the
leak monitoring boxes.  Only one of the membranes should have been cut.

Green Roof Damage Control

Anyway, this is a problem that I assume doesn't come up often in green roof design and maintenance.  But it is a teachable problem, nonetheless.  Dorothy will go into more depth this week as the details unfold - so stay tuned for a lesson on green roof damage control.

Digging up the plants surrounding the three leak monitoring boxes to access the problem.

Hopefully the plants can be reinstalled later this week.

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Friday, June 1, 2012

Grasses in flower—AH-CHOO!!

The Berry Prairie is covered in flowers right now! But--they’re not all large and showy. 

Three-quarters of the plants on the Prairie are grasses, so when they bloom, as some are right now, they account for a large proportion of the garden. Sandberg’s bluegrass has been flowering for a couple of weeks, while Indian ricegrass and prairie junegrass are just beginning. Some of these plants are knee-high, and their abundant stalks wave constantly in the (incessant, never-ending) breeze, making the Prairie look as much like water as land.

Sandberg's bluegrass flowers

Indian ricegrass flowers

Junegrass flowers
Grasses are flowering plants (unlike conifers or ferns), with some very floriferous “cousins,” like lilies, orchids and irises. But the grass family long ago traded the security of specialized pollinators for the vagaries of wind pollination, and now hangs its reproductive organs out from much reduced flowers, whose purpose is structural support for anthers and seed, and not to be attractive.    

Yet, to the discerning eye, flowering grasses are attractive. And successful. Given the ceaseless wind of prairies, it seems the grasses made a prudent trade. So, keep watching—this is only the first wave; there are many more species of grass still to bloom this summer.

Written and photos by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center