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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Penstemon Press

Photo by Bonnie Heidel, WYNDD, also quoted in the article
The Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming's statewide newspaper) article, "Hike takes people to state’s only endangered plant," published today, discusses penstemons and the upcoming American Penstemon Society/Wyoming Native Plant Society meeting in Laramie on June 22-25.  The endangered plant the article refers to is the Blowout Penstemon (Penstemon haydenii, shown right), found only in active sand dunes like those in central Wyoming.  

Our very own Dorothy Tuthill is quoted in the article,  as she happens to be an expert on penstemons, particularly those found in Wyoming.  You may have read about the variety of penstemons we feature in the Berry Prairie.  The species found in Wyoming are extremely drought tolerant plants, and in fact prefer very little water over regular watering.  In a recent presentation to the Laramie Garden Club Dorothy noted some species' "flowers are even more vibrantly colored when they're drought stressed than when they're well watered."  

Below are photos of the two penstemons in bloom in the Berry Prairie, the Fuzzytongue (P. eriantherus) and Blue Mist (P. virens) penstemons. 

The Berry Center is also installing a penstemon garden this summer to showcase the impressive diversity within one genus, so stay tuned for more updates!

Fuzzytongue Penstemon, now blooming on the Berry Prairie!

Blue Mist Penstemon, also blooming on the Berry Prairie!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Bloomers

The Berry Prairie is alive with blooming plants.  They're a variety of colors too - purple, yellow, white, blue, red.  The red, white and blue ones I'm sure are feeling very patriotic - but the others are looking very stately as well.  Take a gander!


Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
This little gem was one of the first to bloom on the prairie, and is still going strong.  None of the flowers have turned to the wispy tentacles of the seed-head yet, but a few are getting close.


Hooker's Sandwort (Eremogone hookeri)
This plant is new to the blooming game, and isn't it great!  This plant sits about 2-3 inches tall and measures about 3 inches across, so it's a pretty understated and awesome.

Fleabane (Erigeron compositus)
This fleabane is one of four fleabanes on the green roof - another one, the desert yellow fleabane is also in bloom, and we'll feature that soon.  It has a Medusa-like flowering style, with flowerheads sticking up all over.  Dorothy wrote about this plant a few weeks back.

Dwarf Pussytoes (Antennaria parvifolia)
Who doesn't love these groundcovers?  The dwarf pussytoes flowers are shown below, in their nodding fashion.

Locoweed (Oxytropis nana)
The locoweed is a very common road-side plant around Laramie and can either be white or purple. 

Laramie Columbine (Aquilegia laramiensis)
Isn't this one a peach?  Dorothy featured this plant in a post a couple weeks ago - check it out!


Colorado Blue Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea)
The beautiful Colorado Blue Columbine is now blooming on the Berry Prairie, and its tall, striking flower stalks are hard to miss. 

Blue Flag (Iris missouriensis)
These iris are typically a water-loving species, but these plants seem to do ok on the relatively dry green roof!

Blue Flax (Linum lewisii)
Blue flax is blooming all over town and is beginning to do its thing on the green roof.

Blue Mist Penstemon (Penstemon virens)
The electrifying blue of these great forbs are outstanding, and quite common around campus.  Notice that you'll find most of the blooming specimens on campus nestled in a boulder, which speaks to its preference for ultra-dry environments.

There are more species blooming on the green roof!  Stop by to check them all out!

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Laramie Columbine: Gem of the Gem City

Laramie columbine is the most recently blooming species on the Berry Prairie!

Laramie columbine - now blooming on the Berry Prairie - is a petite gem, whose native distribution is restricted to the Laramie Range of Albany and Converse counties. Aquilegia laramiensis was first collected by Aven Nelson in 1895 in the northern part of the Range, and a few years later much farther to the south, not too far from Laramie. Seventy years passed before botanists once again took up the search, relocating the original sites, and filling in some gaps. 

Yet, Laramie columbine remains rare and elusive. Restricted to granite outcrops (like below), it hides in crevices and beneath ledges, lurking in cool and shaded microsites, usually far from well-travelled paths. As of 2012, it was known from 49 sites, most with fewer than 100 plants, but, due to the ruggedness of the area, but it is difficult to get complete counts across rocky outcrops. 

Photo by Dennis Horning

Both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have designated Laramie columbine as a sensitive species, meaning that they attempt to manage land in a way that protects the species. Because of its remote and rugged habitat, the populations are not generally threatened by changes in land use. 

Perhaps the biggest threat to this gem is its desirability to gardeners, who may remove specimens for personal use. Because of the small numbers of individuals in some populations, the removal of even a few plants is potentially devastating to the entire population. Fortunately, plants are sometimes available for purchase through commercial growers, or, you can do like we did, and buy seeds to grow this lovely little columbine yourself. 

Photo by Bonnie Heidel

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center


Monday, May 7, 2012

Wildflower Field Guides: Tried and True

With more plant species coming into bloom every day (well, maybe not today, with our fresh snow), it’s time to dust off the field guides. There are lots of newer books available for wildflower identification, but here are a few suggestions from the tried-and-true category. 

Photo by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center
For the Hard-Core Plant People:
For serious wild flower enthusiasts, the only all-inclusive book about Wyoming vascular plants (no mosses or liverworts) is Vascular Plants of Wyoming, by Robert Dorn (third edition, 2001). Keys are provided to every taxon in the state, along with indications of where in the state each is found. The glossary at the back of the book will help with the vocabulary, but there are very few pictures to let you know if you’re getting close. To see many of the traits used in the keys, you’ll need a hand lens or a microscope.

For the Aesthetically-Minded Plant People:
If getting a species name is not a necessity for you, Diantha and Jack States’ book, Wildflowers of Wyoming (2004), will get you quickly to the correct family or genus. A key to families is provided, as are pictorial guides to plants based on flower color and shape. Many common species are included, with great photos (and common names!), and mention is made of similar species.  

For History-Buff Plant People:
Another book to consider is Ruth Ashton Nelson’s Handbook of Rocky Mountain Plants (fourth edition, 1992). The newest edition is called A Guide to Rocky Mountain Plants, by Roger L. Williams (2002), who revised the previous edition of Nelson’s book. Nelson was the wife of Aven Nelson, Wyoming’s first botanist, UW’s first faculty member, and president of UW from 1918 to 1922, so using her book puts you in a direct lineage with a very well-known botanist! When you tire of identifying plants (as if that ever happens!) you might want to pick up Aven Nelson of Wyoming, also by Roger L. Williams (1995). 

Photo by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center
For High Altitude Plant People:
Another lovely picture book, useful for plant identification when you travel to the high country, is Alpine Wildflowers (Dee Stickler, 1990). It’s also useful for making you wish you were traveling to the high country when you’re not, or that it could be summer, when it’s still winter.

For Low Altitude Plant People:
And if you’re in the low country, consider Weeds of the West (Tom D. Whitson and others, 9th edition, 2006). In this case, “weed” means a plant that “interferes with management objectives.” While many of these plants are weeds by any definition, some are quite lovely native wildflowers that happen to be successful in disturbed and dry habitats. 

By Dorothy Tuthill, Berry Center 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pollinator Provisions

We are going a little nuts for pollinators here at the Berry Center.  Our native pollinators are absolutely critical to food production, ecosystem functioning, plant and therefore many other types of biodiversity, and they're also in decline (generally speaking).  And did you know that June 18-24 is Pollinator Week??  Stay tuned for Berry Center activities during that week!

We're not talking about honeybees, though honeybees are wonderful for their own reasons.  We're thinking about native bumblebees, mason bees, carpenter bees (and other bees), butterflies, moths hummingbirds and other native species.  They've evolved with our native plants and predators, and so are well suited for our climate.

Honeybees were imported from Europe, and their species are the ones experiencing colony collapse disorder.  But native pollinators are also taking a hit, for a number of reasons known and unknown (pesticide use?  land use changes leading to habitat loss?  reduced use of native flowers in landscapes?).  

We decided to do our part to help protect their populations.

Step 1: Soak  up as much knowledge as possible

So we're learning all that we can about how to provide for native pollinators, and a cool resource is in the works - I'll upload that when it's finished!  Some of our main resources include:

Attracting Native Pollinators published by the Xerces Society, an incredible organization that does great work on pollinator conservation.  This book is absolutely wonderful.

Attracting Pollinators to Your Garden Using Native Plants put out by the US Forest Service.  This is what the pages on leaf-cutter bees and mason bees looks like.

Bee Basics: An Introduction to Our Native Pollinators by Beatriz Moisset and Stephen Buchmann and sponsored by the US Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership, another great org.

Befriending Bumble Bees: A practical guide to raising local bumble bees by Elaine Evans, Ian Burns and Marla Spivak at the University of Minnesota Extension.  We used this book to learn how to build rearing nests (see below), how to feed the bees, and for general bumblebee resources.

We also have invaluable collaborators around campus and beyond!

Step 2: Put some of this into action!

We have put a few of these ideas into action, and have plans for a few others.  We know pollinators need food, shelter and water, so we've provided those for a few types.  

Food consists of the plants on the green roof:

Shelter includes the bee condos in the background of the photo below, and water via the bird bath in the foreground.  (Quick note, some insects can't break the water tension at the surface of the water so they can drink it, so you need to float a few sticks or add gravel to the bird bath to help them out.)

We also have caught a queen bumblebee (Bombus huntii) and are raising it inside so she will lay eggs and we can transfer that to an outdoor bumblebee nest that we put on the green roof.  You can see her in the nest box below.  We got the methods for building the nest from the Befriending Bumble Bees book shown above.

The outdoor bumblebee nest will look something like this:

This one was built by Katie Haynes at the US Forest Service station in Laramie

And of course you can't ignore the wonderful hummingbirds.  We added one and will add one more hummingbird feeder outside the Berry Center.  But these birds can also eat insects, so we placed the feeder away from the green roof where we are fostering our insect pollinators.

Step 3: Do some outreach!

We are working hard at collaborating with other groups in town to spread the word about native pollinators.  The Berry Center is hosting a pollinator night with the local Boy Scouts next week, and during Pollinator Week (June 18-24) we will hold pollinator surveying parties!  Check back soon for more info!

We'll keep adding more and more info about pollinators as we figure it out or at least attempt to! 

Written by Brenna Wanous, Berry Center