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Friday, May 31, 2013

Meet Jenna: Paintbrush Apprentice

The Berry Biodiversity Conservation Center, home to the green roof and the penstemon showcase garden, will be host to another botanical experiment this summer - relating to Indian Paintbrush cultivation!  

There are a lot (17ish) of species of Paintbrush native to Wyoming, ranging in color from yellow to pink to red. The Berry Prairie was planted with three individuals of this beautiful plant, of the Castilleja angustifolia variety.  Why only three?  Well, they're difficult to propagate and to maintain in a cultivated setting (i.e., when they're not in a natural prairie).  Our summer gardening intern, Jenna, explains below how she's trying to figure out how to successfully grown Indian Paintbrush - and if we're lucky, maybe we can move some into the Berry Prairie!


Hello, my name is Jenna Ramunno; I am a senior studying Ag Business and Horticulture. I am the garden intern for the Berry Center, and my project is to cultivate Indian paintbrush.

Indian Paintbrush is Wyoming’s state flower and is unique because it is hemi-parasitic, meaning that it is capable of manufacturing its own food and obtaining water and nutrients from soil. However, it also forms specialized roots known as haustoria roots that attach to the roots of a host plant, providing additional water uptake for the paintbrush plant and possibly some organic and inorganic nutrients. This relationship does not kill the host plant.

I have planted two different species of paintbrush, Castilleja sessiliflora (below left) and Castilleja integra (below right). For the host plant I have three different plants to see what will work, Firecracker Penstemon (Penstemon eatonii), Fringed Sagewort (Artemisia frigida), and Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus). The garden is located in front of the Berry Center directory sign by the South doors.

Castilleja sessiliflora
Castilleja integra


Stay tuned as Jenna's research project develops over the summer.  We might gather some tips for planting paintbrush in your yard! 

Written by Brenna Marsicek and Jenna Ramunno, Biodiversity Institute 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Prairie Spotlight: Prairie Smoke

The list of 2013 Flowering Plants on the Green Roof is growing.  So far the list includes the Fewseed Draba, Devil's Gate Twinpod, one of the Fleabanes (Erigeron compositus), and most recently, the wonderful Prairie Smoke. 

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) is a widespread prairie flower in Noth America, covering most of the northern and western states of the US and Canada.  

Map from USDA Plants Database website:

It usually starts blooming in May, and has interesting-looking flowers that stay mostly closed, are usually in clusters of three, and have a nodding habit.  The flowers depend on bees for pollination - bumble bees are especially effective pollinators for this plant because they can use their buzz pollination tactic to shake the pollen out. 

Close-up of the prairie smoke on the Berry Prairie

The only blooming Prairie Smoke on the green roof as of May 23, 2013

If successfully pollinated, these flowers will create seeds that are attached to feathery tufts that work as sails to be caught in the wind and distributed around the area.  This feathery stage is what gives this plant its common name of "Prairie Smoke" or "Old Man's Whiskers."

Photo from Prairie Moon Nursery:

This beautiful plant is doing well on the Berry Prairie, many (or perhaps all?) of the plants overwintered well and are coming up again this spring.  Stop by to check them out!

Written by Brenna Marsicek, Biodiversity Institute

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Flowering Time

Last year we noted the first flowers of spring on March 30 - Draba of course - and a couple of weeks later (April 13) Devil’s gate twinpod showed its first flower. This year, those two species were again the first to bloom, both just about one month later than last spring.
As a lead-in to the topic of plant response to climate change, this seems like a non-starter, doesn’t it? But, whether the spring is cold or hot, plants must leaf-out and flower at the “best” time. How do they know when that is?
Timing is everything
Because timing is so important to plants, they have evolved complex ways to get the timing right. Many require warm temperatures over a certain length of time before they start to respond. They can, in effect, add up the number of warm hours or days to reach a threshold, then genes are turned on that lead to growth, leaf development or flower buds. In this way, they avoid budding during an early warm spell. Plants may also use soil moisture and day length as cues to when changes ought to occur.
In the past, naturalists and amateurs often kept track of the dates of flowering, leaf-out and other events, often to assist in making predictions that would be useful to farmers, ranchers, and others who make a living outdoors. Now that our lifestyles keep us indoors, fewer people keep these kinds of records. However, climate change scientists have found some of these old records to be extremely valuable to show how plants respond to a warming environment.
For example, Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden, kept extensive records on leafing and flowering dates for plants around his Concord, MA, home during the years 1852-1858. Toward the end of the 19th century, Alfred Hosmer, a shopkeeper, kept records of 700 plant species around Concord. Later yet, 1963-1993, Pennie Logemann, a landscape architect, kept records on 250 plant species around her home in Concord.
Most recently, the area has been revisited by Boston University botanists Richard Primack and colleagues. They compared their flowering dates with those of the earlier Concordians, and found a significant shift to earlier flowering dates.

They also showed that the change in flowering date is strongly correlated with an increase in mean spring temperature.

What this means, is that we can expect flowers and leaves to appear earlier and earlier as the earth continues to warm, despite unusually late springs like this one. It also shows how well adapted plants are to variable weather. As those of us who live here know, the only predicable thing about Wyoming weather is its unpredictability! 

Written by Dorothy Tuthill, Biodiversity Institute

E. R. Ellwood, S. A. Temple, R. B. Primack, N. L. Bradley, and C. C. Davis. 2013. Record-breaking early flowering in the eastern United States. PLoS ONE 8(1): e53788. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0053788

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fairy and Tadpole Shrimp on the Berry Prairie???

This post is written by our guest author, Lusha Tronstad.  Lusha is the Invertebrate Zoologists for the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, and is pretty much the Bug Queen of Wyoming.  Her office has curtains featuring beetles, her favorite pair of shoes are her waders, and she put shrimp on the green roof.  She's the coolest.  Check out the Wyoming Natural Diversity database here.

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Shrimp on the Green Roof? Waaa?

Did you know that there are shrimp species native to Wyoming? Landlocked Wyoming? It's true - fairy and tadpole shrimp are two of our native crustaceans, and they have unique life histories.

An example of a rock pond
They live in temporary habitats, such as rock pools, pond, playas, or any other standing water without fish. Fairy and tadpole shrimp tend to live in temporary pools where predators are less abundant, because ducks and fish love to eat them. They grow rapidly (~6 weeks) and produce up to ~220 eggs per individual. The eggs are encysted (held inside a sac with a membrane) to protect them from drought, freezing, and heat. The eggs are dispersed through the landscape by wind. If the encysted eggs lands in the perfect spot and that perfect spot fills with water for the right amount of time, then the eggs hatch and the cycle starts over again.

Conservation Focus

Fairy and tadpole shrimp are considered species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Not much is known about these taxa in Wyoming, so the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database (WYNDD) is studying these animals. In the last 2 years we collected 6 species of fairy shrimp and 2 species of tadpole shrimp at several locations throughout the state.

What do they look like?

Fairy shrimp (photo by Lusha Tronstad)
Fairy shrimp are crustaceans in the order Anostraca. Individuals are usually ¼ to 1 inch in length; however, one species can reach nearly 7 inches in length. Fairy shrimp usually have 11 pairs of legs that they use to swim and feed with. These invertebrates appear to swim upside down (legs up)! Some fairy shrimp live in waters with high concentrations of salts, such as brine shrimp. Did you ever raise sea monkeys when you were growing up? Then you have reared fairy shrimp!

Tadpole shrimp (photo by Lusha Tronstad)
Tadpole shrimp are crustaceans in the order Notostraca. Individuals are usually 1 to 4 inches in length and have a shield covering their abdomen. Their compound eyes are quite noticeable siting together on the top of the shield. Many people say they look like miniature horseshoe crabs or tadpoles of frogs. Tadpole shrimp have many pairs of legs that they use for movement and feeding. These animals are referred to as living fossils, because they have changed little in the last 250 million years (since the Carboniferous period in geologic history). 

We are using the bird bath below to mimic a rock pond - if the shrimp will hatch, it will happen soon!  Check back to see what happens.

Written by Lusha Tronstad, WYNDD