Archives For chicago botanic garden

What if the next plant conservation project wasn’t down the street, or in the neighboring county, or far away in the wilderness? What if it was right above your head, on your roof? In our increasingly urban world, making use of rooftop space might help conserve some of our precious biodiversity in and around cities.

PHOTO: Ksiazek bending to examine blooming sedums on Chicago's City Hall green roof.

The green roof on Chicago’s City Hall supports an amazing diversity of hundreds of plant species.

Unfortunately, native prairie plants have lost most of their natural habitat. In fact, less than one-tenth of one percent of prairies remains in Illinois—pretty sad for a state whose motto is the “Prairie State.” As a Chicago native, I found this very alarming. I thought, “Is it possible to use spaces other than our local nature preserves to help prevent the extinction of some of these beautiful prairie plants?” With new legislation at the turn of the century that encouraged the construction of many green roofs in Chicago, it seemed like the perfect place to test a growing hypothesis I had: maybe some of the native prairie plants that were losing habitat elsewhere could thrive on green roofs.

This idea brought me to the graduate program in Plant Biology and Conservation, a joint degree program through Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. Here, I am investigating the possibility that the engineered habitats of green roofs can be used to conserve native prairie plants and the pollinators that they support.

PHOTO: Ksiazek examines plants in a prairie, taking data.

Which plant are you? In 2012, I surveyed natural prairies to determine which species live together.

Since I began the program as a master’s degree student in 2009, I’ve learned a lot about how native plants and pollinators can be supported on green roofs. For my master’s thesis, I wanted to see if native wildflowers were visited by pollinators and if they were receiving enough high-quality pollen to makes seeds and reproduce. Good news! The nine native wildflower species I tested produced just as many seeds on roofs as they normally do on the ground, and these seeds are able to germinate, or grow into new plants.

Once I knew that pollinator-dependent plants should be able to reproduce on green roofs, I set out to learn how to intentionally design green roofs to mimic prairies for my doctoral research. I started by visiting about 20 short-grass prairies in the Chicago region to see which species lived together in habitats that are similar to green roofs. These short-grass prairies all had very shallow soil that drained quickly and next to no shade; the same conditions you’d find on a green roof. 

PHOTO: Ksiazek poses for a photo among prairie grasses.

Plant species from this dry sand prairie just south of Chicago might also be able to survive on green roofs in the city.

PHOTO: Plant seedling.

A tiny bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) seedling grows on the green roof at the Plant Science Center at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

PHOTO: Hand holding a seedling; paperwork is in the background, along with a seedling tray.

One of my experiments involves planting tiny native seedlings into special experimental green roof trays. They’re now on top of the Plant Science Center. Go take a look!

I’m now setting up experiments that test the ability of the short-grass prairie species to live together on green roofs. Some of these experiments involved using seeds as a cheap and fast way of getting native plants on the roof. Other experiments involved using small plant seedlings that may have a better chance of survival, although, as any gardener could tell you, are more expensive and labor intensive than planting seeds. I will continue to collect data on the survival and health of all these native plants at several locations, including the green roof on the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center at the Garden.

Ideally, I would continue to collect data on these experimental prairies to see how they develop over the next 50 years and learn how the plants were able to support native insects, such as pollinating bees and butterflies. But I didn’t want my Ph.D. to last 50 years so instead, I decided to collect the same type of data on green roofs that have already been around for a few decades. Because the technology is still relatively new in America, I had to go to Germany to collect this data, where the history of green roofs is much older. Last year, through a Fulbright and Germanistic Society of America Fellowship, I collected insects and data about the plant communities on several green roofs in and around Berlin and learned that green roofs can support very diverse plant and insect communities over time. We scientists are just starting to learn more about how green roofs are different from other urban gardens and parks, but it’s looking like they might be able to contribute to urban biodiversity conservation and support.

PHOTO: Ksiazek collects insects from traps on a green roof in Berlin.

I collected almost 10,000 insects on green roofs in and around Berlin, Germany in 2013.

PHOTO: Closeup of a pinned bee collected from a green roof in Berlin.

I found more than 50 different species of bees on the green roofs in Germany.

Now that I’m back in Chicago and have been awarded research grants from several institutions, I’m setting up a new experiment to learn about how pollinators move pollen from one green roof to another. I’ll be using a couple different prairie plants to measure “gene flow,” which basically describes how pollen moves between maternal and paternal plants. If I find that pollinators bring pollen from one roof to anther, this means that green roofs might be connected to the large urban habitat, rather than merely being isolated “islands in the sky,” as some people have suggested. If this is true, then green roofs could also help other plants in their surroundings—more pollinating green roof bees could mean more fruit yield for your nearby garden.  

PHOTO: Aerial view of Chicago at Lake Michigan, with green rectangles superimposed over building which house green roofs.

The green boxes represent green roofs near Lake Michigan. How will pollinators like bees, butterflies, and moths move pollen between plants on these different roofs? This summer, I will be carrying out an experiment to find out.

There are still many questions to be answered in this new field of plant science research. I’m very excited to be learning so much through the graduate program at the Garden and to be collaborating with innovative researchers both in Chicago and abroad. If you’re interested in keeping up with my monthly progress, please visit my research blog at the Phipps Conservatory Botany in Action Fellows’ page

PHOTO: A wasp drinks water from a flower after rain.

A friendly little wasp enjoys the native green roof plants on a rainy day in Paris.

And if you haven’t already done so, I hope you’ll get a chance to visit the green roof at the Plant Science Center and see how beautiful plant conservation happening right over your head can be! 

©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Project Overview:
Shannon Still and Nick Jensen work on a project studying the impact of climate change on the distribution of rare plants in the western United States. The grant, funded through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), examines the changes in projected species distributions between now and 2080. The goal of the research is to help BLM to make informed management decisions regarding rare plants. The research takes them to many exciting destinations as they search for rare plants in the west.

 

habit of Enceliopsis argophylla

Habitat of Enceliopsis argophylla, which thrives in gypsum-rich soil.

The silverleaf sunray (Enceliopsis argophylla),  is a photogenic species in the Asteraceae, or sunflower, family. This rare plant grows in basal clumps of silver-colored, hairy leaves with flowers extended on long stalks, and the entire plant may reach 2 feet tall. The flowers nod with maturity.

The large yellow daisy flowers are 3 to 4 inches across when open. They are quite a sight and stand in stark contrast to the habitat. Due to the extreme habitat, silverleaf sunray offers one of the more striking photo opportunities as the plants grow from a barren landscape.

Silverleaf sunray on a barren hillside.

Silverleaf sunray on a barren hillside


Nick Jensen with a silverleaf sunray.

Nick Jensen with a silverleaf sunray

These gems are found in Clark County, Nevada, east of Las Vegas in the Lake Mead area. They are also found in Mohave County, Arizona, close to Lake Mead.

The habitat for the silverleaf sunray has been encroached by Lake Mead and is threatened by off-highway vehicle use to a minor extent. The habitat in which the sunray grows is easily damaged due to the fragile soil environment (see photos to left) in which the species lives. Much like the dwarf bear-poppy (Arctomecon humilis), the silverleaf sunray grows in a gypsum-rich soil that typically has a healthy soil crust. Damage to this crust can allow invasive plants to grow more easily.

The Bureau of Land Management lists the silverleaf sunray as a sensitive species in Nevada and the species was considered, but rejected, for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Around Lake Mead the silverleaf sunray grows with the golden bear-claw poppy or Las Vegas bear-poppy (Arctomecon californica), a federally listed species. So while the species is not federally listed, the habitat is often protected due to the proximity of other federally listed rare plants.

Side view of the silverleaf sunray flower.

Silverleaf sunray is a striking plant that grows in close proximity to urban and recreation areas. If you are ever in the Las Vegas area, it is worth traveling the short distance to see these plants.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Project Overview:
Shannon Still and Nick Jensen work on a project studying the impact of climate change on the distribution of rare plants in the western United States. The grant, funded through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), examines the changes in projected species distributions between now and 2080. The goal of the research is to help BLM to make informed management decisions regarding rare plants. The research takes them to many exciting destinations searching for rare plants in the west.

 

IMGP4326

The dwarf bear-poppy

The genus Arctomecon (also known as bear-poppy), contains three beautiful species restricted to southwestern North America. In this exceptional genus, dwarf bear-poppy (Arctomecon humilis) is the rarest — and perhaps most remarkable — species, due to its profusion of delicate white flowers and unique habitat.

In many ways, the dwarf bear-poppy is a poster child for rare plant conservation. It is restricted to a small area in southwestern Utah close to the Arizona border, near the city of St. George. A stunning plant, it grows in a notably hostile habitat — it is not uncommon to find this species growing completely alone on gypsum soils on steep, exposed hillsides and ridges.

PHOTO: The three 'claws' at the end of each leaf of the bear-poppy.

The “claws” at the end of each leaf

Dwarf bear-poppy is topped by a mass of white flowers in late April and early May that often cover the entire plant. Each flower consists of four delicate, white petals surrounding myriad yellow stamens, all of which sit atop a plump green, round ovary. Unopened, graceful, green flower buds droop, waiting to open. When looking out over this landscape, backlit plants in full bloom seem to glow in the early morning or late afternoon light.

A close inspection of dwarf bear-poppy’s hairy leaves with their three “claw-tipped” teeth at their apex sheds light on the origin of bear-poppy as a common name for these plants. Everything about dwarf bear-poppy exudes beauty.

Delicate flowers of the Dwarf bear-poppy.

Delicate flowers of the dwarf bear-poppy

It is found in approximately ten locations in Washington County, Utah, and is listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dwarf bear-poppy is threatened by development, mining, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) damage to its habitat. The dwarf bear-poppy grows in soil that forms a thick, crunchy, structurally-complex biological soil crust that is rich in gypsum. The habitat is easily damaged by hiking, grazing, and OHV use and is slow to recover.

PHOTO: OHV damage to the habitat.

OHV damage to the habitat

The habitat for the dwarf bear-poppy in the photo shown below has not had OHV activity for at least seven years (and likely longer) and still shows signs of heavy damage. In fact, full recovery of a soil crust can take up to 250 years, so a little damage can have long-lasting impacts. Therefore, conservation efforts have included fencing as well as the establishment of nature preserves, managed by The Nature Conservancy, to prevent further OHV damage.

Dwarf bear-poppy is a strikingly-beautiful, rare, and threatened species. Conservation and restoration efforts should ensure that it continues to be a botanical treasure for future generations to cherish.

Habitat range for Arctomecon humilis, the Dwarf bear-poppy.

Habitat range for Arctomecon humilis, the Dwarf bear-poppy.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Tru Blooms Chicago Preview

Karen Z. —  September 12, 2012 — Leave a comment

A city with the motto “Urbs in Horto” (Latin for “City in a Garden”) deserves a signature fragrance: Tru Blooms Chicago debuts this fall as our fair city’s first-ever fine perfume. Today, the Chicago Botanic Garden held a preview of the fragrance and we personally enjoyed the lovely floral scent. Here’s why it’s a standout: it’s made with flowers grown in urban gardens throughout the Chicago area. Continue Reading…


Meet Katharine Hodgkin, a dwarf iris that is blooming now in the rock garden area of the Landscape Garden. The ethereal powder blue of this 4- to 8-inch-tall hybrid of Iris winogradowii and Iris histroides is beautifully etched with darker blue markings and shows a splash of lemon yellow on the “falls” — the three lower petals of the iris flower that may either hang down or flare out. Learn about this plant and more on our weekly bloom highlight page. http://www.chicagobotanic.org/inbloom/highlight.php