Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Native Plants on the Upper Courtyard

What’s fun, educational, hard work, and gets dirt all over? Replanting Pacific Science Center’s upper courtyard with native pollinator plants!

Last month, Pacific Science Center held an epic Horticulture Volunteer work party to replant the upper courtyard planter color bowls. The color bowls were badly in need of a makeover. An arch restoration project had made watering on the upper pads impossible for several hot, sunny weeks, and many of the bowls were filled with dying plants, dead plants, or weeds. Additionally, none of the resident plants had much of an educational story. What better opportunity to redesign the color bowls to be both beautiful and educational, to support Pacific Science Center’s mission of increasing interest in science?

Life Sciences Manager, Sarah Moore, and Horticulturist, Jenn Purnell, decided to plant a native pollinator garden, because of the educational tie-in to our Tropical Butterfly House Exhibit, and because of the vital importance of pollinators in our local ecosystems. Jenn chose a selection of Puget Sound prairie plants and Eastern Washington plants that could handle the hot, relatively dry conditions of the upper courtyard. All of the plants are native to Washington, and most of the plants are known to support native animals in some way – as nectar and pollen sources, host plants, or habitat. The plants were purchased from Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, a nonprofit that specializes in rare native Northwest plants.

It took six Horticulture Volunteers, two Life Sciences staff members, one Discovery Corps intern, and one guest speaker more than three hours to replant ten color bowls. They removed the dry, matted dead plant material from the color bowls, replaced much of the old, depleted soil with new soil and sand, and carefully planted 95 new plants. With PSC’s annual black-tie event, Festival of the Fountains, just days away, the team worked hard to contain the dirt in tarps and clean-up as they worked. The Horticulture Volunteer Work Party concluded with a well-earned pizza dinner, and a fascinating lecture by native bee photographer, Will Peterman.

The new upper plants are diminutive and botanically interesting. They are adapted to attracting and feeding bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds. Because of this, they lack the showiness of many garden cultivated varieties. Because of being replanted in the heat of the summer, several of the plants initially showed signs of transplant stress. But with a careful watering schedule and lots of Horticulture Volunteer attention, most are sending up new shoots and leaves. Some of the plants are bulbs and won’t be seen again until next spring, such as checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) and Ithuriel’s spear (Triteleia laxa).

In addition to being popular with insects and birds, several of the plants have a history of ethnobotanical use. Native peoples of the Northwest used the roots of camas (Camassia leichtlinii ssp., Camassia quamish) and Columbia lily (Lilium columbianum) as a food sources. A few of the plants are named after the explorers Lewis and Clarke, in honor of their botanical documentation work: specifically Lewis’s mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) and deerhorn clarkia (Clarkia pulchella).

In the coming years, we hope many people will have the opportunity to stroll beneath the arches of Pacific Science Center’s upper pads, and enjoy some close encounters with native plants, insects and birds.

To see a complete list of our plantings, go to http://pacificsciencecenter.org/images/stories/pdf/2013-08-13-Upper-Pads-Plant-List.pdf

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