Monday, January 30, 2023

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Historic Arboretum Cracked Code to Growing in Wyoming

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Tuesday, September 6, 2022   

Before the invention of refrigerated shipping, people living across the High Plains had to grow their own food. As Europeans migrated into the region, many found it difficult to grow their traditional fruits and vegetables.

The Alliance for Historic Wyoming and Cheyenne Botanic Gardens are conducting a tour of High Plains Arboretum this Saturday.

Jessica Friis, horticulturist with the Botanic Gardens, said the site originally was a research hub hoping to unlock the secrets of growing food in Wyoming's harsh climate.

"A lot of people were just giving up and leaving if they couldn't grow enough to sustain their families," said Friis. "So these stations started popping up all over the high plains, to try to find varieties of fruits and vegetables that would do well in this climate."

Covering more than 2,100 acres of trees and shrubs, the site was founded in 1928 as the Central Great Plains Field Station by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Visitors will be able to see historic buildings, including the head house, greenhouse and lath house, which was constructed as part of federal Depression-era infrastructure investments.

More information about the tour is available at the Botanic Gardens' web site: Botanic.org.

The Field Station collected native plants from across the region, and tested crops from across the globe.

Friis explained in the late 1800s, the USDA began sending "plant explorers" to find and bring back seeds and cuttings from species that could be valuable for the nation's agricultural industry.

"The station here tested a lot of plant material that was brought back from places like Russia and Siberia and northern China," said Friis, "that also had similarly harsh winters and dry growing conditions."

Friis noted that visitors to the site will see trees and shrubs planted in the 1930s - which have received very little irrigation and care since 1974, when the USDA switched the site's focus to grasslands - that are still growing and surviving.

"Some of them came from other parts of the world, and some of them had ties to political upheaval - in China, as well as the Russian Revolution - at the time they were collected," said Friis. "So if you're into history at all, it's really a fascinating place."




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