By Julie Bonnin
SPECIAL TO THE AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Tuesday, March 21, 2006In the midst of a busy Southwest Austin construction zone, on the roof of what will be a Starbucks, a piece of Texas prairie is putting down roots.
When the coffee bar opens in May, the native grasses and flowers planted in a neat grid will be attracting more than birds and butterflies. Patrons will be able to climb a staircase to sit and gaze at the rooftop prairie through a wall of windows while sipping coffee drinks. Little bluestem, meet white chocolate mocha.
The Stratus project uses a Texas-tough selection of plants, including rock rose, agarita, Virginia creeper and crossvine, along with several prairie grasses. The plants, which at maturity will carpet the roof with waves of color and swaying grasses, are contained in a series of 2-foot-by-4-foot trays that span the flat roof.
The plants were selected by Heather Venhaus, an environmental designer with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. "We mixed plant knowledge with a little bit of science knowledge with a little bit of guessing," Venhaus says.
Their biggest environmental benefit in Central Texas may be related to stormwater runoff in sensitive watershed areas.