Originally created by Professor Ty Harrison and restored by students, this combination garden contains several prickly pear cacti and many native plants that thrive in the high desert. Come explore a balance of plant life that creates a unique urban ecosystem in the heart of campus.
The Mountain Desert Garden is important to campus because it provides a space where the Westminster community can learn about the ecosystem that surrounds Salt Lake City. A Mountain Desert Ecosystem is at a high altitude but is very arid. In the case of the Salt Lake Valley, this is due to the rain shadow cast by the Serria Nevada Mountains to the west. Most of the plants and animals that live here have adapted to the harsh, cold winters and hot, dry summers. Such as the Prickly Pear Cactus, which have the ability to go dormant during the winter. Prickly pears typically grow with flat, rounded stems which are armed with two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. Many types of prickly pears grow into dense, tangled structures. Like all true cactus species, prickly pears are native only to the Western hemisphere; many animals rely on Prickly Pear Cactus for food including birds, which help distribute the seeds.
Another plant that is found in the Mountain Desert Garden is the Snowberry. The Snowberry is an important winter food source for quail, pheasant, and grouse, but is considered poisonous to humans. While the Snowberry is native to the Rocky Mountains it has been cultivated as a landscape plant around the world. When Meriweather Lewis first collected the Snowberry during the Lewis & Clark Expedition, he brought a living specimens back to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson cultivated it successfully, and in 1813 wrote about it in a letter to Europe. Soon European cultivators were making it available to gardeners and it has since spread widely around Europe.
Some species you might find in the Mountain Desert Garden:
Bigtooth Maple (Acer grandidentatum)
Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
Box Elder (Acer negundo)
Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Lewis’s Mock Orange (Phildelphus lewisii)
Western Snowberry (Symphorycarpos occidentalis)
Thimble Berry (Rubus parviflora)-
Russet Leaf Buffalo Berry (Shepherdia canadensis)
Mountain Ash (Sorbus scopulina)
Mallow Leaf Ninebark (Physocarpos malvaceus)
Saskatoon Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa)
Mountain Lover (Pachystima myrsinites)
Bigroot Prickly Pear (Opuntia macrorhiza) - edible purple fruits; origin Canyon Cove area of Mt. Olympus foothills, Salt Lake Couty.
Pink Common Prickly Pear (Opuntia polyacantha) -showy flowers; origin Butterfield Canyon, southwestern Salt Lake County appx. 1987
Orange Common Prickly Pear (Opuntia polyacantha)-showy flowers; origin Butterfield Canyon, southwestern Salt Lake County appx. 1987.
Yellow Common Prickly Pear (Opuntia polyacantha)-showy flowers; origin Butterfield Canyon, southwestern Salt Lake County appx. 1987
Yellow Prickly Pear (Opuntia polyacantha) origin appx. West Salt Lake City industrial area.
Fragile Prickly Pear (Opuntia fragilis)-yellow flowers; cylindrical joints; origin Jordan River bluffs, south Salt Lake County.
Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia compressa)- from Nebraska; few spines & round pads; origin relict grassland in Wildness Park on west bank of Salt Creek, Lincoln, Nebraska appx. 1982.