Thursday, March 26, 2015

Plant Conservation

Shawnee Hills Floodplain on the Walk Across Kentucky

There are three pillars on which The State Botanical Garden of Kentucky supports its mission: Education, Research, and Conservation.  Of those, the latter is perhaps the least tangible, despite by many accounts being the most important.  We can Educate through classes, events, and signage; and Research is succinctly conducted by staff, citizen scientists, and various university projects.  Conservation is more difficult to quantify.  The Walk Across Kentucky Collection Policy stipulates that all plant material be collected from wild provenance, in an ecologically sustainable manner.  We regularly make collecting trips in addition to working with other professional organizations and private land-owners from across the state to enhance the WAKY plant collections.  Incoming plant material runs the spectrum of the ubiquitous [like the sweetgums (2014-190) we collected from seed in Barren County last year] to the exceedingly rare, including the Kentucky Clover we received last year (a newly discovered species that is only found in Kentucky).

As highlighted by Janet Marinelli in her recent article, Botanical Gardens and Arboreta can serve an important role in plant conservation by collecting, curating, protecting, and propagating native plant species.  Included in her report are some fascinating data compiled by Botanic Garden Conservation International:

·         17,000 - number of native plants in the US

·         33% - percentage of US plants requiring conservation action

·         217 - number of US species now extinct or extinct in the wild

·         57% - percentage of federal endangered species that are plants

·         3.86% - percentage of federal endangered species expenditures received by plants

·         4,000 - number of nonnative species that have escaped into the wild, many of them weedy or invasive

·         $25 Billion - amount spent by the US every year to control invasive plant species
Monotropa uniflora (indian pipe) in an Eastern KY forest.  The exotic species Vinca minor (periwinkle) is covering the forest floor.
At the end of 2014, The Walk Across Kentucky Collections included 2652 individual accessions of trees, shrubs, vines, grasses and wildflowers.  Those individual plants and populations represent 520 Kentucky native species from 265 genera, within 99 families.  
The Mississipi Embayment Wetland Garden on the WAKY

The collections are continually expanding in size and scope.  If you would like to become involved in native plants or plant conservation at the State Botanical Garden, please contact us to discuss the many opportunities.  Additionally, the Native Plant Volunteer Group meets every Thursday from 10am to noon, and is open to the public.  For even more information on native plants, plant conservation, and ecosystem management, please save the date for the 2nd Annual Kentucky Botanical Symposium to be held on October 9th and 10th, 2015 (details will follow shortly).

Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 Launch of Arboretum Explorer™

We are very excited to announce that the Arboretum Explorer web page went ‘live’ in January of this year.  Arboretum Explorer is an online interface that allows users to search and locate The Arboretum’s plant collections, garden features, memorials, and more.  This website draws data from our recently renovated plant-records software and makes pertinent information available in a user-friendly format. 

Perhaps the most useful and comprehensive feature is the SEARCH tab that is displayed from the home page.  This feature allows users to search for a plant by scientific or common name, Genus, Family, or ‘area’ (such as Arboretum Woods).  If you search for ‘oak’, a list of the twenty-three native oak species will display on the bottom of the page.  To go one step further, click on ‘bur oak’ from the list and a new page will appear showing an image of a bur oak, a list of each individual bur oak (we have 53), and a map displaying the exact locations of each tree within The Arboretum (images below). 

The MAP tab is useful for visitors who can access Arboretum Explorer in a mobile-friendly format while walking outside.  This will allow visitors to see their current location on the map in addition to all of the trees, allowing for instant identification of unknown species. 

Finally, the FEATURES tab is a sortable and searchable means through which memorial trees and benches, birdhouses, specialty gardens, facilities, and more can be located.

Please note that Arboretum Explorer is a work in progress as well as a dynamic inventory that is changed and updated regularly.  We hope you will utilize this new tool for connecting with The Arboretum’s plant collections.

Arboretum Explorer can be accessed from:

Monday, December 8, 2014

Staphylea trifolia (American bladdernut)

Staphylea trifolia (American bladdernut) is a Kentucky native shrub that can be found in the wild throughout the state, but is all too rare in cultivation.  It is most commonly found growing in mesic deciduous woodlands, and to a lesser extent in floodplain woodlands and along riverbanks.   This is a handsome species whose paucity in home gardens may be due to being poorly known, or its growth habit which some gardeners may find untidy.  Bladdernut tends to form suckering colonies that spread slowly and may require additional maintenance.

Bladdernut ex situ
Staphylea is a member of the Staphyleaceae Family and takes its name from the Greek word staphyle (a cluster) which is a reference to the arrangement of the flowers.  The specific epithet ‘trifolia’ is also descriptive and means a three-part leaf.   The plant is rather easy to identify during the growing season based on the foliage; leaves are compound with three leaflets, and occur opposite on the stem.  The stems have longitudinal bands of black and gray making them quite attractive and distinctive.  Lastly, if you’re still wondering what a bladdernut is, the fruit develops into an inflated papery-bladder containing several small seeds.  Since there is no nutritive portion of the fruit, the seeds are most likely dispersed if the fruits are carried away by wind and water.

A bladdernut leaf is comprised of 3 leaflets

characteristic striped stems
pendulous flower clusters
maturing fruit
This ripe fruit has turned brown, note that the inside contains a few seeds but is otherwise 'hollow'.  These fruits may persist hanging from the stems well into winter and can be quite attractive.

The Walk Across Kentucky displays bladdernut in the Appalachian, Bluegrass, and Shawnee Hills regions.  Give it a try in your landscape if suckering stems are not a major concern and the site stays reasonably moist and shady.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Autumn Scenes

A cool and precipitous autumn has yielded some fantastic fall color on the Walk Across Kentucky.  It is the last hurrah for much of our 2014 foliage before what is purported to be an unusually cold winter.  We enjoyed a terrific growing season and are especially thankful to the many volunteers who helped expand the WAKY trails and exhibits.  Here are a few images from across the collection.

The Appalachian Plateau
Sassafras albidum, trail of pines exit

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

The beech corridor (Fagus grandifolia)

Trail of pines entrance, Sassafras albidum

The Bluegrass
BG meadow: Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, Schizachyrium scoparium

Maple grove: Acer saccharum/nigrum

The Cumberland Mountains
Sorghastrum nutans

Castanea dentata

The Knobs

Rhus copallinum

Rhus glabra

Juglans, Fraxinus, Quercus grove

West Knobs transition
The Mississippi Embayment
The new Ash trail, Fraxinus profunda still holding leaves

Liquidambar styraciflua

The Pennyrile
Sassafras albidum

Pennyrile trail entrance: Quercus stellata & marilandica

Pennyrile prairie

Rhus & Acer

The Shawnee Hills
Rock Berm #2

Taxodium distichum

Shawnee Hills Meadow

The Woods

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Shawnee Hills Floodplain Forest


The Shawnee Hills Floodplain forest is one of the new exhibits along the Walk Across Kentucky.  Planted during the spring and summer of 2013, it has quickly become established with some exceptional native plants from western Kentucky.  Presently, this area is overflowing with blossoms and pollinators.  In particular, the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and its pollinator, the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) are a sight to see.  

This specific site is a low-lying depression planted as a grove of willow oak (Quercus phellos) in 1991.  The area sees a substantial amount of surface water collect and flow through during heavy rain events.  Because the canopy of the oaks was so dense, there was minimal vegetation on the ground, and as a result this site was prone to erosion.  What may seem to be a location unsuitable for gardening is actually an ecosystem that is quite common, especially in the Shawnee Hills region of Kentucky.  Often referred to as a floodplain forest, areas such as these typically contain hardwood trees such as the pre-existing willow oak grove at The Arboretum.  The plant community is adapted to wet soils, often deep shade, and extended periods of submersion.  

The stunning transformation of this exhibit in the past year is a testament of the dynamism of native plants when planted in favorable locations.  Not only does this highlight that there truly is a right plant for all locations, but it shows how quickly (and relatively simply) sites such as these can be established.

Here is a look back at the development of this exhibit:
'before'; a very dense grove of Quercus phellos, complemented by false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa - front left) and eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides - front right)
Step 1. Allowing visitor access required some pruning of the oaks for clearance as well as a boardwalk, since the area is prone to flooding.  This boardwalk was part of an eagle scout project.
The completed boardwalk in autumn, 2012.  The oaks had recently dropped their leaves, but the absence of ground vegetation causes them to wash away during winter floods.
Spring 2013, the Native Plant Volunteer group begins initial planting of the Floodplain forest.  This included removal of hidden patches of purple wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), a significant invasive species.

Autumn, 2013.  Over 500 perennial plant plugs were planted over the course of the summer, including blue star, iris (4 species), spider lily, ferns (3 species), Lobelia (2 species), starry campion, wood poppy, Elymus (2 species), and many others.  Also planted were some shrubs and small trees, including hearts-a-burstin', wahoo, american snowbell, swamp holly, and ironwood.  A willow oak was removed in the center of the grove to allow some filtered sunlight to enter the garden.  The trunk and limbs of the tree were left to help prevent washouts and provide shelter for the turtles that nest here.

Winter, 2014.  The floods arrive.  During heavy rain events this area stays flooded for days at a time.  The new boardwalk allows access through the garden, and the newly established vegetation helped to control soil erosion 
Spring, 2014. After concentrating energy on root growth the previous year, the perennials exploded in 2014.  The blue stars, trillium, phlox, beardtongue, and iris were extremely floriferous in early spring.
Summer, 2014. (today) 
Lobelia inflata (left), Lobelia cardinalis (right).
Swamp milkweed in a sunny spot at the entrance to the boardwalk, just beginning to open.
This informational sign was designed by Arboretum intern and UK Landscape Architecture student Will Coleman, and installed on the edge of the boardwalk.
A look back towards the WAKY, cardinal flower in all directions.  A pair of hummingbirds were taking full advantage of the red flowers but moving too fast to photograph.