Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Elephantopus carolinianus (elephant's foot)

Within the Arboretum Woods is a native wildflower that typically goes unnoticed, despite being widespread throughout the forest.   It is a species in the aster/composite family (Asteraceae) commonly called Elephant’s Foot.   This species intricate yet small flowers are best appreciated up close, and mid-late summer is the perfect time to do so.

There are a few dozen species of Elephantopus worldwide, four in North America, and two in Kentucky.  The species common in the Arboretum Woods is E. carolinianus (Carolina Elephant’s Foot), while E. tomentosus with the far-cooler name 'Devil’s Grandmother', is native to Eastern Kentucky.   The former is readily identified by its leaves which are chiefly cauline during flowering rather than basal -as are the other species native to North America.

Elephantopus is the Latinized combination of Greek words Elephantos (Elephant) and pous (foot), given by Linnaeus to the type species, Elephantopus scaber, probably as an allusion to the basal leaf rosette.  The word elephantopus has since been borrowed as the specific epithet to both a species of giant tortoise (Geochelone elephantopus) and the extinct  heavy-footed moa (Pachyornis elephantopus).  Many of the (plant) species of Elephantopus have been investigated and recognized for their medicinal properties, due the presence of aptly named elephantopin, a compound that has anti-tumor activity.
Pachyornis elephantopus

Carolina Elephant’s Foot is easily propagated via seed, and performs nicely in cultivation as a handsome, though humble, forest wildflower.  Though it reaches 2-3’ tall, the uppermost portions of the plant are bare stems adorned with smaller leaves and terminal blossoms.  Medium shade and moist soils are the niche for this species, but we have seen it perform admirably in sunny/dry locations as well.  Light self-seeding is to be expected, but Elephant’s foots is otherwise a well behaved and easily cultivated botanical gem.

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.