By  July 1, 2019 - 8:00am
Walk Across Kentucky volunteer crew planting wild rye in the Arboretum Woods.

The Arboretum Woods is a 15-acre remnant inner bluegrass woodland, an imperiled plant community in Kentucky, which contains over 90 species of native plants. These woodlands occurred on mesic sites on limestone soils, abundant with phosphorus. They historically had wooded canopies, with a rich understory. Most of these woodlands were developed after European settlement and their plant community structure is now highly altered. Even so, The Arboretum Woods has held on as a wooded oasis in an increasingly urban environment, and is a site for ecological restoration.

Ecological restoration is the process of restoring an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. The Arboretum Woods has been damaged and degraded by invasive plant species and other human impacts and there have been extensive efforts to eradicate invasive species throughout the last 15 years. After successful efforts to remove asian bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.) from the site in the early 2000s, another invasive plant known as wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) took hold.

Wintercreeper is an evergreen perennial vine native to China, Japan and Korea that prevents more desirable, Kentucky native seedlings and herbaceous plants from growing. Arboretum staff and volunteers remove wintercreeper by hand-pulling and applying herbicide in the winter months. Once wintercreeper is sufficiently removed from a site, Arboretum staff aim to help reestablish an understory by planting native herbaceous plants.

This past June, a 4-H volunteer group and the Arboretum Native Plants Volunteers planted over 1,000 plugs of three species of wild rye (bottlebrush grass, Elmus hystrix; early wild rye, E. macgregorii; silky wild rye, E. villosus) and white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). These plants were grown from seed collected from The Woods in areas where wintercreeper had been removed. Past restoration efforts are evident when you enter The Woods from the Bluegrass region of The Arboretum, where stands of wild rye and coralberry abound. There is also natural regeneration of native flora, such as trillium (Trillium sessile), wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), and various trees and shrubs.

The Woods will require continuous monitoring and follow-up to prevent restored areas from becoming repopulated with invasive species. However, through the removal of wintercreeper, the planting of native plants from the Bluegrass Region, and the natural regeneration of native plants lying dormant in the seed bank, we hope to return the Arboretum Woods to something closer to its pre-settlement state.

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