Archive for Sunday, April 27, 2008

Springtime tour shows off blooming flora on KU campus

Craig Freeman, a botanist with the R. L. McGregor Herbarium, discusses the blossoms on a flowering dogwood tree in front of KU's Spencer Museum of Art during a spring flora tour of campus.

Craig Freeman, a botanist with the R. L. McGregor Herbarium, discusses the blossoms on a flowering dogwood tree in front of KU's Spencer Museum of Art during a spring flora tour of campus.

April 27, 2008

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Flora tour to showcase campus beauty

From Jayhawk Boulevard to the Chi Omega Fountain and Mount Oread, the KU campus is full of plant life -- shrubs and trees that will be on display Saturday for the first ever Spring Flora Tour. Enlarge video

Kansas University has long been known for its picturesque campus and the peaceful hollows that are a reminder of a simpler time. On Saturday, two university botanists guided more than 30 people through the campus - up Jayhawk Boulevard, through Marvin Grove and around Memorial Drive - to showcase the trees and plants that have transformed the campus from a plain landscape of prairie grass to a lush palate of plants native to different regions of the world.

Botanist Craig Freeman, who led the tour with his colleague Caleb Morse, said this was the first tour of its kind in recent memory.

"I think our timing is about perfect. In terms of the color and the beauty of the campus, we timed it perfectly," he said.

Freeman told the group how the campus evolved to include now more than 29,000 trees, almost one for each student.

Though not every plant has been identified or categorized, further study can only yield more knowledge of the campus flora, he said.

"We expect we will learn every time we go out," he said. There are about 450 different types of plants and trees on the campus.

Randi Grubbs, a Hays resident whose son is a KU junior, had seen much of the campus before, but had never known much about the different plants that inhabit it.

"I've driven through it, but never taken the time to see it," she said. "I like hearing and seeing what I might be able to grow in my part of the state.

"The landscape here is much different than in western Kansas," Grubbs said. "It's just gorgeous."

Freeman described many of the plants, such as tulips, forsythia and red-cedar trees, as "tortured." Because of years of hybridization, it has been difficult for botanists to pinpoint the exact species of many of the plants.

"We've taken a lot of species from the wild and bred them, so a lot of species have hybridized," he said. "Often it results in some useful characteristics," such as plants developing survival traits, but making it difficult for researchers to categorize all the plants.

Lawrence resident Julia Mechler found the tour helpful, nonetheless. The KU graduate had never thought about the different plants on the campus until she bought a home.

"I like to come up and walk on campus a lot, and I wonder what some of the plants and trees are," she said, "now that I own a home and am looking to improve my yard."

Freeman's lessons on the different plants, ranging from viburnum to orange-osage trees, clarified many of Mechler's questions.

"This is a perfect way to actively learn what these plants and trees are," she said.

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