Learning from the Land

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Published on: Oct. 2, 2000

Last revision: Nov. 5, 2010

transpiration and the water cycle in the process.

Betty Nellums and Nell Menke, a fellow Webster Groves Nature Study Society member, helped begin the Arboretum’s first adult education classes - the Tuesday morning spring and fall wildflower walks.

"We went rain or shine, and we roamed the entire area, said Betty, who volunteered as a guide for 20 years. "No reservations were required, just a love of and interest in wildflowers."

These popular walks, begun in 1974, continue with Arboretum naturalist James Trager and volunteers Dick and Suzy Russell, who lead hikers to orchids, bluebells and scores of other wildflower gems.

By the late 1970s, Arboretum staff and volunteers began investigating ways to restore and develop the Arboretum to its fullest biological potential. In 1980, supported by a grant from the Missouri Prairie Foundation, 48 acres of old pasture were converted to native prairie plants. In 20 years, the prairie has grown to more than 100 acres that support 200 Missouri plant species.

"Broadcasting prairie seed - sometimes in the rain - was exhilarating," says my father, who worked on the prairie project for 10 years and led regular tours to acquaint visitors with Missouri’s prairie heritage. Staff and volunteers, including my parents, collected hundreds of pounds of local seed, from which they propagated tens of thousands of prairie plants.

Not only did the prairie project generate more interest in Missouri’s prairie, but it also helped energize other restoration projects at the Arboretum.

James Trager, who joined the Arboretum staff in 1990, continued the modern chapter of the Arboretum’s restoration history. On the Arboretum’s ridgetops and slopes, he noticed glade plants suffering in the shade of cedars and observed that the same plants fared better along sunny trails. In less than five years, James and a crew of other staff and volunteers have restored about 30 acres of glade and woodland communities to their original open character, using prescribed burns and selective cutting of cedars and other invasive woody plants.

"There are two rules of the restoration movement," Trager says. "Promote biological diversity and involve people in a beneficial way. People like opportunities to do good work, and our volunteers certainly have made a difference here."

In 1993, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private donors, the Arboretum staff reconstructed a 20-acre wetland complex from a former pasture. Now seven years old, aquatic plants, dragonflies, toads, frogs, herons and other animals thrive in what was

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