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Events focus on Kentucky's native plants and fall's beauty in the Arboretum Woods

The "pawpaw bridge" boardwalk zig-zags through the wettest section of the Arboretum woods.
The "pawpaw bridge" boardwalk zig-zags through the wettest section of the Arboretum woods. Herald-Leader

Cooler days, the brilliant colors of autumn wildflowers and leaves changing from green to red and gold make fall the perfect time to explore some of the Arboretum's hidden treasures.

Two upcoming events invite you to walk farther and look more carefully than you may have done before at the Arboretum. And bring a camera and a key to identifying plants.

■ Designed as a Walk Across Kentucky, nearly two miles of paved paths offer walkers access to prairie, forest and wetland areas, traversing the 100 acres of land which at one time were part of the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture farm pastures.

Now, you'll find plant collections representing seven of the Commonwealth's distinct geophysical regions. In addition, take the loop through the Arboretum woods to see a few venerable old trees still undisturbed in the midst of urban development, and entanglements with exotic invasive weed species.

Right now, native aster, goldenrod, sunflower and grasses dominate the blooming landscape; butterflies, moths, bees and other insects can be found in abundance. Just as many home gardeners have made a shift toward inclusion of native plants and areas that support pollinators and migratory monarchs as well as bird habitat development, arboretum plantings also lean in that direction. The area offers an ever-changing landscape.

■ The Kentucky Native Plant Society is offering a free Field Day at The Arboretum on Oct. 10. Experts will lead walks and demonstrations, giving participants an opportunity to ask questions.

The Arboretum's Native Plant Curator Todd Rounsaville will lead a search for some of its hidden gems, while KNPS president Zeb Weese will speak about the benefits of native plants.

"I'll walk around the prairie area and talk about the species you may want to encourage, like little bluestem, milkweeds and others, and their role as pollinators, what invasive species are a problem, how to control them, and discuss the role of fire in natural grassland communities," Weese said.

There are two tall grass prairie areas, one in the Pennyrile area near Alumni Drive and the other in the newer Shawnee Hills wildflower meadow.

Beate Popkin of Living Gardens LLC, designs landscapes using native plants. She will lead a walk through the newly established Bluegrass region pathways, which Rounsaville describes as a dry rocky meadow indicative of bluegrass palisades.

The herbaceous plantings, Popkin said, are little bluestem, Shorts goldenrod, aromatic aster, nodding onion, common milkweed. For trees, there's yellowwood, chokecherry, and sassafras.

Interested in butterflies? Beverly James, who manages Floracliff Nature Preserve will lead a walk in search of host plants for butterflies and moths.

Julian Campbell of the Bluegrass Woodlands Restoration Center will lead groups with a focus on efforts to preserve that area, against the advance of exotic invasive species like bush honeysuckle and winter creeper.

There will also be afternoon field trips to other native plant project sites in Fayette County along the Wolf Run, Hickman Creek and other watersheds.

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