Campus News

Prescribed fire planned for The Arboretum to support native plant life  

The Arboretum, State Botanical Garden of Kentucky. Photo by Ward Ransdell.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 8, 2024) — During the month of March, staff at The Arboretum, State Botanical Garden of Kentucky will administer a prescribed fire to help remove thatch that builds up from the grasses and wildflowers over time. The prescribed fire will allow native seeds to contact the soil surface and help prevent the sun-loving plants from getting shaded by the thatch. It will also help manage the encroachment of woody plants into the meadow that would, without management, eventually shade out the area and become a forest. 

“Prescribed fire is an important tool that is used to manage natural areas across Kentucky and protect rare species and our natural heritage,” explained Jessica Slade, the native plants collection manager and curator for The Arboretum. “There are many agencies and organizations that work together during the spring and fall to safely and efficiently get fire on the ground.” 

Prescribed fire can also help control the spread of non-native invasive species in the meadow and allow easy access for management during the growing season after the burn. 

The Arboretum’s 65-acre native plant collection is based upon the native plants and ecological communities in the seven physiographic regions of Kentucky

“The plant communities that these meadows represent are historically adapted to natural disturbances such as fire and the grazing of large ungulates like bison,” said Slade. “We manage these areas with prescribed fire to simulate those natural disturbances.” 

The prescribed fire will be led by an Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves “burn boss” who has been certified by the Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council. During the prescribed fire, the areas of The Arboretum surrounding the 1.6 acre Shawnee Hills meadow and .25 acre Pennyrile meadow will be closed to the public for safety purposes. These areas have been managed with prescribed fire previously and were last burned in 2021. 

The goal is to complete the prescribed fire before the end of March, but it’s all dependent on weather and can only be scheduled during ideal conditions for good smoke dispersal. 

Once a date has been set, The Arboretum staff will partner with the officials from the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves to complete the prescribed fire. Volunteers from Floracliff Nature Sanctuary and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill are also expected to volunteer. 

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