COLUMBIA — Stephens Lake Park boasts a number of natural attractions for the community to enjoy; including a lake, a board walk, picnic shelters, playgrounds and a picturesque walking track. Now, Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department’s forestry program is working to add a new and unique feature to that list: a redbud grove.
For the past year, the forestry program has been working to plant a large redbud grove just east of the lake. Last spring they planted eight different cultivars, including white, pink dark and even some weeping redbuds. This spring, they’ve added another eight cultivars. All are in bloom right now.
Columbia has one of the only redbud collections in the nation, which is something the forestry program is very proud of.
“Not very many people know that this many cultivars of redbud exist,” city forester Chad Herwald said. “I did not know that there were this many cultivars until I started researching them in the fall of 2006.”
Currently there are about 50 to 60 individual redbud trees planted at the lake, making up 16 different cultivars. Stephens Lake Park has proved conducive for the redbud, Herwald said, because of well-drained soil and the spots of shade.
The redbuds are part of a planned open arboretum, which will be a place where people can come to look at different types of trees and plants. Some of the trees that currently make up the arboretum include an oak tree collection and a nut tree collection.
“Most arboretums across the country are parks that are gated or fenced off and people have to pay to see particular plants and settings,” Herwald said. “We look at Stephens Lake as an open arboretum. There are no gates; it is open for the public to enjoy.”
Professors and high school science teachers have already utilized the park to learn about the different cultivar species.
Adding to the educational component, one tree out of each of the species will get a plaque that gives the scientific or Latin name, the common name and the year that it was planted.
The purchasing and planting of the trees is funded by the Parks and Recreation Department’s forestry program. There is also now a memorial heritage tree program where people can purchase the trees in honor of a loved one or a pet who has died.
Along with full-time forestry staff, the planting of the trees is part of a tree-keeping project made up of volunteers for the Parks and Recreation Department. The volunteers learn how to identify the trees and handle vegetation management, pruning, and insect and disease control.
Herwald said the benefit of the arboretum is that it allows people to come out and take a look at the trees, learn what they are and decide for themselves if they want one for their own yards.
“It is a nice location to bring your kids to sit down and just enjoy the nice flowering splash of color that we have added to the park,” he said.