Mizzou Botanic Garden under stress due to extreme drought

Thursday, August 30, 2012 | 8:03 p.m. CDT; updated 11:24 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 30, 2012
The Mizzou Botanic Garden, which is home to 11 thematic and seven special collection gardens around MU, has felt stress from the drought.

COLUMBIA — Isaac Wagner, a student employee who is responsible for taking care of the Mizzou Botanic Garden, said he and other workers have had to focus on the lack of moisture in the garden because of the drought.

“The heat kind of outruns you,” Wagner said of the struggles that the 45 to 50 workers are facing.

According to the US Drought Monitor website, more than 97 percent of Missouri is currently suffering from what is classified as extreme drought. This has affected the health of gardens and crops across the state. Among those affected is the Mizzou Botanic Garden.

The garden was established in 1999 and is home to 11 thematic and seven special collection gardens around MU. These gardens house thousands of plants, some of which will have to be replaced this year due to the drought, said Christopher Starbuck, associate professor for the division of plant sciences.

The main problem is the severity of the drought, he said.

“When you have a historic drought like this, it’s almost to the point where you can’t water fast enough,” he said. “In a normal year, you may have some drought stress on newly planted trees and shrubs, but this year, with the soil moisture levels so low, it just pushes some of the plants over the edge.”

Wagner said much of his day is spent watering.

He said he thinks MU's Landscape Services does a great job of giving crews the equipment they need for landscape maintenance, but not all places on MU's campus have the same watering systems. Some areas, such as the east side of campus, have seen worse damage from the drought.

Starbuck said there is not any physical way the available landscaping crew can keep up with the whole garden.

Karlan Seville, communications manager for campus facilities, said the Mizzou Botanic Garden currently holds 6,200 trees. The maintenance of trees is strongly emphasized because they are more costly to replace.

In order to help maintain the health of the trees, Starbuck said the city of Columbia granted permission to attach fire hoses to fire hydrants in Peace Park in an attempt to transfer water to some of the trees showing drought stress.

In addition to this, there are tools and irrigation systems that are used to help get enough water into the soil.

While the Mizzou Botanic Garden is known for its beautiful plants and trees, some students have noticed a change in their scenery.

“I was excited to come back to fall colors,” Alaina Lancaster, a sophomore, said. “But a lot of the plants are already dead.”

Starbuck said he thinks the drought will affect the way visitors see the garden.

“When it’s hot and dry and dusty and everything is turning brown, it’s just not too attractive, to be honest.”

Starbuck said he thinks the precipitation expected to reach Missouri from the result of Hurricane Isaac will positively affect the garden, even though it might only make a small difference.

Wagner agreed.

“We’re not too worried about some of the watering because we’re expecting that rain,”  he said.

Starbuck said he thinks the drought teaches individuals the importance of water.

“It does make you appreciate rainfall doesn’t it?” he said. “Last time it rained most of the rain came for about an hour, and I just stood outside and looked at it. We should appreciate it when we get it.”

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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