Ask Bellarmine students or graduates why they chose this particular university, and chances are good that one thing you’ll hear is, “The campus is so beautiful.” And indeed it is, with its classroom buildings and residence halls nestled among three gentle, verdant hills and the Beargrass Creek Nature Preserve at its front door.
But have you ever taken the time to really notice what makes those hills verdant? If you have, can you identify what you are observing (beyond, “That’s a tree”)? It might surprise you to learn that between the main campus and the Nature Preserve, Bellarmine is home to more than 200 plant species.
The students in Dr. David Robinson’s Plant Diversity class, who are mostly biology majors, have to master 50 of them. “I purposely include a few plants that students are likely to know (like Dandelion, Dogwood, English Ivy) to overcome their anxiety about the assignment. Plus, those plants tell some pretty interesting stories,” says Dr. Robinson, a professor of biology. “Beyond those, most students don’t know many plants. Most biology majors are more interested in medicine, so I take every opportunity to remind them of the ancient links between medicine and botany. Even many of our modern medicines are derived from plants. Plus, some plants actually cause disease, like Ragweed and Poison Ivy.”
In 2004, he started an online directory of plants that can be found in Louisville, with students researching and writing the entries. The information in this Bellarmine Magazine Field Guide was adapted from the site. Click here for more detail.
“Speaking from my own experience, once you know how to spot a certain plant, it sort of becomes a ‘friend,’ ” Dr. Robinson says. “It’s fun to travel to another state, or continent for that matter, and recognize the same plant that grows in your backyard. Some students have told me that years after taking this course they can still recognize these plants.”
And after reading our Field Guide, so can you. — Carla Carlton
Common Blue Violet (Viola papilionacea): The flat, thin, fan-shaped leaves of the Blue Violet are high in vitamins A and C and can be used in salads or cooked as greens, and the flower can be made into candies and jellies. This plant has been used as a symbol of love and faithfulness. Find it: Ground cover under Weeping Willows along Bellarmine Creek.
Crabapple (Malus angustifolia): Because the crabapple is generally a hybrid, there is great variety within the species. Its fruit is used mostly for decoration and sometimes made into jams and jellies; its bark can be used to make a yellow dye. Find it: Small tree in the Quad next to the entrance of Pasteur Hall.
Foxtail (Setaria faberi): This plant of European and Asian origin is distinguished by the clusters of flower heads at the tip of the plant that resemble a fox’s tail and give it its name. The weedy plants rely heavily on humans and animals to spread their seeds by passing through them and so tend to grow in high-traffic areas. Find it: Around the tennis courts.
Honeyvine Milkweed (Ampelamus albidus): This noxious, climbing vine often appears in gardens and is common in soybean fields, where its expansive root system siphons water away from the crops and lowers production. Its pollination is aided by bees, which are very attracted to its flowers. It is easily confused with Common Milkweed, but its seed pods are smooth, while those of Common Milkweed have spiny projections. Find it: Growing on top of English Yews along Pasteur Hall facing the Quad.
Lily Turf (Liriope muscari): Lily Turf is commonly mistaken for mondo or monkey grass. The difference is the fruit: the Lily Turf’s is bluish/black, while the other is solid black. While also used as a ground cover, Lily Turf is not a grass; as its name implies, it belongs to the Lily family. Find it: Beneath windows of Norton Health Science Center along Bellarmine Boulevard.
White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum): Abundant in North America when settlers arrived, White Snakeroot was eaten in large quantities by cattle, which passed on its toxin, tremetone, through their milk. The resulting weakness, abdominal pain and vomiting that followed became known as “milk sickness,” a malady that claimed the life of Abraham’s Lincoln’s mother after the family moved to Indiana. Find it: Along the walking paths of the Nature Preserve.