Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2002
Rare finding of IU's official flower at university nature preserve
A rare find of the trailing arbutus, Indiana University's official flower, has occurred at the university's teaching and research nature preserve bordering Lake Monroe.
IU Biology Professor Keith Clay, director of the new preserve, and Roger Beckman, head of the IU Life Sciences Library, found several trailing arbutus plants at the Moore's Creek preserve, a 261-acre site in southern Monroe County adjoining Lake Monroe.
"This uncommon plant, scientifically named Epigaea repens, is found in only a few locations in Monroe County and is in danger of local extinction because of off-road vehicle activity and habitat changes," Clay explained. "It is one of the very first wild flowers to bloom in the spring and is strictly protected from harvesting in many states." He said the trailing arbutus, also known as the mayflower, is the state flower for Massachusetts and the provincial flower of Nova Scotia.
The flower has a prominent role in IU history. In addition to its designation as the official flower, it gave the Arbutus Yearbook and the Arbutus Society their names. Clay said it provided the artistic inspiration for the President's Medal and other IU imagery. Bloomington has an Arbutus Drive and an Arbutus Baptist Church.
To help save the trailing arbutus, the preserve has established the Arbutus Conservation Fund. For more information about the fund, contact the preserve office at 812-855-8742 (https://www.indiana.edu/~preserve).
Botanist Mike Homoya of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources said the plant is occasionally found in far northern Indiana and Illinois, plus eastern Kentucky and eastern Ohio. In the lower Midwest, trailing arbutus occurs only in Monroe County and parts of a few neighboring counties. Homoya said the species appears to be at the edge of its range at Moore's Creek with no other populations to the south or west. Clay said the plant has become isolated from others further east because of the creation of Lake Monroe in the 1960s. The plant rarely produces fruit, and its seeds are dispersed by ants.
Clay said the only location of the trailing arbutus on the entire IU campus is the Moore's Creek preserve. This preserve and another site near Griffy Woods were established by the IU Trustees last May for research, teaching and environmental education.