Flooding leads to potential damage of Beal Botanical Gardens
Frank Telewski, curator of the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden, said he hasn't seen a flood this severe during his time at MSU.
Telewski said the garden experiences moderate flooding roughly every two to three years, but this flood, which peaked at more than 10 feet at the Red Cedar River, is a rarity.
He said his “fingers are crossed” for the health of the plants.
Telewski said the plants in the botanical garden are still dormant from the winter, so they should survive the flood. Since there’s no active growth taking place, the seeds and bulbs are slowly metabolizing and don’t need as much oxygen.
“As long as the water drains out, recedes, in relatively short order, then the garden should be OK,” he said. “If the flood waters were to persist for a month, you know, or several weeks, or a week or more, then I’d be worried that the dormant plants would suffer from low oxygen levels.”
Although Telewski started working at MSU in 1993, he has still heard the stories of the 1975 flood.
He said the garden staff had to venture out into the water to catch the remains of the garden, including the plant labels that were on wooden stakes.
“They went out there in a row boat with a net catching the labels, trying get as many labels as they could so they didn’t float away,” he said.
Katie McPeek, a botanical technologist and the top propagator for the Beal Botanical Garden, said ensuring all of the garden’s plants are accounted for will be one of Beal’s biggest challenges after the flood.
“It’s kind of hard to keep track of that because we have such a large collection — we have 90 beds, 2,000 plants,” McPeek said. “This will be an interesting test on Beal because it’s, what, five days underwater. And, you know, we have plants from all over the world.”
Telewski said another task will be cleaning up the branches, litter and other debris the flood leaves behind in the garden.
McPeek said the garden staff will most likely begin cleaning up and reorganizing the garden in March after the flood.
She is responsible for replacing the plants that don’t survive.
“We are actually a part of an international seed exchange,” McPeek said. “We all create a seed catalog and every year during the winter time, we exchange it with everyone so if there’s seeds or plants we need, we’ll make seed requests to other gardens.”
Telewski said the university isn’t able to build a flood barrier to prevent the garden from flooding frequently in the spring because the Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, and the Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, will not allow them to block the floodway.
In addition to the regulations set by the DNR and DEQ, Telewski said the cost benefit likely wouldn’t justify it.
“We’ll find out with this flood if we have any damage. If we do have damage, working with Katie, we can get a cost estimate of what it costs to replace it,” Telewski said. “I’m sure that the cost of replacing the plants that might die in the garden is going to be much less than the cost of installing that flood barrier.”
Telewski said one improvement that has been made since the 1975 flood is keeping better, more efficient plant records.
“We’re going to keep good records for the next generation of curatorial staff for the garden, and I think that’s the legacy that we can pass on and that, you know, they can learn from our experience,” he said.
Carolyn Miller, a plant recorder at the Botanical Garden, said she has seen ducks swimming in the water that has taken over the garden’s space and the water was still near the steps of the staircases at both sides of the garden.
Telewski said he hopes students and other members of the MSU community have looked at the flood because it could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
“The power of nature — the power of water — is really remarkable and it’s something to be respected and awed,” Telewski said. “So, right out our windows it’s happening and, you know, fortunately no one has been hurt.”
McPeek said she believes the garden will survive and persist through the flood.
“I think when you see an entire garden flooded, it’s alarming, but I really hope that come spring the theme will be plants are resilient,” she said. “You’re going to see all these plants in bloom and the garden looking healthy, and it’s going to look like, ‘What flood?’”