State Botanical Garden Science & Conservation
The Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA) is a network of more than 40 Georgia universities, botanical gardens, zoos, state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, and private companies that are committed to ecological land management, native plant conservation, and protection of rare and endangered plants. Though headquartered at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, GPCA extends far beyond the Garden with projects statewide.
GPCA meets twice yearly: in late winter, to prioritize plant conservation projects for the coming growing season, and in the fall, to share results and participate in educational symposia.
A central goal of GPCA is to prevent local extinctions of rare plant populations. GPCA may augment an existing but diminishing population or create a new population with propagated plants where a previously known population was destroyed. Since rare plants are part of larger natural communities, GPCA also restores the natural conditions and processes that support rare species by, for example, removing invasive pest plants and introducing prescribed fire. When the restored population reproduces sexually on its own, that is a sure sign that the population is taking hold! From there, the work continues with ongoing monitoring and habitat management.
GPCA has targeted more than 100 critically endangered plant species for immediate conservation action. The list was assembled by a team of botanists, ecologists, and conservation professionals from throughout Georgia, and reflects the priorities of our members. Forty of these species have gone full circle from our first collecting from threatened populations in the wild; then propagating plants in the nursery from seed, cuttings, and divisions; and finally returning the carefully tracked and sourced plants back to the wild for safeguarding and population increase. This work is made possible by the partners of the GPCA, whose areas of expertise span the spectra of conservation biology and conservation horticulture.
Specially trained Botanical Guardian volunteers work with GPCA scientists to locate populations of rare plants, assess their habitats, and collect seeds for propagation at GPCA member institutions. Without the cooperation of all these different groups and individuals, the work the GPCA does would not be possible.
Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi and one of the most diverse when it comes to plant species – nearly 4,000 native plant species grow in our forests, grasslands, beaches and floodplains. Sadly, almost 20 percent of our plants are rare, threatened or endangered. That’s a lot of plants for our state’s professional botanists to keep up with. Recognizing the need for a greater focus on rare plants, the State Botanical Garden created the Botanical Guardians in 1999. Since then, Guardians – trained and dedicated volunteers – have assisted conservation professionals in the day-to-day work of caring for rare plant populations across the state of Georgia.
Botanical Guardians receive special training in plant monitoring and in habitat restoration techniques. Many are graduates of the State Botanical Garden’s Certificate in Native Plants program. These volunteers donate an average of 850 hours of field work annually, removing invasive species, monitoring fruit and flower sets, assisting with prescribed fire, and watching for emerging threats to Georgia’s endangered species. In addition to their field efforts, they work with local landowners for protection of rare plants on their property and raise support for plant conservation in their communities. Their efforts are an essential component of the garden’s conservation work.
Generations of University of Georgia students are changing the world––and we are experiencing this right here at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Collegiate Guardians is an effective and powerful professional training program where university students work beside scientists and plant conservationists in the field and in the greenhouse. This program is the brainchild of Callie Oldfield, a Ph.D. student in UGA’s Department of Plant Biology and Jennifer Ceska, the garden’s plant conservation coordinator.
Collegiate Guardians honors the life and work of Ashley Block, a Ph.D. student in UGA’s Department of Anthropology and Integrated Conservation who was killed in a car-bicycle collision in September 2016.
GPCA has grown organically since its founding in 1995, expanding from a small group of agencies and organizations to its present membership of 40. “It’s all about the plants” is the philosophy that holds GPCA together and promotes cooperation among its diverse membership. If a colleague from an organization or agency cannot make it to a field project, others from the GPCA network can step in, ensuring that seeds are collected, populations are monitored, or sites are freed of invasive plants.
There is always plenty of work to do. If you would like to work with GPCA, contact Jennifer Ceska, the State Botanical Garden’s Conservation Coordinator and Coordinator of the GPCA