State Botanical Garden Conservation
Though the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is the headquarters of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA), the GPCA exists beyond the Garden walls. It is not only a network of more than 40 conservation organizations, it is a network of people with real personal commitments to each other and their work.
All of the garden’s research and conservation activities have an educational component, whether it is hands-on training for undergraduate students, conservation horticulture activities for adult volunteers, or staff presentations on campus and at professional meetings.
Our extensive collections of endangered species and research plots in the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies are exceptional resources for formal and informal instruction. Undergraduate students at the University of Georgia have the opportunity to participate in habitat restoration projects at the Garden by enrolling in the service-learning course “Conserving Native Plants” (Horticulture 3333S) offered every spring semester.
Our programs depend on volunteer and student participation for success, and we would love to have your help!
The goal of GPCA is to prevent local extinctions of rare plant populations. Since these rare plants are part of larger natural habitats, the GPCA works in situ, in the habitats themselves, in order to benefit the species that live in these habitats. Backup populations are usually created on protected land.
Indexed materials are always used so as to safeguard the rare plant species in the wild. When the plant reproduces sexually on its own, that is a sure sign that the safeguarding population is taking hold! From there, the work continues with habitat management and ongoing monitoring.
The GPCA has so far worked with more than forty rare plant species and through the full circle of conservation: seed to seed, propagating plants ex situ and returning the carefully tracked and sourced plants to the wild for safeguarding. This work is made possible by the partners of the GPCA, whose areas of expertise run the full gamut of conservation biology.
For example, the GPCA’s new aggressive conservation initiative targets a prioritized list of critically endangered plant species. The list was assembled by a team of botanists, ecologists and conservation professionals from throughout Georgia, and it was coordinated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources as part of the State Wildlife Action Plan (formerly the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy).
Specially-trained Botanical Guardians volunteers work with GPCA scientists to locate populations of these rare plants, assess their sites and collect seeds for propagation at GPCA botanical gardens. 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. Ashley had been working with SBG on conservation networking, a focus of her doctoral research. Collegiate Guardians honors Block’s goals by expanding the garden’s Botanical Guardians program to involve university students.
Members of the GPCA are a pleasure to work with both personally and professionally, and the GPCA has grown organically through collaboration since its founding in 1995. “It’s all about the plants,” is the mantra that helps bypass the institutional egos and competitive attitudes. If a colleague from a museum or agency cannot make a field trip, others from the GPCA network can cover for them, ensuring that seeds are collected or populations are monitored.
There is always plenty of work to do. If you would like to work with us, contact Jennifer Ceska, the garden’s conservation coordinator.