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UGA Partnerships Yield Tangible Results In Fighting Floodplain Invasive Species

What happens when research scientists and conservation practitioners work together to restore Georgia’s floodplains?

Collaborative efforts led by University of Georgia graduate students and conservation practitioners at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia show how vital partnerships are in restoring the floodplains of Georgia. Linsey Haram and Rachel Smith, PhD graduates from the Odum School of Ecology, began their floodplain restoration research project in 2017 in collaboration with Heather Alley, a conservation horticulturist with the State Botanical Garden, a unit of Public Service and Outreach at UGA. For three years they, along with Odum School undergraduates Diane Klement and Hannah Mone, conducted experiments to determine the most effective methods of removing invasive plants. They recently published their findings in Restoration Ecology.

“Emphasizing the value of academic and nonprofit partnerships for this type of work is super important,” said Haram. She explained that bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners can lead to strides in conservation practices; the floodplain restoration project conducted by the UGA partnerships certainly reaped the benefits of this collaborative effort.

Alley has dedicated years to restoring the floodplain bordering the Middle Oconee River and has worked to rid this area of invasive species, organisms that are not native to an environment and whose introduction causes harm to the ecosystem they colonize. For many ecosystems, such as floodplains, invasive species pose a threat to biodiversity, compete for resources with native plants and animals, and damage the overall health of the environment. Restoring floodplains to their natural state is a challenge, as conservationists must determine the most effective method of removing invaders, while also having the least negative impact on the delicate ecosystem they are trying to restore.

Floodplains are areas of relatively flat land that are prone to frequent flooding. Stiltgrass is a low-lying plant species native to Asia that is now widespread across much of the U.S. It forms dense stands that disrupt forest ecosystems, and has become especially problematic in flood plains. Because floodplains provide numerous services both economically and environmentally, they are an important area to protect.

The floodplain restoration project presented a unique opportunity for scientists from UGA to partner with the State Botanical Garden. Smith and Haram, with their invasive species expertise, and Alley, with her years of on-the-ground experience, worked together to design a controlled experiment to analyze what method and frequency of application were most effective for stiltgrass removal.

“It was a really great opportunity to work with the scientists at the University of Georgia to help address one of our questions with our floodplain restoration,” said Alley.

The team established ten experimental blocks to test the effectiveness of restoration methods (combinations of herbicide, native planting, and native seeding) and application frequency (single and annual) in combating the stiltgrass. The native plant of choice was river oats. Alley explained that as a cool season perennial, river oats would already be “full and robust” by the time stiltgrass began to sprout in the warmer season.

“We found that combining herbicide and native planting was the most effective way of reducing the invasive annual stiltgrass,” said Smith.

The results showed that the combination of a single application of herbicide and native planting helped reduce the mass of stiltgrass within the floodplain, while also minimizing the harm to non-targeted native plant species.

Former UGA Ecology graduate students Linsey Haram, PhD ’18, (pictured) and Rachel Smith, PhD ’19, worked in collaboration with Heather Alley of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia on a project to fight floodplain invasive species using native plants.

This detailed restoration project provides empirical evidence for practitioners to use in restoring floodplains from invasive species, offering an effective, data-driven methodology for stiltgrass removal.

For the State Botanical Garden, the next plan of action is to continue adding more native plants such as river oats to select areas of the floodplain to reduce the presence of persistent invasive species. These areas include visible spots open to the public, and areas that already have native plants established.

As for Smith and Haram, this restoration project was an important step in their professional journey. After graduating from UGA, these researchers have continued their work in the field of conservation.  Haram is currently a Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, D.C., working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Smith is currently working as a NatureNet Science Fellow with the University of Virginia and the Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve.

The findings for the floodplain restoration project were published in the October, 2021 edition of Restoration Ecology: Smith, R.S., Alley, H., Klement, D. and Haram, L.E. (2021), Academic-conservation partnership reveals trade-offs in treatment method and frequency needed to restore invaded floodplain. Restor Ecol e13597. https://doi.org/10.1111/rec.13597

Writer: Katie Tong, Katelyn.tong@uga.edu

Contact: Rachel Smith, rssmith218@gmail.com; Linsey Haram, linseyharam@gmail.com; Heather Alley, alley@uga.edu

UGA’s State Botanical Garden of Georgia brings the buzz to the Athens community

The buzz around UGA this spring is coming from East Campus Road and Sanford Drive.

That’s where bees, butterflies and other insects are gathering around new pollinator plant beds installed to raise awareness of importance of native plants, as well as draw attention to the university’s recent Bee Campus USA designation.

“Of course we want a beautiful landscape with lots of flowers. We can have that and also support wildlife in a big way,” says Lauren Muller, conservation outreach coordinator for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “We want to teach people that even a small garden can make a difference, because we’re connecting patches of habitat throughout urban and suburban areas through which insects and birds can move and find shelter and food.”

Muller, working with the UGA Facilities Management Division, installed garden beds with native pollinator plants—including the garden’s Georgia Pollinator Plants of the Year—on land at East Campus Road and Carlton Street, and on Sanford Drive next to the Tate Center.

“We’re hoping that people start to think more about the ways that their landscapes can and should function,” Muller says.

In March, UGA was officially recognized as a Bee Campus by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. The designation means that UGA has demonstrated a commitment to enhance and promote pollinators on campus.

The process to become a Bee Campus USA was launched with the establishment of the UGA Campus Pollinator Committee formed in 2019 with representatives from the State Botanical Garden, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit, as well as UGA entomology and horticulture experts, university landscapers and grounds crew.

Coordinated by Tyra Byers, director of the Interdisciplinary Sustainability Certificate, the goal was to bring together a cross section of university experts to increase opportunities for research, experiential learning and sustainability efforts at UGA.

“We see campus as a living laboratory, so we would like for there to be opportunities for public service and outreach—where we’re using the grounds to teach and educate and engage people with these resources,” Byers says. “We have a number of classes that are using the grounds for experiential learning opportunities. We want to know how we can enhance and highlight and pilot things here to see if they can be expanded and shared elsewhere.”

Muller and Steve Mitchell, a UGA landscape architect, developed the plan to bring the botanical garden’s Georgia Pollinator Plants of the Year (GPPY) to campus. The 2021 plants, which are selected for their value towards pollinators as well as for their beauty and ease of care, include False Rosemary, Sweet Pepper Bush, Downy Goldenrod and Butterfly Weed.

GPPY was launched last year at the State Botanical Garden, in partnership with UGA Extension, the Georgia Green Industry Association and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, to encourage growers to produce more Georgia native pollinator plants and encourage consumers to incorporate them into their gardens. Four GPPY are selected each year, one for each category: Spring Bloomer, Summer Bloomer, Fall Bloomer and a Georgia Native.

“We’ve got hundreds of acres of landscapes and seeing that there was this effort at having pollinator plants on campus, it just seemed like a good idea and it just kind of worked itself out organically,” Mitchell says. “There is a movement of sorts to be more conscious of our pollinators and to provide habitat [for them]. We are huge fans of the botanical garden and the Mimsie Center, and anything we can do to help strengthen our partnership, we’re all for it.”

You can learn more about the Campus Pollinator Project at https://sustainability.uga.edu/community-engagement/pollinators, where you can also view an interactive map of pollinator locations on campus.

State pollinator protection efforts focus on pollinator plant availability

As part of an ongoing effort to help support Georgians use more native plants in their landscapes, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has partnered with the State Botanical Garden at the University of Georgia, the Georgia Green Industry Association and the Georgia Department of Agriculture to launch the state’s first Pollinator Plants of the Year Program.

“We are excited to be part of the effort to get this amazing program in place for Georgia gardeners,” said Becky Griffin, UGA Extension school and community garden coordinator and pollinator protection expert. “Extension has strengths. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia has strengths; the Department of Agriculture has strengths and the private sector has its strengths. We have a better chance of meeting our goal of providing more pollinator habitat if we work together.”

The collaboration will connect Georgia’s robust greenhouse industry with experts in native plant cultivation and pollinator health to produce more ready-to-plant natives and to encourage Georgians to turn part of their home landscape into pollinator habitat. This year the groups will be reaching out to greenhouse growers to encourage them to produce specially selected landscape plants. Next year the focus will be on teaching gardeners how to incorporate and maintain the pollinator-friendly plants.

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State Botanical Garden research director named to CAES professorship

UGA horticulturist James Affolter, who oversees research at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, was named to the newly endowed Larry R. Beuchat Professorship for Annual and Perennial Ornamental Plant Research.

The professorship in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences was created through a generous gift from Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus Larry Beuchat. The research-focused position will be located in the Department of Horticulture and housed at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia. The goal of the position is to promote ornamental plant research and a partnership between the Department of Horticulture and the State Botanical Garden, a 313-acre “living laboratory.”

Some of UGA’s top revenue-generating new plant varieties, including more than 20 commercial and home garden blueberries and half of the hydrangea grown in the United States, are the result of research from UGA’s horticulture department.

“I wanted to express my gratitude to the university for having been afforded the opportunity to be a faculty member and contribute to the advancement of food and agricultural sciences,” said Beuchat, who joined the Department of Food Science and Technology on the UGA Griffin campus in 1972. He has since published about 530 refereed scientific journal articles and five books, with most of his research at the UGA Center for Food Safety focusing on how food safety issues relate to foods of plant origin. “I wanted to support and fund programs that would advance ornamental plant science while simultaneously assisting students in the program.”

Beuchat’s interest in plants developed at an early age when he helped his parents tend their gardens on the family’s dairy farm and sell the flowers, fruits and vegetables at a local farmers market. He earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Pennsylvania State University.

Affolter joined the CAES faculty in 1993 and was promoted to full professor in 2005. As director of research at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, he manages three full-time employees who have a combined total of more than 50 years of experience in the garden’s research and conservation program. The garden’s plant conservation program is recognized as one of the best in the country and has received awards from the American Public Gardens Association and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, among others.

“One of the goals of this endowment is to strengthen ties between the State Botanical Garden and the UGA Department of Horticulture,” Affolter said. “This mission is near to my heart since I have served as the director of science and conservation at the botanical garden for more than 25 years, and the most satisfying part of my job has been fostering an interest in plants in undergraduate and graduate students.”

Affolter leads the applied research program at the garden which focuses on native plant production, habitat restoration and protecting endangered species. The Beuchat endowment will fund UGA student participation in the research and outreach programs at the State Botanical Gaerden of Georgia’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies. This includes the introduction of new and underused species to home landscapes and commercial nurseries, he said. The gift also will fund research comparing the ecological value of various native plant selections used to promote biodiversity and for habitat restoration projects.

“The center is key to the growth of our plant introduction programs at the botanical garden,” Affolter said. “The renovated complex consists of a greenhouse, headhouse, high tunnel, raised beds and classroom, all essential for the success of our research program.”

UGA CAES graduate, and undergraduate, students receive hands-on training and conduct research in the center. Funding from the Beuchat professorship will be used in part to help support their research which often focuses on the potential value of native ornamental species in home gardens, pollinator gardens and habitat restorations.

“The funding the professorship provides will accelerate our research efforts and create new academic opportunities for UGA students who have a passion for horticulture and botanical gardens,” Affolter said. “I look forward to strengthening the research program even further with the resources and recognition that accompany this professorship.”

Affolter has worked in university botanical gardens since receiving his doctoral degree in botany from the University of Michigan in 1983. He served as curator of the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley from 1983 until 1990, then as director of Cornell Plantations — the botanical garden, arboretum and natural areas of Cornell University — from 1990 until 1992. He is the founding chair of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, headquartered at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which is a network of more than 40 botanical gardens, government agencies, and environmental organizations in Georgia that study and preserve the state’s endangered flora. He is a board member and past-president of Botanic Gardens Conservation International-U.S., part of a worldwide network of more than 700 institutional members – mostly botanic gardens – from 118 countries. The U.S. branch works with more than 100 member gardens and conservation organizations to raise awareness and scientific understanding of native and threatened plants in North America.

A common thread throughout Affolter’s career has been his interest in using university botanical gardens as platforms to create interest and knowledge of species that are new to the Green Industry. The recognition and resources associated with the Larry R. Beuchat Professorship will enhance these efforts and meet the goals of the endowment, he said.

For more information about the UGA horticulture department, go to http://hort.caes.uga.edu/.
To learn more about the State Botanical Garden, go to https://botgarden.uga.edu/. For more information about planned gifts to the CAES, go to http://www.caes.uga.edu/departments/development-alumni-relations.html.

Contacts: James Affolter, jaffolter@uga.edu, (706) 542-6144
Larry Beuchat, lbeuchat@uga.edu, (770) 412-4740;

Gift to UGA will boost prairie project at State Botanical Garden

 

Native prairie restorations will continue to transform a utility right-of-way at the State Botanical Garden, with support from Georgia Power.

The $50,000 gift from Georgia Power will go toward the garden’s prairie project, which is creating about 10 acres of native Georgia grasslands and pitcher plant bogs along the stretch of right-of-way that cuts through the garden.

The native prairies and plant bogs have been identified as high priority by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and will provide climate-adaptive habitat for ground-nesting birds, small mammals and reptiles.

“We are extremely grateful for the generous gift from Georgia Power Foundation, and we believe this is a great opportunity for us to transform underutilized areas of the garden into natural Georgia habitats. Most importantly, we intend to educate people on the important role rights-of-way can play in rare species and habitat conservation,” said Jennifer Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit. “We hope to use this project as a model for cost-effectively creating and managing diverse and functioning habitats in rights-of-way across the Southeast.”

The project is in three phases, with the initial phase restoring the northern two-thirds of the right-of-way into Piedmont grasslands.

Later, the garden will develop Coastal Plain pitcher plant bogs in the remaining right-of-way that lies in the floodplain of the Middle Oconee River. Native plant displays and a pedestrian loop highlighting the prairie habitats will be added.

As part of the project, the garden staff will prepare a series of workshops on prairie restoration for Georgia Power, other utility companies and the public. The Wildlife Conservation Society also contributed to the project, which is estimated to cost about $141,000.


Writer: Aaron Cox, aaron.cox@uga.edu, 706-542-3631

Contact: Jenny Cruse-Sanders, crusesanders@uga.edu, 706-542-6131

December Native Plant of the Month: Sandhill rosemary

Sandhill rosemary

Ceratiola ericoides

Sandhill rosemary, Ceratiola ericoides, is a threatened aromatic perennial evergreen-shrub that grows throughout the southeast in open patches of bare sand.  Having no botanical relation to culinary rosemary, Sandhill rosemary gets its name for having a similar smell to rosemary. During warmer weather its smell changes to that of honey, however this plant is never edible to humans.

 

Sandhill rosemary seed only germinates after the parent plant, which releases a chemical into the soil to prevent seed germination, dies. These badland shrubs are responsible for feeding bears, harvester ants, mice, and even the federally threatened Florida scrub-jay. The Sandhills are also home to Georgia’s state reptile, the gopher tortoise Gopherus polyphemus.

 

Many Sandhill rosemary habitats off coastal plain rivers are threatened as the land is turned into pine plantations and pastures. It is found scarcely in 11 counties in Georgia and throughout the southeast.

Of the 20 populations across Bryan, Candler, Charlton, Emanuel, Glynn, Richmond, Tattnall, Toombs, Wayne and Wheeler county of Sandhill rosemary, most are located on private land and have no legal protection. You can help with the conservation efforts of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia by supporting our imperiled native plant initiatives to help increase numbers and chance of survival of these important plants.

October Native Plant of the Month: Georgia Aster

GEORGIA ASTER

Symphyotrichum georgianum

Our October native plant, the Georgia aster, Symphyotrichum georgianum, is a threatened perennial that grows in the prairies of the Southeast and on the edges of woodlands where there is enough sun to mimic a prairie environment. Prairies aren’t commonly associated with the Georgia landscape, but they make up an important part of our ecosystems. There are many native species of plants found in prairies, but these habitats have been vastly reduced due to highway construction, herbicides, development and suppression of natural fires.

Up until the 1900s the Georgia aster was found in nearly 40 Georgia counties, but since then its population has dwindled dramatically as its habitat has been reduced.

It is no longer found in Florida. Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have fewer than 15 populations in each.

 

The Georgia aster, the signature plant of the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies, is distinguished by its dark purple ray flower surrounding a center disk of small white flowers which turn lavender once pollinated. It grows well in acidic soil that can range from sand to heavy clay and can even compete for resources, unless it loses its necessary sunshine. Georgia aster are pollinated by bees collecting nectar.

Most of the remaining populations are adjacent to roads, railroads, utility rights of way and other openings where land management mimics natural prairies. We are working with property owners to prevent impact to the native plant populations and reintroducing the plant into newly restored prairie lands across the state. Find out what you can do to help the Georgia aster and all of Georgia’s native plants.

September Native Plant of the Month: Pondberry

Lindera melissifolia

Pondberry is an endangered shrub found on the coastal plain of Georgia and around the South. Its name comes from the bright red berries that form along the stem and its tendency to form dense thickets around the edges of natural ponds.

One reasons the Pondberry is rare is because it produces female flowers and male flowers on separate plants and colonies of a single gender can be widely separated by many miles, leading to lack of pollination. This challenge in pollination, combined with habitat loss due to ditching and draining of wetlands and destruction by feral hogs, led to its endangered status.

 

The Pondberry plays a crucial role as the larval host plant for spicebush swallowtail butterfly Papilia troilus, which lays its eggs on the lower surface of the leaves. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars eat the leaves before forming a cocoon.

Sponsor the Pondberry to help increase numbers and chance of survival. About 20 populations are known, but less than half are protected on conservation land. Most of Georgia’s colonies have only male plants, which means they cannot set fruit or produce seed.

Found in: Baker, Calhoun, Effingham, Emanuel, Jenkins, Miller, Taylor, Wheeler and Worth counties.

August Native Plant of the Month: Dwarf Sumac

Rhus michauxii 

 

Dwarf Sumac is an endangered shrub with sharply toothed leaves and clusters of tiny, greenish-yellow flowers. It produces tiny dark red fruit in dense clusters which birds sometimes eat. It is found only in two counties in Georgia and in a few populations in North Carolina and Virginia.

 

Since it was first discovered, half of all known locations have been lost. The habitat of Dwarf Sumac is commonly destroyed for conversion to development and pine plantations, and by clear-cutting and herbicide use. It is pollinated by bees who feed on the flower nectar. But natural pollination is difficult because female and male flowers are on separate plants and plants may be separated at great distances.

 

 

You can help by sponsoring the Dwarf Sumac to help increase numbers and chance of survival. It was on brink of extinction in Georgia because the male plants were separated from the females by more than 70 miles. In a coordinated restoration effort several years ago, partners in the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance managed the habitat and brought together male and female plants on conservation land. The effort is paying off, but the site must be continually monitored and maintained.

 

July Native Plant of the Month: Royal Catchfly

ROYAL CATCHFLY

Silene regia

 

Royal Catchfly is an endangered perennial with sticky-hairy stems and bright red flowers in an open cluster at the top of the stem. Though found across the southeast and midwest, it is very rare throughout its range. There is only one population known in Georgia, in Dade County, and it is not protected on public land.

 

 

Found in limestone cedar glades, rocky, sunny openings in woodlands, Royal Catchfly finds its habitat threatened by clearing and conversion to pine plantations, pasture and development. This plant is designed to benefit from wildfires and fire suppression and the resulting encroachment by woody species is limiting growth.  The flowers are pollinated by hummingbirds.

 

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies is growing this plant and working to ensure its survival. Find out more about what is happening at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia to Preserve Georgia’s Imperiled Native Species and how you can help.