Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance

What is GPCA?

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.

The Mission of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance is to study and conserve Georgia’s flora through multidisciplinary research, education, and advocacy; facilitate the recovery of rare, threatened, and endangered plants of Georgia and the southeast US through collaborative efforts in our state; support the development and implementation of the Georgia State Wildlife Action Plan, as well as other plant, wildlife, and habitat conservation plans by member agencies and organizations; and communicate the importance of preserving biodiversity worldwide.

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.

Conservation Projects: Saving Plant Populations

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.

Botanical Guardians: Volunteers in Action

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.

GPCA Botanical Guardian

GPCA work day on behalf of Rhus michauxii

Collegiate Guardians

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.

Awards in Conservation

2013 Program of Excellence Award
May 21, 2013, the national organization for public gardens, American Public Garden Association (APGA), awarded the State Botanical Garden of Georgia the Program of Excellence Award for the creation and work of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA). Jennifer Ceska attended the awards ceremony at the national meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, receiving the award on behalf of GPCA. “GPCA is one of the best-integrated conservation programs in the county, reaching across many individuals and institutions,” said Peter White, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, in the awards package. “What you see in this program is robust and uplifting…it is about people and the good they can do when they work together.” The award is a powerful acknowledgement of GPCA’s work, and also provided us with an opportunity to challenge others in the public garden community to embrace conservation.

2016 Special Recognition Award
At the national gathering of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) in Philadelphia, September 14th, 2016, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA) was presented a national Special Recognition Award. The award celebrates the GPCAs “outstanding contributions” to the association and to advancing professional fish and wildlife management in North America, particularly the GPCA’s work on the GA State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) and the development of the ex situ/in situ Safeguarding Program. The award is wonderful in and of itself, but this is especially meaningful as this is the first time plants have been recognized by AFWA (they operate under the traditional definition of “wildlife” that excludes plants). The GPCA was further recognized by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal on September 24th, 2016 for our efforts and accomplishments related to the award.

2019, GPCA, Georgia DOT, Partners Receive National Award for Environmental Excellence in Transportation      The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has selected the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA) as recipient of the 2019 Environmental Excellence Award (EEA) in the category “Ecosystems, Habitat, and Wildlife.” The FHWA biennial awards recognize transportation leaders across the country who make outstanding contributions to environmental stewardship and partnerships beyond traditional transportation project outcomes. The award specifically recognizes GDOT’s unique over 20-year partnership with the GPCA to restore rare plant community habitats, safeguard protected plant species, and address invasive plant species.

Environmental Excellence Award Recipients

“The GPCA enables environmental stewardship and transportation projects to work in tandem,” explains State Environmental Liaison Meghan Hedeen. “Through the GPCA collaboration, environmental professionals in Georgia work together to safeguard protected plant species and restore rare plant community habitat. This work focuses on safeguarding species while also allowing transportation projects to be delivered expeditiously with innovative and effective environmental stewardship.”
GPCA successes have enabled numerous transportation projects—including some previously stalled—to move forward. Achievements include:

  • Developing a centralized database for collaborative monitoring of priority species.
  • Creating a network of botanical gardens for monitoring protected plant communities, resulting in successful mitigation efforts.
  • Maintaining and documenting 101 high-priority plant conservation species in ex-situ (off-site) collections and 49 species safeguarded in-situ at protected sites in the wild.
  • Providing monitoring, research and other support that has contributed to numerous species being dropped from petitions for federal protection (through partnership with the Southeastern Partners in Plant Conservation).

Through the GPCA, Georgia DOT’s Ecology Section of the Office of Environmental Services partners with Atlanta Botanical Garden; Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area; Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division; State Botanical Garden of Georgia; and many others.
Earlier in 2019 the GPCA also received an environmental excellence award from the National Association of Environmental Professionals. (Excerpts above taken from Georgia Department of Transportation press release, 2019.)

GPCA Members & Partners

GPCA has grown organically since its founding in 1995, expanding from a small group of agencies and organizations to its present membership of over 50. “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.

GPCA Member Institutions