State Botanical Garden of Georgia takes No. 7 spot in USA Today poll

The votes are in and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia is among the top 10 gardens in the U.S. in the most recent USA Today poll.

The State Botanical Garden came in seventh in the 10Best Botanical Gardens contest, ahead of bigger facilities, including the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Chicago Botanical Garden.

“The State Botanical Garden has been recognized along with some large and impressive gardens across the nation,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “What I love about this is that it has brought attention to what we love about gardens and how they enrich our lives.”

The 10Best contests are readers’ choice awards sponsored by USA Today. A panel of experts selected the top 20 contenders in each category and then gave readers four weeks to vote for their top choice.

Cruse-Sanders says she believes the extensive research, education and outreach initiatives at the garden contributed to its popularity with voters.

“Some of the garden programs, such as student experiences and training in the garden, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance and pollinator conservation through Connect to Protect, are helping to address grand challenges facing our communities,” Cruse-Sanders said.

Each year, more than 200,000 people visit the State Botanical Garden of Georgia garden, with thousands coming for classes, volunteer opportunities and events.

Click here for a list of the USA Today 10Best contest’s top 10 winners.

Contact: Jenny Cruse-Sanders,, 706-542-6131

Student researcher works through State Botanical Garden to repopulate habitat for monarch butterflies

An area of Panola Mountain State Park is the latest site to be repopulated with native wildflowers to attract Monarch butterflies, thanks to the State Botanical Garden at the University of Georgia.

Working with faculty and staff at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies, graduate student and researcher Lauren Muller recently installed almost 200 Butterfly weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) throughout the “Power of Flight” grassland area of the park, near Stockbridge, Ga.

Butterfly weed, a type of milkweed and a flower native to the Georgia Piedmont, attracts important pollinator species. More specifically, it is recognized as a plant that supports and creates a habitat for monarchs, a species that has been on the decline in recent years.

Muller, who studies horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, worked on this project for nearly a year.

“Milkweed can grow from seed to flower easily within a year’s time,” Muller said. “And once the plants are well-established, they are long-lived and resilient in their landscape.”

Muller received the initial seed from Henning von Schmeling, senior director of operations at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, a member of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, which is housed at the State Botanical Garden in Athens. Schmeling currently has 18 native Georgia species of milkweed in cultivation and 12 in mass production.

“A few years ago, I noticed that there were very few species of milkweed seed available in Georgia, and I wanted to make a difference,” Schmeling said. “Monarchs won’t lay their eggs on anything other than milkweed. As its population declines, the migratory habits of monarch butterflies change.”

Pollinators are critical to the production of flowering crops like apples, squash and almonds. Without the native pollinators, like Monarch butterflies, we cannot produce these plants or their seeds.

Muller used the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies at the State Botanical Garden to stratify, germinate and grow the plants. She hopes her protocol, which includes using transplants instead of directly planting seeds into the ground, will make it easier for land managers to create milkweed plots on a larger scale.

“Panola Mountain State Park was ideal for this project,” Muller said. “The grassland area has been managed properly to control exotic invasive plants, and there’s a possibility this area could even be used as an education plot in the future.”

She will continue to monitor the Butterfly weed throughout the growing season, taking care to measure its growth and study how it’s competing with invasive grasses around it.

New signage will help visitors to State Botanical Garden trails find their way

New signs posted along the nearly 5 miles of trails at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia will help runners or hikers who have lost their way or are injured let search teams know where to find them.

Each new sign includes a map of the trails on one side and safety tips on the other. The signs, which use a new grid-based labeling system with letters and numbers for corresponding locations, are placed at every trail intersection and at most bridges and benches on longer trails, with no more than half a mile between each.

“In the past, when someone has gotten lost or gotten hurt, it has sometimes taken up to an hour to find them, even with our staff or emergency services walking all along the complex and miles into the woods,” said Cristina deRevere, facility rental coordinator for the botanical garden. “We wanted to see if we could figure out a better labeling system for our trail signs to potentially limit the number of emergencies.”

The signs were done by Athens-Clarke Leisure Services officials, who manage parks and trails in Athens.

While those who walk or run the trails frequently often know their way around, many trail regulars found the new signs more visible and accessible than the trail marking system already in place. David Francis, a registered forester and real estate broker, noticed the signs when he was out at the garden playing Pokemon Go.

“These signs are great for people who don’t know trails and how to find their way with means like tree markings,” said Francis, who walks the trails often. “I can see how it would be helpful if you needed someone to get to you.”

KT Truszczynski, a Master of Public Administration student from Cincinnati, Ohio, found the new signs beneficial while out running on the trails.

“Even though I work part time at the garden, I still found them so useful during my run,” Truszczynki, who runs the trails biweekly, said. “The ‘You are Here’ markings gave me a good idea of how much farther I had to go, and I actually made the decision to run longer based on my location on the trail.”

The garden will continue to update the trail maps and communicate with Athens-Clarke County and UGA police on modifications so that emergency responders can reach injured or lost hikers more easily.

“It’s really a united effort between our two units to ensure the safety of those who love to come hike and run the trails at the garden,” deRevere said. “Now that we have coordinated with emergency units, we can provide an even safer environment for everyone.”

UGA and high school students take top prizes in State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s annual student art contest

Two University of Georgia students and one Locust Grove High School student were chosen as the top three winners in the annual student art contest held by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach.

The winners of the 2016 art contest are:

  • First place: Mikaila Guerra of Kathleen, Ga., a third-year UGA student, majoring in fine arts. Her piece made with permanent markers is titled “At the Botans.”


  • Second place: Benjamin Thrash of Athens, Ga., a third-year UGA student, majoring in fine arts and art education. His watercolor and gouache piece is titled “Costa Rica Plant.”



  • Third place: Tania Sturm of McDonough, Ga., a student at Locust Grove High School, whose artwork made with watercolor and colored pencils is titled “Blue Elegance.”


Nine works of art, ranging in media from digital illustration to photography, received certificates of merit.

In December, a panel of judges selected the winners and certificate of merit recipients from about 90 entries. Students from grade nine through college are eligible to enter the contest and may use any media of their choice to represent the garden.

The art contest, funded by the J.A. and H.G. Woodruff, Jr. Charitable Trust, was established in 2005 by donor Tom Woodruff in honor of his parents. Winning artwork will be used to create signature items in the garden’s gift shop, and first, second and third place winners will receive $1,000, $500 and $250 respectively.

The winning entries from the past 10 years will be on display at the State Botanical Garden’s Visitor Center until Feb. 12. The garden is located at 2450 S. Milledge Ave., Athens, Ga.

To see the winning entries and a list of those entries receiving Certificates of Merit, go to



UGA’s State Botanical Garden completes first major prairie planting

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia completed its first major planting of native grasses and wildflowers as part of the Piedmont Prairie Restoration.

In September, more than 10,000 plugs grown from seed at the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia were planted at the garden at a site named Prairie on a Hill.

“This planting actually represents the last stage of a five-year cycle,” said Heather Alley, conservation horticulturist at the botanical garden. “We first had to determine the species to use. Then, we had to find the plants, collect the seeds from wild population, figure out how to grow them and then increase the seeds each year. It really takes a village.”

All of the plants are native to the Georgia Piedmont and are critical as migration corridors for the birds and insects that are essential pollinators for this region of the state.

Faculty and staff from the botanical garden worked alongside employees from the Gainesville Fockele Garden Company on the project, funded by a three-year grant from the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services.

“This habitat also supports ground nesting birds, such as turkey, quail, grouse and snipe,” said Jennifer Ceska, conservation coordinator at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “We have seen declines in those populations over the last 50 years, and these species are considered to be high priority for conservation managers.”

As part of the garden’s commitment to education, the Prairie on a Hill will be used as a teaching and demonstration area for those who want to learn more about the process of native habitat restoration. Ceska’s hope is that landowners, particularly large land-holding organizations, will incorporate what they learn into their environmental practices.

All of this work feeds into the goals of the Georgia Native Plant Initiative, established in 2010. By using the growing knowledge base of native habitat restoration and the local ecotypes needed to sustain them, those working at the Center for Native Plants can partner with landscapers, land and roadside managers, and commercial property owners to transform landscapes across Georgia.

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s habitat restoration program goes beyond the Prairie on the Hill. While one project involves the removal of invasive species from the understory of its floodplain forest, another has been a source of research for Lauren Muller, a graduate assistant studying horticulture. Muller’s project—determining the best way to prepare a site for establishing milkweed, an important host plant for rapidly dwindling populations of Monarch butterflies—will conclude with a planting in October at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge, Ga.

“Our habitat restoration program, and particularly our Prairie on the Hill, feed into the research, education and display efforts we promise to fulfill here at the garden,” said Jim Affolter, director of research. “And at the end of the day, we are guiding the research of our students and providing the public with a beautiful prairie meadow to explore.”

Students ninth grade through college eligible for art contest at UGA

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia at the University of Georgia is conducting a statewide art competition sponsored by the J.A. and H.G. Woodruff, Jr. Charitable Trust to recognize student talent in Georgia and create items for sale in the garden’s gift shop.

The first-prize winner will receive $1,000, with second place winning $500 and third place with $250. Certificates of merit also will be awarded. Artwork awarded cash prizes will become the property of the State Botanical Garden and will be used to create signature items, such as key chains, totes, stationery, T-shirts, journals and scarves, only sold in the garden’s gift shop.
The competition is open to Georgia students in ninth grade through college and the deadline for submissions is Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. There is no entry fee for this competition. Winners of the competition will be announced in mid-December.

Artwork must be original, two-dimensional and no larger than 24-by-36 inches, in square, horizontal, round, oval or vertical formats. Acceptable forms of media include pencil, pen and ink, paint, photography, collage and computer-enhanced graphics. One-color designs are welcome and encouraged in order to create affordable gift shop products. The artwork does not need to be framed, but it should be signed.

Previous winning entrants have included high school and home-schooled students as well as college students studying art, graphic design, illustration and photography and other subjects not related to art or horticulture.

Submissions may be dropped off in the lower level of the Callaway Building at the Botanical Garden or mailed to Connie Cottingham, 2450 S. Milledge Ave., Athens, Ga. 30605. See the complete guidelines and entry form at

A unit of the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia provides the general public as well as UGA faculty, staff and students opportunities for recreation, events, research and learning through its natural areas, display gardens and building spaces.

National award celebrates UGA and statewide conservation programs

A statewide conservation alliance headquartered at the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia has received a rare national recognition for its decades of efforts to conserve native plants.

The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies presented the special award to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which represents the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA). The award celebrates the GPCA’s “outstanding contributions” to the association and to advancing professional fish and wildlife management in North America.

Formed in 1995, the alliance is an innovative network of 42 public gardens, agencies, schools, companies and conservation organizations committed to preserving Georgia’s endangered flora. The DNR Nongame Conservation Section is a charter member.

The group initiates and coordinates efforts to protect natural habitats and endangered plant species statewide through management, education, and rare-plant propagation and outplanting. Recovery projects target 100 imperiled species, from swamp pink to whorled sunflower. Members also helped develop and revise the State Wildlife Action Plan, Georgia’s guiding strategy for conserving animals and plants.

Wilf Nicholls, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, said ensuring “our state is as rich and biodiverse as the one we inherited is a lofty goal. But in a true spirit of openness and sharing the GPCA has brought together dozens of institutions and agencies all working together toward well-defined conservation goals. It has proven to be a recipe for success for which we can all be proud.”

Recognized as a national leader in plant conservation, the alliance has become a model, DNR Commissioner Mark Williams said.

“GPCA has proven incredibly effective in focusing and increasing efforts to conserve Georgia’s rare plant species and their habitats,” Williams said. “Not only is this work benefiting our state, other states are considering setting up alliances, meaning plant conservation in those states will reap from what the GPCA has sown in Georgia.”

The State Wildlife Action Plan identifies 290 plant species as a high priority for conservation. Conserving that range of species, along with others, now and for future generations requires collaboration. By focusing the efforts of members, the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance is meeting that need.

In addition to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and DNR and its Nongame Conservation Section, alliance member institutions include Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden Gainesville, Atlanta History Center, Augusta University, Beech Hollow Farms, Botanic Garden at Georgia Southern University, Brenau University, Callaway Gardens, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Coastal WildScapes, East Georgia State College, Columbus State University, Fort Valley State University, Georgia Botanical Society, Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Exotic Pest Plant Council, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia Native Plant Society, Georgia Power Company, Georgia Southern University, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Jacksonville (Fla.) Zoo and Gardens, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, Kennesaw State University, Piedmont College, Shorter College, The Nature Conservancy of Georgia, The Nature Conservancy (Fort Benning), U.S. Department of Agriculture National Seed Laboratory (Macon), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Athens, Mississippi and South Carolina Field Offices), U.S. Forest Service Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (Georgia), University of Georgia, University of North Georgia, Valdosta State University Herbarium and Zoo Atlanta.

Learn more about the alliance on Facebook ( Work during fiscal year 2015 is detailed in DNR Nongame Conservation Section’s annual report, www./

State Botanical Garden’s Connect to Protect Native Plant Sale in October  

Add some perennial plants to your garden this October at the Connect to Protect Native Plant Sale at the University of Georgia’s State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

The annual event, one of the most anticipated horticultural events on the Athens Calendar (previously named Bluestems and Bluejeans), is October 6-8 and 13-15 at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies. Most of the plants sold during the sale have been propagated from seeds and cuttings that were collected from local, native plant populations in Georgia. They are adapted to local climate and soils and they are proven food sources for local pollinators. They have also been selected for their ornamental value. Garden staff and knowledgeable volunteers will be present at the sale to help shoppers select the right species for whatever growing conditions their garden offers.

All proceeds from the sale benefit the State Botanical Garden’s conservation program. Attendees will get a behind-the-scenes look at the Mimsie Lanier Center, a three-acre facility that serves as the headquarters for the conservation program. The program started more than 20 years ago with an emphasis on studying and safeguarding rare and endangered species in Georgia’s flora. That work continues, but the mission has expanded to make local ecotypes of native species more available in the commercial trade so that homeowners, landscapers, and land managers can incorporate more Georgia species in their garden designs and land restorations.

The Connect to Protect program aims to help increase local populations of native pollinators by growing native plants that look great and serve as food or habitat for beneficial insects. The program started with gardens at local schools and has expanded to include display gardens at other locations such as local restaurants, medical centers and community parks. Macon-Bibb County last year installed native plants grown at the garden in several public parks. Representatives from ther Georgia cities and counties are working with the garden to bring local plants into their communities. Individuals play an important role in Connect to Protect by incorporating carefully chosen native species in planters or establishing them among existing specimens in home gardens.

More native plants in private gardens and public spaces means more food and habitat for native pollinators − and the bird populations that feed upon them. This is the Connect to Protect message that inspires the native plant sale, and much of the research that takes place at the Garden.

State Botanical Garden of Georgia recognizes longtime donors for support

Alumni and longtime University of Georgia supporters Joe and Ann Frierson were hailed as Distinguished Honorees at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Giving Tree tribute on Sept. 8.

Richard and Cindy Moore, and Tom Wight, were recognized as Southern Magnolia honorees for their generous gifts to the garden.

In addition, Shirley Berry, who recently retired from her job as the garden’s associate director, was presented the Garden Medal, which is the highest honor bestowed for service, exceptional contributions to the field of horticulture and/or outstanding support.

The Giving Tree Tribute is a biennial event to recognize donors who have shown outstanding support for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia at UGA.

Need that umbrella? Check the WeatherStem stations at UGA

UGA students and the general public will benefit from new technology installed at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and UGA’s main campus that provides real time weather data and early warnings for severe weather.

The stations, donated by WeatherStem CEO Edward Mansouri, were installed in the garden and on the main campus in early August. The station links to the internet and provides tools such as text alerts for changing weather conditions and forecasts. Users can also replay time-lapse videos from attached webcams.

Marshall Shepherd, Georgia Athletic Association Distinguished Professor and director of the UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences Program, worked with Mansouri to have the station in place before the start of the Fall 2016 semester so that he could use the data in his class on urban climate.

“From a research standpoint, it is rare to have a good network of weather observations in an urban area like Athens,” Shepherd said. “Typically, weather stations are in more rural, open-space areas or airports. There’s also potentially a broad benefit for our emergency preparedness and weather warning efforts in the community.”

The WeatherStem also includes a Football Weather Almanac that can be used to pull up the weather information for any UGA home game since 1954.

UGA is the first Southeastern Conference school to have the WeatherStem stations. Ten stations have been installed at Atlantic Coast Conference schools, including Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Overall, 200 stations have been installed at sites in 13 states.

In addition to the stations at the State Botanical Garden and atop the Geography-Geology Building on main campus, UGA Emergency Operations Manager John Newton they hope to add stations to other areas of the main camps and to the extended campuses to make them more useful for research, teaching, and promoting emergency preparedness.

“This is something, I think, that would cross the needs of students, faculty, staff, academics, research, service and outreach to the community,” Newton said. “I just think it is something that crosses all those boundaries.”

Practical applications for the data include using it to monitor heat indexes that could affect athletes and grounds workers as well as advise students whether to take an umbrella when they head out to classes. The stations also provide alerts when lightning strikes are nearby.

The stations also have a customized set of probes and sensors to monitor soil temperature and soil moisture—information especially relevant to the botanical garden.

Wilf Nicholls, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia said the station likely would be a draw for visitors, both on site and online.

“People from all over the place can watch the garden grow,” Nicholls said. “It gives us a little bit more accuracy but it also gives other parts of campus data they can use.”

These links will take you to the WeatherStem at the botanical garden and on the main campus. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.