Last week, UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia Conservation Horticulturist Heather Alley and Conservation Coordinator Jennifer Ceska attended the Mid-South Prairie Symposium at Austin Peay State University in Clarkesville, Tenn. Experts from around the country presented on the conservation value and rapid decline of prairies, savannas, woodlands, glades and barrens.

Prairies across the southeast United States are rapidly disappearing because of lack of fire or disturbance by bison and elk; the same things are happening right here in Georgia. Without disturbance, prairies are invaded by woody plants and turn to forest within 3-5 years.

These habitats occur in Georgia, and experts at the Botanical Garden have been actively researching prairie restoration on Georgia Piedmont and mountain soils for the last five years.

Piedmont Prairies are listed in the 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan as a high priority habitat in need of recovery and restoration. They support wildlife, and the guild of grassland birds is one of the most rapidly declining in the nation.

The Botanical Garden has a natural, intact, surviving prairie near its upper power line. At the garden, this site is referred to as the Elaine Nash Prairie Restoration Project. Elaine discovered the site and trained garden staff on prairie plant identification, seed collecting, propagation, restoration and management – all as a volunteer!

Rare plant species, birds, and butterflies rely up Piedmont Prairies. The garden has a prairie restoration project currently funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), that involves returning 10 acres from Bermuda lawn and old field to native Piedmont Prairie. This summer, garden staff and interns are applying restoration techniques to the land, peeling off the non-native thugs. This fall, garden staff and volunteers plan to begin planting several thousand plugs of prairies grasses and forbs grown by Heather Alley and her team at the Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies—all of which are grown from locally sourced Georgia seeds.

So why is this so important? Simply stated, this work is significant because of the rarity of prairie habitat and the wildlife that relies upon this habitat for survival. But it is also a model for land management for groups like Southern Company and the Georgia Department of Transportation, who are keen to use native plants on roadsides and rights-of-way. The more we link up pockets of prairies, the more support to migrating species we create—species like migrating songbirds and Monarch Butterflies.

Learn more about the Center for Native Plant Studies.