Georgia State Botanical Garden is part of the Plant Species Protection Program

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The Georgia State Botanical Garden is one of four conservation organizations in Georgia to receive federal funding to save 14 plant species at risk.

The nearly $ 780,000 grant, awarded to a partnership led by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, will strengthen the plant conservation capacity of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Chattahoochee Nature Center, while disseminating this expertise and support to others in the nationally recognized Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance.

Plants often play a secondary role in efforts to recover rare animal species. But Georgia’s five-year project landed the US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Challenge grant because of its plan to protect all 14 plant species and add Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance members who can do the job.

Jenny Cruse-Sanders, director of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, said conservation horticulture is the cornerstone of the alliance, a network of more than 50 Georgian universities, botanical gardens, zoos, state and federal agencies, organizations conservation and private companies that are engaged in ecological land management, the conservation of native plants and the protection of rare and endangered plants.

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Based at the Georgia State Botanical Garden, alliance members work statewide to aid in the recovery of rare, threatened and endangered plants in Georgia and the southeastern United States.

“It takes careful observation of natural habitats, experimentation and horticultural expertise to protect plants at risk,” said Cruse-Sanders. “Georgia is a leader in identifying critical habitats, species at risk, and conservation measures necessary to preserve our precious natural heritage in the Southeastern United States, one of the most diverse regions botanically in our country. “

Safeguarding refers to a complex practice that ranges from protecting the genetic stock of a species to propagating plants in a nursery and replanting them in the wild. Combined with habitat protection and restoration, safeguarding is crucial to saving plant populations at risk.

Senior MNR botanist Lisa Kruse said the impact of the grant would be “extensive.” And it’s not just for the target plants, which vary from swamp rose to hairy rattlesnake and are all listed by the federal government as Endangered or Threatened.

“The grant will strengthen key partners (of the Georgia alliance) and expand the diversity and number of botanical gardens that can help preserve rare plants,” Kruse said.

Georgia has 443 plant taxa – or group of related plants – classified as Critically Endangered in the state; 83 of them are at risk in the world. Plants purify air and water, provide raw materials and stunning beauty, shape cultures and economies, prevent erosion, and play a vital role in our heritage. Kruse also noted that conserving plants involves restoring natural habitats, which improves the outlook for animals “up and down the food chain”.

The 14 plant species targeted are: Alabama leather flower (Clematis socialis); black spore quillwort (Isoetes melanospora); Canby’s Dropwort (Oxypolis canbyi); Barbara de Coosa (or Mohr) buttons (Marshalia mohrii); dwarf sumac (Rhus michauxii); silene polypetala (Silene polypetala); hairy rattlesnake (Baptisia arachnifera); carpet-forming quillwort (Isoetes tegetiformans); Morefield’s flower (Clematis morefieldii); pumpkin (Lindera melissifolia); smooth purple coneflower (Echinacea laevigata); swamp rose (Helonias bullata); Tennessee yellow-eyed grass (Xyris tennesseensis); and Virginia spiraea (Spirea virginiana).

An example of how the program will work

The hairy rattle is a perennial plant of flat pines that sports spider web-like hairs and pods that rustle when dry; well, the name. The species is on the federal endangered species list and is only found worldwide in Wayne and Brantley counties in southeast Georgia. Too few of the 15 known populations of the plant are protected.

To ensure the survival of the Hairy Rattlesnake, DNR ecologist Jacob Thompson and the Georgia State Botanical Garden will collect seeds and leaf tissue from each population to capture genetic details. The process involves strict protocols to ensure that plant populations are not damaged.

The State Botanical Garden will grow plants from seed. The plants and seeds grown on site will be shared with other Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance gardens. During the five-year grant, the hope is to have all 15 populations represented in multiple gardens, some of whom may be new members of the alliance.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden will use the leaf tissue to analyze DNA and document the genetic diversity of each population, which can help determine the resources available for hairy rattlesnake adaptation. The plan is to collect and analyze three populations per year, covering all 15 during the grant period.

Thompson and his partners will take some of the plants grown in-house and plant them in suitable habitat on protected land. Under the grant, the partners aim to start two populations in the wild.

The goal, Kruse said, is “not only to have protected populations in the gardens, but to bring the plant back to the wild and make it thrive.”

“Hairy rattlesnake is a truly unique part of Georgia’s heritage, and it represents a very unique ecosystem,” she added. “This project will help us make sure it stays in the Georgian landscape.


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