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February 2020 — Volume XXVI, Number 2 — Published by the Georgia Native Plant Society

Spring Collage


Update From the State Board

According to our bylaws adopted at our November 2019 business meeting, the new state board met on January 15, 2020 and elected officers for 2020. The new officers are Chair: Ellen Honeycutt; Vice-Chair: Lori Conway; Treasurer: Ron Smith; and Secretary: Michele Buchanan.

The board met by teleconference, an increasingly useful way to meet as we focus more on statewide representation in the Society and at the board level. Many of our board members will be present at our Annual Symposium in Macon on February 29, 2020. If you’re planning to attend, please say hello; we’ll be wearing nametags that clearly denote state board members.

Chapter formation events continue to happen: we enjoyed a presentation in Alpharetta on Jan 23rd; Augusta/CSRA-area members met on Jan 25th; a session is planned for the evening of Feb 28th in Macon; and there is an upcoming meeting in Dunwoody on March 29th. Check our statewide calendar for upcoming events and email us at chapters@gnps.org if we can help you get something going.

The State Board will not be initiating any local meetings like we used to have in Atlanta, but we are happy to partner with local groups to plan events in conjunction with forming new chapters. Space at Atlanta Botanical Garden is still reserved and available for use in 2020.

If you have questions or would like to reach us, send email to board@gnps.org.

Top photos: Erigenia bulbosa, also known as harbinger of spring, Erythronium umbilicatum, the dimpled trout lily, and Acer rubrum, red maple, our earliest flowering tree 

Chapter News: Redbud

Plants for conservation

Some of the plants described below include Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), upper left, great lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica), lower left, goldenrod (Solidago), center, and serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea), right.

Native Plants—Key to Conservation of Imperiled Ecosystems

Trekking through Hall County in 1867, naturalist John Muir observed, “The first truly southern stream…in the finely shaded town of Gainesville on the Chattahoochee River was richly embanked by massive, bossy, dark green oaks, vines and brightly colored flowers.” What would Muir say if he walked into Gainesville today 150 years later? Where have all the oaks and vines and flowers gone?

North Georgia’s natural ecosystems of native plant species trees, shrubs and herbs are in peril from unsustainable economic development. The need to take action to conserve the environment and preserve our quality of life is critical. Hall County is the fastest developing region of Georgia with a population of 200,000 in the near future and with economic growth keeping pace. Over the past 35 years, Hall County has lost over 18 percent of its tree canopy due to rampant clear cutting with no sign of slowing.

Hall County is geologically located on the Gainesville Ridges, where seeds and spores of native plant species were pushed into the region from the northern zones of Appalachia, Blue Ridge, Ridges and Valleys, and Upper Piedmont. With the state of Georgia acclaimed to be fourth in the nation for native plants per square mile, including many rare, threatened, or endangered species, Hall County is a “poster child” with its biodiverse ecosystems of native plants.

To more effectively impact global issues of concern for conservation, Redbud Project takes local action to promote native plant education and habitat conservation, creating models that can be replicated by other cities, counties and states! For the past ten years, Redbud Project has conducted all education and conservation activities from Linwood Nature Preserve under contract with Gainesville Parks and Recreation, acting as a GNPS chapter for five of those years.

Models for Conservation

To promote awareness of our treasure trove of native plants, Redbud has developed Gainesville’s Linwood Nature Preserve to model our mission to promote awareness of the value of native plants for conservation and to promote environmental education.

  • The Nature Trail System provides public access to nature for physical and mental health and wellness as it winds across 32 acres of oak-hickory-pine forest, wetland, and prairie/meadow ecosystems.
  • Martin Re-Creation Refuge provides benches in the heart of nature for people with limited physical ability to commune with nature.
  • Swoszowski Native Plant Conservatory displays plant species of the Gainesville Ridges for use in landscapes.
  • Legbandt Native Plant Walk is the chapter’s restoration site that will feature native plant communities within a more easily accessed area of the urban forest.
  • Models for green infrastructure encourage sustainable development with stormwater abatement systems of rain gardens, rain water capture systems and permeable paving.
  • The Ecology Center is headquarters for the Redbud Project Chapter to conduct programs and develop native plant demonstrations sites. The center is open to the community for environmental programs to inform the community of Hall County’s unique environment.

Conservation of our exceptionally rich, natural ecosystems through education remains a top priority as we scout and evaluate properties proposed for development and conduct native plant rescues. We promote education and conservation of native plant communities because they play the lead role in the Cycle of Life!

Native plants are food for native insects that have adapted to the poisonous enzymes in the plants over time, unlike exotic plant varieties. Native insects are high protein food for birds that spread the seeds and berries of trees. Trees sequester carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and return oxygen to the atmosphere for humans to breathe.

Volunteers of Redbud Project Chapter are committed to promoting awareness of the economic value of native plants and sustainable economic development. But can we stop a bulldozer from clearcutting a vulnerable cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor)? With access to development sites for native plant rescues, we can educate engineers, developers, government, and property owners to the economic value of native plants for conservation. And we can develop and restore urban landscapes to connect natural habitats that sustain life on Earth!

Plants for conservation 2

Other plants for conservation include gallberry (Ilex glabra), left, sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), center, and Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum).

Sampler of Native Plants for Conservation

Trees, shrubs and herbs that promote conservation in all seasons for all reasons:

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
Evergreen fern year-round. Fertile leaves lay down in winter and decompose into humus to create soil, while sterile leaves remain in clumps to hold soil and allay erosion on steep slopes.

Gallberry (Ilex glabra) *
Evergreen shrub year-round. Greenish white flowers bloom April to June with nectar for bees; September to early spring black berry-like drupes for birds who propagate trees and shrubs.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Deciduous tree is one of the first to bloom in spring. Pollinated by bees. Reddish-purple fruit ripens in summer for birds to feast!

Great Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Perennial herb mid-summer to fall. Blue flowers excrete “milky” liquid that attracts bees.

Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)
Perennial herb mid to late summer. Nectar of flowers attracts many species of butterflies, moths, bees and flies to pollinate. Host to moth larva.

Goldenrod (Solidago)
Late summer to early fall. Pollen too heavy and sticky to be blown far from flowers, pollinated by insects. Provides food and shelter for 115 butterflies and moth species. More than 11 native bee species feed on plants. In winter, songbirds feed on seed heads. There are several well-behaved species native to our area.

Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) All round evergreen tree (in our climate zone), all seasons. Creamy white flower in spring exudes very strong vanilla scent that attracts insects. Fruit ripens in summer and provides food for fruit-eating birds that eat the red-flesh coating off the small black seeds and disperse them in their droppings.

Examples of plants that withstand both drought and moisture in rain gardens: Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana), White turtlehead (Chelone glabra).

*Ilex glabra is technically not native to the Gainesville Ridges or Hall county, but is native to much of the southern half of Georgia and to a few scattered counties in the northern half.

Plant Spotlight: Hepatica

Hepatica species

Left: Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba). Right: Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana).

Those of us who have friends and relatives in more northern areas know that people are jealous of our early flowers. My sister remarked just this week that she thinks that spring is right around the corner for me. That’s not quite true, the official date is still March 19, but I knew what she meant. Often she has snow when I’m finding my first flower of the year, the round-lobed liverwort known as Hepatica americana (formerly Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa). While some years I can find this pale purple flower rising above the deciduous leaf litter in mid-January, it is most reliably blooming in February.

There are actually two species of Hepatica in Georgia. The sharp-lobed species tends to have white flowers and, while both species grow in moist forests, Hepatica acutiloba is found particularly in conjunction with calcareous or mafic rocks. The Pocket at Pigeon Mountain is a wonderful spring field trip to see hundreds of sharp-lobed liverwort, often growing in rock crevices and moss patches, their bright flowers rising high above their still-present but winter-worn leaves.

You might be curious about the common name of this plant. It is related to the concept called the “doctrine of signatures.” This concept, which stretches back thousands of years, considers that a plant offers medicinal value to the condition or body part that it resembles. This article explains it well for hepatica:

For centuries, people have turned to this small rich-woods perennial with hopes of healing hepatic (liver-related) ailments. Its lobed leaves turn purplish as the season progresses, and so in color as well as shape resemble the lobes of the liver. In the late 1800s, gatherers combed the mountains of the southern United States searching for hepatica leaves to sell to purveyors of patent medicines such as Dr. Roder’s Liverwort and Tar Sirup, and Beache’s Vegetable Syrup. Medicine-makers bought around 450,000 pounds of hepatica leaves in 1883 alone. As consumers failed to see results, these medicines gradually ceased production and hepatica populations rebounded. It remains a fairly common early spring wildflower in rich or limey woods.

I think we can all be glad that this early flower is no longer foraged into potential extinction (450,000 pounds of leaves!). Look for it in moist woods and enjoy those early signs of spring.

Prescribed Burning and Conservation

Effect of prescribed burns.

Adjacent stands of trees highlight the difference between unmanaged dense woody understory (left) and herbaceous understory that has been managed with prescribed burns (right).

As I write this, friends and family are coping with wildfires in Australia. The devastation to individuals, communities, the economy, and the natural communities is unimaginable. The anecdotes give us just a snapshot. My friends evacuated three times ahead of the galloping advance of the fire. Their home was only one of three houses left standing in the valley, but their lovingly developed arboretum was destroyed. Half of the businesses in the local town were destroyed. Statistics just hint at the scope: 24 million acres have burned and an estimated one billion animals have been killed. The real tragedy is still ahead. The fire season has just started. The vegetation that burned is the base of the food chain. The animals that survived have lost their habitat and many will starve. When rain comes, the ash washed into the streams is killing aquatic life. Apart from long drought, record high temperatures and strong winds, eucalyptus forests are particularly susceptible to wildfires. The trees have high concentrations of volatile compounds that are highly flammable. In addition, the stringy bark creates embers that remain alight so winds carry the fire many miles ahead of the flame front.


Flareups, such as that on the left, can occur where there is ladder fuel during a burn. A typical backfire is shown on the right.

At the same time, I am starting controlled burning on my own south Georgia property, which is about half planted pine trees and half mixed pine-hardwood stands in poorly drained sites. I burn the planted pine stands at intervals of one to three years, allowing the fire to burn into the hardwoods, if it will. However, it is difficult to get fire into hardwood stands. These sites are generally more shaded with little herbaceous understory, soils are more moist, and leaves are less flammable. For most conditions, fire burns across the ground only where there is dry grass or pine needles on the ground, and it goes out when it gets to hardwood stands.

After decades of Smokey Bear’s admonishments for us to prevent fire in our forests, some people oppose burning in the woods or don’t understand why we do it. They are afraid of the fires escaping and becoming wildfires. Smoke may exacerbate respiratory health problems. It can also reduce visibility and contribute to traffic accidents. People also worry about animals killed by fire and damage to eggs for ground-nesting birds. Some think fire makes the woods look ugly. So why do we burn?

Understory recovere siix months later

Only six months after a fire, herbaceous understory has regrown to provide needed wildlife habitat.

There are several reasons for using controlled burns in the forests. One of the most important is included in the slogan “good fires prevent wildfires.” Fires burn more intensely when there is more fuel on the ground. Frequent low-intensity fires reduce the amount of fuel on the ground without killing overstory trees. They also reduce the “ladder” fuels – vines, low branches, and hanging leaves that carry flames into the canopy. As a result, the forest is much less vulnerable to damage from wildfires. A second reason is that many southern ecosystems are adapted to frequent natural fires caused by lightning; they require fire. Before European settlement, much of the southeastern U.S. was covered by vast open savannas of longleaf pine with wiregrass-dominated herbaceous understory. Many of our loved animals, including birds, deer, and gopher tortoise, depend on this herbaceous understory. Fire resets ecosystems to a stage of early succession. In the absence of fire, woody shrubs and trees replace the grasses and forbs. Succession continues until the open savannas are replaced by hardwood forests that resist fire except under very dry conditions. Typically, when they do burn, it is often wildfire conditions that kill many of the overstory trees. This is called a stand-replacement burn. A third reason for people who spend a lot of time in the woods or who have livestock is that fires reduce the number of ticks and redbugs (chiggers).

Longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) are particularly well adapted to tolerate fire. I have burned longleaf pines from one-year-old to eighty-year-old without damaging them. Seedlings in the “grass stage” protect the apical bud with a dense cluster of needles. They may stay for a few years in this grass stage as they develop a deep tap root to sustain future growth. Once they start bolting, they look like bottle brushes, with needles coming out of a single stem. At this stage, they are more vulnerable to damage by fire, because the needles carry the flames up the stem, and the single apical bud is less well protected. Once the branches start to form (candelabra stage), there are multiple buds to initiate new growth. As the tree grows, it develops thick bark to protect the stem, and the buds are out of the reach of surface fires. However, mature trees can easily be killed by fire if there is a buildup of needles, bark, and pinecones around the base of the tree. Delicate feeder roots that grow into this deep litter layer are killed by smoldering fires that cook the roots.

Methods of ignition

Two common methods of ignition are driving a four-wheel vehicle (left), and using a drip torch (right).

So, what do we do to make sure the fires stay under control? Controlled burns are intentionally lit under carefully prescribed weather conditions so the intensity of the fire is limited and smoke dispersion poses little danger. We get a burn permit from the Georgia Forestry Commission, who make sure weather conditions are safe and there are no probable problems from smoke. We avoid high temperatures because they would cause more damage to the overstory and create increased risk of escape. We avoid low humidity because fuels are drier and there is more risk of fire embers staying lit and spotting ahead of the fire front. We avoid high or gusty winds because the fire is likely to move too fast and jump firebreaks. We burn only when the mixing height is high enough for smoke to rise and disperse well. We avoid unstable atmospheric conditions because fire behavior may be very unpredictable. We have good firebreaks to contain the fire. We light the fires on the downwind side of a stand.  Backfires are much less intense, flames are lower, and they move more slowly than headfires. We also have several sources of water and tools for putting out fire as needed, and someone monitors the boundaries at all times.

Over the years, I have burned thousands of acres on my own property. I have had escapes and have made mistakes, but I have learned from each of these. However, nearly all of the burns have been amazingly effective in restoring forests with herbaceous understory that promote diverse plants and habitat for animals. Seeing these transformations has been more effective than reading books about the importance of fires in plant (and animal) conservation.

Spring Plant Sale in Marietta on April 18, 2020

Our Spring Plant Sale is on the calendar – it will be Saturday, April 18th at McFarlane Nature Park in Marietta. It is a wonderful venue with wide spaces, good parking, and a beautiful native garden around us. As before, sale hours will be from 10 am to 2 pm. We'll have thousands of plants at the sale, including 500+ native azaleas, plus many species of ferns, vines, perennials, shrubs, and trees – some of which can't be found elsewhere because they were rescued. Something for sun, shade and everything in between! Come early for the best selection and we encourage bringing a wagon or cart to haul off your native treasures. Cash, checks, and credit cards are all accepted.

While our sale only lasts four hours, getting it ready for Saturday takes a lot longer! We couldn't do it without our volunteers, including the day of the sale on Saturday and for the setup on Friday. If you have not volunteered for the plant sale before, it is not all hard work…it is actually fun. We'll feed you a delicious lunch, you can learn about plants you may not have heard about and you'll have a chance to meet other GNPS members (fellow chapter members) as well as customers who love to talk plants. We’ll be setting up the volunteer registration soon, but please save the date in the meantime!

We look forward to seeing you at the spring sale. Tell your friends. Let's get more native plants into our gardens in 2020!

Sale Banner

Georgia Native Plant Society
PO Box 422085
Atlanta, GA 30342
(770) 343-6000

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