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January 2022 — Volume XXVIII, Number 1— Published by the Georgia Native Plant Society

Beech and more

Our Plant of the Year is joined by Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). If you look carefully, you can also see two other plants mentioned in this issue—beechdrops and heartleaf.

In this issue ...

  • The 2022 GNPS Plant of the Year
  • Spotlight on heartleaf
  • Restoring habitats for birds and gopher tortoises
  • How you can participate with state-level committees 

Year-end summary

The year 2021 was the second year of our transformation to a state-level board with support of increased local chapters. We started the year with three chapters and finished it with eight, an incredible spurt of growth fueled by passionate local members and the Membership/Chapter Relations committee.

The State Board of Directors met recently for two days in November to develop a three-year strategic plan aimed at increasing education, strengthening our partnerships and our chapters, and creating some advocacy initiatives. We’ll be sharing more details of that in the months to come, including asking some of you to join us in the work.

State board members

State board members, left to right: Mary Lillian Walker, Ellen Honeycutt, Amy Heidt, Michele Buchanan, Lori Conway, Tom Collins, Carling Kirk, and Ron Smith. (Not shown are two new 2022 members, Karan Rawlins and Greg Lewis.)

As the year concludes, we provide a summary of where GNPS is now and some of what we look forward to next year. Our members continue to be our greatest asset; we thank you for your support in 2021 and hope that you will continue to be with us in 2022.

Chapter Status

  • Chapters are key to our success and to our members’ growth. Chapters will lead local programs like regular meetings, workshops, Habitat Certification, plant rescue, site restoration, local propagation, and activities with local partners such as cities, counties, and like-minded groups.
  • Members may currently affiliate with any of the following eight chapters: West Georgia; Coastal Plain; North Metro Atlanta; Intown Atlanta; North Georgia Mountains; Fringed Campion (Macon area); Augusta’s River Region; Athens-East Piedmont. A portion of your membership dues will be distributed to your affiliated chapter each year to support their local programs.
  • The Redbud Project (Gainesville) decided to dissolve their chapter association with GNPS. If you are interested in helping us form a chapter in the Lake Lanier area or any new area, please email membership@gnps.org.


We end the year with 1,466 memberships, a 27% increase over the beginning of 2021. Woo-hoo! Most of our members have chosen a chapter affiliation.

New Items

  • We introduced a new online store this year to help members statewide have access to shirts and logo items. We envision this being our method of making the Plant of the Year shirts available going forward. We are happy with the quality of digital printing offered by this vendor, and anyone is able to custom order the style, color, and size of the shirt that they want. You can find the link to the store at the top of our website (look for the mini shopping cart).
  • We’ve also recently added more content to our History page on the website. If you’d like to take a trip down memory lane, including the history of the POY shirt, check it out.
  • Stone Mountain Propagation Project (SMPP) has shifted focus to growing local ecotypes that are not readily available but deserve wider landscape use, as well as providing more plants for GNPS and other habitat restoration projects. In 2022, SMPP will grow 10,000 pollinator plant plugs for Georgia Audubon in support of a prairie restoration project at Panola Mountain State Park.  The Coastal Plain Chapter also is stepping up propagation efforts both to support chapter plant sales and to grow species of concern for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Continuing Programs

  • Symposium: The 2021 Symposium was held virtually across two sessions on February 27 and 28 and the attendance was amazing: we were able to reach far more people than we ever have. GNPS partnered with Georgia Audubon for the event. For 2022, we will have the event on February 19 and 20, again in partnership with Georgia Audubon. The program will be titled: Healing our Habitat: At Home and In the Wild; six speakers will present five topics about how we can heal our native habitats in our own landscapes as well as in conservation efforts.
  • Newsletters/Website Communications will remain at the state level for 2022, although local chapters may also have newsletters and individual websites.
  • The scholarship program, began in 2020 to support the Native Plant Certificate program administered by the State Botanical Garden, awarded two funded annual scholarships in 2021.  One was awarded to Piedmont resident Alexandra Kleinberg and one to Coastal Plain resident Kalyn Potts.  These two young women, along with last year’s recipient, Julie Pope, have enrolled and are making progress toward their native plant certificates.

Society Financials

As of November 30, 2021, our total income was $43,147, with total expenses of $31,336. In 2021, membership and donations were our primary sources of income. Thank you for your support! Our reserves of just over $200K are safely invested in anticipation of future statewide growth and the support that our chapters may need.

Chapters received over $7,000 in support from dues rebates, funding for start-up costs, and plant sale net proceeds from donated plants.

State Board

The following new board members are joining in 2022: Karan Rawlins and James (Greg) Lewis. We wish to thank departing board member Kevin Burke for his service in 2021.

Thank you for being a member in 2021. We encourage you to get more active in your chapter; the old adage is still true: many hands make light work. In addition, fresh ideas and perspectives are essential to positive change while the experience of longtime members helps our new ones grow. We need you all.

Reach out to the board with any questions or to volunteer: board@gnps.org.

Thanks for being a member

Recently, you should have received one of several messages. Maybe you were thanked for having already paid your dues through at least 2022 (with special thanks, if you are a lifetime member). Maybe you are set up for auto-renewal, and we warned you to check to see if your credit card had changed (the most common thing being a new card with a new expiration date). Or maybe you were reminded that you need to manually renew before January 1.

In any event, we greatly appreciate everyone for keeping their membership in good standing. We are sending this January issue to everyone, even those with expired memberships, and we'll send a specific reminder later in the month to anyone who may still have forgotten. Please get in touch with us at membership@gnps.org if you have difficulties with logging in, or if you have any other issues. We are happy to help.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

2022 GNPS Plant of the Year

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

American beech (Fagus grandifolia).

The Georgia Native Plant Society’s 2022 Plant of the Year, American beech (Fagus grandifolia), is a shade tree of imposing proportions. A forest-dwelling beech will grow tall, with few lower limbs and a narrow canopy. But a tree grown in the open will swell its trunk and stretch its limbs low and wide, achieving a crown spread almost equal to its height. Georgia’s current state champion American beech, located in Lawrenceville (Gwinnett County), is an impressive 115 feet tall, with a crown spread of 91 feet.

The species is deciduous. In winter, pointy, narrow, reddish-brown leaf buds extend about ¾ inch from the branch termini; lateral buds are slightly smaller. In spring, emerging leaves appear tassel-like before opening fully. Mature leaves are simple, alternate, ovoid or elliptical, about 3-5 inches long and half as wide, having parallel veins and leaf margins with incurved teeth. Summer leaves darken gradually from medium to deep green on top, with pale undersides. They turn a lovely tawny yellow in autumn, and then dry to a golden beige. Beech trees hold onto their dry leaves long after other deciduous species have dropped theirs. With their long buds and golden leaves rustling in the breeze, even small saplings are easy to spot in the winter woods.

American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Terminal bud, winter foliage, and beech nuts.

Individual beech trees have both male flowers (small, pale-yellow catkins) and tiny, paired female flowers. In autumn, the latter are succeeded by three-sided nuts enclosed within spiny, yellow-brown, dime-sized burrs. Nut production runs in cycles, with heavy fruiting every 2-3 years. Beech nuts are highly nutritious. Animals feed on them, and humans can eat them, too. However, they should be roasted if consumed in large amounts, since raw beech nuts can be mildly toxic. (Just an aside—Beech-nut baby food doesn’t contain beech nuts; the brand was named for the beech trees that grew near the company’s original factory.)

The most iconic characteristic of the American beech is its smooth, pale gray bark. The bark seems to beguile romantic souls, who can’t resist carving hearts and initials into the living canvases of aged beech trunks. Unfortunately, carving opens wounds that are vulnerable to disease and infestation. While many beeches have survived human scarring, it’s a practice that should be avoided, particularly as trees become stressed by more severe climate variations and an ever-growing array of pathogens.

Beech bark and beechdrops

Beech bark and beechdrops near a beech tree.

Two intriguing parasites are dependent upon American beech, neither of which is fatal to the plant. The first is the beech blight aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator). Nymphs colonize beech twigs and branches, secreting dense white fluff and stringy filaments over their rear half. Sometimes called “boogie-woogie” aphids, they will lift and waggle their abdomens in synch when disturbed. You can try shaking their twig, but be forewarned—they bite. They also secrete honeydew. A large colony will deposit a sticky puddle beneath an infested branch—not a good place to park your car [1].

The second parasite is beechdrop (Epifagus virginiana). An annual species without chlorophyll, this peculiar wildflower draws sustenance from the roots of its beech host, but takes too little nutrition or fluid to do any harm. Beechdrops flower in autumn. White, tubular, chasmogamous (opening when mature) flowers emerge near the upper ends of upright stalks. Inconspicuous, cleistogamous (non-opening and self-pollinating) flowers appear lower down. After the flowers go to seed, the brown stalks remain in place, and are easy to identify in fall and winter.

American beech trees are important ecologically and economically. Beech saplings are shade-tolerant, making beech saplings a key element of the forest understory. The species is host to a great many moths, beetles, and other insects. Beech nuts provide winter mast for many birds and small animals. Beech timber, known for its straight grain and pliability when steamed, has numerous uses in construction, carpentry, container production, and barrel-making. In addition, beech leaves and bark may be of value medicinally. Native Americans utilized them to treat a number of ailments, including lung ailments, gum disease, and worms [2].

American beech typically grows in upland forests and near wetland edges throughout the eastern United States, including all of Georgia. It is a gorgeous and stately ornamental species to plant—just don’t expect it to shade your yard anytime soon. Beech grows very slowly. Install it for its autumn foliage and attractive bark, and let future generations enjoy its grand canopy.

Photos by Ellen Honeycutt.

[1] James Baker, "Beech Blight Aphid," PDIC Factsheets, NC State Extension publications.

[2] "American beech: native American use," University of Vermont Digital Exhibits.

2022 Symposium

Watch your email in the next couple of weeks for a complete description of our second virtual symposium, to be held on February 19th and 20th. We have exciting speakers for the theme Healing our Habitats: At Home and In the Wild.

Plant Spotlight: Evergreen Hexastylis

The Leaf in the Litter

Hexastylis flower and new leavers

Largeflower heartleaf (Hexastylis shuttleworthii) with flowers and new leaves in spring.

Some plants go dormant in the winter, and some stay evergreen. Evergreen gingers in the genus Hexastylis appear to do just a little of both. A robust display of thick green leaves in summer dwindles to just a few over the winter, sometimes leaving only one leaf peeking through the litter of leaves from deciduous trees above.

There are four species of Hexastylis native to Georgia. Two are fairly widespread (and certainly more available for purchase) and I’ll talk about them here: Hexastylis arifolia (heartleaf ginger but often called little brown jug and our most widespread species) and H. shuttleworthii (largeflower heartleaf). Two are found only in North Georgia: H. heterophylla (called variable leaf ginger) and H. virginica (Virginia heartleaf). All are modest perennials whose flowers grow at the base of the plant, requiring one to push away the surrounding leaf litter to see them.

Little brown jug is often found on GNPS rescues in the metro Atlanta area. Facilitators try to convince new rescuers to save such a modest looking plant; we know that, given a good woodland home, it will grow into a handsome clump. Largeflower heartleaf is one that you might find at spring plant sales; the cultivar Hexastylis shuttleworthii var. harperi ‘Callaway’ is often propagated and sold. Apparently it was originally discovered in Pine Mountain. Both species do well from division, making it a nice plant to share with friends.

If you’d like to have a bit of green in your winter shade garden, consider adding Hexastylis to your wish list. Make sure you get what you’re looking for: the deciduous wild ginger, Asarum canadense, is also sold, but it won’t be green in winter.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Hexastylis showing its winter foliage: H. arifolia (left) and H. shuttleworthii (right).

Native Fauna Need Native Flora

Restoration Around the State

Gopher tortoise

Left: Jekyll Island dunes support beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati), a favorite of hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. (Photo by Ellen Honeycutt.) Right: A Gopher tortoise on a Georgia sandhill in longleaf pine habitat. (Photo by U. S. Department of Agriculture.)

The dependance of wildlife on native plants (as well as the interference of invasive species) is a frequent topic among other conservation-oriented organizations, including some of our partner organizations.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has many conservation-related activities, including the Private Lands Program. As part of those efforts, and in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, efforts are being made to restore longleaf pine habitat. One of the many creatures benefiting from this is the gopher tortoise, a keystone species that not only provides evidence of longleaf habitat quality, but directly provides other animal species with habitat and shelter with its burrowing activity.

Recently, Georgia Audubon described their effort to restore critical bird habitat on Jekyll Island. With a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Federation, they are restoring native maritime grasses and removing invasive species on sand dunes.

And don't forget about our own GNPS Restoration Projects. Each of them is making a difference by improving wildlife habitat in public areas as volunteers work to remove exotic invasives while replanting appropriate native species. In the coming year, watch for new chapters to start their own restoration projects, with more appearing throughout the state.

restoration projects

Visit the GNPS website for information about restoration projects. The calendar shows upcoming volunteer workdays.
(Map data ©2021, Google, INEGI.)

We continue to solicit submissions from GNPS members on the interdependencies of wildlife and native plants, either as occasional contributions or on a regular basis. If you have a background in any aspect of wildlife, whether it be insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, or reptiles, and you wish to write an article, please contact us at nativescape@gnps.org.

State Committees Looking for Expertise and Help

As our year-end summary outlines, we have made great strides since our 2019 reorganization and look forward to more progress in 2022. To keep up the momentum, we will roll out several new initiatives as part of our three-year strategic plan, which we will fully outline in a coming issue.  

Several of our state-level committees will spearhead these exciting new strategies. The members and chairs of these committees are at the heart of the GNPS activities that further our mission and keep us running. During the last two years, most of the state committee folks were those who were most familiar with how GNPS operated in the past. These people worked hard to update and standardize guidance on key GNPS programs, particularly site restoration, plant rescue, and native plant habitat certification.  During 2022 and beyond, we will roll out these programs to those chapters who are ready to implement them, as increasing the number of GNPS restoration sites, plant rescues and certified habitats are big parts of our new strategic plan. Also, the education committee will roll out a new program to encourage and make it easier for our members to become more knowledgeable about native plants. These four committees, Education, Site Restoration, Plant Rescue, and Habitat Certification, are especially looking for new folks to join and help us implement these initiatives at the chapter level across Georgia.

Our state treasurer and finance committee chair, Ron Smith, has worked diligently to establish sound financial policies that, along with our increasing membership and member generosity, have put GNPS in a very strong financial position today. To help us keep a steady pace on our expansion and growth, the Finance Committee is looking for several key folks with financial, accounting and/or fundraising expertise. 

Other key state-level committees that would welcome new members include Conservation, Symposium, and Grants & Scholarships. Serving on any of these committees is a wonderful way to get more involved with GNPS, using your skills and expertise to help us promote the stewardship and conservation of Georgia’s native plants. All committees currently meet virtually, so no travel is required. Most committees meet four to six times per year, or as needed. We are striving hard to respect everyone’s time and make committee service efficient and meaningful, recognizing that some people have more time to give than others. 

If you cannot devote enough time to be an active committee member but have particular technical knowledge, professional connections, or expertise that you want to lend to GNPS, we would welcome you to become an advisor to a committee that matches your skills and interests. 

Would you like to serve on any of these state-level committees? Are you interested but need us to help you find a good match?  Please contact us at volunteer@gnps.org and someone will reach out to schedule a time to talk. We look forward to having more members devote their time and talents to GNPS across Georgia.

Chapter News

Fringed Campion Chapter

Join us for our Annual General Meeting with elections on January 29th at 10:30 a.m. This will be an in-person meeting at the Centerville Library, located at 206 Gunn Road in Centerville, Georgia.

Speaker Karen Le will present the program Planting a Garden for Georgia Pollinators. She will discuss "Who pollinators are. What they do. What’s happening to them, and what we can do to help." More details to come.

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

GNPS trademark

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