Federal grant will grow work to save state plants

DNR's Lisa Kruse and Stephanie Koontz assess pondberry at Sandhills WMA. (Nathan Klaus/DNR)

DNR's Lisa Kruse and Stephanie Koontz assess pondberry at Sandhills WMA. (Nathan Klaus/DNR)

Plant conservation in Georgia just got a lot more promising.

A partnership led by the state Department of Natural Resources has been awarded nearly $780,000 to sample, grow and save 14 imperiled plant species. The federal grant will also boost capacity to preserve the plants at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Chattahoochee Nature Center, while spreading that expertise and support to others in the nationally recognized Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, according to a press release.

DNR senior botanist Lisa Kruse calls the impact “expansive.” And that’s not only for the targeted plants, which vary from swamp pink to hairy rattleweed and are all federally listed as endangered or threatened.

“The grant is going to fortify (the Georgia alliance’s) main partners and build the diversity and number of botanical gardens that can help preserve rare plants,” said Kruse, referring to the network of 50-plus universities, agencies, nonprofits and companies that have combined their clout to conserve plants.

Plants often play second fiddle to efforts to recover rare animal species. But Georgia’s five-year project landed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Challenge grant on the strength of its plan to safeguard the 14 plant species and add Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance members who can do the work.

Work supported by the grant has already begun. Chattahoochee Nature Center, co-coordinator for the project in northwest Georgia, has collected tissue samples from Morefield’s leatherflower and Alabama leatherflower. In Georgia, the species are known from only one site each. Sampled plants have been tagged. Root cuttings may be next. There are also plans to collect seeds to bank at Atlanta Botanical Garden and grow at the nature center.

The focus on the grant’s 14 species is important, yet the need to conserve plants is great. Georgia has 443 plant taxa—or group of related plants—rated critically imperiled in the state; 83 of those are imperiled globally.

Though often overlooked, plants purify air and water, provide raw materials and stunning beauty, shape cultures and economies, prevent erosion and play vital roles in our heritage.