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GA – State Botanical Garden of Georgia

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, located on a 313 acre preserve in Athens, is a unit of the University of Georgia tasked with the mission of teaching, research, and public outreach. While it is part of an educational institution, it is also a community garden central to the lives of, not just students, but the residents of Athens-Clarke County and the surrounding region.

SBG was the first garden in the American Conifer Society’s Southeast Region to be awarded Reference Garden status in 2008. Since then over 250 conifers have been added to the collection representing 160 species and cultivars. The ACS Reference Garden is housed adjacent to the Callaway Building but the conifer collection extends from tropical species in the Visitor Center, throughout all the themed gardens and to at-risk native populations in the natural areas.

In applying for the grant, the goals – consistent with the mission of the Garden – was to educate the public (including non-traditional Garden visitors) about conifers and encourage their use in southeastern landscapes. To do this effectively, the Garden needed to diversify and enhance its collection, broaden conservation efforts and improve educational signage.

Part of the ACS funding was used to expand the Cedrus collection in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Section of the International Garden. Cedars are magnificent conifers native to the Middle East with decay resistant wood. Because of its economic value, cedar was extensively harvested resulting today in small remnants of original forests. Cedar of Lebanon was used to build Phoenician ships. Its sawdust was found in the tombs of the pharaohs where it was part of the mummification process. These kind of facts are woven into a narrative that facilitates the Garden’s educational outreach to visitors of all ages. After all, what child isn’t fascinated with mummies?!

The grant also funded the replacement of sapsucker-damaged Cedrus atlantica with a serpentine form-as topiary is an option-and added the cultivars Fastigiata’ and Silberspitz’. Cedrus brevifolia was planted, along with four cultivars of C. libani. Twelve Deodar selections, from Limeglow’ to Electra Blue’, Raywood’s Contorted’ to Twisted Growth’ filled out the list.

Another part of this project included enhancing endangered, relict, and safeguarded conifer collections beginning with the genus Araucaria. When a UGA student from Brazil brought back seed of Araucaria angustifolia from a home visit, the Garden began propagating it. Seven of the progeny of the critically endangered Paraña Pine were planted in the International Garden. During an ACS regional meeting two more members of this genus, Araucaria montana and A. bidwillii, were acquired.

The grant has also contributed to ongoing conservation efforts such as safeguarding Torreya taxifolia through the work of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance. In Florida torreya was once so abundant, settlers used it for fence posts and shingles, riverboat fuel, even Christmas trees. Today, only twelve individuals remain in the wild on the Georgia side of the Apalachicola River. Georgia has the only full set of all surviving wild clones in cultivation and two safeguarded populations are at SBG.

Also housed at SBG is a protected collection of Eastern Hemlocks. Tsuga canadensis has been under siege by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) here as well and, according to the Georgia Forestry Commission, the annual spread of HWA is faster in Georgia than any other state in the southeast. Several species of Asian predator beetles are being released to combat this invasive pest with some promising results. Once HWA is controlled, SBG trees can be used as a seed source for re-establishing this species in the wild.SBG is also leading protection efforts of Tsuga caroliniana, the Carolina Hemlock, that is being attacked by HWA as well. As part of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, Garden staff, with the help of members of the UGA climbing club, are collecting cones from the only seven trees in Georgia. Germinated seedlings were planted back in the wild under the care of volunteer stewards and SBG is establishing a safeguarded collection of Carolina Hemlock at SBG.

Collections expansion, interpretive signs, seed collection- so many important projects have been facilitated by the ACS Southeast Region Reference Garden Grant Program. Thank you all for what you do! And special thanks to John and Becky Quackenbush, who contributed additional funding to allow us to meet our goals. Come for a visit soon!

Jeannette Coplin

Director of Horticulture and Grounds

State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Ed. Note: An expanded version of this story appears in the June 2013 issue of Southeastern Conifer, the SER regional newsletter.

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