Over 65 native plant enthusiasts from across Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia will meet Thursday and Friday at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center just outside Chattanooga. This is the first joint meeting of the three state’s Plant Conservation Alliances (PCA). Most of the meeting participants are members of their respective state’s PCA. A plant conservation alliance is a network of private and public entities that agree to work together to leverage expertise and resources for a common goal to conserve the state’s native plants and their habitats.
Chattanooga is a worthy location for the first joint PCA meeting as it is close to the junction of the three state’s borders which happens to be within a hotspot for botanical diversity and significant natural communities.
According to the Biota of North America Program (BONAP), this region has over 1,200 native vascular plant species including several endemic species. This diversity is reflected in the number of documented plant species within the border counties of the three states. For example the Alabama Plant Atlas notes that 1,140 species occur in Jackson County and according to the University of Tennessee Knoxville Herbarium Franklin and Marion counties each have over 1,120 native species, which represents approximately 47 percent of Tennessee’s native flora. In Georgia, the Cumberland Plateau is the smallest ecoregion occupying portions of just three counties: Chattooga, Dade, and Walker. Nevertheless, this area is also known to support over 1,000 native vascular plant species. Within this region there are also dozens of plant species of conservation concern.
The nationally-recognized Georgia PCA, established in 1995, has proven to be a highly successful model for rare plant conservation in the Southeast and beyond. The Alabama PCA started in 2009 with assistance from the Georgia PCA. In a similar approach the Tennessee PCA formed earlier in 2017 at a meeting held in Nashville at the Cheekwood Botanical Garden. In close coordination with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which has lead responsibility for plant conservation in the state, the Tennessee alliance will prioritize native plant species and plant communities for conservation projects. The alliance will be project driven and focus on preventing plant extinctions in the state. A coordinator will be hired in the near future to facilitate communication among members, including volunteers, and implementation of alliance activities. The coordinator will be positioned within the Center of Excellence for Field Biology at Austin Peay State University. The Tennessee PCA will be a statewide network of conservation professionals and specially trained volunteers actively working to conserve and restore Tennessee’s imperiled plant species and their habitats. In addition to the meeting on Thursday the botanists will hike the slopes of Lookout Mountain on Friday to check on the status of the threatened large-flowered skullcap on Reflection Riding Arboretum and Chickamauga & Chattanooga Battlefield National Military Park lands.