The Atlanta Botanical Garden has launched the Center for Southeastern Conservation, a program aimed at coordinating and collaborating with partner institutions to improve and expand their work with imperiled species and habitats of plants and animals.
Embracing the Garden’s mission and drawing upon its vast collections and expert staff, the center will be a hub of the Southeast’s large and growing conservation community. As a conduit for collaboration, the program focuses on conservation efforts in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, protecting the natural heritage of one of North America’s most biodiverse regions.
“Commitment to conservation is a cornerstone of the Garden’s mission and identity, and the Center for Southeastern Conservation is one of the most important ventures in the last 40 years, encompassing imperiled species and rare habitat preservation, orchid conservation, urban habitat restoration, and education and training under one umbrella,” said Mary Pat Matheson, Garden President & CEO. “With the launch of the center, the Garden is staking a bold position, protecting this diverse and vibrant region for many years to come.”
The Southeast is home to many diverse and complex ecosystems, and the Garden contributes to the protection of many of them. The Apalachicola area is one of the oldest and most biodiverse locations in North America and includes plants such as Torreya taxifolia, one of the rarest conifers in the world. The wetlands of the longleaf pine ecosystem also include some of the most diverse habitats in North America, where many species of pitcher plants and orchids are found. Florida is home to more orchid species than anywhere in North America, and the orchid habitats of south Florida, such as the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, have a high diversity of tropical orchids. Refugial plant communities, isolated habitats where species established themselves during the Pleistocene glaciers (ending approximately 10,000 years ago), dot the southern Appalachian Mountains. The refugia’s incredibly diverse plant communities are vibrant but fragile in the face of encroaching development.
The Center for Southeastern Conservation is the first step in a multi-year expansion of the Garden’s conservation research and education efforts. This year, the Garden will host the Southeastern Partners in Plant Conservation meeting and introduce the center’s Orchid Conservation Institute, a venue for training both professionals and students. In its current capital campaign, the Garden is raising funds to expand its laboratories and facilities for research, training, and propagating rare plants, scheduled to open in 2017.