By: Lisa Kruse, Georgia DNR botanist – Nongame Conservation Section
When I first walked the Statesboro bog this August, it was home to hundreds of yellow pitcherplants. Their abundant pitchers caught the hard summer sun, transforming it into resplendent green light.
Martha Joiner, the site’s “Botanical Guardian,” recalled prior visits. Pointing across the expansive powerline right of where the bog had thrived, “We’ve seen white-fringed orchids here, plenty of grass-pink orchids, too, and we used to see purple honeycomb-heads,” she said.
Since the mid-1990s, Joiner had monitored the bog for the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, in cooperation with Georgia Power. That August day we saw blooming slender marsh-pink (Sabatia campanulata), candy-pink tufts of Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia tenuifolia), graceful white water dropwort (Oxypolis filiformis), and occasional orange bursts of bog-cheetos (Polygala lutea) peeking from below thick grassy foliage.
However, looming over all were construction vehicles that had graded the surrounding slopes for a housing complex. Martha, fellow Botanical Guardian Alicia Garcia and I were visiting the site to determine if we could rescue any portion of the bog.
Our mission was bittersweet. We knew we were too late to influence the development. Grading had already damaged the sensitve bog seepage hydrology, and this complex ecosystem could not survive the impact. What sustained us was the strong volunteer response to Joiner’s call for help to find long-term homes for the plants. Also without hesitation, construction planners gave their goodwill by helping with arrangements for a plant rescue.
Our challenge: We had only six weeks to plan and implement a scientifically sound rescue of hundreds of pitcherplants and associated flora. With homes, the plants could become inspirations through education, repositories of knowledge through research and genetic resources through safeguarding. Eventually, they could even be re-introduced into the wild in a protected bog site.
We went to work. Tom Patrick, a botanist with the state Department of Natural Resources Nongame Conservation Section, did a final plant inventory of the site. He found more than 20 of Georgia’s herbaceous bog indicator species, including important grasses such as wireleaf dropseed (Sporobolis teretifolius), a priority in current rare species surveys across Georgia’s Coastal Plain.
Thanks to the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA) network, pieces of the plan were assembled quickly: Volunteers spoke up from all corners of GPCA. Dr. Lissa Leege, a professor at Georgia Southern University, involved her plant ecology students. The Garden of the Coastal Plain at Georgia Southern, directed by Carolyn Altman, offered prepared pitcherplant beds and labor. Ron Determann and David Ruhlman of the Atlanta Botanical Garden provided their expertise and materials for safely moving the plants, and additional space for plants at Atlanta Botanical Garden. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, through Heather Alley and Jennifer Ceska, had brand new planting beds for a pickup truck load of plants.
The rescue day was Aug. 30. A week of rain ensured the bog plants were happy in saturated soils, a critical factor for cushioning the shock of transplanting. Work started at 7:30 a.m. with Tom Patrick and Alicia Garcia as on-site coordinators and the help of construction workers who lent a hand with great interest and enthusiasm!
Volunteers eagerly awaited the plants at their new home, the Garden of the Coastal Plain at Georgia Southern. Leege’s students gained hands-on experience in science-directed plant conservation as they unloaded, sorted and planted an array of wildflowers and pitcherplants into beds. Visitors to the Gardens can now see an important and beautiful part of southeastern Georgia’s heritage.
“The loss of these native habitats is a real problem,” notes Altman, “given the complex roles these ecosystems play in the world that sustains us. I hope the students who were so important to this rescue will remember their experience when making decisions that impact our homes in the future.”
After filling the beds there, hundreds of pitcherplants remained. Patrick loaded his truck bed with the bobbing yellow pitchers, bound for north Georgia. I saw the beauties, which some call yellow flytraps, again at DNR offices in Social Circle, a setting so different from my first day at the bog. We met Heather Alley from the State Botanical Garden and transferred the plants to her, pot by pot, for transport to their next home.
It was a moment of nostalgia and of satisfaction for a job well done.
Patrick calculated that 95 percent of the pitcherplants were rescued from the development site. Upon examination, their phenotypic diversity—with plants varying from yellow to chartreuse green with deep purple veins—indicated they are a population with rich genetic diversity.
Full-habitat plant rescues by the GPCA and the DNR are uncommon. For only the rarest of habitats can we dedicate the resources required to move plants and find long-term receiving sites. Special attention must be given to the documentation and care of each rare plant moved, and a wealth of expertise is required to understand how to best maintain and use these plants for the long-term health of the species.
Yet, on an August day near Statesboro, that expertise and effort came together. Thanks to so many people who care so much for rare plants, and to strong partnerships through the GPCA, hundreds of yellow pitcherplants are no longer homeless bog beauties.