By Nikki Belmonte, Executive Director
Early fall is arguably the most beautiful time of year in Georgia with a new palette of wildflowers blooming, shrubs bursting with berries and hints of autumnal colors in the trees. I have been obsessed with a single plant in my yard – a white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata) planted just below our dining area window. This one white wood aster has been buzzing with activity since it started blooming the third week of September. Many visitors, from small clouds of hoverflies to iridescent parasitic wasps, have stopped by. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds dive down for an easy insect treat as they bulk up for their migration south. Carpenter bees and bumblebees have joined in, too.
Further away from this single plant, I had planted another white wood aster that has since spread to cover an area previously carpeted with English ivy (Hedera helix), an exotic and invasive species with little value to native wildlife. (Wildlife here refers to all animals, including insects and other often overlooked tiny invertebrates that are running the world.) The serrated leaves of the aster have been chewed and desiccated by native moth and beetle larvae, small mammals and deer. Success!
Why am I telling you about one plant? The value of this single native plant is evident in its attractiveness to a variety of wildlife. One native plant, and one person, can make a tremendous difference. Imagine if one native plant per person in metro Atlanta were put in the ground. Imagine if each person understood how impactful this was.
Georgia Native Plant Society sees this vision. Since 1994, this group has advocated for the protection and use of native plants. Native plants are species that grow naturally in a region and are adapted to local physical and biological conditions. They have co-evolved over time with insects and other organisms of the region. They define a sense of place. Rapid declines in native plants, pollinators, and other wildlife are taking a toll on our ecosystems and the relationships that sustain them. Major ecosystem changes will ultimately alter our health, food, infrastructure and economic systems, so we should probably take it seriously.
Georgia Native Plant Society is growing people who care about native plants. The demand for native plants and the urgency to learn about them has been mounting. Because of this, Georgia Native Plant Society recently expanded into an affiliate network, now with 8 chapters around the state. Chapters have the important role of rolling out programs and conjuring interest locally, making an impact at the community level. The state organization focuses on providing centralized support to chapters, developing key partnerships, and implementing strategies that lead to more meaningful change and progress in our mission to promote the conservation and stewardship of Georgia’s native plants and their habitats.
There are a variety of ways to plug in to the native plant movement; join a plant walk, volunteer at a restoration site, go on a plant rescue (saving native plants from destruction on soon-to-be developed land), or learn how to grow at our Stone Mountain Propagation Project. Support a local native plant sale, where you can purchase that one native plant that will start your journey to making a difference. The Intown Atlanta chapter is developing community pods, a concept that creates neighborhood networks of plant people. The opportunities to learn are endless.
I hope you know the difference you, a single person, can make. If you need some more encouragement, I recommend the book, Nature’s Best Hope by Dr. Doug Tallamy, an entomologist known for his research on insect and plant relationships. Not only does Dr. Tallamy emphasize the differences that small changes can make, he suggests that one of the most important things we as a society need to embrace is a “cultural recognition that conservation is everyone’s responsibility – not just those few who make it their profession [or hobby].” He is so right, a change in perspective is paramount. One by one, though, we can generate great change. Georgia Native Plant Society is a great place to start. I encourage you to join us.