Plant Natives 2023!
Symposium Topics and Speakers

Functional Planting: Creating Adaptive Plant Systems
with Thomas Rainer

In an era of climate change and species extinction, designed plantings offer a unique potential to address today’s environmental challenges.  Yet traditional horticultural approaches are often carbon intensive, resource-dependent, and high maintenance. This talk presents a powerful alternative to traditional horticulture – designed plantings that function like naturally – occurring plant communities. Join landscape architect Thomas Rainer, a leading voice in ecological landscape design, to learn how to translate wild inspirations into designed systems, and how to layer plants in biodiverse assemblages. Thomas will share recent examples of Phyto Studio’s design projects for public sites and botanical gardens.

Inspirations: The Residential Garden in a Post-Pandemic World
with Thomas Rainer

The pandemic changed many aspects of American life, particularly how we use our residential spaces. Join landscape architect Thomas Rainer on a reflection of the role of gardens in a post-pandemic world. Thomas will reflect on new approaches to gardens that embrace both the human need for refuge in a changing world as well as the need for gardens to perform more ecologically. Thomas will weave reflections on his own garden with Phyto Studio’s innovative approach to planting design to describe garden spaces more suited to the way we actually live today.

Thomas  Rainer is a registered landscape architect, teacher, and author living in Arlington, Virginia. Thomas, a leading voice in ecological landscape  design, has designed landscapes for the U.S. Capitol grounds, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Philadelphia International Airport, and The New York Botanical Garden, as well  as over 100 gardens from Maine to Florida. He is a celebrated public speaker who has garnered acclaim for his passionate presentations to  audiences across the U.S. and in Europe. He is the co-authored of best-selling Planting in a Post-Wild World with Claudia West. Thomas serves as a Principal  for the landscape architectural and consulting firm Phyto Studio in  Washington, D.C.


Why the Climate Needs Trees & Why Every Tree Counts
with Janisse Ray

The collective finger usually points at fossil fuels when we talk about the climate crisis. Let’s look at the role that clearcutting plays in the breakdown of our biosphere. Likewise, policy changes get a lot of attention when we look at climate solutions. Forests, however, are overlooked in this national conversation about how to save ourselves. Trees store immense amounts of carbon in their leaves, branches, trunks, and roots, and also in their soils. Currently, U.S. forests only capture about 1/10 of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Forests—especially Southern forests–are vital for buying time as we develop clean energy and for longterm storage of carbon excess. We need to 1) protect the forests we have, 2) replant depleted landscapes, and 3) manage forests for longer rotations and more standing timber.

Janisse Ray is a writer who explores the borderland of nature and culture. She has won an American Book Award, Pushcart Prize, Southern Bookseller Award, Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Award, Nautilus Award, and Eisenberg Award, among many others. Her bestselling first book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, was a New York Times Notable. Her latest collection of essays, Wild Spectacle, won the Donald L. Jordan Prize for Literary Excellence, which carries a $10,000 prize, and it was followed in 2022 by her reader-acclaimed novel, THE WOODS OF FANNIN COUNTY. Ray serves on the editorial board of and is an honorary member of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment. She earned an MFA from the University of Montana, has received two honorary doctorates, and has been inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. Ray lives and works inland from Savannah, Georgia, in the coastal plains of the southeastern U.S., where she tends a pollinator garden and watches the wild world around her.


The Fascinating Natural Communities of NW Georgia and SE Tennessee:
From Sandstone Cliffs to Cedar Glades
with Dr. Leslie Edwards

The Cumberland Plateau and Ridge & Valley ecoregions of NW Georgia and SE Tennessee are home to spectacular ecosystems.  The bedrock here – layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone/dolomite– has eroded to form dramatic cliffs, rock houses, calcareous glades,  sinkholes, and many more unusual landscapes.  The soils of these picturesque landforms range widely from acidic to highly calcareous, and support rare and beautiful plant communities.  Leslie’s presentation will include a journey through the region, where “right plant, right place” is particularly meaningful. She will raise awareness of the importance of soils and landforms in supporting the native plants here, and will further inspire native plant gardeners and managers to restore these special ecosystems.

Dr. Leslie Edwards received a PhD in geography from the University of Georgia with a specialty in biogeomorphology.  She is the first author of The Natural Communities of Georgia, published by the University of Georgia Press.  This widely read book describes ecosystems throughout the state, including their landforms, soils, vegetation, and wildlife.  It is divided by ecoregions, several of which also occur in southeastern Tennessee.   Dr. Edwards is retired from the faculty of the Department of Geosciences at Georgia State University, where she taught classes on landforms, climate, natural communities and urban ecology.

Dr. Edwards has served on the boards of many conservation organizations, including terms as President of the Georgia Botanical Society and as Director of Education for Georgia Audubon and the Georgia Native Plant Society.  She has spoken extensively on the native plants and natural communities of North Georgia, teaches classes, and leads walks for organizations and programs dedicated to the conservation of restoration of native landscapes.  She particularly enjoys maintaining a native plant/wildlife sanctuary in her own back yard, attuned to the soils and landforms of the natural communities there.


Fungi and Their Relationships with Plants
with Dr. Kristen Wickert

Dr. Wickert will cover the unique roles that fungi perform as they interact with plants in the environment. Fungi can act as hindrances and helpers to native plant establishment and success. We’ll learn all about saprotrophs, plant pathogens, mycorrhizae and the mysterious endophytic fungi that all influence micro- and macro- environments.

Over the past eight years Kristen Wickert has utilized the social media app Instagram to educate the general public on the natural world around them. The posts to her personal Instagram account, with the username KaydubsTheHikingScientist, include information about organisms and conservation efforts to expose the public to the world around them. She focuses on the core concept that we can all contribute to caring for our ecosystem in our own backyards by avoiding planting exotic or invasive species and instead re-introducing native plant species that allow our landscapes to be habitat for native fauna and fungi. She feels that it is important for the public to play a role in conservation, perhaps even more so than natural resources professionals; however, the public is commonly underexposed to information that could allow them to easily contribute. Her educational background includes a bachelors in Forest Biology and a master’s and PhD in Plant Pathology. Her master’s work focused on endophytic and plant pathogenic fungi in Eastern hemlock needles and their ability to act as facultative entomopathogens against the devastating insect, hemlock woolly adelgid. During her PhD she researched plant pathogenic fungi in controlling the invasive tree-of-heaven.


Native Plants for the Vegetable Garden
with Adam Bigelow

Native plants benefit us, our gardens, and the landscapes and ecosystems we depend on. Learn about the benefits of native plants and the harm caused by invasive plants. We will discuss how native plants can attract beneficial insects, beautify vegetable and flower gardens, and provide nutrition to the dinner plate.

Adam Bigelow is a horticulturist and amateur botanist who lives in Cullowhee, NC, and has been studying the plants and wildflowers of Southern Appalachia for over 20 years. Adam is the owner/operator of Bigelow’s Botanical Excursions, an eco-tour business leading guided plant walks in WNC. He is an avid organic gardener and founded and managed the Cullowhee Community Garden for ten years. Adam is a member of the planning committee for the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, and has attended the conference for many years.