From Seed to Forest: Restoring Red Spruce in the Southern Appalachia

Posted Posted in SHR-News

On Tuesday, January 19th, members of the grass-root organization Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI), joined the Reserve’s staff in cleaning red spruce cones and preparing their seeds for germination in the Reserve’s Nursery Complex. Nine volunteers joined four SHR staff members, all contributing a total of 44 hours of labor, cleaning an estimated 53,000 seeds from 22 collections of red spruce cones in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains.

High elevation spruce-fir forest ecosystems in areas like the Southern Highlands Reserve are considered by ecologists as “islands in the sky.” These pocket ecosystems, now found in fewer areas of the Blue Ridge mountains, have a unique set of native plants and animals that can thrive in these environments.

Today these forests face increasing pressures from acid rain, rising temperatures, poor management and drought. Spruce-fir forests have become the second most endangered ecosystem in the United States.  These high elevation forests are home to federally endangered species like Spruce-fir moss spider and the Carolina Northern flying squirrel. Other species of conservation concern such as the Northern Saw‐whet Owl, the Black‐capped Chickadee, and several salamander species also call these forests home.

Together with The Nature Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the NC Wildlife Resource Commission, and the Forest Service, Southern Highlands Reserve is working to help restore red spruce in Western North Carolina. Along with other stakeholders, these core partners are developing the Southern Appalachian Spruce Restoration Initiative (SASRI), a formal partnership with a strategic action plan to restore red spruce in these endangered spruce-fir forests.

Since 2009, the Reserve has propagated red spruce seedlings in our Nursery Complex. In partnership with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, thousands of seedlings have been reintroduced and planted in the Unicoi mountains, one area of only nine known populations of the endangered Carolina Northern flying squirrel. Reintroducing red spruce in these areas is a critical step towards preserving the endangered squirrel’s habitat.

In the spirit of the Reserve’s mission to protect and conserve native plants and their ecosystems, we are dedicated to providing the solution to the decline of spruce-fir forests. Due to our high-elevation location, our Nursery Complex is uniquely poised to grow red spruce seedlings successfully. Currently, there is no other facility in the southeastern US growing red spruce for restoration, which makes the Reserve’s ability to continue these propagation efforts for this partnership very important.

Photo credits: Gary Peebles, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Save the Date for the Reserve’s Annual Native Plant Symposium

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Every spring, gardeners, landscape designers, horticulturalists, and plant lovers gather at the Southern Highlands Reserve to learn about gardening with plants that are native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

This year, we are pleased to welcome native plant expert Larry Mellichamp as our Keynote Speaker. Larry is the Director Emertius of the Botanical Gardens at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. Larry will share his insights gathered from a recent voyage to Madagascar on how we can protect the flora and fauna within fragile ecosystems like our own “islands in the sky” high-elevation forests. Guest speakers will include Matt Sprouse and Amy Fahmy of Sitework Studios in Asheville, NC.

The Symposium will be held Saturday, May 14, 2016 in the Chestnut Lodge of the Reserve from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. We will begin the day with a continental breakfast and spend the morning learning from native plant experts about their best management practices to creating native plant gardens that thrive and flourish. We will enjoy a catered luncheon followed by a garden tour guided by the Reserve’s founders, Betty and Robert Balentine.

Registration is $85 and will begin on March 1st. An announcement will be sent via email when registration is open. Please mark your calendars and register early as space is limited.

Sponsorship Opportunities at the Symposium

Becoming a sponsor of the Symposium places your company in a unique position to develop relationships with new potential clients joining us from across the region, such as nursery staff, landscape architects, gardening professionals and native plant enthusiasts.

Our sponsorship opportunities offer numerous benefits to Symposium attendees who seek new tools and services to further their passion for conservation and native plant gardening. Partnering with the Reserve as a Symposium Sponsor supports the Reserve’s research and educational activities throughout the year, such as our public education programs and tours held within our 20-acre native plant display gardens. This benefits package is structured to allow your organization to account this sponsorship as a fully tax-deductible contribution to our non-profit organization.

To become a Symposium Sponsor, please review our 2016 Sponsorship Materials. Within this packet, you’ll find our sponsorship benefits, registration form, and who to contact for more information.

Growing a Garden in Winter

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A Message from the Executive Director

It is said the best gardens are planned by a fireplace in the winter. This winter, SHR is gathering around a few new faces to help us grow and emerge new blooms in spring. I have the honor of introducing two new staff members that have elevated our team to new heights!

Jack-of-all-trades Kyle Meece mastered masonry, carpentry, and landscaping before becoming a familiar face around Lake Toxaway. He grew up in these mountains and enjoyed the horticultural classes offered at Rosman High School. After sharpening the stone on a varied skill set and his hard work ethic, he came back to his roots as a Gardener at SHR.  Kyle’s passion is being in the great outdoors and helping others. Caring for these unique mountaintop gardens is a perfect fit for this outdoor enthusiast. We welcome Kyle as a Gardener at SHR, and are enjoying his growth as he helps us care for native plants!

Holly Spencer joins our team with over a decade of project management, event planning and non-profit experience. She received a Master’s of Environmental Management degree from Duke University and a Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Prior to being hired at SHR as its Partnership Development Coordinator, Holly spent 12 years of her career in the recycling industry, serving as President of the Carolina Recycling Association and working as its Program Manager, developing relationships with members and key partners. With this experience, Holly is helping the Reserve build long-lasting partnerships with individuals and organizations who share our same passion for the natural world.

We are pleased to have these talented folks as a part of the SHR team. Please join me in welcoming them when you see them at the Reserve. Together, we hope to bring the Southern Highlands Reserve into its full potential as a conduit for education, conservation, and tranquility.


Kelly M. Holdbrooks
Executive Director

Winter Tour Information

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Three-Wolf Moon

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Put a Bird On It

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Humblebrag Time

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Look What We Saw Today!

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