Southern Highlands Reserve Participates in National Public Garden Day Celebration with Gardens Across the U.S., Gives Native Plant Seedling to Visitors

Posted Posted in SHR-News

Visitors to Southern Highlands Reserve on May 3rd celebrated National Public Gardens Day with a garden tour and took a part of the garden home with them. Every year, gardens like the Southern Highlands Reserve celebrate National Public Gardens Day to raise awareness about the importance of environmental stewardship and conservation.

This year, Southern Highlands Reserve participated in the celebration by offering every visitor a seedling grown in the Reserve’s Nursery Complex. Visitors had the option of taking home a Gregory Bald azalea, a pinkshell azalea, or a red spruce seedling. The Reserve’s staff concluded the seedling giveaway was an exciting moment for visitors, as they gathered around Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks awaiting their turn to select the newest addition to their home gardens.

The May 3rd Visitor’s Day tour enjoyed a glimpse of the delicate Pinkshell Azaleas (R. vaseyi) blooming in the gardens, creating an illusion of pink clouds dotting the forest landscape. The Woodland Glade was covered in Sherwood Purple phlox blooms, creating a carpet of lavender flowers on the forest floor. Several varieties of Trillium were in bloom, including Nodding Trilliaum, Wake Robin Trillium and Catesby’s Trillium. Also blooming in the gardens were Bleeding Heart, Clinton’s Lilly, Leucothue, Crested Iris, Pink Ladyslippers and Yellow Ladyslippers. Photos of the tour can be viewed on the Reserve’s facebook page via this link.

Southern Highlands Reserve offers Visitor’s Day tours the first Tuesday of every month and private group tours by reservation. All visitors may may make a reservation for a visitor’s day or group tours on the Reserve’s website:

Native Plant Experts to Speak at Southern Highlands Reserve’s Annual Symposium: “Balance and Function: The Role of Native Plants in our Ecosystems”

Posted Posted in SHR-News

On Saturday, May 14th, horticulturalists, gardeners, landscape designers and plant lovers will gather on Toxaway Mountain at Southern Highlands Reserve’s Native Plant Symposium to learn about gardening with plants that are native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. This year’s theme “Balance and Function: The Role of Native Plants in our Ecosystems” will showcase how native plants provide valuable services to our everyday lives. Through their collective experience spanning 75 years, native plant experts will provide examples through field studies and best management practices on how we can use native plants in landscaping projects of any scale.

Compared with non-native species, native plants are more effective in providing critical services such as water purification, flood mitigation and disease control. Native plants also are essential to supporting the food chain on all levels, providing food for insects and animals above them that are also native within the ecosystem.

Keynote Speaker Larry Mellichamp, former Director Emeritus of the Botanical Gardens at UNC-Charlotte, will share with the Symposium his insights from a recent botanical study in Madagascar, comparing native plants of Madagascar’s island ecosystems to the rare native plants in hot spots of biodiversity in Western North Carolina. Guest Speakers Matt Sprouse and Amy Fahmy from Sitework Studios in Asheville will discuss how to weave native plants into the design of any landscape, large or small.

The Southern Highlands Reserve is a non-profit organization dedicated to sustaining the natural ecosystems of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the preservation, cultivation and display of plants native to the region and by advocating for their value through education, restoration and research. Located in Western North Carolina at an elevation of 4500 feet, the varied topography and forest types found on our 120 acres allow us to emulate many of the plant communities found in high elevation forests of the Southern Appalachians.

The Native Plant Symposium will be held at the Southern Highlands Reserve in Lake Toxaway, NC on May 14th from 8:30 – 3:00 p.m. Advance registration is required and tickets can be purchased on our website at

For more information, please contact Holly Spencer at 828-215-8548 or

Southern Highlands Reserve - Cherokee Garden Club

Wet and Wild: A Partners for Plants Wetland Revegetation Weekend and Optional Camping Trip

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June 10 – June 12

Cherokee Garden Club Presents: “Wet and Wild: A Partners for Plants Wetland Revegetation Weekend and Optional Camping Trip”

As a member of Garden Clubs of America, the Cherokee Garden Club is pleased to present “Wet & Wild: A Partners for Plants Wetlands Revegetation Weekend” to be held on June 10-12, 2016 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the National Park System.

The purpose of the event is to revegetate a marshy site cleared of invasive exotics in 2014 with genotypes of native sedges, rushes, alders, swamp roses and other select native plants collected by the National Parks Service.

The June 10-12, 2016 revegetation weekend with optional camping includes installation of the coir mats, conservation discussion with NPS staff, native plant identification on field trips, wildcraft (edible plants) display and foraging feast with guest speaker, Ila Hatter, a wildcrafting expert. Synchronous fireflies will display, if weather permits.

The collaboration is among multi-zonal Garden Club of America members (growers/installers), the National Park Service(genotypic seed collection), Jackson County NC Master Gardeners (mat sack assembly for easy sharing/mailing to GCA members), the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (youth education/propagation workshops) and the Southern Highlands Reserve, a native plant arboretum research station (greenhouse support).

The revegetation site is adjacent to four geographic interfaces:

1) southern entry to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
2) terminus of Blue Ridge Parkway
3) Qualla Boundary of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation
4) confluence of the Raven Fork and Oconaluftee Rivers.

The cleared site is 5 acres near Cherokee High School, Cherokee NC.

For more information, please contact Mary Palmer Dargan, Zone VIII Conservation/NAL Representative & Cherokee GC member:

Click here for the full event invitation

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