Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust Awards Southern Highlands Reserve with a $20,000 Grant to Build Digital Native Plant Research Database

January 5, 2017

Southern Highlands Reserve is honored to announce the award of a $20,000 grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. The grant will support SHR’s development of a customized digital database to store the Reserve’s plant accession records, phenology, weather data, and more. The research database will further enhance the Reserve’s capacity of native plants in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, one of the world’s most biologically significant hot spots. With the database, horticulturalists can conduct research on our native plant collection from anywhere in the world.

Since its inception nearly 15 years ago, SHR has captured valuable data on its property within the 20-acre Core Park and adjacent 100-acre natural woodland. With every plant that is accessed at SHR, a written record followed with data on the condition of the plant, source, and location in the gardens when planted. Staff diligently scribed observations of bloom time, leaf development, and fauna activity in its phenology records. At the same time, our weather station recorded daily temperature, rainfall, humidity, and barometric pressure. With a digital database, these records can now be used to conduct any number of research projects, both on-site and anywhere in the world.

The unique conditions at the Reserve make our “living laboratory” a valuable source of information to scientists worldwide. SHR is located in a region recognized both nationally and internationally as a highly significant biological area. According to the WNC Vitality Index, “species diversity is high because many species are at the southern limit of their distribution and gradients in elevation, aspect, slope, and rainfall contribute to a range of available niches and habitats.” Like much of the surrounding area, SHR receives some of the highest amount of rainfall on record. High precipitation levels classify this area as a “temperate rain forest,” which parallels the biodiversity found in tropical rain forests.

At 4,500’ in elevation on the top of remote Toxaway Mountain, the plants in our gardens thrive in conditions more extreme than surrounding areas. With increased variability in temperature and precipitation and exposure to the elements on a mountainside, the Reserve’s native plant collection is sensitive to environmental pressures. With the onset of shifts in climate due to climate change, SHR will now have the ability to monitor and analyze how plants respond to these long-term changes.

“The support of SSHT helps the Reserve not only fulfill our mission, it also enables the Reserve to serve as a valuable resource for our community,” says SHR’s Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks in regards to the grant. “Data on high elevation native plants is important as we encounter rapidly changes factors in our environments.”

The grant marks a new milestone in SHR’s history, as it is the first grant awarded to the Reserve. SHR plans to develop long-term partnerships and seek grant funding opportunities to support our efforts to conserve native plants through education and research. This, along with private funders, admission fees and plant sales provide support that is essential to SHR carrying out its mission in the conservation of native plants through education and research.