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An Immersion in Alabama’s Black Belt Region

published: 06/16/2016

By: Rachel Martin, Rotary Club of Shades Valley 2016 Intern

Visiting the Black Belt region of Alabama was truly an immersive and enriching experience! The particular areas of the Black Belt we visited with a group of participants in Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Certificate in Native Plant Studies program are known for their distinctive soil profile and pH.  These conditions promote the growth of an interesting array of plant species. Dr. Brian Keener of the University of West Alabama led us to several sites around Demopolis that exemplified the distinctive characters of the Black Belt.

Later that day we had the pleasure of visiting his lab at the University where we learned about the intricate and time-consuming process of assembling a herbarium. After plants are collected, they are pressed and kept to dry between layers of newspaper. Once sufficiently dried, they are glued to a sheet containing a barcode that can be used to track the specimen. Finally, the specimen is photographed so it can be accessed digitally and stored in special cabinets. The following day of our trip led us to Spencer Farm, where we were greeted with a delicious breakfast made with ingredients harvested that morning from the farm. Chip and Laura, the husband and wife team that operate the farm, gave us a tour highlighting their sustainability efforts. Seeing their passion for what they do was inspiring, and visiting their farm was one of the major highlights of the weekend.

To wrap up the trip, we ventured to Perry Lakes Park and met Greg Harber, a prominent member of the Birmingham Audubon Society. I was happy to have the opportunity to explore the Black Belt, and to spend the weekend with such wonderful people!

To learn more about all of the educational opportunities The Gardens has to offer, we encourage you to visit our website, find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and follow us on Instagram. You can subscribe to the award-winning Dirt E-Lert, our bi-weekly e-newsletter, by simply texting BBGARDENS to 22828.

About Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Birmingham Botanical Gardens is Alabama's largest living museum with more than 12,000 different plants in its living collections. The Gardens' 67.5 acres contains more than 25 unique gardens, 30+ works of original outdoor sculpture and miles of serene paths. The Gardens features the largest public horticulture library in the U.S., conservatories, a wildflower garden, two rose gardens, the Southern Living garden, and Japanese Gardens with a traditionally crafted tea house. Education programs run year round and more than 11,000 school children enjoy free science-curriculum based field trips annually. The Gardens is open daily, offering free admission to more than 350,000 yearly visitors.


North American Land Trust's Ron Lance shares his knowledge of oaks and hickories on June 25

published: 06/15/2016

North American Land Trust's Ron Lance shares his knowledge of oaks and hickories on June 25

There will be 39 oak and 11 hickory species discussed, with natural history and horticultural utility saturating the narrative.

To reserve a seat online for the class, click here.

Before his visit, Lance shared more about what to expect from the session.

What is your role with North American Land Trust?


I'm a land manager on a piece of property that has a conservation easement on it - it's a little unusual, most of our biologists roam different properties and inspect different properties for inclusion in the North American Land Trust easement program. But I'm stationed in one spot. I work on a 3,000-acre tract near Glenville, North Carolina.

You do that all alone? No staff to assist?


It's all me. I'm the only person in the 3,000-acres taking care of it. I've been doing this for three years. I'm the maintenance man, caretaker, whatever it needs.

Why are oaks and hickories sometimes difficult to identify?

That's a good question. I guess primarily because there's more than half a dozen of them and people have trouble with any type of tree where there's more than three or four of a kind. The characters to distinguish them seem mysterious to people involved with these large groups of plants, but you look at the foliage, the fruit and the winter twigs and you can pretty much identify any oak. Or determine if it's intermediate between two species, because they do hybridize very easily.

The difficulty is unfamiliarity in knowing the key characters to look for in each species. Another reason they are hard to identify is variation. They have fairly high amounts of leaf-shape variation - not much variation in twigs or fruit, but the foliage can also vary widely in different locales and populations.

Will I feel more comfortable with identifying those variations after this session?

Hope so! That's what it's all about. I'll be bringing samples of foliage of all of the oaks - there's about 39 known to be native to Alabama, and I'll be trying to bring samples of each one of those. We'll go through an identification session and I'll have juvenile and mature leaves. We'll talk about what to look for in a leaf's shape, vestiture, which is the hairiness of the leaves.

Are any of these species endemic to Alabama?

(Quercus) Boyntonii is close. It grows more in Alabama than anywhere else. It's reputed to be in East Texas, but I don't think that's accurate. We haven't found any in Georgia. So it may be endemic to Alabama.


To learn more about all of the educational opportunities The Gardens has to offer, we encourage you to visit our website, find us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and follow us on Instagram. You can subscribe to the award-winning Dirt E-Lert, our bi-weekly e-newsletter, by simply texting BBGARDENS to 22828.

About Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Birmingham Botanical Gardens is Alabama's largest living museum with more than 12,000 different plants in its living collections. The Gardens' 67.5 acres contains more than 25 unique gardens, 30+ works of original outdoor sculpture and miles of serene paths. The Gardens features the largest public horticulture library in the U.S., conservatories, a wildflower garden, two rose gardens, the Southern Living garden, and Japanese Gardens with a traditionally crafted tea house. Education programs run year round and more than 11,000 school children enjoy free science-curriculum based field trips annually. The Gardens is open daily, offering free admission to more than 350,000 yearly visitors.


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