Birmingham Botanical Gardens is open to all, every day of the week. Spring/summer hours are 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (through November 6). In light of the increased number of Covid-19 cases in Birmingham and Alabama, the City of Birmingham has implemented an ordinance requiring face coverings inside City-owned buildings and venues, including the Garden Center and other indoor facilities at the Gardens, effective July 29, 2021. For more information and guidelines for visiting, please click here. We look forward to your visit!

Native Plant Conference 2021 | Schedule


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Schedule at a Glance 

Thursday, March 11: Kickoff Night Trivia 

Friday, March 12: Opening Keynote Presentation + Sessions 1-5

  • Opening Keynote Presentation: How the Intersection of Culture and Ecology Informs Land Use Decisions (Kelly Holdbrooks)

  • Session 1: Slow Design: Observation and Response as our Most Valuable Garden Tools (Molly Hendry)

  • Session 2: Sourcing Native Plants for Ecosystem Function (Amy Highland, Tom Kaye, Ph.D., Ari Novy, Ph.D.)

  • Session 3: iNaturalist 101 (Michael Ezell)

  • Session 4: My Native Garden (Angela Shorter)

  • Session 5: Restoring Alabama’s Hurricane Ravaged Urban Forest: Remediation, Selection and Design Considerations (Beau Brodbeck, Ph.D.)

Saturday, March 13: Sessions 6-10 + Community Conversations

  • Session 6: Future Nature: Landscape Architecture + A More Resilient Alabama (Kelly Homan)

  • Session 7: Successfully Rebuilding Bayou La Batre’s Waterfront (Mary Kate Brown, Judy Haner)

  • Session 8: Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance Postcards from the Field (Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance members)

  • Session 9: Do We Really Need More Azaleas? Using Native Azaleas as a Model for Southerners To Step Up and Make a Difference (Patrick Thompson)

  • Session 10: The Alabama Flora: Getting the Word Out on a Neglected Flora That is Full Surprises (Brian Keener, Ph.D.)

  • Community Conversations: Breakout Sessions 

Sunday, March 14: Closing Keynote Presentation + On-Site Field Trips 

  • Closing Keynote Presentation: The City Planting a Million Trees in Two Years—Global Perspective from Freetown, Sierra Leone (Eric Hubbard)

  • Field Trip #1: Kaul Wildflower Garden, Birmingham Botanical Gardens (Molly Hendry, John Manion)

  • Field Trip #2: Barber Alabama Woodlands, Birmingham Botanical Gardens (Brooke McMinn)

  • Field Trip #3: Bog Garden, Birmingham Botanical Gardens (Larry Stephens)


Detailed Schedule 

Thursday, March 11 | Kickoff Night Trivia

Kickoff Night Trivia

6:00-7:30 p.m. (Zoom)

Join your fellow conference attendees, presenters, and moderators for this fun, family-friendly virtual trivia night! It’s just like an in-person Trivia Night, but without the germs. Everyone plays as a free agent. Moderators will open the video conference at 5:55 p.m. CST so that participants can say hello and iron out any technical issues. Trivia will start at 6:05 p.m. CST. There will be one 5-minute intermission in the middle, and we should conclude by 7:30 p.m. CST.


Friday, March 12 | Opening Keynote Presentation + Sessions 1-5

Opening Keynote Presentation

How the Intersection of Culture and Ecology Informs Land Use Decisions

Kelly Holdbrooks, Executive Director, Southern Highlands Reserve

9:00-10:00 a.m. (Zoom)

E. O Wilson defines biophilia as “the innate tendency [in human beings] to focus on life and lifelike process. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hopes rise on its currents.”

There is evidence that humans have been connecting to their natural environment through language and culture for tens of thousands of years. There are many myths, symbols, art, metaphors, and ceremonies centered on animals and plants in human history. From art found in the Lascaux caves of southwestern France from 17,000 years ago to current day ceremonies performed by Native Americans, it is evident that humans feel a deep connection to nature.

This intersection of culture and ecology informs land use decisions. From controlled burns to improve forest ecology to farmlands becoming suburban neighborhoods, each generation of a culture leaves their mark on the land (pun intended).

With over 20 years of experience in horticulture and design, Kelly will share stories and explore the intersection between culture and ecology through the lens of the Southern Highlands Reserve.

The Southern Highlands Reserve is 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 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.

This presentation will cover history, landscape architecture, human connection, and the important role native plants play in conservation, education, and research.


Session 1 

Slow Design: Observation and Response as our Most Valuable Garden Tools

Molly Hendry, Garden Assessment Project Leader, Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens 

10:15–11:15 a.m. (Zoom)

“The one tool I can’t be without are my eyes. Sometimes you need a spade, sometimes pruners, but when you are gardening you really have to look.” —Piet Oudolf

In today's fast paced environment it can seem like the needs of our garden, and our world, need swift action. This can often thrust us towards hurried design solutions that ultimately leave us wanting. What would happen if we slowed down, took time to watch and understand our garden and its plants in order to make measured decisions?

With a background in both horticulture and landscape architecture, Molly works at the cross-section of plants and design for the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens. She has the benefit of being a designer that works each day in the same garden, which allows her to spend the necessary time understanding the deep history of each space and observe the varied needs and opportunities that develop over time. During this presentation, she will be focusing on her design strategy in the Kaul Wildflower Garden (KWG), Birmingham Botanical Gardens' native plant garden, by first unpacking the historical creation of and the design philosophy of its mastermind, Zenon Schreiber, who was involved in the design of KWG for over 15 years.

After discussing Schreiber’s own slow design philosophy, she will then discuss the development plan for KWG, created with guidance from Thomas Rainer of Phyto Studio, and how this framework has guided her latest project, the KWG Phenology Project. Since 2019, Molly has been tracking the bloom times, habits, cultural requirements, and quirks of the hundreds of native species in KWG. Her talk will finish by walking through how these observations, charted across all 52 weeks of the year, serve as a foundational springboard for strategic design developments in KWG and can translate to other projects throughout the Gardens. The goal of the talk is to walk away, challenged to slow down, and use your eyes as your most valuable tool for informing your ongoing garden decisions.


Session 2

Sourcing Native Plants for Ecosystem Function

Amy Highland, Director of Collections, Mt. Cuba Center

Tom Kaye, Ph.D., Executive Director and Senior Ecologist, Institute of Applied Ecology

Ari Novy, Ph.D., President and CEO, San Diego Botanic Garden

11:30 a.m.–Noon (Zoom)

In the native plant world, discussions about what plants are authentically native can get heated. Are the cultivars found at your local nursery native? Do they add ecological value or threaten biodiversity? In 2016, 15 scientists from 11 organizations convened at Mt. Cuba Center to help decision-makers choose which plants are most appropriate in different planting contexts. Because each planting site is different, we developed a tool that would compare the genetic and adaptive backgrounds of a plant available on the market against the requirements of the planting site. Come see our complicated journey of discovery in action. 


Session 3

iNaturalist 101

Michael Ezell, Naturalist emeritus, Alabama State Parks

1:00–2:00 p.m. (Zoom)

This session will cover the basics of iNaturalist and Citizen Science, including the whys, whats, and hows of setting up a personal account and making observations on private and public lands all over the world. The emphasis will be on documentation of the existing biodiversity of Alabama and the preparation of a 2020 baseline for further studies by scientists of the future. Participants will experience the importance of citizen science in today’s studies and the efficiency of the software in cataloging plants and other species in their existing habitats.


Session 4

My Native Garden

Angela Shorter, Kindergarten Teacher, NBCT, Trussville City Schools

2:15–3:15 p.m. (Zoom)

Children are naturally curious. So, what better place to satisfy that curiosity than in a garden! Children’s appreciation for nature begins at an early age, and they take cues about how to treat nature from the adults they are observing. In this session, we will discuss establishing a pollinator’s garden on a school campus using native and local plants to teach children environmental awareness and to grow young conservationists. We will talk about developing a plan for optimal use of the garden and show how every area of the curriculum can be covered through the use of the garden as an outdoor classroom while involving the community in teaching and in the care of the garden.


Session 5

Restoring Alabama’s Hurricane Ravaged Urban Forest: Remediation, Selection and Design Considerations

Beau Brodbeck, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Community, Alabama Cooperative Extension System

3:30–4:30 p.m. (Zoom)

Hurricanes Sally and Zeta have caused significant damage to Alabama’s urban forests. This presentation will help audiences identify common types of tree damage, understand their remediation options, and plan for a more storm-resilient urban forest in the future with a focus on tree selection. Research and anecdotal evidence have shown that certain tree species are more prone to failure in high wind environments, while others are better adapted. Additionally, as trees are replanted there are some design considerations that can help reduce future failures and make for a more hurricane-resilient urban forest in the future.


Saturday, March 13 | Sessions 6–10 + Community Conversations

Session 6

Future Nature: Landscape Architecture + A More Resilient Alabama

Kelly Homan, Landscape Architect and Adjunct Faculty, Auburn University’s College of Architecture, Design, and Construction 

9:00–10:00 a.m. (Zoom)

East of the Mississippi River Alabama ranks first in species diversity. This diversity is a product of the state’s unique climate, geological formations, yearly rainfall, and evolutionary trends and provides crucial ecosystem services and beauty for the people of Alabama. While the depth of Alabama’s biodiversity is just beginning to be fully understood, the state also currently comes in at number two, surpassed only by Hawaii, for total species extinctions. Why is one of the most biodiverse states losing species at such an alarming rate?

This presentation will focus on the role Landscape Architecture can play in environmental conservation and landscape restoration through exploring ongoing research within the field dedicated to preserving native lands, building landscape resilience through diverse planting strategies, and biodiversity design. An overview of various research initiatives, both from the presenter and by others, will be shown and include designing linear conservation parks that cross continents, establishing plant diversity on degraded sites, creating Alabama plant species corridors, developing high quantity southeastern native seed mixes, and promoting urban biodiversity boundaries. Most of the 2020 AICHI global biodiversity targets established back in 2010 by the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity have not been met. Our planet is losing plant and animal species at an unprecedented rate and Alabama is no exception. New ideas and large-scale interventions will be required if we want future generations to enjoy Alabama’s beautiful diversity. Landscape Architecture can help build a framework in which those ideas can begin to come to life.


Session 7

Successfully Rebuilding Bayou La Batre’s Waterfront

Mary Kate Brown, Coastal Projects Manager, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama

Judy Haner, Marine Program Director, The Nature Conservancy in Alabama

10:15-11:15 a.m. (Zoom)

Together with the City of Bayou La Batre, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Mobile County, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy implemented a large scale restoration project committed to protecting and preserving the coastal community of Bayou La Batre from future storms and coastal hazards as well as revitalizing the locally important waterfront area by restoring, enhancing, and protecting the shoreline habitats and providing improved community access for recreation and fishing opportunities. Designed with Moffatt & Nichol, the Lightning Point Restoration project included about 1 mile of overlapping breakwaters, 40 acres of marsh, tidal creeks, scrub-shrub habitats, and more than 240,000 cubic yards of repurposed dredged material to create the new habitats and storm buffer along the community’s waterfront. These new marsh areas were then planted with more than 90,000 native plants. This restoration project began in Fall 2019 and was completed in less than 10 months in summer 2020.

The implementation of the Lightning Point Restoration project was successful due to the project team addressing various potential barriers before construction began. These barriers involved community acceptance, technical feasibility, funding limitations, political support, legal concerns, cost and benefit of actions, and consistency with the community and regional environmental goals. In addition, this project engaged the local high school, Alma Bryant High School, a Signature Academy of Coastal Studies, and involved students in collecting seeds and growing them in their school’s greenhouses with hopes to replant once the project was completed. By understanding the impact of the Lightning Point Restoration project on the local coastal community of Bayou La Batre, The Nature Conservancy and Moffatt & Nichol were able to translate these concerns to the contractor and the community to ensure that the project was constructed with integrity and set the stage for future complex restoration projects.

To date, The Nature Conservancy has been tracking the project since construction completed with its resilience to the past four storms this hurricane season. Lightning Point has survived successfully with minimal damages and the native plants have responded healthily to each storm surge event. This presentation will show key features of the Lightning Point Restoration Project including the progression of the project planning, importance to the local coastal community, design considerations, and monitoring plans.


Session 8

Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance Postcards from the Field

Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance members

11:30 a.m.-Noon (Zoom)

Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance members will share pictures of field sites, project species, accomplishments, sightings, and celebrations, allowing us all to keep up with each other in this time of being safer at home.


Session 9

Do We Really Need More Azaleas? Using Native Azaleas as a Model for Southerners To Step Up and Make a Difference

Patrick Thompson, Curator, Donald E. Davis Arboretum

1:00–2:00 p.m. (Zoom)

Azaleas have the dichotomy of being one of the most prevalent and poorly understood plants in the South. Even though most houses have a white, purple, or pink azalea out front, the native azaleas remain an oddity in the landscape and a shrinking presence in wild places. Like many native plants, azaleas suffer during development and are unlikely to move back into an area after disturbance. The reblooming evergreen azaleas which grow quick and cheap in our nurseries and have not become an invasive nuisance are almost too good to be true. These wonders of the garden did not come from the woods like this. Centuries of dedicated work gave us the diversity of options now seen in the Asian azaleas.

The genome of our native azaleas is like a toolbox waiting to be opened. If we can keep our native species from going down a genetic bottleneck made of our own expansion, they have the potential to become some of the greatest garden plants the world has ever known. In this talk, we will walk through the surprising diversity of traits that can be found in our native azaleas. Understanding the native species role in the landscape, and the best practices for keeping them viable in our changing world is going to be crucial to allowing the garden varieties to become as frequent a joy as they deserve to be.

We will also look at some of the cultivars and hybrid groups that have entered our markets, and talk about the ones that are most and least appropriate for Southern gardens. Finally, we will talk about where to get them and how to plant them so they live up to their potential.


Session 10

The Alabama Flora: Getting the Word Out on a Neglected Flora That is Full Surprises

Brian Keener, Ph.D., Director and Curator, University of West Alabama Herbarium

2:15–3:15 p.m. (Zoom)

Acre for acre, Alabama is one of the most diverse states in the country and continues to produce a steady stream of newly discovered plant species. However, there was a darker period when the state traditionally lagged behind in the study and knowledge of its rich botanical heritage. With the publication of the now classic 2001 paper describing the Ketona Dolomite glades including the narrow endemics occurring there, a botanical renaissance has transpired in the state. This talk will explore the developments from the past 20 years, describe plans for the future that have Alabama moving forward in botanical study, and disseminate that knowledge to the masses through various media. Recently named and described taxa as well as other new ones in the works will also be highlighted.


Community Conversations

3:30–4:30 p.m. (Zoom)

Breakout Sessions: Break out into Zoom Rooms by Conservation, Education, and Design to discuss what you're taking away from the conference and how you will use it.


Sunday, March 14 | Closing Keynote Presentation + In-Person Field Trips

Closing Keynote Presentation

The City Planting a Million Trees in Two Years—Global Perspective from Freetown, Sierra Leone

Eric Hubbard, Technical Advisor, Environmental Management, Freetown City Council, Sierra Leone

10:00–11:00 a.m. (Zoom)

As a core component of the Transform Freetown Agenda, the Mayor of Freetown and the Freetown City Council (FCC) set the goal to increase tree and vegetation cover by 50 percent from 2018 levels by 2022 to address the impact of climate change on the city and its residents. To get there, we target to plant and grow 1 million trees across the 13 catchment areas of the Western Area Peninsula [Freetown and Western Area Rural District] over the 2020 and 2021 rainy seasons. For phase one implementation of the #FreetownTheTreetownCampaign in 2020, the FCC is partnering with the Western Rural District Council, the Ministry of Environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Guma Valley Water Co., the Ministry of Water Resources, the National Water Resources Management Agency, the National Protected Area Authority (NPAA), the Ministry of Finance, the World Bank, and the Environmental Foundation for Africa (EFA) to plant and grow 500,000 trees in the of upper catchment and high-slope areas in 58 targeted reforestation areas across 11 catchment areas, as well as targeted mangrove woodlands to address critical recurring hazards and avoid potential disasters, restore natural ecosystems, and protect the water supply and sanitation infrastructure.


2021 Native Plant Conference Field Trip #1

Kaul Wildflower Garden, Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Leader: Molly Hendry, John Manion

Times: 1:00–2:30 p.m. | 3:00-4:30 p.m. (In person, small groups)

Meeting Location: Floral Clock

Cost: $40 (Members of the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens), $50 (General Public)

Available exclusively to participants in the 2021 Native Plant Conference: Growing Resilience. Molly Hendry, Garden Assessment Project Leader with the Friends, will discuss the history and design of the Kaul Wildflower Garden as well as the Kaul Phenology Project and its impact on future development. Then John Manion, Curator of the Kaul Wildflower Garden for the last 10 years, will highlight the various ecosystems of Alabama that are represented in the garden and their associated plants, with emphasis on the many rare and special plants in this well-known collection. Preregistration required.


2021 Native Plant Conference Field Trip #2

Barber Alabama Woodlands, Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Leader: Brooke McMinn

Times: 1:00–2:30 p.m. | 3:00-4:30 p.m. (In person, small groups)

Meeting Location: Blount Plaza

Cost: $40 (Members of the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens), $50 (General Public)

Available exclusively to participants in the 2021 Native Plant Conference: Growing Resilience. Discover an abundance of classroom curriculum connections to the past, present, and future in the Barber Alabama Woodlands with the Friends’ Director of Education & Visitor Experience, Brooke McMinn. Preregistration required. Focus: native plants as keystones in environmental education programs.


2021 Native Plant Conference Field Trip #3

Bog Garden, Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Leader: Larry Stephens

Times: 1:00–2:30 p.m. | 3:00-4:30 p.m. (In person, small groups)

Meeting Location: Queen's Gates

Cost: $40 (Members of the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens), $50 (General Public)

Available exclusively to participants in the 2021 Native Plant Conference: Growing Resilience. Explore native plant conservation challenges and restoration success stories in the Bog Garden with Friends volunteer and 2015 Plantsperson of the Year Larry Stephens. Preregistration required. Focus: invasive species abatement and habitat-appropriate native species restoration.