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On the edge of the forest in Atlanta’s Brookwood Hills neighborhood, Fernbank Museum ecologist Eli Dickerson briefs volunteers.
“There’s a defined area where they’re going to do the heaviest work, which will involve taking out a lot of trees, building an access road and then putting in a new pipe there,” Dickerson says. “Anything in that area is on the hit list, so we can save as much as we want.”
Dickerson is leading a plant rescue in the Clear Creek nature preserve, where a new sewer line is being installed. He and the volunteers came out to collect wildflowers, ferns and herbs in the path of construction.
Once in the forest, they fan out and search among invasive species, like English Ivy, for the plants that are native to the area, like Trillium and Mayapple. They then dig up the plants’ root systems and place them in pots for transport.
Native plants are uniquely adapted to the Atlanta region, Dickerson says, and so they have a role in the eco-system — for example, as a food source for animals. But, he says, they’re increasingly at risk with all the new development happening around Atlanta. And that’s where he and other plant rescuers come in.
“If we can go in and save some of these plants before these areas are developed, then we’re turning a bad situation into a good situation,” Dickerson says. “We’re making some good out of it, at least.”
Dickerson says they focus on ferns and wildflowers, rather than trees and shrubs, because they have a better chance of surviving the move. The hundred or so plants collected here will be replanted in the Fernbank Forest to help dozens of acres there that have been hard hit by invasive species.
“I think everybody’s excited that stuff that would be destroyed or lost or otherwise is going to get taken out and being able to be appreciated somewhere else,” says Frank Summers, whose parents live in Brookwood Hills. He observed and participated in the plant rescue.
The Clear Creek greenspace is owned by the Brookwood Hills Community Club. Summers says the neighborhood is working with the city on a plan to reforest the area once the sewer line construction is completed.