Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center has begun the process of permanently preserving its 300+ acres of idyllic green space in the heart of Chattanooga. Reflection Riding will partner with the American Battlefield Trust to further protect their scenic land forever through a historic conservation easement. With partners like Reflection Riding, the Trust has worked to protect more than 53,000 acres across 24 states. This work will add an important tract of “The Battle Above the Clouds” to conserved, historic landscapes across the greater Chattanooga region.

This agreement will amplify and solidify Reflection Riding’s long-range vision to restore the vital connection between people and nature. Thanks to this partnership, Reflection Riding will continue to provide access to the outdoors for this generation and those to come. As dedicated stewards of the land and natural resources, Reflection Riding and the Trust, together, will add permanent legal protection that prevents the land from ever being developed. This gift will benefit the Chattanooga region and her people for decades to come.

“We’re seizing on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to permanently conserve this property that our community has loved for more than half a century. While our mission remains the same, this agreement will ensure that our children and grandchildren, and frankly those who come after them, will experience the same beautiful historic landscape originally preserved by the Chambliss, Humphreys, and many other families over the years,” Reflection Riding President and CEO Mark McKnight said. “While individual buildings may come and go, this historic landscape and the botanical heritage we’ve inherited will stay unchanged for future generations once this extra layer of legal protection goes into place. As the Chattanooga region grows, we’re losing opportunities to conserve land — especially open fields and grasslands — at an alarming rate. Our leadership felt that we must act now to permanently protect this place we all love so much.”

This agreement will also significantly aid Reflection Riding’s progress in its master planning process, including improved accessibility, enhanced trails and recreation areas, and better connections to Lookout Creek and the adjacent National Park lands. 

“Over the last few years, Reflection Riding has chosen a transformative and creative path forward,” noted Board Chair Stefanie Crowe. “I am proud of our leadership, our staff, our volunteers, and our members for helping us build a sustainable, long-term plan for taking our conservation work into the future. And I can’t wait to see what else is in store for this great place.”

Reflection Riding is excited to partner with the Trust as we work towards the permanent protection of our beloved natural resources. “My kids grew up coming to Reflection Riding — from attending summer camp, to learning to hike longer distances, to figuring out how to paddle on the creek,” remembers Jim Catanzaro, a former Board Chair and long-time volunteer. “I can’t imagine my hometown without this place. With our partners at the American Battlefield Trust and generous support from our Chattanooga community, this landscape and the connections to nature it holds will be protected forever. There’s just not much more important than that.”

To learn more about Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center, please visit Set on 317 acres on the west flank of Lookout Mountain, Reflection Riding is part landscape park, part nature center, and all outdoor exploration, just minutes from downtown. Reflection Riding restores the vital connection between people and nature. Options for getting back to nature abound on both land and water, on-site and off-site with outreach programs offered in 16 counties. On-site, a winding three-mile gravel loop can be walked, run, or bicycled, through old-growth forests, pastoral meadows, and wetlands habitats. Children often explore the boardwalk over Lookout Creek, Discovery Treehouse, and Paddler's Perch, complete with canoes for visitor use and easy put-in. Over 10 miles of trails connect to National Park lands that lead to the top of Lookout Mountain. The native animal conservation program brings visitors face-to-face with critically-endangered American red wolves as well as more common Chattanooga wildlife like bobcats, sandhill cranes, and more. A truly inspiring experience is listening to the red wolves howl in unison and imagining what came before us from Civil War battles to ancient trails walked by Native Americans.

Posted by Bess Turner  | Category: conservation

Swamp Rose Mallow

September 24th, 2020

Hibiscus grandiflorasalso Hibiscus muscheutos

This perennial is a member of the Mallow (Malvaceae) family, which includes herbs, shrubs, and small trees. There are over 85 genera and 1500 species in this family, some of which are okra (edible), cotton (for apparel), and Rose of Sharron (ornamentals).

physical description

The swamp rose mallow can attain a height of 6 feet with large, white or pink (6” – 10” in diameter) flowers. The 5 petals have red to purple centers and numerous stamens. The leaves appear in alternate configuration on the main stem; the leaves themselves are heart-shaped, with a toothed, three-lobed appearance. This species blooms from March through August.


The swamp rose mallow is found in wet to moist areas often near ditches and other open moist spaces. It requires at least partial shade and wet soils. Originally found only in Florida and Georgia westward to southern Mississippi, the swamp rose mallow, due to human distribution, now is found in many eastern states in the southern and mid-Atlantic areas.



This species can be used as a specimen plant, especially with its showy large flowers.

It does well in a wet area of the garden and can also function in a moist border location.

interesting information

Our confection, marshmallows, was originally derived from the roots of the marsh mallow or swamp mallow. They were mashed, boiled in water until thick, and then eaten.  Our current confection tastes nothing like marsh mallow.

This plant attracts many different species of bees, particularly as pollinators.

The swamp rose mallow cannot stand drought or near-drought conditions.

The flowers of this plant only last one day, but being so conspicuous, they are a wonderful addition to the garden.

The seeds from the dried flowers can be collected, stored in dry conditions in an envelope over the winter, and then planted in a greenhouse or near a window. They grow to flowering age in 4 – 5 months.

The swamp rose mallow is grown and available in the arboretum of the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center.

About the Author

Charlie Belin is a retired professor and biological oceanographer. He taught five courses in the University of Georgia system for many years from his home base in Savannah, Georgia.

Charlie loves hiking at Reflection Riding, teaching children about the ecology of the area, and interacting with the Reflection Riding staff. They are GREAT!

shop for native plants!

Our nursery is open for in-person shopping! Come by Tuesday-Friday 9:30-4:00 and Saturday 8:00-1:00. Your purchase supports our mission to reconnect people with nature. Members save 10% on all plant sales.

Planting native helps restore the natural habitat required for beautiful birds, butterflies and other insects to thrive. Plus, native plants are supposed to be here, so they're often more tolerant of neglect, poor soil, and draught.

Posted by Bess Turner  | Category: native plants

The American Chestnut Tree

August 12th, 2020

Written by Scotty Smith, Director of Land Conservation

The American chestnut tree, Castanea dentata (C. dentata) was once one of the most dominant tree species of deciduous forests in the eastern United States, comprising as much as 25% of the total timber volume in portions of Appalachia. There were an estimated 4 billion individual chestnut trees in these forests (TACF), making the American chestnut tree a vitally important source of lumber, food, and wildlife fodder in these areas. Having vigorous growth that creates monumental trees, wood that is resistant to rot, and nuts that are sweet and nutritious for both humans and wildlife, this species was essentially the perfect tree until everything changed in the early 1900s. The American chestnut survived for 40 million years, only to be nearly wiped out in only 50. This is one of the most, if not the most, impactful ecological disasters to take place in our forests in human history.


In 1904, Cryphonectria parasitica (C. parasitica), the fungus that causes chestnut blight, was first reported in New York.  Within 50 years, the air-borne spores had spread across the chestnut’s natural range, killing almost every individual and reducing the trees to basal shoots, which eventually succumbed to the blight as well (Anagnostakis, 1987, 2001). The fungus attacks the cambium and eventually girdles the branch or trunk, resulting in tree death. It is parasitic and co-evolved with the Asian species of chestnut trees. While the Asian species (the Chinese and Japanese chestnuts) have a natural immunity and rarely succumb to the blight, it wreaks havoc on the American chestnut, which has little to no immunity. The issue with the disease is that it usually kills the host before the tree is mature enough to flower and spread its genes.  To make matters worse for this majestic tree, officials went on a campaign in the early to mid 1900s to save the lumber before the trees were affected. Many of the trees that could have potentially offered immunity to the blight were hacked down, reducing the population of adult trees even further. Chestnut trees are still somewhat common in our eastern forests, but are functionally extinct because of the lack of mature flowering adults.

Another infectious agent that affects the American chestnut tree is the oomycete Phytophthora cinnamomi (P. cinnamomi), which causes ink disease, or Phytophthora root rot, in chestnut trees and several other tree species (Robin, 2012). Oomycetes are a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism. The organism essentially feeds on the roots of the host plant, weakening and killing the living root tissue. The black necrotic tissue caused gives it the condition the name “ink disease.” P. cinnamomi was first described in 1922 in Sumatra, but likely spread across the world long before (Robin, 2012). It has the broadest host range of any Phytophthora species, but is particularly destructive in the Southeastern United States (Robin, 2012). 


The effort to restore the American chestnut species has been going on for over 90 years with relatively little progress made over much of that time (TACF). However, in 1983 The American Chestnut Foundation was founded and has been developing American chestnut populations that are resistant to the diseases caused by C. parasitica and P. cinnamomi. Resistance will allow natural selection to resume for this valuable tree species that is now functionally extinct which in turn, will increase biodiversity in our forests, increase food for wildlife, allow cultivation for nut production, and allow the harvest of high quality timber. The American Chestnut Foundation has been using backcross breeding to introduce genes for blight resistance from the Asian chestnut species into the American chestnut in order to grow trees that are phenotypically identical to American chestnuts, but carry the resistance found in the Chinese and Japanese species. The Chinese chestnut is the most commonly used species for backcross breeding programs. The current generation of hybrids are roughly 96% American.

The backcross breeding process is a long one. It begins with an American and a Chinese chestnut which are bred together. The offspring are grown out for several years in nurseries, orchards, or woodland settings. After a period of time to allow for establishment, the trees are intentionally injured and inoculated with the deadly fungus (C. parasitica). The trees get a canker because of the injury, which can be used to evaluate the trees resistance. Most trees succumb to blight, but some are immune and survive. The idea with backcross breeding is to only select the very best specimens, so generally over 90% of the population will be removed. The best of the surviving trees, which would be theoretically 50% Chinese, are then hand pollinated with pollen from an American chestnut tree. The offspring of the hybrid trees are again grown out and evaluated for resistance. The surviving trees are 75% American and 25% Chinese. The hybrids are again bred with full American chestnuts. This process continues until the tree is 15/16 (or 96%) American, which is the point where the program is today. The hope is to breed a tree that has the natural resistance of the Chinese tree but the form and function of the American chestnut.

In addition to backcross breeding, the New York chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation has been working on genetically modified American chestnut trees that are blight resistant. This process essentially just involves adding two additional genes to the American chestnut genepool to infer blight resistance. The most effective gene tested to date encodes for an enzyme called oxalate oxidase, which breaks down oxalic acid, one of the main weapons the blight fungus uses to kill the chestnut trees (TACF). This gene is actually rather common in the plant world, including in many of our crops, so it is proving safe for release into the environment. These trees are even more American ( >99.999%) than their backcrossed cousins. 

Here at Reflection Riding, we are involved in the backcross breeding program. We have two small test orchards that are side by side on the property. This was implemented in the early 2000’s by a former board chair, Bill Brooks, who was a member of The American Chestnut Foundation. The first orchard (the southern set of trees) is the backcross orchard. These trees are American Chestnut Foundation hybrids crossed with American chestnuts from Tennessee. These hybrid trees have pedigrees going back all the way to the 1930’s in Connecticut and Maryland.The other orchard, the northern set of trees, are new hybrid trees being used to breed new sources of resistance into the backcross breeding program. These trees are F1 hybrids, and are 50% american and 50% chinese or japanese chestnut. Every year, chestnuts are collected from our trees and given to the The American Chestnut Foundation to create the next generation. Seedlings from these trees have been planted and are currently being grown out in experimental orchards across Tennessee.

Works Cited

The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) website:

Anagnostakis SL. 1987. Chestnut blight: the classical problem of an introduced  pathogen. Mycologia 79: 23–37.

Anagnostakis SL. 2001. The effect of multiple importations of pests and pathogens on a native tree. Biological Invasions 3: 245–254.

Deason, Trent. 2018. Conservation and collection of Castanea dentata germplasm in the South. Honors Thesis. UTC.

Gentner, Kevin. 2018. Evaluation of blight resistance in chestnut F2 half-sibling and full-sibling families via small stem assay. Honors Thesis. UTC.

Hein, Kirsten. 2018. Implementing early screening methods to detect resistance to Phytophthora cinnamomi in backcross Chinese-American Chestnut hybrids. Honors Thesis. UTC.

Robin, C., Smith, I., Hansen, E.M. 2012. Phytophthora cinnamomi. Forest Phytophthoras 2(1). doi: 10.5399/osu/fp.2.1.3041.

Robinson, Anna C. 2016. Measuring Phytophthora resistance phenotypes in segregating testcross families of hybrid   American chestnut trees. Honors Thesis. UTC.

shop for native plants!

Our nursery is open for in-person shopping! Come by Tuesday-Friday 9:30-4:00 and Saturday 8:00-1:00. Your purchase supports our mission to reconnect people with nature. Members save 10% on all plant sales.

Planting native helps restore the natural habitat required for beautiful birds, butterflies and other insects to thrive. Plus, native plants are supposed to be here, so they're often more tolerant of neglect, poor soil, and draught.

Posted by Bess Turner  | Category: ecology

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