“If you go out and look around, really look carefully, you'll find that the Chattanooga area is home to a great diversity of native plant species,” said John Evans, director of horticulture here at Reflection Riding. Due to the climate history and the geography of the area, this unique city contains habitat types spanning from upland forests to grasslands, wetlands to mountain coves. “This diversity not only gives us plenty to explore, but also plenty to choose from when selecting native plants for our gardens and landscapes,” Evans said.
The 317 acres of Reflection Riding contains its own diverse array of plants, all under the care of Evans. As manager of the native plant nursery, Evans is responsible for producing enough native plants to make a difference on the property as the horticulture team restores habitats and maintains established gardens.
Native species in Chattanooga are facing a number of threats, especially from invasive exotic plants. Introduced either unintentionally as passengers in international trade or deliberately for a variety of reasons, most exotic species do not become invasive. But some of these species begin to have negative impacts on the environment, and outcompete native species (Are you interested in helping Reflection Riding manage invasive exotic species? Check our Eventbrite for more information about privet pulling sessions, to which we dedicate each Tuesday evening).
The largest threat to Chattanooga’s native species though, is what native species all over the world are facing now: habitat loss.
“The single greatest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss. As human population grows at an exponential rate, we have no choice but to occupy more space, and we seem to do it in the least efficient ways possible…” Evans said. “Sure, after we bulldoze the fields and forests, put in the roads, and build the houses, we often put a lot into landscaping so we can surround ourselves with what we perceive as a natural-feeling environment. But a monoculture lawn is not a meadow, and planting the same few exotic ornamental tree species throughout the neighborhood does not re-create a forest. The plant diversity that was once there is now gone.”
One way that Evans recommends being conscious of Chattanooga’s native species and supportive of biodiversity is by using natives in the home landscape. This not only supports plant diversity, but also native wildlife like insect pollinators, birds, and small mammals. Evans’ work supports this as well, by producing the native species for the bi-annual Reflection Riding plant sale that funds the nursery’s operation.
“We see it as our role to provide as many native plant species as possible to the local community. Currently we grow about 200 native plant species, and we are pushing the number further all the time,” Evans said. “Twice a year, in the spring and in the fall, we have a major native plant sale where the public can come and select from our collection. These native plant sales have been a Chattanooga tradition for over 30 years and serve as gathering points for native plant enthusiasts throughout the region.”
Reflection Riding is currently looking to fill a staff horticulturist position. Ideally this is a person with horticultural skills and a familiarity with native plants, who is enthusiastic about working in outdoor conditions. The job will include such tasks as seed collection and processing, propagation, care of plants in the nursery, general gardening activities, invasive plant management, habitat restoration and management, and housekeeping around the nursery. If you are interested in being a part of the Reflection Riding team, send a personal statement and resume to [email protected].
About the Author
Bess Turner graduated from Tulane University in 2018 with a BA in English, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies, where she also worked for the Tulane Hullabaloo and the Undergraduate Student Government Sustainability Committee. When she's not writing for Reflection Riding you can find her on the mat, hiking, reading, and searching for the best veggie burger in Chattanooga.
You can follow Bess on Instagram @bess_turner