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Faculty, students create woodland garden

Native Woodland Garden Grand Opening
Students Esmeralda Gonzalez and Jessica Murray examine a Red Columbine, one of more than 200 plant species native to the north Georgia region represented in UNG's Native Woodland Garden.

Students, faculty and staff of the University of North Georgia (UNG) gathered recently to welcome one of the newest additions to the Dahlonega Campus; the Native Woodland Garden, a collection of plants, trees and flowers native to the north Georgia region, constructed by UNG faculty and students.

"The Appalachian region is known for its great diversity of plant life and its very specialized habitats," said Dr. Ashlee McCaskill, assistant professor of biology, who led the project. "These plants and habitats need to be protected and to do that we all need to be familiar with them. This project will help raise awareness to achieve that goal."

The project provides opportunities for students, faculty, staff and community members to learn about local plants and trees, as well as learning experience for student workers helping to maintain the garden.

Though the garden opened to the public in December 2013, the recent grand opening marked the completion of several projects within the garden, including the addition of some 50 native species, bringing the total to more than 200. The team is also installing houses for local fauna, including a bat-box, butterfly house, and houses for several species of birds, including screech owls.

"Working on this project has given me firsthand field experience, which is very different than what we learn in the classroom," said Alexis Pertrassi, a senior biology major who helped construct the garden. "We have learned how to care for all the different plant species, and made connections to what we see in textbooks. For other students, the garden offers a chance to see things they may not have seen in their own environments, and to learn about their surroundings. It's also a very peaceful place to relax."

McCaskill said she is also interested in the possibility of creating some specialty, non-native gardens, such as a garden with medicinal plants, or a garden featuring species from arid climates.

"It would also be great if we could give students the opportunity to garden vegetables and other edible plants," McCaskill said.

The garden was created with a $7,500 Chattahoochee Oconee Forest Interpretive grant through the North Georgia Community Foundation.

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