Remembering Joe Townsend

Many of us will remember Joe Townsend from his 25 years as an active member in the South Carolina Native Plant Society. Here in the Upstate he will be remembered for the various roles he played in the advancement of the Society’s mission.  We lost Joe following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease in April of this year, and we take this opportunity to celebrate one of our champions both in gratitude for his service, and as an inspiration to those of us that will stand on his shoulders to make our own contribution. 

Simply stated, Joe Townsend has had a tremendously positive impact on the lives he’s touched through his service with the SCNPS.  His passion for our native plants and his selfless volunteer efforts to preserve, restore and share his hard-earned native plant knowledge with others, is legendary.  We are proud to introduce Joe Townsend into the SCNPS Hall of Fame.

Many of the programs Joe either initiated or volunteered in have become mainstays of the SCNPS we know today.  One of our founding members in 1996, he served on the Board of Directors early in the Society’s development.  Among his numerous legacy contributions, Joe was  involved in the first Upstate native plant sales which initially were a joint-venture between the Society and the SC Botanical Garden.  Joe believed strongly that making our native plants more readily accessible to the general public would promote their appreciation and restoration in our communities. He worked hard to make sure the sale became a pillar of our Upstate program today.  


Ever the gentleman, Joe was passionate about our natives, generous with his knowledge, and a powerful advocate for their preservation and restoration.   Rick Huffman recalls meeting Joe in 1996 and admiring his “fierce passion, and his forthright engagement in the development of the Society’s mission of promoting, protecting, and restoring native plants. He was a tireless educator and always gave of himself for the Society, building lifelong relationships.”

Perhaps Joe’s most lasting legacy may prove to be his remarkable work in propagating and restoring rare native plants true from seed,  seed he personally recovered from his legendary walks, most notably the Oconee Bells.  Through years of trial and error, Joe learned to grow Oconee Bells. He grew them outdoors as nature does, except in pots, so he might more easily share them with the local community of plant lovers.  (Read Kay Wade’s article The Oconee Bells: History, Homage, Hobby & Legacy on our Website.)  

Joe also worked closely with Tommy Wyche, Bill Sharpton, Bill Stringer, Chris Sermons and others on the restoration of our rare Spider Lilies, which can be seen today on the Reedy in Falls Park, at Ware Shoals on the Saluda River, and at Landsford Canal State Park.

Others will remember Joe as their field trip leader, when he shared not only his knowledge but his passion for the plants and wildlife they supported.  His encouragement for all of us to get involved and play a part in this important effort influenced our membership significantly.  Judy Seeley recalls “To hike with Joe to Oconee Falls was an annual spring treat for many people” and it was Joe that recruited her to become one of our most active members on just such a trip to Hagood Mills in Pickens County.   

Joe’s walks also served as a source of inspiration and advancement of science.  Always on the look-out for  unique species and plant characteristics, he invested years working with others like Patrick McMillan and Dan Whitten in the collection of seed, scientific data, and images of species.  Dan Whitten reports one such project of Joe’s is still in process today for what is potentially a new species of Trillium from Jones Gap. Joe hoped to name it ‘Trillium catesbaei var T.wychei’ in honor of his friend and fellow champion Tommy Wyche.   

Thanks, Joe, for all you did to make your world—our world—a better place, not only for us but also for unborn generations to come. You will be missed.

Contributing:  Bill Sharpton, Dan Whitten, Judy Seeley, Kay Ward, Doug Lockard, Janie and Steve Marlow, Rick Huffman and Betsy George.