Field Trip to Bio Way Farm and the Post Oak Savanna Natural Area

Posted on |

This will be a two part trip to Bio Way Farm in Ware Shoals and the Post Oak Savanna Natural Area in Saluda County. It will be led by Chris Sermons, a naturalist who has studied native species, farming, permaculture, and conservation for more than 20 years. Passionate about preserving and restoring native habitat, he was also voted “Farmer of the Year” in 2016 by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. And he just happens to be Vice President of our Upstate Chapter!

Per Chris:

“First, we’ll meet at Bio Way Farm to look at the extensive native plant landscaping, including my efforts to restore a remnant Post Oak/Southern Red Oak savanna. We’ll talk about landscape design and natural history, and I’ll point out indicator species of oak savannas.

“Next, we’ll carpool to the natural area in the Long Cane district of the Sumter National Forest. This site is described by Patrick McMillan as “the closest any of us can get to experiencing the landscape that existed during the time of Mark Catesby in the early 1700s.” I’m hoping we’ll see characteristic species like Piedmont Wand Goldenrod, Leadplant, and Rattlesnake Master.

“Bio Way Farm is approximately halfway between Greenville and the Post Oak natural area, so it’s a good place to meet and carpool to the second site. But if you prefer to skip the first part of the trip, you can choose to meet us at the natural area in Saluda County instead.”

Email Chris Sermons at [email protected] for more information, and to register for one or both halves of this exciting outing.

Upstate Events: July Picnic Recap

Posted on |

In lieu of a meeting in July, we threw a fabulous potluck picnic (and by “we” we mean, Diane and Joe Maniscalco) at Table Rock State Park, replete with two long tables groaning under the weight of foods from all over the world, as well as local favorites. It turns out that the Upstate chapter has a lot of good cooks! To echo our own Judy Seeley: “Even though it was a potluck, it still took a lot of organizing, serving, and cleaning up — thank you, Diane and Joe, for all that you did!”

Photo Credit: Scaly Adventures®

The 2023 South Carolina Paw Paw Festival

Posted on |

Sponsored by Blue Oak Horticulture, the Blue Oak Pawpaw Festival honors America’s largest native fruit during its peak harvest season in Upstate SC. Come taste the fruit, browse the plants, visit the greenhouse, talk natives with representatives from the SCNPS and Southern Garden Solutions, shop arts and crafts from local artisans, listen to live music from the Well Drinkers, join June Ellen Bradley for an herbal medicinal plant walk, and much more! There will also be several food and drink vendors on site, and Carolina Baeurnhaus will be brewing up a special pawpaw beer just for the festival — we can’t wait to try it!

Blue Oak’s nursery will be open for plant sales, including native plants, from 3:00-6:00pm during the festival, including both local ecotype and selected varieties of Pawpaws. They will also have a limited selection of grafted Pawpaw trees for sale.

Learn more and get all the FAQs, and purchase a parking pass, HERE.

Image Credit: Blue Oak Horticulture

Jocassee Wild Naturalist Certificate: Intro Class

Posted on |

Our summer vaycay continues this month, so no meeting (but definitely save the date for our spectacular September speaker!). Instead, we encourage readers to consider joining our good friends at Jocassee Wild Outdoor Education for a special introduction to the Jocassee Wild Naturalist certification program (JWN), which uses Lake Jocassee as an entryway for the study of the remarkable Jocassee Gorges.

JWN consists of this mandatory prerequisite introductory class plus twelve core classes, offered roughly every three weeks between September and May. The subjects cover all the reasons this specific eco-region was named one of 50 of “the world’s last great places” by National Geographic magazine. This is a unique opportunity for local naturalists to learn Jocassee Gorges botany with Alan Weakley (Weakley’s Flora) and Keith Bradley (SC State DNR Botanist); Jocassee Gorges geology with Dr. Bill Ranson (Geology Guide to the Foothills Trail); Jocassee history with Sheryl White, whose family history is rooted throughout the story of this region; and so much more.

The Jocassee Gorges eco-region is a little-known tract of land located at the interface between the South Carolina Piedmont and the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. Only a couple of highways penetrate this largely undeveloped tract, and the best access is from Lake Jocassee, which nestles into the folds of the mountains at 1100’ above sea level.

The JWN program is intended to enhance your love and knowledge of native plants and encourage a lifelong study of and appreciation of this land where temperate rainforest plants share space with desert species and alpine species. Jocassee Wild Outdoor Education is a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to introducing all ages – from children to retirees – to this place known as an important refuge in times of climactic change.

The intro class will be held at Devils Fork State Park and beautiful Lake Jocassee on August 22 from 10am-2pm and will consist of a brief classroom presentation of JWN subjects, instructors, and guidelines, followed by a relaxing pontoon tour into the heart of Jocassee.

The cost of this class is $65 per person; subsequent JWN classes are $95 each. Pre-registration is required. You can learn more HERE, or register by calling 864-280-5501.

Lowcountry SCNPS — Fall 2023 Grants Announcement

Posted on |

The Lowcountry Chapter of the South Carolina Native Plant Society is pleased to announce our fall grants program. If your school, organization, or community group is interested in a project involving native plants, we hope you’ll consider applying! Applications may be submitted by e-mail between August 1st – September 10th. Application details and award amounts can be found in the attached (or linked) document. Have questions? Please reach out to our Grants Coordinator, Matt Johnson, for more information (see e-mail address in document).

Link to document available here: Fall 2023 Grants Announcement


Plant of the Month: New Jersey Tea

Posted on |

Photo Credit: Chris Sermons

By Chris Sermons

In 1999, when I moved to the family land that would eventually become Bio Way Farm, I brought two Rabbiteye Blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum) bushes that had been gifted to me. They grew well and soon thereafter I wanted to plant more. Having no suitable site in which to plant, I began clearing a very small wooded area between our two cabins.

At the time, I’d been a SCNPS member for a couple of years and had drunk the native plant Kool-Aid. The work I did with the Weed Wrench and chainsaw released plants that had been shaded and suppressed, one of which turned out to be a shrub I’d never seen before, New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus).

I was also a budding permaculturist who was looking to derive a yield and I was intrigued by the new plant. And, the more I read and researched, the more intriguing and useful New Jersey Tea turned out to be!

As the name implies, it is a tea plant that tastes like true tea (Camellia sinensis) but contains no caffeine (otherwise perhaps there would be a commercial market for it like the one that’s slowly developing around Yaupon Holly [Ilex vomitoria]). Apparently, the dried leaves were used during the Revolutionary War as a replacement for British tea. (As we all learned in school, discontent was brewing but tea was not!)

Nearby the then-capital, Philadelphia, the colonists found an abundant population of Ceanothus americanus in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which gave the plant its common name. According to Samuel Thayer, in his book Nature’s Garden, the leaves can be used dried or fresh and are best picked early in the season. He describes the flavor as being between green tea and nettle tea.

The white flowers are showy especially when massed. As a generalist nectary, New Jersey Tea attracts a diverse assortment of pollinators like flies, bees, butterflies, and some of the coolest beetles I’ve ever seen.

The red roots are used as an alterative, and have an astringency that has traditionally made it useful as a mouthwash. A tincture known as Red Root is sold commercially, but the roots can also be used to prepare an infusion or decoction. Supposedly, a lotion made from the leaves can remove freckles.

It’s also one of the few native non-leguminous nitrogen fixers! There’s no cheaper form of fertilizer than that produced by plants whose roots have nodules that shelter bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen. This ability coupled with its large woody roots allow it to thrive in hot, dry sunny exposures with poor soil. Thus, you can plant it in problem areas where it’s difficult to get anything else to grow.

New Jersey Tea is one of two species of the Ceanothus family in the eastern United States, but out West there are popular ornamental species as well as species that make excellent teas and other beverages.

So, that’s a glimpse at New Jersey Tea, one of the most useful plants I know!

Name That Plant! Plant Identification Apps Review

Posted on |

Native Plant Toolbox: Useful Plant Identification Apps

By Doug Lockard

There’s a lot to be said for investing in courses like the South Carolina Native Plant Certification and/or the Clemson Master Gardeners. I’ve taken both courses and volunteered for both organizations over the past several years, as well as reading dozens of books, attending numerous seminars, luncheons, and other related events. I’ve found the learning to be fun as well as educational. It’s provided me with a foundation from which to pursue my personal goals.

That said, the sheer number of plants I encounter at home, hiking, at botanical gardens, and in nurseries is staggering. Just identifying them all is a challenge, and when you also need to understand their characteristics… Well, it’s a lot.

But today’s technology in the form of plant ID apps provides powerful tools that can help expand our knowledge while we’re on the move.

In the garden and stumble on a new plant? To pull or not to pull, that is the question… Is the new interloper a volunteer of a desirable plant, just a weed — or worse, an invasive species?

Whip out your phone, snap a picture, and within seconds one of today’s new crowd-sourced apps will identify the plant for you. These apps have a high degree of accuracy, and provide a wealth of useful information to help you make the “right-plant-right-place” decision.

See a plant at the botanical garden or in the wild and wonder if it would work in your garden? Just snap and learn, then hit save so you can call up the plant when you get home.

Here are a two of the apps I use. I recommend you download them and try them out!


This crowd-sourced AI-powered database processes upwards of a million snaps a day and claims 98% accuracy for plant identification. Personally, I’ve found that maybe 5% of the time I feel the need to cross validate, but generally the accuracy is fantastic. I love this app! It’s super-easy: Just snap a pic and it quickly pulls up the plant and a plethora of information about it, including sun, water, and soil requirements; size, shape, and spacing; blooming season, harvest time, propagation methods, and pruning; invasive notices, problems, fertilizer requirements and other FAQs.

There’s a free version to try out, but I consider the premium version at $30 a year to be one of the best investments I make.

Seek by iNaturalist

A cooperative effort by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, this crowd-sourced image-recognition app is as straightforward as can be. Snap a photo of a plant, insect, animal or mushroom — or even just point your camera at it — and get its taxonomic classification (from kingdom to species), common name, seasonality, a count of how many times it’s been recorded on the app, and a short description, typically pulled in from Wikipedia. It’s my go-to app for tree identification.

Upstate Seed Bank Program Update

Posted on |

Report from the Upstate Native Nursery: The SCNPS Native Seed Bank

The SCNPS native seed bank was started years ago at the Upstate Native Nursery as a source for seeds used in propagating stock for our plant sales. The ultimate goal of the program has long been to raise funds to support the work of the SCNPS while disseminating genetically diverse seeds from across our region.

Now, though, with the relocation and expansion of the nursery, improvements have been made to the seed bank program so that it can also be used as a tool in educating the Upstate Community about the proper collection, storage, and propagation of native seeds. A propagation guide has been developed for Seed Bank volunteers with information on the collection, storage, pre-treatment, and sowing for each of the inventoried species. This additional information was compiled from Jan A.W. Midgley’s Native Plant Propagation (fifth edition) and Prairie Moon Nursery 2022 Cultural Guide.

Plans for the further development of the program include the purchase of a temperature- and humidity-controlled refrigerator to store the seed; and organizing Seed Collecting Field Trips as a learning tool for both the general public and for future leaders of the Seed Bank program.

Once fully developed, our Native Seed Bank Program will enhance our efforts to:

  • Educate and inform members and the general public about the importance of native plants.
  • Support efforts by government agencies to protect habitats and endangered species.
  • Encourage the use of native plant materials in public and private landscaping.
  • Promote the commercial availability of native plant materials.



I Love My Merlin App!

Posted on |

Home Front/Native Plant Toolbox: I Love My Merlin Bird App!

By Bill Stringer

Books such as Doug Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope and Bringing Nature Home have given the native plant movement a huge boost in popularity. In his books and on his website (, Tallamy describes the interaction between native plant species, native insects, and songbirds. The 25-cent takeaway from Tallamy’s work is that planting native plants and protecting native plant communities attracts native butterflies, moths, and other insects; enhances native insect reproduction; increases insect larval biomass; and thus provides songbirds insect larvae to feed their nestlings. Ah, the cycle of life!

I have recently been giving presentations entitled “Native Plants, Bugs, and Birds” to Garden Clubs around the State, drawing attention to Tallamy’s work and to historical data that show the importance of the Southeastern states to maintaining populations of numerous songbirds, particularly migratory species.

Yet, like many of us, my list of commonly seen songbirds is limited to the cardinals, blue jays, bluebirds, mockingbirds, sparrows, and finches that gather around my bird feeders or pull earthworms out of my lawn.

Recently, I was introduced to the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Ornithology Lab. The app has been around for a while, but over the years it has become a powerful tool for songbird identification. Using the microphone on your smart phone, Merlin compares recorded bird songs with a huge database of sonograms on file at the Cornell Ornithological Lab, and almost instantly IDs the bird singing in your backyard.

Out of curiosity, I started placing my cell phone on the back porch just after dawn with Merlin running. I am fortunate to live on the borderline between Liberty city and rural Pickens County. I have an open grass field, a small stream riparian zone, a shrubby area, and an oak-hickory-pine forest within 100 yards of my back porch, and regular readers already know about the two small tall-grass prairies in my yard. I expected Merlin might ID a few birds I didn’t know I had, but I’ve been shocked (very pleasantly!) to find as many as 20 to 25 songbirds species in a 20-minute period, many of which I am familiar only from photos on birding websites. It has been exciting to find that various tanagers, vireos, nuthatches, thrushes, warblers, grosbeaks, gnatcatchers, flycatchers, etc., are all singing within hearing range of my cell phone mic.

The Merlin app is one of a suite of apps/projects being worked on by the folks at Cornell. They also produce the eBird app (an online collaborative life list which allows scientists to track migration patterns and more), and sponsor the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and much, much more.

There are of course other apps out there that help to identify birds and other wildlife in your yard (and we’d love to hear about some of your favorites), but Merlin is free, fun, and easy to use. So, if you haven’t already, get your keyster in gear, download the Merlin app to your phone, and discover what songbirds are lurking in or near your yard!

Table Rock Pinnacle Lake Trail Hike (July 2023)

Posted on |

As if a picnic with several dozen of your native plant besties wasn’t enough, Dan Whitten will also be leading picnic participants on a “wee walk” up the Pinnacle Lake Trail during the Upstate’s special, potluck, in-person, monthly meeting.

The trail is an easy-hiking, 1.9 mile loop, which should take about 90 minutes to complete. Dan says, “We will be looking especially for the Crisped Bunchflower (Melanthium hybrid), the Small Green Wood Orchid (Platanthera clavellata), and whatever surprises we can find as well. Bring water and a camera!”