Plant society saved native plant species ahead of Columbia County hospital construction

Members of Plant Society
Written by Chris Mullooly

Construction on Wellstar MCG Health’s Columbia County campus is underway. But earlier this Spring, thousands of trees covered the 22-acre site of the future 100-bed hospital and medical office building.

The space in Grovetown on Gateway Boulevard drew the attention of Augusta’s River Region Chapter of the Georgia Native Plant Society. Members visited the site to look for plants native to the area. 

It’s these plants that are so valuable to the local ecosystem, said member Mary Caddell.

“There’s life and bugs and nutrients in the soil,” she said. “All this natural growth and life have a relationship that you just don’t see in many front yards. Any time you see major developments, a lot of this can get taken away. You need these symbiotic relationships between the trees, the fungus, and the plants to keep life sustainable.” 

On April 28, members came with shovels and buckets to search for these plants. It wasn’t the first time they’d been out in the area. The group had scouted the location earlier in the month, marking native plants that could be rescued when they returned. 

Orange tape meant “dig here,” while pink tape pointed them toward plants deeper into the area (and, later, a way back to their cars.) 

Plants that are native to the piedmont of Georgia include beautyberry, golden ragwort, St. John’s wort, Carolina milkvine, persimmon and elephant’s foot. When the members saw these plants, they snapped a picture or scanned the plant to confirm its identity on one of their plant-identifying apps. 

The plant and its roots were then carefully excavated and put into garbage bags or pots. Many said they would plant them in their own yards. Others were used to diversify Reed Creek and Phinizy Swamp Nature Park.

“A lot of people don’t make the connection between the flora around here and what it supports, but I hope to have these plants support life for future generations,” said Caddell. “If we don’t have these plants, we don’t have insects. If we don’t have insects, we lose the bottom of the food chain, which creates a huge domino effect on the entire ecosystem.” 

The Georgia Native Plant Society is a nonprofit that helps conserve native plants and its habitats across the state. Affiliated groups support its mission through activities like plant sales, with the money going back to the organization.

Some rescuers at the Columbia County site said they had plenty of native plants in their yards; a few even admitted they had too many. But Caddell said you can never have too many native plants. 

“My yard is full of insects; nothing stings me and it’s just full of life. It’s exciting,” said Caddell. “I love inviting people to my yard to see what there is. It reminds me of my childhood.” 

Most of the members grew up in wooded areas. They hiked, went on trips and took up mushroom foraging or gardening later in life. 

Each plant rerouted into another area can mean natural growth. In an area that will be home to hundreds of Wellstar MCG Health staff and patients, Caddell said it’s easy to forget to appreciate the natural world. 

“We want to do our part and hopefully get a lot of people along with us to make a difference,” said Caddell.