Georgia Impact

UGA expands access to native plant certificate

Students in “The Bee-utiful World of Native Bees” class tour the Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center’s ethnobotanical garden. (Photos by Laurel Clark)

State Botanical Garden educates Georgians about plants and pollinators

At the University of Georgia’s Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center, adult students study bees under a microscope, build bee houses and tour the center’s ethnobotanical garden.

It’s all part of the Bee-utiful World of Native Bees course, an elective in the curricula for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia’s Certificate in Native Plants program. Offering the course at locations throughout the state, like this one in Blairsville, is an attempt to educate more Georgians about the importance of native plants and pollinators.

“Participants can do their volunteer hours anywhere within the state as long as there is a native plant focus to their project,” said Cora Keber, education director at the UGA State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

The Certificate in Native Plants program began as an adult education program at the State Botanical Garden in Athens in 2007 as a way to connect volunteers with native plant conservation and restoration projects.

To earn the certificate, students must complete four core classes in basic botany, plant taxonomy, natural communities of Georgia and plant conservation. Students also have to take six elective courses and complete 16 volunteer hours and two field trips. The program takes about one year to complete but is designed for students to work at their own pace.

Core courses are taught virtually, but electives—like the Bee-utiful World of Native Bees— are offered in different regions of the state.

Beth Thornton looks at a bumblebee under a microscope during “The Bee-utiful World of Native Bees” class in Blairsville.

“The state of Georgia is diverse in plant species,” Keber said. “What we have here in Athens is not around the state and vice versa, so offering electives in various parts of the state creates that plant diversity connection to particular locations.”

Garden partners teach the elective courses. This year, courses are scheduled at the Georgia Mountain Research and Education Center, the Gaskins Forest Education Center about 20 miles east of Tifton, and the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, just north of Atlanta.

“It’s great that they’re branching out and having classes around the state so people can see varying ecosystems of native plants,” said Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator for UGA Extension in Blairsville, who led the native bee elective course.

Participants in Griffin’s course included Beth Thornton, who teaches zoology at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.

“I am very interested in bees,” Thornton said. “When I was a student at UGA, I took a honey bee biology class, and I wanted to go into raising honey bees.”

She didn’t have the opportunity to raise bees while raising her family, Thornton said, but now that her children are grown, she has resumed learning about bees. The Bee-utiful World of Native Bees was the last course she needed to fulfill her Certificate in Native Plants requirements.

The bee course was the first one for Helen Bailey from Gainesville. After working in health care for more than 30 years, Bailey decided to pursue the native plants certificate.

“I’ve always loved nature, and I’ve recently been very concerned about the environment,’’ said Bailey, who is creating her own pollinator garden to support native bees.

For more information or to register for the program, visit