Highlands Botanical GardenThings To Do In The Smoky Mountains
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Located at an elevation of 3,800 feet, it is the highest public native plant botanical garden in the Eastern United States
The Highlands Botanical Garden, part of the Highlands Biological Station, stands as a unique ecological and educational resource in Highlands, North Carolina. Located at an elevation of 3,800 feet, it is recognized as the highest public native plant botanical garden in the Eastern United States. Established in 1962 by a group of botanists and conservationists, including Ralph M. Sargent and Henry Wright, the garden has expanded over the years to encompass over a dozen acres. It features a diverse array of habitats such as natural woodland, riparian, and wetland areas, displaying hundreds of species of vascular and non-vascular plants and lichens. The garden is not only a refuge for plant life but also serves as a showcase for the botanical diversity of the Blue Ridge Escarpment and its surroundings.
The garden’s layout is divided into three distinct zones: Historic, Landscape, and Research, each designated for specific uses such as programming, research, and ex-situ conservation. Among its many attractions are the Homeowner Demonstration Garden, designed to demonstrate the use of native plants in home landscaping, and the Bog Garden, which displays a variety of carnivorous plants and unique flora like Appalachian Grass-of-Parnassus. The Moss Garden is another notable feature, offering an intimate space to learn about mosses and other bryophytes native to the Highlands Plateau.
In addition to its living plant collections, the Highlands Biological Station maintains several significant collections for research and educational purposes. These include the HBS Herbarium, which houses about 3,000 specimens primarily from the southern Appalachians and other biological and mineralogical collections. The herbarium, in particular, contains noteworthy specimens from the early 20th century, including those from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the now-defunct Biltmore Estate Herbarium. The living collections of the Botanical Garden itself showcase over 400 native plant species situated in varied habitats like cove forests, upland woods, and wetlands. The garden also includes specialized areas such as a rock outcrop garden, a fern trail, a pollinator conservation garden, and a Cherokee ethnobotany garden.
Open year-round from dawn to dusk and free of charge, the Highlands Botanical Garden offers a unique opportunity to explore the rich botanical heritage of the region, making it a valuable resource for both education and conservation.