Horticultural Research

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  • Photo courtesy North Carolina Zoo
  • Photo courtesy North Carolina Zoo
  • Photo courtesy North Carolina Zoo

Horticultural Research

Given their importance as the foundation of the world's food chains—and their other roles in supporting life on the planet—plants are an important part of any ecosystem. There are at least 10,000 species of plants recognized as threatened or endangered; some researchers say that number is actually higher than 80,000 species. The North Carolina Zoological Park participates in a number of horticulture research projects; while these are small in scope, they are critically important to understanding plant conservation methods.

Pitcherplants are becoming rare, and the insects that depend on them are rarer still! Pitcherplants were once widespread in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont of North Carolina. For many centuries these plants thrived in sunny open boggy spots. The landscape has changed over the past 400 years as swamps have been drained or filled, and suppression of once-frequent ground level fires has allowed trees to grow large, which has shaded out many remaining boggy areas.

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Ridge’s Mountain Nature Preserve is located in Randolph County, west of Asheboro, North Carolina, about 12 miles from the North Carolina Zoological Park. The Natural Heritage Inventory of Randolph County says that Ridge’s Mountain is one of the most important natural areas in this region due to its high-quality natural communities, significant rare plant species and large area of continuous plant and animal habitat.

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Schweinitz’s sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii) was named in honor of Lewis David de Schweinitz, a Moravian minister and church administrator who lived in Salem, North Carolina in the early 19th century. An avid botanist, he collected thousands of plants and described more than 1,200 new species, mostly fungi. In fact, he is known as the "Father of North American Mycology."

This late-summer and fall-blooming sunflower is found in just 12 counties in the North Carolina Piedmont, and in two counties in South Carolina. It once thrived in the open grassy Piedmont prairies common in the Southeast before European settlement. The tuberous root once provided a food source for native Americans. In the last several hundred years, though, farming and the lack of frequent fire in the landscape has reduced the once-widespread prairies to small, isolated patches found often along sunny roadsides or powerline rights-of-way.

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Newest Horticultural Research articles...

Schweinitz’s Sunflowers
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Researchers from the North Carolina Zoo, in partnership with several other institutions, have been successful in relocating endangered plant populations to restored habitat areas near the Zoo in Randolph County, North Carolina. Read More

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