Native Plant Rescue Squad working to save Knoxville natives

Pictured are Joy Grissom (left) and Gerry Moll (right) working at the Native Plant Rescue Squad. Photo: Native Plant Rescue SquadPictured are Joy Grissom (left) and Gerry Moll (right) working at the Native Plant Rescue Squad.
Photo: Native Plant Rescue Squad

With more buildings being razed and industries developing, it’s becoming more and more common to find plants abandoned and destroyed in the aftermath. Because of this, two Knoxville, Tennessee, residents have taken matters into their own hands.

Joy Grissom, a Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum (KBGA) horticulturist, and Gerry Moll, a sculptor in Knoxville with experience in the landscaping industry, came together to form the Native Plant Rescue Squad. This nonprofit organization works to rescue native plants from properties in the process of being razed or developed. The organization also seeks to educate locals on the importance of planting native species.

“There’s a lot of expansion, building, developing,” Grissom, told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “We noticed that this rich, biodiversity, native flora was being taken out, destroyed if you will.”

The idea for an organization like this is one that Moll has mulled over for years. After forming a friendship with Grissom, the duo partnered to take up the cause of rescuing these plants.

“These plants, these native plants, are what the wildlife needs,” Moll, told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “So, if we want to have a healthy ecology, this is what we need to plant in our landscaping.”

Since the founding of the rescue squad two years ago, the group has successfully rescued plants from a 65-acre tract, transplanted perennials and shrubs from residential properties and is currently in the process of rescuing other plants from a wooded area soon to become a hiking/biking trail in South Knoxville.

Downy rattlesnake plantain orchid. Photo: Native Plant Rescue SquadDowny rattlesnake plantain orchid.
Photo: Native Plant Rescue Squad

Once the plants are rescued, they are potted and taken to the KBGA. After this, they are taken to the Saturday Market Square Farmers Market for selling.

Keeping with the theme of educating the community about care for these plants, Grissom and Moll organize volunteer rescue squads to care for the plants on Tuesday evenings during the growing season. They also hold speaking engagements with neighborhood associations and local groups to stress the importance of growing native plants.

“I also think it’s important to think of a sense of place with the native plants in your region, and understanding why they’re there, what they were used for as far as our human needs and also for animals,” Grissom told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The pair encourages native plant landscaping and actively works with other environmental nonprofits, such as Wild Ones. Native plants not only adapt better to the environment and require less water, they also tend to be less maintenance, are less likely to have diseases and help sustain insects and wildlife.

“The more of this material that is planted in the landscape, even the urban and suburban landscapes and your landscaping, the better, because this is supporting the local ecology,” Moll told the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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