Plant Conference Speakers
Photo: Linda B. Franklin, Monarda punctata—Spotted Beebalm
Meet Our Great Speakers!
Brian Axsmith, Ph.D.
Brian Axsmith is a Professor in the Biology Department at the University of South Alabama, where he teaches Paleobotany, Dendrology, Evolutionary Biology, and the Evolution of Vascular Plants. He is also Graduate Coordinator for the department's M.S. program. His main research interests are the Mesozoic paleobotany of eastern North America and China, and the Neogene of the Gulf Coastal Plain. Much of his work has dealt with the evolution of conifers, but he has worked on nearly every major group of vascular plants. When not working on fossil plants, he plays bass in several local groups.
Allen Carroll grew up in Mobile, Ala., and this spring will graduate from Auburn University with a degree in Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science. He has been growing mushrooms for nine years, and in 2018 he founded Fungi Farm, a company that offers high-quality mushroom spawn, plus a variety of other mushroom products. Fungi Farm specializes in locally sourced and commercially viable mushroom varieties, and exists to support mushroom agriculture—as well as the intelligent use of fungi in Alabama and beyond.
After graduating from Brevard College in 2008 with a B.S. in Environmental Science and minor in Geology, Owen Carson began his professional career at Equinox as a biological scientist working on projects involving natural resources management, biological inventory and monitoring, native plants and ecosystems, and land conservation. Nearly a decade later, Owen now serves as Equinox’ Botanist/Plant Ecologist and consults on a wide variety of projects including botanical inventory and natural community assessment; forest inventory and analysis/forest health monitoring; ecological restoration; rare, threatened, and endangered species surveys; stream and wetland delineations; non-native invasive plant management; and wildlife/faunal assessments. In addition to performing biological tasks, Owen is also an Environmental Professional proficient in Phase I and II Environmental Site Assessments on commercial and forestland properties. Furthermore, he serves as Vice President of the NC Invasive Plant Council as well as Treasurer of NC Friends of Plant Conservation, and also sits on the Stewardship Committee for Conserving Carolina. In his (minimal) free time, Owen enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife, Sarah, and twins Liam and Hazel, playing in the creek, and tending to the landscape and gardens. He is also an avid recreationist and dabbles in backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, and above all, soccer.
Sheri Crabtree is a horticulture research and extension associate at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Ky. She received a B.S. and M.S. in Horticulture and Plant and Soil Science from the University of Kentucky in 2000 and 2004, respectively. She specializes in fruit and nut crops, particularly pawpaw, and also blackberry, hazelnut, and persimmon. Her research and extension activities include pawpaw breeding, variety trials, propagation, orchard management, harvest and postharvest handling, value-added product development, conducting farm visits, tours, and workshops, and assisting pawpaw growers ranging from commercial orchards and nurseries to homeowners and hobbyists.
Larry Davenport, Ph.D.
Larry Davenport currently serves as Paul N. Propst Professor of Natural Sciences at Samford University in Birmingham, where he teaches undergraduate courses in general botany, plant taxonomy, and ecology, plus a graduate course on wetlands. A native of Seattle, Wash., Dr. Davenport received his Ph.D. (Biology) from the University of Alabama. He is considered an expert on Alabama plants, rock outcrop plants, the history of botany in the Southeast, and aquatic and wetland plants, including the Cahaba Lily. The author of nearly 150 scientific and general articles, Dr. Davenport has contributed numerous nature columns to Alabama Heritage since 1993. In 2010, 25 of these columns were published as Nature Journal by the University of Alabama Press. In 2016, he co-authored (with Kenneth M. Wills) Exploring Wild Alabama (also UA Press). The Alabama State Legislature declared May 27, 2006, to be Professor Lawrence J. Davenport Day in our state. And in 2007, Dr. Davenport was named Alabama CASE Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Tom Diggs, Ph.D.
Tom Diggs was born in Montgomery, Ala., and grew up in the woods and waters of Alabama. He earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Auburn University at Montgomery, a master’s in biogeography at the University of Alabama, and a doctorate in biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has done a wide variety of work all over the country related to science and biological inventories, including working with the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C., on the freshwater ecosystems of North America, toxicity studies of Alabama waters with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and plant, fish, and mammal inventories with the National Park Service. He has taught classes at UAB, Birmingham-Southern, and Samford, as well as Certificate of Native Plant Studies courses for the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens. He currently teaches and does research at the University of North Georgia.
Ethan M. Dropkin
While Ethan Dropkin was born in New York City, he grew up in the fold between the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains in southern New York State. It was in this rural setting that his love of native plants and landscapes was cemented from an early age. He works as a Landscape Designer at Larry Weaner Landscape Associates and before that was at Michael Van Valkenburg Associates, also in a designer role. He has a Master's in Landscape Architecture and a Master's of Professional Studies in Horticulture, both from Cornell University. While at Cornell, he co-authored the paper Woody Shrubs for Stormwater Retention Practices, a free resource for laypeople and professionals on creating planted stormwater retention practices. He has interned at Cornell's Botanic Garden in the Mundy Wildflower Garden, Minn's Garden (Cornell's Horticulture Department display garden), worked as a gardener for the New York City Parks Department in Brooklyn, N.Y., and co-taught a Landscape Design course through Cornell's cooperative extension service. He delights in native plants, landscapes, and wildlife and strives to work in support of all three.
Thomas Easley, Ph.D.
Bio Dr. Thomas R. Easley has spent most of his career as a diversity professional focusing on the recruitment, retention, and diverse talent in natural resource disciplines. Easley earned his undergraduate degree in Forest Science from Alabama A&M University, his master’s degree in Forest Genetics from Iowa State University and his doctorate in Adult Education from NC State University. In his role as Assistant Dean of Community and Inclusion in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University, he assists with enhancing diversity, promoting access for all people, and developing scholarly/relevant programming around workplace equity. He also served as the Diversity Director of the College of Natural Resources at NC State University. Thomas is also a musician known by the name RaShad. His art is called “Save Your Life Music” because he puts into it a message of love, embracing self and helping others.
Anthoni Goodman founded the Alabama Mushroom Society to foster interest in our diverse fungi and to build an educational and social club for all of us mycophiles! He attended college in Northern Arizona and was fortunate to become a member of the very active Mushroom Society in Arizona. He moved to Birmingham to pursue his Ph.D. and after finding there was no mushroom club, he decided to form his own. Anthoni’s interest in fungi is primarily focused on a general study of their morphology, distribution, ecological niche, and as a delectable culinary staple. He is excited to share his interest in fungi and hopes that more people will begin to appreciate the unique kingdom of Fungi.
Mark J. Hainds
Mark Hainds has a B.S. in Forestry Resource Management from the University of Missouri, and an M.S. in Forest Biology from Auburn University. He is a published author—Year of the Pig (Univ.of Alabama Press, 2011) and Border Walk (Sweetbill’s Enterprises, 2018)—who worked two decades as a Research Associate (Auburn University School of Forest and Wildlife Sciences) and as the first employee of The Longleaf Alliance, a nonprofit promoting the restoration of longleaf pine ecosystems. Mark is the first and only person to have walked the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The Texas portion of his walk is featured in the film La Frontera, which played on PBS stations across the U.S. His second book, Border Walk, details his trek along the Rio Grande, where he walked the length of the Texas-Mexico border in the fall and winter of 2014. Mark lives with his family in Andalusia, Ala., where he is an instructor of Forest Technology at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College. Mark is also the owner/operator of Sweetbill’s Enterprises, producing mushrooms, smoking woods, and specialty lumber that they carry on a weekly basis to the Palafox Market in Pensacola, Fla. Mark has previously led courses on foraging wild mushrooms at University of Florida Extension Service, and mushroom production and foraging workshops at LBWCC.
Molly Hendry joined the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens staff in the newly created role of Garden Assessment Project Leader in 2017. A primary objective of her work is facilitating a comprehensive review of the more than two dozen individual gardens that are featured on the 67.5-acre property. She is also a key player in supporting of the renewal of The Gardens’ master plan, in addition to supporting design development and review of ongoing garden projects. Molly holds a B.S. in Horticulture and a Master's in Landscape Architecture from Auburn University. Although native to Birmingham, Molly has worked at Winterthur Garden in Delaware as well as several gardens across England and Scotland as the Royal Horticultural Society’s Interchange Fellow before returning home to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in 2017.
JoVonn Hill, Ph.D.
JoVonn Hill is an assistant research professor with the Mississippi Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University and is currently serving as editor of Transactions of the American Entomological Society, and recently co-edited the book Southeastern Grasslands: Biodiversity, Ecology, and Management. He is a founding member of the Black Belt Prairie Restoration Initiative, a flagship project of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture.
Heather Holm had an avid interest in natural history and botany at a young age and spent much of her childhood exploring the woodlands and prairie on the family property, established by her great-great-grandfather in the 1850s. She studied horticulture and biology at the University of Guelph and later web programming and digital design at Seneca College, Canada. Heather is an award-winning author and nationally sought-after speaker, spending much of her time passionately educating audiences about the fascinating world of native bees and the native plants that support them. Her first book, Pollinators of Native Plants, published in 2014, helped establish her as a knowledgeable resource on the subject of the interactions between native bees and native plants. Her latest book, Bees, published in 2017, has won five book awards. Heather currently lives in Minnesota with her husband. She is a self-employed author, designer, and publisher. For the past few years, she has been assisting with native bee research projects. The most recent research project was a two-year study to determine the types of native bees present in cultivated blueberry farms in Minnesota and Wisconsin. The study included developing customized plans to enhance and expand both forage plants and nesting sites for bees within the farms. In her spare time, she is an active community supporter, writing grants and coordinating neighborhood volunteer landscape restoration projects. Currently, Heather is working on three projects with volunteers, restoring approximately 10 acres of city-owned land in her neighborhood for pollinators and people.
Katie Horton is an undergraduate student at the University of North Georgia heavily involved in research on native plants in the southeastern United States. Specifically, her research involves the morphology and phylogeny of the genus Calycanthus, and the identity of the "grease" produced by native grass Tridens flavus. During summer 2017 she was the recipient of the Louise Agee Wrinkle Native Plant Internship at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Katie plans to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry in fall 2019 and then hopes to pursue her passion for plants into a doctoral degree program.
Brittney Hughes is the Park Naturalist at DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, Ala., and has worked for Alabama State Parks since 2005. Born in Gadsden, she has had a long interest in plants, with a family full of farmers and gardeners to influence her. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture, but her true love is the native plants and wildflowers of the Southeast, and she can often be found in the woods gallivanting to find more of them. She has been working with carnivorous plants for the past several years, specifically with the endangered Green Pitcher Plants in DeSoto State Park with the hope of expanding the population. Brittney coordinates the interpretive program in the park, working with several partners to offer environmental education centering around art, science, and nature. Teaching history and ethnobotany has been a passion while she has been in DeSoto State Park, and has influenced her own personal artform, Longleaf Pine needle baskets. She is a member of the Dixie Weavers Basketry Guild out of Anniston and enjoys using natural materials and learning new techniques to teach participants in her basketry classes. www.alapark.com/DeSoto-State-Park-Events
Jim Jacobi, Ph.D.
Dr. Jim Jacobi is employed with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System as an Extension Plant Pathologist. He has a B.S. in Forestry from the University of Vermont, an M.S. in Forest Pathology from Clemson University, and a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from Auburn University. He has over 30 years’ experience solving insect and disease problems of trees and shrubs, turfgrass, vegetables and field crops. For the last 20 years, he has managed the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Prior to working for Alabama Extension, he held positions as an IPM specialist, a field development representative, and a research associate at Auburn University.
Phyllis D. Light, M.A., R.H.
Phyllis Light is a fourth-generation herbalist and healer. She began studies in Southern and Appalachian Folk Medicine at age 10 in the deep woods of North Alabama with lessons from her Creek/Cherokee grandmother and later with well-known folk herbalist Tommie Bass. She continued her education with a Master of Health Studies from the University of Alabama. She has been a practicing herbalist for over 25 years. Phyllis has worked in private practice, a medical clinic in Birmingham, and was supervising herbalist at Common Ground Health Clinic in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In addition, she was Director of Herbal Studies at Clayton College of Natural Health, taught CEU courses in integrative medicine for Diversified Nursing Services, and has written many articles for industry magazines. Phyllis is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild. Currently, she is the director of the Appalachian Center for Natural Health in Arab, Ala., which offers both online and residential classes. www.phyllisdlight.com She is the author of Southern Folk Medicine, Healing Traditions from Appalachian Fields and Forests published by North Atlantic. This important work chronicles the history of Southern Folk Medicine from the early settlement days of the New World and codifies its principles for ease of understanding. One of her goals is to be a bridge between traditional knowledge and scientific investigation and to save the traditional use of herbs and other healing techniques for future generations.
Nancy J. Loewenstein, Ph.D.
An Extension Specialist with Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and Alabama Extension, Dr. Nancy Loewenstein focuses on invasive plant identification, ecology, and control. She also teaches Dendrology (Tree Identification and Silvics), and serves as the Executive Director of the Alabama Invasive Plant Council and Chair of the National Association of Invasive Plant Councils. She received a Ph.D. in Physiological Ecology from the University of Missouri, an M.S. in Forest Biology from Virginia Tech and a B.S. in Forest Management from Auburn University. In addition to various journal articles and Extension publications, she is co-author (with James H. Miller and Erwin B. Chambliss) of A Field Guide to Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests.
Jeremy Lowe is a horticulture research associate at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Ky. Mr. Lowe received a B.S. in Biology from University of Southern Indiana in 1999, and an M.S. in Aquatic Sciences from Kentucky State University in 2005. He specializes in fruit and nut crops, with a focus on pawpaw and blackberry, but also hazelnut and persimmon. His research activities include pawpaw breeding, variety and advanced selection trials, propagation, orchard management, harvest and postharvest handling, fruit processing, value-added product development, conducting farmvisits, tours, and workshops, and assisting pawpaw and blackberry growers ranging from commercial orchards and nurseries to homeowners and hobbyists.
Though born in Georgia, John Manion spent his youth growing up in rural upstate New York. He has lived in many places in the U.S. and abroad and after working in several careers (the longest as an emergency/trauma nurse) he realized his true passion was for plants. After earning an undergraduate degree in plant science at SUNY Cobleskill, he was awarded a fellowship to earn a Master’s degree in Public Garden Leadership at Cornell University. He has interned and worked at several botanical gardens and arboreta, including the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland. After working as Historic Gardens Curator at the Atlanta History Center, he assumed his present position as Kaul Wildflower Garden Curator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Alabama, where he has been for five years. Six years ago John began a Certificate in Native Plant Studies program that has been immensely successful.
A planting designer currently working on public projects in Chattanooga with ASA Engineering, Caleb Melchior has extensive experience that includes designing high-end residential gardens in South Florida and country estates with P. Allen Smith throughout the Southeast. His work is published regularly in national magazines, such as Horticulture and American Gardener, as well as online at calebmelchior.com.
Cassandra Quave, Ph.D.
Dr. Cassandra Quave is Curator of the Emory University Herbarium and Assistant Professor of Dermatology and Human Health at Emory University, where she leads drug discovery research initiatives and teaches undergraduate courses on medicinal plants, food, and health. Trained as a medical ethnobotanist, her research focuses on the documentation and biochemical analysis of botanical remedies and foods. She earned her B.S. in Biology and Anthropology from Emory University in 2000, her Ph.D. in Biology from Florida International University in 2008, and completed post-doctoral fellowships in Microbiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (2009-2011) and Human Health at Emory University (2012). Her research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, industry contracts, and philanthropy. To date, she has authored more than 60 publications, two edited books and three patents. Dr. Quave is the co-founder and CEO/CSO of PhytoTEK LLC, a drug discovery company dedicated to developing solutions from botanicals for the treatment of antibiotic resistant infections and recalcitrant wounds. She is also a Past President of the President of the Society for Economic Botany, an international society with the mission of fostering research and education on the past, present, and future uses of plants by people. She has been the subject of feature profiles in the New York Times Magazine, BBC Focus, Brigitte Magazin and the National Geographic Channel, and her work has been featured on NPR, in the National Geographic Magazine and several major news outlets including the Washington Post, The Telegraph, CBS News, and NBC News. Follow her research on Twitter (@QuaveEthnobot), Instagram (@quaveethnobot), Facebook (@QuaveMedicineWoman) or LinkedIn (Cassandra Quave).
Jeff Ross, Artisan Chef at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, spent over a decade managing the farm's organic vegetable gardens before moving to the kitchen full-time. During his guest cooking classes he employs a unique approach that food is nothing more than plants (and a few animals). He draws on his more than 25 years of horticultural experience to "plant gardens on the plate" after leading guests onto the grounds to glean edibles both cultivated and found. His favorite kitchen tool is a pair of garden shears!
Lindsay Schmittle is the owner and operator of Gingerly Press, a letterpress design studio in Eastern Pennsylvania. Gingerly Press creates colorful and modern paper products inspired by Lindsay's adventures in the outdoors and a revival of the handset letterpress process. A 2013 graduate of the University of Delaware with a B.F.A. in Visual Communications, Lindsay found her passion for letterpress after stumbling upon the art department's hidden gem, Raven Press, a letterpress studio nearly deserted by the masses of digitally driven design students. After graduating, Lindsay purchased her first press and began her own studio, Gingerly Press. Since 2013, Lindsay’s prints have been featured in the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum's annual juried letterpress show, New Impressions, and in multiple publications, including two separate features in internationally renown Uppercase Magazine.
Patrick Thompson graduated with a Master of Science degree from Auburn University (AU) Department of Horticulture in 2018. He has been employed by AU Department of Biological Sciences’ Davis Arboretum (AUDA) since the year 2000. Patrick has curated the Arboretum’s oak collection since 2008, developing it into a viable member of the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) Plant Collection Network (PCN). He is an honorary Lee County Master Gardener, a climbing arborist, a type II wildland firefighter, a past president of the Alabamense Chapter of the Azalea Society of America, and the Coordinator of Alabama Plant Conservation Alliance. Participation in efforts to build collections of recalcitrant tree species has become an annual endeavor, collecting several rare oak species via the APGA/US Forest Service Tree Gene Conservation Partnership. Current efforts include the application of the AUDA’s Rhododendron collection to the PCN, and continued development of the Auburn Azalea Series and the Auburn Camellias. In 2019, Patrick’s work will focus in large part on projects with Sarracenia oreophila and S. alabamensis.
Louise Agee Wrinkle was born and raised in Birmingham in an environment of unspoiled woods and streams. Other than her years at Wellesley College, Converse College, and in graduate school at the University of Virginia, she has lived her entire life in Birmingham––most of it on the property that she has cultivated for the last 30 years. For more than 35 years, she has been an active and distinguished member of The Garden Club of America (GCA) serving as Chairman of its Horticulture Committee, on the Executive Committee, and as a recognized Horticulture Judge for GCA and other flower shows. She has received numerous honors and awards for her service, culminating in the GCA’s National Achievement Medal in 2001 in recognition of outstanding achievement in both creative vision and ability, and in the interpretation and furtherance of the mission of the GCA. She was a Founding Board Member of the Garden Conservancy, headquartered in Cold Spring, N.Y., whose mission is to preserve exceptional American gardens and landscapes for the education and inspiration of the public. She has dedicated numerous years of service as a board member to both the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Ala. She is the author of Listen to the Land: Creating a Southern Woodland Garden (2017, PMT Publishing, Birmingham, AL).
Charles Yeager, a native of Irondale, Ala., received a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Environmental Studies in 2010 from Birmingham-Southern College. As a student, he took every opportunity possible to enhance his understanding of Alabama’s amazing natural wonders through internships with the Freshwater Land Trust and Desoto State Park, as well as field studies in Longleaf Pine Ecology, Aquatic Ecology, and Herpetology. His senior research thesis, “Maternal Provisioning Trade-Off Strategies of Agalychnis callidryas,” was published in the Journal of Herpetology in 2013. In 2008, he completed a course with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Baja Mexico. After completing his degree, he spent two years as a Field Biologist for NOAA assessing oyster populations along the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon incident. Since 2012, Charles has worked as the Resident Manager of the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve (TCNP) in Pinson, Ala. In addition to the day-to-day maintenance of the Preserve, Charles directs the Preserve’s Environmental Education Program, which reaches over 6,000 participants every year. While at TCNP, Charles has worked to champion environmental awareness through restoration projects, municipal partnerships, and community outreach development. He has also worked to improve the visitor experience at TCNP through the expansion of the Preserve’s hiking trails and public programming.