Alabama’s floral diversity is well represented at The Gardens with about 1250 native Alabama plants, including subspecies and cultivars. Many of these are labeled to help visitors new to native plant botany. Alabama has 22 endemic plants – species found only in Alabama – and 11 of them are represented at The Gardens.
Two gardens feature Alabama’s flora. The Barber Alabama Woodlands is home to dozens of native forest trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Its six acres ranges from the dry crest of a small hill to a small swale where groundwater seeps from the slopes and sustains species needing more moisture. The Kaul Wildflower Garden was built where a sandstone quarry had left the land bare and heavily eroded. After careful planning and years of toil by dedicated gardeners, today it hosts 580 species of native plants (including subspecies and cultivars) and a small restored creek. The garden’s landscape and plantings offer a sampling of the rich biodiversity found in Alabama’s mountains. Many are spring ephemerals – herbaceous species sprouting at the first hint of spring to capture the sunlight on the forest floor before deciduous trees grow sprout their leaves.
Nearly 140 bird species have been sighted at The Gardens. Migrant birds in spring and fall are particularly attracted to the areas where native vegetation is nurtured or allowed to thrive. Native plants offer up a buffet of insects and fruits for wildlife. During the colder months The Gardens are host to over-wintering woodland birds feasting on residual seeds and small insects. The two small streams in The Gardens attract birds and other wildlife when conditions are hot and dry.
During the warmer months when wildflowers are in bloom, butterflies of various species are abundant. Autumn, when butterfly migration peaks, is the best time for butterfly watching.
The original forests of the site would have varied from the moist South-Central Interior Small Stream and Riparian Floodplain Forest along the creek, to Allegheny-Cumberland Dry Oak Forest and Woodland on the sandstone hills. There was probably Southeastern Interior Longleaf Pine Woodland (Montane Longleaf Pine Woodland) on the sandstone hills if wildfires were frequent at this location.
-R. Scot Duncan