By Allison Pearson, Tuckaleechee Garden Club

Janie Bitner loves plants and gardening, spanning from the local level to leading her garden club to the global stage in cataloguing plants in the most biologically diverse national park in the United States. Her dedication and commitment are unquestionable considering her deep roots in gardening and gardening organizations.

But it may be Janie’s commitment to plant identification and preservation in the Great Smoky Mountains that will have the most enduring impact and lasting legacy. Janie is a long-time volunteer in the Natural History Collections at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, working in the herbarium at the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center where she catalogues the incredibly diverse plants of the Smokies. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most biodiverse park in the National Park System, where 20,000 unique species have been documented, including over 1,600 species of flowering plants.

Due partly to the incredible plant diversity, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. Janie Bitner has updated, recataloged, or cataloged an astounding 8,135 plant specimens, representing over half of the herbarium at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Janie Bitner
Janie Bitner examines fragile plant specimens in the natural history collections at Twin Creeks Science and Education Center. Photo courtesy of NPS.

Janie’s work cataloguing the incredible volume and variety of plants in the Smokies was recently recognized by Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA). GSMA operates as a nonprofit partner to the National Park Service, with the primary purpose of supporting “the scientific, historical, and interpretive activities of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

GSMA’s Aaron Searcy, publications associate, penned an excellent article detailing Janie’s efforts to preserve the diverse plant life of the Smokies.

Janie was the featured presenter in October 2021 for Discover Life in America, sharing her extensive knowledge and experience in cataloging and protecting over 8,000 plant species ranging from the most common to the rarest, as well as the most endangered and threatened species in the Smokies.

Cataloguing example
Plant specimens in the park’s natural history collections are dried, pressed, and arranged on acid-free herbarium paper to display as many aspects of the plant as possible. Photo by Joye Ardyn Durham.

When asked about her commitment to preserving plants in the Smokies, Janie offered the following thoughts: “I volunteer in the park because I want to give back to a beautiful place I have been visiting since I was a child. My daddy brought us to the Smoky Mountains for picnics, hikes, and swimming holes! I also love the fact that with the support of our park partners we are discovering new species to science. Preserving these specimens is paramount.”

Janie Bitner exemplifies the mission and goals of the NGC through her deeply rooted work in her local club and her leadership roles at the state level in Tennessee. Her long-term efforts cataloguing the multitude of plant species in the Smokies further demonstrates her commitment to the NGC Conservation Pledge: “… to protect and conserve the natural resources of the planet earth and promise to promote education so we may become caretakers of our air, water, forest, land, and wildlife.

Janie is a member of the East Tennessee Hosta Society, the Smoky Mountain Orchid Society, the East Tennessee Daffodil Society, and the East Tennessee Rose Society. She is a volunteer for the University of Tennessee Gardens. Her leadership roles include Tuckaleechee Garden Club president and a plethora of roles at the state level with the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs (TFGC): District IV vice director; chair of Wildflowers, Native Plants and Trees; and board member, District IV Endowment Trust chair. She also served in various financial roles for the TFGC. In 2016 she served as the Ivan Rachel House and Gardens Garden chair.