Suzie Henderson has been sketching plants and insects since she was a child. As an ecology major and horticulture minor, she is familiar with Georgia’s native plants—from the bright orange butterfly weed to the ivory yucca.

During her internship with the State Botanical Garden, a unit of UGA Public Service and Outreach, she used her knowledge and creativity to create a coloring book that educates children about the importance of native plants and pollinators.

“Art has been a hobby my whole life,” Henderson says. “I’ve always been drawn to observing nature through art.”

Henderson’s internship at the garden was part of her year as a UGA Public Service and Outreach Student Scholar. The student scholars program introduces students to the public service mission of Georgia’s land-grant and sea-grant university. Participants learn about and visit each of UGA’s eight PSO units during the fall semester before completing a 150-hour internship with one of those units in the spring. Henderson’s internship extended into the following year.

While at the garden Henderson had an opportunity to get involved with Connect to Protect, a statewide program that combines beautiful displays of native plants with educational materials to foster an understanding of the role that native plants play in maintaining biodiversity in urban and suburban areas of Georgia. Numerous Connect to Protect gardens have been planted at schools and businesses in and around Athens, as well as in Gwinnett County, Macon-Bibb County and Rabun County.

“I wanted to teach children and adults about native plants and their benefit to human beings and how they fit in the human web,” said Henderson. “The more gardens we have, the more we can support healthier pollinators, to pollinate our orchards and fields.”

The coloring book features 10 native plant species, each illustration delicately drawn with a corresponding pollinator, such as a ruby-throated hummingbird or Eastern bumblebee. The book provides background information on the plant and pollinator as well as a thought-provoking discussion question. In the back of the book, a page demonstrates the plant and insect life cycles, and most importantly, where these cycles overlap and merge.

“That’s why I loved making this book—I could see the relationship between the flowers, the pollinators, and the whole function of an ecosystem,” said Henderson.

The making of the book was a garden family affair. Public Service and Outreach graduate assistant, Paula Runyon, who worked at the garden, assisted in converting the drawings to a digital file format. Elijah Richardson, a work-study student, designed the coloring key in the back of the book. Linda Chafin, the resident conservation botanist and native plant expert at the garden’s Mimsie Lanier Center for Native Plant Studies, helped edit the text. Graphic designer Lisa Nation created the cohesive layout of the book. Caroline Turner, a high school student in UGA’s Young Dawgs high school internship program, is helping Henderson with the second version of the book, which depicts the importance of healthy food, and all the factors that go into growing food.

Cora Keber, education director at the State Botanical Garden, and Heather Alley, conservation horticulturist, helped oversee Henderson’s coloring book from concept to creation.

“The next book will feature illustrations of food crops and pollinators,” says Keber. “It will also include recipes with each plant.”

An attendee of the Native Plant Symposium 2018, a State Botanical Garden of Georgia event, examines the coloring book.

The Odum School of Ecology, where Henderson is earning her degree, gave the book to 300 people who attended a recent ecology reunion and symposium in honor of the Institute of Ecology, founded at UGA 50 years ago in 1967.

“When we saw the coloring books we immediately decided to give everyone a copy,” said Beth Gavrilles, Odum research communications coordinator and one of the event organizers. “We knew people would love them for their content and execution, and because they were created by one of our students. People, whether kid or adult, really seem to like coloring books.”

After graduation, Henderson hopes to study functional ecosystem health and continue drawing. The process of illustrating the coloring book, she says, has given her the confidence to pursue her artistic endeavors, perhaps in the form of a publication dedicated to conservation.

The Connect to Protect coloring book is available for $7 at the gift shop at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia or online. Please email Cora Keber with requests. Reduced rates are offered for nonprofits and educators.

Photos by Shannah Montgomery

SUPPORT GEORGIA’S NATIVE PLANT SPECIES

Writer: Leah Moss, leahmoss@uga.edu, 706-583-0964

Photographer: Shannah Montgomery, smont@uga.edu, 706-542-3638

Contact: Cora Keber, ckeber@uga.edu, 706-542-6158