2020 Conference Speakers

Featured Speakers

Emily Roberson, PhD

The Native Plant Conservation Campaign


Emily Brin Roberson is the Director of the Native Plant Conservation Campaign: a national network of native plant societies, botanic gardens and other native plant organizations. The mission of the Campaign is to promote the conservation of native plants and their habitats through collaboration, research, education, and advocacy. She worked as a researcher in plant and soil sciences for 10 and as Senior Policy Analyst for the California Native Plant Society for 11 years before launching the Campaign. She holds a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in plant ecology from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in soil microbial ecology from UC Berkeley.

Craig Huegel, PhD

The Truth About Pollinator Gardens

There is a great deal of attention focused on pollinator gardens in developed landscapes at the moment. Groups devoted to promoting pollinators are growing exponentially on social media and resources available for homeowners wishing to provide for pollinators in their landscapes seem to be appearing daily. There is a very real decline worldwide in the populations of bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects and it is laudable that there is a rising interest in helping to rectify that. However, many of these so-called pollinator gardens fall far short of actually improving conditions needed by pollinators. This class will focus on many of the most common misperceptions and provide some direction for improving our efforts at creating true pollinator gardens.


Craig is renowned for his knowledge of plant-animal interactions and the design of wildlife-attracting landscapes. At the University of Florida, he co-founded the Urban Wildlife Extension Program and established the Florida Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program. He also established the Pinellas County Environmental Lands Division and served as Division Administrator for twelve years.

A much loved professor and teacher, Craig has authored several popular books promoting the use of Florida native plants, including books on landscaping for wildlife, gardening with wildflowers and using plants in shady gardens. He lectures widely across the state of Florida on the use of native plants in ecologically beneficial, sustainable landscapes. And whether it’s 8:00am or 8:00pm, Craig’s dynamic delivery and entertaining speaking style will keep you alert and inspired.

Craig is passionate about the joy and satisfaction native gardens and landscapes bring to our lives. He has received numerous state and regional awards from public agencies and private conservation groups for his ongoing environmental education, restoration and preservation efforts.

Friday Speakers   (day subject to change)

Nancy Vehrs

Native Plant Societies Track- Virginia Native Plant Society

Brian Sean Early

Native Plant Societies Track - Louisiana Native Plant Society

Sue Dingwell

Native Plant Society Track - Virginia Native Plant Society

Stacie Greco

Using Regulatory and Marketing Tools to Change Landscaping Behaviors


Stacie Greco currently serves as the County’s Water Resources Program Manager with the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department, where she has worked to protect our water resources for the past 15 years.  She received a B.S. in the Environmental Sciences from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC prior to obtaining her M.S. in Environmental Engineering Sciences from the University of Florida.  In 2010 she received a graduate certificate in Social Marketing at the University of South Florida to learn how to apply traditional marketing tools to change behaviors for protecting our water.  Stacie enjoys exploring Florida’s natural areas by kayak, foot, and bike, while camping in her vintage trailer.

Jim Draper

Native Plants and Art


Jim Draper grew up in Kosciusko, Mississippi, the geographical center of the state. His work which includes drawing, painting, photography, video and writing is informed by journeys into the wilds of Florida and Georgia. He attended the University of Mississippi, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1974, and received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Georgia at Athens in 1978.

Karen Willey

Climate Change Communication


Karen Willey is a NAI Certified Interpretive Guide and a Certified Climate Change Interpreter through the National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) – a network of scientists and educators committed to changing the public discourse around climate change to be positive, civic-minded and solutions-focused.

Karen sold Around the Bend Nature Tours environmental education company last July after founding it 20 years ago. She is a Climate change communicator. Flower hunter. People connector. Tree hugger. And Educational consultant: helping folks to learn more about Florida native plants and ecosystems.

Karen’s motto is: Go Wild! And Learn the Florida story…

Meg Gaffney-Cooke

Shifting Lenses: Transitioning to a New Landscape Design Aesthetic

Gardens and Parks all hold an image in our minds of manicured plantings. Explore the challenges and benefits of transitioning our cultural lens from “maintaining plants” to “managing plant communities” with a designer. As a key factor in regional and planetary resilience we must spread an appreciation for plants’ interdependence with each other, their location and the local fauna. This discussion will present an overview of theory, projects and practitioners in the field of design and the challenges to adjusting our standards of beauty in Florida.


Meg is the Principal Landscape Architect for Blue Leaf Landscape. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Ornamental Horticulture and Master of Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia. Her expertise includes: Landscape Architectural design development and project management of residential, commercial, multi-family, mixed-use, government, institutional, transportation and amenity-based projects throughout the state. She specializes in: horticulture, resilience/sustainability, niche and historical design.

Meg has been a resident of Jacksonville, Florida since 2002 and always an active member of her community. She was instrumental in the founding of the Jacksonville Arboretum & Gardens as the Board Chair during its opening. For her work with the arboretum she received the President’s Volunteer Award for Community Service in 2005 and the 2009 Canopy Award for Civic Horticultural Leadership. She has also been a board member of Greenscape of Jacksonville, leading many volunteer urban tree planting efforts, and helped to manage local community gardens.

In her spare time she is most often with her husband, two children and dog, exploring, gardening, baking or volunteering in her community.

Saturday Speakers  (day subject to change)

Marc Godts


Marc is an experienced manager, grower, and designer, with installation and maintenance experience. Marc’s philosophy is to use native plants as the foundation of all landscapes and to garden with appropriate non-invasive exotics. His favorite work is planting and maintaining natural areas for wildlife. His favorite fun is enjoying natural areas and photographing wildlife, both in Florida and elsewhere. Green Isle Gardens specializes in native plant cultivation, landscape design, installation, and maintenance, and provides service to both wholesale and retail customers. He received FNPS “Green Palmetto” awards for public service in 2009 and 2015, and was awarded the 2016 FNPS Landscape Design Award for Excellence for his concept in residential landscape design for the Turnipseed home in The Villages.

Lisa Rineman

St. Johns River Track - St. Johns Riverkeeper History and Advocacy


As a former senior staff member for Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, Lisa Rinaman has extensive experience building consensus around issues and helped implement numerous environmental initiatives and policies. Lisa was instrumental in leading the effort to develop and implement irrigation, fertilizer and Florida Friendly landscaping ordinances to better protect the St. Johns and local waterways. She also played a key role in securing state funding for water quality improvements, organizing the city’s successful Manatee Protection Plan, and pushing for programs necessary to fulfill the River Accord restoration plan for the Lower St. Johns River.

Before being named the St. Johns Riverkeeper, Lisa served as a valuable member of the St. Johns Riverkeeper Water Policy Group (WPG), a group that advocates for water conservation and reuse and policies that are more protective of our water resources.

Erin Largo-Wight, PhD

Incorporating Nature into the Build Environment


I grew up on the "nature coast" of Florida, earned degrees from University of South Florida (BS), University of Delaware (MS), and University of Florida (PhD) and joined the faculty at the University of North Florida, Department of Public Health in 2007. Currently, I'm an associate professor and program director at UNF in the Department of Public Health. I serve on the Executive Board of the UNF Environmental Center, Timucuan Parks Foundation Therapeutic Park Advisory Board, and other boards and committees aimed to promote well-being and facilitate community-based and active learning. I enjoy playing and being active with my family outdoors, especially at Florida's beaches, parks, and springs.

My research focuses on health by design and nature contact. Most of my current work is focused on controlling stress through community design. We are actively exploring the impact of nature contact on stress and well-being in the workplace, K-12 schools, clinical settings, and the home.

My second line of research explores sustainability-related health behaviors to learn how to best protect health-promoting nature and environmental resources.  Past studies explored, for example, the impact of increased access to recycling receptacles on recycling behavior and the impact of a ‘road diet’ on transportation behavior and population-based health outcomes.

I enjoy discussing my research and broader topics with the public. Feel free to contact me at largo.wight@unf.edu to learn more.

Jordan Huntley

What's the Deal with Florida's Sustainable Forests


As a native Floridian, N. Jordan Huntley offers a unique and valuable perspective on sustainable forest management in the state, in general, it is not just an internal motivation and love for the industry but one that he now displays outwardly. Born into a logging family, where his father and grandfather before him where members of the industry, he offers a rare first-hand knowledge of the trade from varying topics surrounding sustainability to the physical geography of the land itself. The education of present and future generations is something he is very passionate about, and not just for his own personal family but for yours and mine alike, the proverbial Lorax if you will; “I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongue”.  As a whole-hearted outdoors man, wondering the flatwoods of Florida, Jordan has gained an unsurmountable and non-duplicated wealth of knowledge in regards to varying aspects of the forest and the forest products industry.

Being raised in a family where the father was the owner and operator of a logging business Jordan felt the drive and desire to do more, to go further, to speak up, and that drive took him to Gainesville and The University of Florida. While studying at The University of Florida, he received his Bachelor’s Degree in Forest Resources Management and Conservation. Upon completion of his Bachelor’s Degree, he decided to further his education at The University of Florida and went on to receive a Master’s Degree in AgriBusiness. Jordan has been working as a professional forester in the Southeastern region of the United States for over 10 years and loves to share his passion with others. Jordan wants to excite others the way he is excited, he wants to spread the passion of his world to our world; just by simply asking What’s the Deal with Florida’s Sustainable Forests?

Art Levy

Native Plants and Journalism in the Sunshine State



Gabrielle 'Gabbie' Milch

St. Johns River Track - St. Johns Riverkeeper Education


Gabbie’s focus in the St. Johns Middle Basin is to assist the community to engage and learn about the quality of the River from Orange County to Lake George. She believes that the St. Johns River should be safe for kayaking, as well as swimmable and fishable. She wants to engage volunteers, members, and the community to participate in activities such as clean ups, River-Friendly Landscapes projects and riparian habitat restorations, riverfront hikes and other social learning activities. She spends time at the DeLand Office at 117 W Howry Ave, offering activities to expand the knowledge base about the middle basin’s issues and beauty. She was an UF IFAS Horticulture Agent / Master Gardener Coordinator, Florida-Friendly Landscaping Agent. She worked in the past for the St. Johns River Water Management District as a Watershed Action Volunteer Coordinator (WAV) in the middle basin and is familiar with water quality and quantity issues of the St. Johns. She graduated from Rollins College with a BA in Environmental Studies and has completed MS work at UF in Agricultural Education and Communications program. She loves to kayak, identify plants and animals, hike and photograph the beauty of nature.

Ben Williams

St. Johns River Track - Protecting Native Plants - A Landowner's Perspective


Ben and Louann Williams own and manage Wetlands Preserve, a 3,725 acre property adjacent to the Rice Creek Conservation Area in the North Florida Land Trust's O2O Corridor. They were recently awarded Landowners of the Year by FWC and placed a conservation easement on the whole property in September 2019.

Martha Pessaro, CIG

Saving the Bromeliads Program


Martha Pessaro works as the Central Region Education Coordinator for the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program at the Sams House at Pine Island Conservation Area in Brevard County, Florida. Her passion for the conservation and preservation of Native Florida, Tillandsia utriculata in particular, has been one focus of her volunteer time. As a founding member of the Friends of the Enchanted Forest (circa 1989) she worked with a small group of dedicated volunteers to save the important habitat of these special plants. The 393 acre Sanctuary was purchased and placed in the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program in 1991 and 1993. Her career at Kennedy Space Center program management for the Space Shuttle Solid Rockets spanned the life of the Shuttle program (35 years) and her volunteer work with the Friends of the Enchanted Forest paralleled that career and partnered with the current project working with Dr. Teresa Marie Cooper and a team of dedicated volunteers who have formed the Save Florida's Bromeliads Project. Love for the land and all living systems keeps her learning and directly working on projects to protect and preserve biological diversity through responsible stewardship and volunteer efforts.

Willy The Losen

The Warea Area - Putnam Land Conserancy's properties and their management


Willy the Losen is the Conservation Director for the Putnam Land Conservancy (PLC). Willy has a lifelong interest in land conservation and is passionate about its importance to a healthy planet and all its inhabitants including humans. PLC focuses on acquiring properties in undeveloped and sparsely developed subdivisions that have rare species and intact native plant communities. One such project PLC is working on is a partnership with the Florida Native Plant Society to conserve the largest population of the endangered plant Warea amplexifolia south of Ocala.

Dr. Mike Aspinwall

Rachel Mallinger, PhD

Florida's Native Bees


Dr. Rachel Mallinger leads research on plant-pollinator interactions and pollinator community ecology with an emphasis on native bees. She conducts research in natural, agricultural, and urban ecosystems to inform pollinator conservation and improve pollination to crops and wild plants. She runs the Mallinger Lab at the University of Florida Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Houston Snead

Rare Plant Conservation


Houston is the Jacksonville Zoo and Garden's Senior Horticulturalist and an active member of the Florida Plant Conservation Alliance.

Workshop Leaders

Kirsten Sharp-Ortega

Pollinator Garden in a Container

You'll leave this workshop with your own pollinator garden in a pot.

Saturday, 10:30am, at the Plant Sale


Kirsten Sharp-Ortega is a Landscape Designer with Green Isle Gardens in Groveland.

Cynthia Bennington, PhD and Karen Cole, PhD,

Connecting small upland habitat fragments

Unique challenges face directors, managers, and educators dedicated to the restoration and conservation of upland habitat fragments confined within a human-dominated landscape. This is an inaugural meeting for members of this community to come together to share ideas, forge connections, and plan for ongoing discussions.

Karen Cole, who completed her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, directs the Gillespie Museum, Stetson’s earth science museum.  She has taught and published on environmental writing and museum studies. Cindy Bennington received her Ph.D. from West Virginia University and is a Professor of Biology at Stetson University. Currently, Dr. Cole and Dr. Bennington are co-editors of a special issue of The Southeastern Naturalist, a collection of papers highlighting education in natural areas and entitled Conservation, Restoration and Education: In situ natural history education.