About Us

We Are

The Plant Heroes

Our mission is to connect kids to nature, trees, and forest ecosystems where they live, study, and play, regardless of their cultural, religious, or socioeconomic background. We hope to spark their curiosity and empower them to become agents of positive environmental change.

Our program provides parents and educators with hands-on, nature-based learning materials designed by ecology and education experts to engage children in topics of forest health, ecology, and plant conservation. We also seek to connect communities to their public gardens – those crucial protectors of plants and ecosystems and inspiring, educational places to visit.

Laura Wilkins

Laura Wilkins

Name: Laura Wilkins
Hometown: Athens, Georgia
Hobbies: Photography, hiking, birding
Favorite tree: Redbay (Persea borbonia)


Laura took a field trip to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in second grade and knew she wanted to keep exploring trees and ecosystems. When one of her favorite redbay trees in the garden died, she learned from a local forester that the redbay ambrosia beetle can pass on a fungus that harms the trees. The beetle is originally from Asia, and laurel trees in North America have no defenses against the fungus. Still devoted to protecting plants and forests, Laura is now in college studying entomology (the science of insects) and is looking forward to a summer internship at the Georgia Museum of Natural History.

Frankie Barker

Frankie Barker

Name: Frankie Barker
Hometown: Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
Hobbies: Reading, tree climbing, baking
Favorite tree: Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)

From the first day Frankie shimmied up a maple tree and watched the world with a bird’s-eye view, he knew he could always find peace and a place to think in forests and parks. A very experienced tree climber with years of practice, Frankie can tell when a branch is strong and when it’s weak (don’t hang or step on a weak branch!). He learned that weak branches may be a sign that something is wrong and the tree is injured or ill. When a branch is strong, it’s a good place to read! And the air always feels fresher up in the trees who give off oxygen for our planet. That’s why Frankie will always keep an eye on trees and keep learning more about signs that a tree might need help.

Nate Green

Nate Green

Name: Nate Green
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
Hobbies: Botanical illustration, soccer, poetry
Favorite tree: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Nate is an adventurous fungi enthusiast. He doesn't mind getting down in the dirt, squeezing between boulders, or crawling under bushes to search for mushrooms and get a closer look at other fungi. The best time to observe a lot of these species is after a rainstorm, so Nate has a lot to discover in the rainy landscapes of his home in the Northwest United States. He likes to photograph and draw the fungi he finds and keeps an eye out for specific species that can become harmful to trees. He recently made a presentation for biology class about how networks of fungi can help trees talk to each other!

Aponi Star

Name: Aponi Star
Hometown: Crab Orchard, IL
Hobbies: Rock climbing, keeping a field journal, geocaching
Favorite tree: White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

Aponi is a busy high school student but likes to slow down and look out for the small things in nature. She grew up chasing butterflies and turning over rocks to find shiny beetles and loves spending afternoons observing plants and animals on her family’s farm in rural southern Illinois. Aponi’s National Honors Society project is educating the public about the emerald ash borer, an insect that can threaten native trees in her community. Her favorite day trips are to swim, hike, or climb in the Shawnee National Forest.

Laura Wilkins

Laura Wilkins
Name: Laura Wilkins
Hometown: Athens, Georgia
Hobbies: Photography, hiking, birding
Favorite tree: Redbay (Persea borbonia)


Laura took a field trip to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in second grade and knew she wanted to keep exploring trees and ecosystems. When one of her favorite redbay trees in the garden died, she learned from a local forester that the redbay ambrosia beetle can pass on a fungus that harms the trees. The beetle is originally from Asia, and laurel trees in North America have no defenses against the fungus. Still devoted to protecting plants and forests, Laura is now in college studying entomology (the science of insects) and is looking forward to a summer internship at the Georgia Museum of Natural History.

Frankie Barker

Frankie Barker
Name: Frankie Barker
Hometown: Shrewsbury, Massachusetts
Hobbies: Reading, tree climbing, baking
Favorite tree: Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)

From the first day Frankie shimmied up a maple tree and watched the world with a bird’s-eye view, he knew he could always find peace and a place to think in forests and parks. A very experienced tree climber with years of practice, Frankie can tell when a branch is strong and when it’s weak (don’t hang or step on a weak branch!). He learned that weak branches may be a sign that something is wrong and the tree is injured or ill. When a branch is strong, it’s a good place to read! And the air always feels fresher up in the trees who give off oxygen for our planet. That’s why Frankie will always keep an eye on trees and keep learning more about signs that a tree might need help.

Nate Green

Nate Green
Name: Nate Green
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
Hobbies: Botanical illustration, soccer, poetry
Favorite tree: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Nate is an adventurous fungi enthusiast. He doesn’t mind getting down in the dirt, squeezing between boulders, or crawling under bushes to search for mushrooms and get a closer look at other fungi. The best time to observe a lot of these species is after a rainstorm, so Nate has a lot to discover in the rainy landscapes of his home in the Northwest United States. He likes to photograph and draw the fungi he finds and keeps an eye out for specific species that can become harmful to trees. He recently made a presentation for biology class about how networks of fungi can help trees talk to each other!

Aponi Star

Name: Aponi Star
Hometown: Crab Orchard, IL
Hobbies: Rock climbing, keeping a field journal, geocaching
Favorite tree: White Ash (Fraxinus americana)

Aponi is a busy high school student but likes to slow down and look out for the small things in nature. She grew up chasing butterflies and turning over rocks to find shiny beetles and loves spending afternoons observing plants and animals on her family’s farm in rural southern Illinois. Aponi’s National Honors Society project is educating the public about the emerald ash borer, an insect that can threaten native trees in her community. Her favorite day trips are to swim, hike, or climb in the Shawnee National Forest.

Plant Heroes is brought to you by the

Plant Protection Program

The Plant Protection Program encompasses a variety of activities and resources that engage public gardens in forest health protection and plant conservation.

Educational Outreach: Our interpretive signs and plant labels enhance the experiential learning opportunity that gardens provide and educate visitors about a wide variety of topics related to forest health, invasive species and plant conservation.

Plant Heroes: A valuable resource for public garden professionals, parents and teachers looking for innovative ways to educate young learners about the importance of plants and engage them in protecting forest health.

Sentinel Plant Network: Scouting resources, diagnostic support and educational materials to help public gardens stop serious pests and diseases by working on the front lines of early detection and engaging community members as citizen scientists!

part of the

American Public Gardens Association

The American Public Gardens Association is the leading professional organization for the field of public horticulture. We advance the field by encouraging best practices, offering educational and networking opportunities, and advocating on behalf of our members, our programs and public gardens worldwide. We work together with our members and others to strengthen and shape public horticulture, providing the tools and support industry professionals need to better serve the public while preserving and celebrating plants creatively and sustainably.

Since 1940, we have been committed to increasing cooperation and awareness among gardens. Our members include more than 600 institutions, spanning 49 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, and 20 countries. Our members include, but are not limited to, botanic gardens, arboreta, zoos, museums, colleges and universities, display gardens, and research facilities.

made possible with support from the

U.S. Forest Service

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Their purpose is to help sustain forests and grasslands for present and future generations, because their stewardship work supports nature in sustaining life.

To advance their mission and serve their purpose, the U.S. Forest Service balances the short and long-term needs of people and nature by:

  • Working in collaboration with communities and partners;
  • Providing access to resources and experiences that promote economic, ecological, and social vitality;
  • Connecting people to the land and one another;
  • Delivering world-class science, technology and land management.