Cullowhee native plant conference to celebrate 30 years at WCU

Jul 08, 2013



CULLOWHEE – Celebrating three decades of creating awareness about the importance of conserving natural environments and sustainable interactions among plants, animals and people, Western Carolina University’s 30th annual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference will be held Wednesday, July 17, through Saturday, July 20.

Conference registration remains open through Friday, July 12.

The annual gathering of plant enthusiasts began in 1984 in an effort to increase interest in and knowledge of propagating and preserving native Southeastern plant species. “The conference is the oldest and largest of its kind in the Southeast and has spawned a number of satellite conferences around the country,” said Robert Wyatt, retired professor of botany and ecology at the University of Georgia and current conference director. “This meeting stresses the pivotal role that plants play in conservation of the land and water resources on which human life depends. It focuses on increasing people’s appreciation of the beauty of natural plant communities and native plant species.”

Wyatt said the Cullowhee conference is unusual in allowing diverse stakeholders to regularly come together and exchange ideas on vital environmental issues. Participants typically include landscape architects, commercial nursery operators, garden club members, botanists and horticulturists from state highway departments, along with representatives from universities, native plant societies, botanical gardens and arboretums. The perspectives of attendees range from the most basic, philosophical and academic to the most applied, practical and hands-on, Wyatt said.

Keynote speakers for this year’s conference will be authors Douglas Tallamy and Janisse Ray. Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, wrote the award-winning “Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.” He will lead a talk on “Maintaining Curb Appeal with Native Plants” and also will present “Networks for Life: Your Role in Stitching the Natural World Together,” a special session for those newly interested in gardening with native plants. Ray’s first book, “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” recounted her early years in rural southwestern Georgia and explored her passion for the South’s rapidly vanishing longleaf pine forests. In “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food,” published in 2012, Ray encourages readers to understand that in order to secure the future of food, they must first understand and value its source.

Conference attendees will have their choice of general and concurrent sessions, all-day and half-day field trips, workshops and nature walks. Other session topics include “Edible Native Plants of the Gulf Coast,” “Muddy Sneakers: The Joy of Learning Outside” and “Garden Conversations.” Field trip participants will visit area locations such as the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, Black Balsam Knob and Flat Laurel Creek, Panthertown Valley, Bear Lake and Whitewater Falls.

The conference will offer a home gardening miniconference beginning at 8:15 a.m. July 20. Leaders will help home gardeners who are new to the topic of native plants understand how they can bring about a healthier garden environment. Designed for those looking for a “Native Plants 101,” the session is included for all regular conference participants and can be attended by others for a $25 fee.

In recognition of the conference’s 30th anniversary, founding members and past directors will present a panel, “Thirty Years of Progress in Advancing the Cause of Native Plants: Where Are We Now?” A highlight of that event will be a portrayal of Andre Michaux, a well-known early botanical explorer of the Southeast. Michaux will be portrayed in costume by Charlie Williams of Gastonia, president of the Andre Michaux International Society.

Campus lodging and dining options are available for conference participants. For more details and to register, visit or call WCU’s Office of Continuing and Professional Education at 828-227-7397.

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