May 2020 Blog


From the Steering Committee:

It’s May, just. Still have not replaced the keyboard on this laptop. J U Z 5 8 are all reluctant participants in the four-fingered slow frenzy that passes for typing hereabouts. Rained most of last week, rained yesterday some, looks like it’s gonna do some more of that this week. Bring out your buckets, keep those boots at the ready, maybe hang a towel near the back door. Or none of the above. Walking in the woods near my house a couple of days ago, got caught in a shower. Kinda nice, reminded me keenly of a field trip hike in the Smokies last July and getting thoroughly soaked. It was awesome. (Well, it did not rise to the level of awesome at the time, I will admit, how easy it is to recolor memory when you’re dry.)

The past two months have been interesting. Having chunks of week where homework is the norm has allowed me to watch my garden. Really watch it, not from the driver’s side window as I’m pulling out of the garage already late for work, not as a spectator. As a participant, at garden speed. The spring flowers have settled down and the inhale is happening everywhere. The greenness is overwhelming sometimes; I look into the woods and my coffee goes cold in my hand before I catch on a linear spur of grey amidst the rounded jumble. Something fast flies through the gaps. So many conversations happening at once! Small shoots around pawpaw and bladdernut and possumhaw are becoming juvenile groves. The wax myrtles and devilwoods have a fresh coat. Redbuds are fruiting. Tickseed and coneflower and black-eyed Susie are settling in for a long warm show. Think I saw a king snake last week, hard to say, it was fast and not all interested in a photo shoot. March ephemera has made way for May. And soon enough our carefully mature spring will inform summer’s eager youth. Can’t frickin’ wait.

As July transitions from a long-time-from-now sort of thing to a hey-that’s-just-around-the-corner sort of another thing, it’s becoming difficult to face up to the great big hole in the summer calendar. The bright red label in my appointment book followed by a string of arrows has been inked out, as have so many labels. Cancellations abound, some merely postponed until the “next normal” sets in and we can all be around each other again without anxiety (or worse), and others fully excised. Alas.

The bright notes are there, stitching this sometimes cacophonous din into something approaching music. Maybe this song can be our glue. Even though we are physically apart, we are nonetheless connected. We all have a tin can somewhere, a myriad of strings poking out one end, extending out where we will. Pluck one and someone or something somewhere will sing in return. But I do digress.

Plants, plants, it’s all about the plants! Can’t hardly wait for the sourwood to bloom. That one tree has been a little reminder to me to get ready to head to the mountains. It’s been a treat to see the sourwoods bloom twice each year; first here in the Piedmont of NC, then a second time a few weeks later up the road a piece. One of the first trees I learned as it is usually the most reliably unstraight tree in the forest. Regarding their flowers, this lovely quote from A Natural History of Trees by Donald Culross Peattie, 1948: “In case you have not looked up and seen them, you may soon be made aware of them by the roar of bees gone nectar-mad at their lips.”

So until we may all go nectar-mad together again, I sign off with well wishes and hopes for happiness. Don’t forget to keep those strings taut.

April 2020 Blog Post

Claytonia virginicaClaytonia virginica

From the Steering Committee:

Well…shoot. I gotta admit, it’s been really hard to open this page and start typing, harder still to think of what to say now that everything has changed. But then I got to wondering…has everything really changed? Sure, we’re stuck at home, for the most part. We’re finding other ways of filling the chunks of awake time that were previously, routinely, dare I say automatically, filled with whatever it was we were all doing a month or longer ago. We’re still staring at screens or listening to whomever we trust to find out what’s going on outside of our collapsed circles. Those of us with jobs still are grateful and getting up every day asking ourselves with varying degrees of volume: how can I help? We’re all battling with instabilities, immobilities, insecurities and incompetencies. We’re all hoping that the big finger will ease off the Pause button sometime soon. Scared a little of what will happen when it does – I guess that’s change. Finer minds have been parsing this for a bit. I’m not sure there’s much else to add. But I needed to start this off somehow, right?

So yeah, it’s another cloudy day in the Piedmont. Rained yesterday. Gonna rain again later this week. That’s a good thing, glad as always to sally forth, morning leash in hand, and take that first great gulp of pollen-free air. I step through the garden and note the changes there, false indigo and bluestar in full flower, the chickweed and henbit fruiting, green and gold polka-dotting, ragwort sending fluffy tufts through the horsetail and sedge. All that green in the back woods. And so much less traffic noise. That has been easy enough to get used to.

Y’all know by now that the 2020 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference has been shelved. Like everything else scheduled to take place on University of North Carolina campuses across the state, our lovely event had to be struck-through. It was quick, it was kind, it was necessary, but it still hurts. We were all so excited about the speakers, the trips, the workshops and talks, the music and, most importantly, the people. Sure, it’s a big ol’ bonus that our conference happens to be in one of the prettiest places one could hope to be in late July in NC, but that’s completely secondary to the folks that come and participate. I’m sure you’ve put the 2021 conference on your calendar – July 20-24, 2021 – should be awesome seeing as how we’ve got a whole extra year to plan for it! I suspect I’ll find myself somewhere near Sylva this summer if conditions allow. It’s a hard habit to break. For now, it’s walks in the neighborhood, more time in my own garden than I had planned, ticking through the chore list around the house, some online personal enrichment coursework, some utterly indulgent TV escapism, and no haircut. Guess which ones are good for me and which ones are just laziness?

In the meantime, I really hope everyone reading this is well and breathing the good air. The sun has been peeking out here and there’s a breeze lifting young limbs. Let’s get together again in May.


March 2020 Blog

From the Steering Committee:

Day 1, working from home…

(Interesting times indeed. I’m hearing that a lot lately. So many things have changed in the last month. So many things happening and not happening. Hard to put the words in the right place right now. So I’ll be brief: hoping all who read this are safe and well. Peace and good health be with us all.)

Spring!! It’s raining here in central NC, again. That’s a good thing right now as the oaks have started their yearly outpouring of pollen. The street by my home is streaked in chartreuse. Catkins everywhere. And our surrounds have decided to slough off the slumbering and shyness of winter. Flowers folks, and leaves and buds and shoots, and all that’s tender and promising and promiscuous and alive! The colors are almost shocking; I mean gardens should have a warning label or something right now. It’s awesome.

It’s time to get outside. The world wakes up around us. The view from the window is ok and all, sure, but it still smells like old office in here. Cold coffee. Orange peel. Feet. Dog.

My usual blog-crafting spot is closed for an undetermined period of time. Like most of you, I’m more stationary than I would care to be. Grateful for the nature that surrounds me, though and the nice people who understand space. The sounds are better, fewer machines, more voices, whispers, susurrationsand trickles.

So…the Conference. Still having it, right? Yep, as far as we know. The good folks at Western Carolina University are operating under that assumption. Campuses everywhere are pretty quiet, but as of this writing, summer at WCU is still scheduled. We should expect to see a shiny new registration page round about April 13th. I’ve been crossing things off my calendar lately, kinda nice to add something back. Yay!

And a reminder as well that the applications for scholarships are due April 19th. A link to everything one needs to apply may be found here.

Day 2, I do find it hard to focus…

In the meantime, I can only echo the words of my colleagues on the Steering Committee and the many other wise friends that have chimed in over the past little while. Now is not a time to sit and sulk. Not a time to shoe-gaze, turn hazy-eyed towards those darker places. Let’s look for the opportunities here, my friends. We have a quieter world right now. We might have a chance to be outside for longer than a few minutes or a lunch break or a dog walk. We might pick that book back up or (dare I say it) write that letter we promised we would write a year ago. 

We are all surrounded by a beauty that has taken an earthen age to manifest. This beauty is myriad and marvelous. It is here in spite of us, everywhere. I trust us all to invite some of that wonder in to ourselves and share it with those around us. This is a chance of a lifetime, as they say. It’s grey out there this morning. It’s going to rain later this afternoon according to the guy on the TV. And that’s OK.

Remember, plants do not care about social distance. Plants only care about sunshine, soil and sogginess. I’m gonna go find me some plants.

Conference Scholarships


From the Steering Committee:

Is it just me or did January just disappear? Like a small puddle giving way to a large stone? Here in the Piedmont of NC it has been overly wet these past 6 weeks or so. Lots of puddles. An abundance of grey mornings. Normally, I’m not opposed to a good soaking, but it has been crazy wet over here. Almost 5 inches of rain last month, half that already this month, it’s made the winter chore list a challenge to complete. All those galoshed feet squishing into sleepy garden soil…

So, how do we turn from all this gloom and gloam? Where is our sunny beacon of hope? I’m so glad you asked. Our thoughts turn to summer and the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference! Well, yes, of course. I thought y’all might like to know a bit about our scholarship program. That’s right, we offer scholarships! Pretty awesome, I know.

The Conference awards between 16 and 20 of these scholarships each year. Our Scholarship Coordinator, Preston Montague was kind enough to fill me in on some of the details. Here’s a little Q&A for ya…

What is covered by a scholarship?
Full scholarships cover room, board, and conference registration including the Wednesday field trip. Half scholarships are also available.

Who may apply?
Anyone with an interest and a need. Our target audience however, is students, beginning professionals, and professionals who are looking to pivot their work towards a greater support of native plants.

What do scholarship recipients have to do at the Conference?
Full participation is expected. This includes attending talks, workshops and walks, provide support to vendors and presenters as needed, participate in the talent show (it’s a blast…ask anyone), and support one another with wayfinding and networking.

When is the deadline to apply?
April 19, 2020. A link to the online application form will be posted on the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference website soon!

I was able to speak with a recipient from last year, Ali Touloupas, conservation intern at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. I asked her for a memory from 2019:

“Not sure I have a specific memory that stands out, but I do have to say that meeting the other scholarship folks was a very awesome experience. It was nice to have a crew to attend workshops and nerd out with. Everyone was so friendly and enthusiastic and it made me feel comfortable being around amazing botanists and ecologists instead of intimidated!”

And this from Bret Bates, a first-time attendee from the great state of Louisiana:

“It would be hard from me to describe the experience with just a couple of sentences. It was like an amusement park for anyone who cares, really cares, about our environment. Everyone there challenged me to really educate myself as it relates to mother nature and conservation. It certainly has changed the way I model my life.”

Well alright! All that and we have plants! Lots of plants! I know y’all are as excited about the upcoming conference as I am. And I bet you’re wondering who else might be speaking. We shared a few names with you last posting. Here’s another teaser:

Wildflowers of the Atlantic Southeast was recently released by Timber Press. We are thrilled to have Laura Cotterman, Damon Waitt, and Alan Weakley joining us this summer to discuss their incredible work. Laura Cotterman is a professional botanist and editor, having worked with the NC Plant Conservation Program, NC Natural Heritage Program and the NC Botanical Garden. Dr. Damon Waitt is currently Director at the NC Botanical Garden and Professor of the Practice in Biology at UNC Chapel Hill. He served previously as Senior Director and Botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas in Austin. Dr. Alan Weakley is currently Director of the UNC Herbarium and Adjunct Associate Professor of Biology at UNC Chapel Hill. He has worked with the NC Natural Heritage Program, The Nature Conservancy, and NatureServe.

Pow! Remember, the 2020 Conference will be July 22 – 25. Registration will open online April 1st!

Until next time folks, keep your feets toasty and your roots moisty!

December 2019 PlantCampNews Blog

Betula lenta 20141106

From the Steering Committee:

Well, it’s still fall, officially, barely. And it’s raining, officially, thoroughly, though there have been some lovely bits of sunshine and stillness between the bouts of hurry and worry. Plying my trade in various forms of horticulture, I spend a great deal of time out of doors, well away from doors, in fact. Thus these blog entries will likely emerge when I am chased into the safely dry and there is a less than pressing need for me to muddy my boots on some given morning.

Good morning Plant Campers! It has been a month since the last missive and the majority of the leaves here in the Piedmont of NC have retired to their forever homes. Nature’s color wheel has turned a quarter. Wooded hikes are crunchy, the pace is lively. And the coffee is most welcome.

So…what have we been up to? So glad you asked. I’ll get right to it. Your faithful committee has been tirelessly working to assemble an awesome program of speakers for your 2020 Native Plant Conference. This will be our 37th year at Western Carolina University, proud to be the longest running native plant event in the country. That longevity speaks to the commitment to conservation, education and diversity that we all bake into our daily bread. And of course our inability to ignore the call of the mountain each July.

This year will feature eight plenary sessions. Our plenaries are scheduled talks for the benefit and betterment of the entire CNPC tribe and take place in the main seating area within Ramsey Center. It’s a big space, plenty of seats, though I will say that you learn more when you sit close to the front. Oh yes, sometimes it can be a little chilly in there. Or so I’ve heard. Best bring a wrap if that will aid in your comfort. Fun fact: the Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center was completed in 1986, can seat over 8,000 folks and is nicknamed “The Lair” (straight outta Wikipedia, must be true, right?).

I know y’all are anxious to know who all will be speaking. So I’ll just spit it out. Shall I? Let me get a refill on my coffee…be right back. Fun fact: on an average December day in 2012 some 2.25 billion cups of coffee were consumed across the planet.



Thanks all. Here’s a peek at a few of our planned plenary speakers for 2020: (Please note this is always subject to change.)

Alonso Abugattas, environmental educator and storyteller, Natural Resources Manager for the Department of Parks and Recreation in Arlington, VA and author of the Capital Naturalist blog…

Doug Tallamy, Professor of Entomology at the University of Delaware and author of Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants

Dwayne Estes, Professor of Biology at Austin Peay State University and Executive Director of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative…

And those are just three of the plenary speakers, folks. A pretty meaty slice of lineup if I do say so. And that’s just a third of the way into the Conference. We will also have a raft of concurrent speakers. Our concurrent sessions are held along the Ramsey Concourse and in the Hospitality Room (my personal favorite, comfy chairs if you get there early). They take place during the day on Thursday and they overlap. Hence the name. This allows participants to pick from a list of speakers for each slot. This year there will be ten concurrent sessions(!), five in the morning and five in the afternoon. More about those tasty chunks of talent in our next Plant Camp News installment.

Excited yet? Put the Conference on your calendar yet? Well let’s get on it. July 22-25, 2020 are the dates. As a coworker of mine so nimbly put it: “Keep your heads on the swivel!”. Not exactly sure what that means, but I dig the visual.

Hoping you all enjoy these last strands of fall as they weave into lovely lovely winter. Please feel free to share the word about your favorite native plant conference!

Fall 2019 PlantCampNews Blog


From the Steering Committee:

Well, it’s fall. And it’s raining. And it’s getting colder as this day unfolds itself into the great gray wet mass that it’s determined to become. And that’s why I’m inside my favorite coffee shop fighting off the latte itters – oops, jitters, apparently the “j” key on my laptop has decided to go wonky – and thinking about this next iteration of the Plant Camp News Blog.

So…first things first. Huge hugs and thanks to Mr. Tom Oder, former Cullowhee Native Plant Conference Steering Committee member and business writer sans pareil. Creating and writing the blog last year was all Tom and we are grateful for his efforts. Onwards and upwards. I hope to fill at least part of one shoe as we proceed.

So we, your humble and faithful Steering Committee members, got together last month on the campus of Western Carolina University and began the process of generating next year’s Conference. It was a chunky 48 hours. I made the drive from 4 hours east, feeling my spirit lift as I ascended the asphalt ramp into mountain land. The drive up to Cullowhee always takes too long, an artefact of anticipation, one might suppose. Conversely the drive back is too quick, mountains into hills into the relatively flat center of this lovely state. But I digress.

The committee packs a fair bit of work into a day and a half. We met that Monday under a clouded, interesting sky, gathering around a conference table in the Camp Lab building on campus, and all gave a quick and silent thanks that there were enough outlets for our devices. It was just past lunch, the grilled cheese and fries from Cosmic Carry-out settling nicely in my tummy, a full tumbler of City Lights coffee at the ready, sleeves up. There are a dozen of us on the committee who, along with Bobby Hensley, Associate Director of Continuing Education at WCU and Julia Duvall, Public Communication Specialist, get together after the July Conference to groupthink next July. We met for 12 hours over two days and the agenda was ambitious.

We started off with a game of Twister out in the parking lot. Peter Loos won. Just kidding. We actually started off with a discussion of the Conference budget, marketing efforts and attendance. We continue to explore ways to get the word out about our excellent Conference. Fun fact: fully a third of last summer’s attendees were first timers! A goodly amount of time was spent going through the surveys. And yes, we all read every single comment. It is such a valuable tool and we on the committee genuinely appreciate the time those of you who responded to the survey took to help us better understand how we can help make the Conference better. Fun fact: it’s cold in Ramsey Center.

We continued our dissection of last summer and assembly of a framework for next. Field trips, field workshops and walks…very excited to share the return of the Campus Tree ID walk! It was a favorite of mine back when Dr. Pitillo took us around. Big thanks to Adam and Peter for agreeing to lead. We began the process of gathering names for our plenary and concurrent sessions. Thank you all who provided suggestions through the survey and social media. This is a long and sometimes slow climb as we all continue to try and recruit interesting and interested folks for these sessions. It is why we all keep coming back, all that sharing. My brain hurts just thinking about it. It’s a good hurt.

Our time together was brief, but well worth it. We launched ourselves into the second day with a discussion of our Scholarship program, poster sessions, Lunch ‘n’ Learn, performances, talent show, food and beverages…Fun fact: caffeine withdrawal is a real thing. Vendors, accommodations, Plants of Promise, Projects of Promise, the Tom Dodd Award…And just like that it was well past lunch. My tummy was rumbly and there was a beautiful hill to descend.

Rest assured there will be a 38th CNPC and it will be a blast. You should go ahead and put the dates in/on your calendar: July 22-25, 2020. Stay tuned for names of speakers for next year as we confirm folks on our end. Hope to let y’all know some details in the next blog entry. It is an honor being a part of this tribe. Thanks for your kind attention. Please spread the good word when you can. We’ll check in with you next month.


Plant Camp is Next Week!

19103329973_7da744fa8a_zConference attendees from a few years ago getting ready to head out on Wednesday field trips.

Welcome to the final Cullowhee Native Plant Conference blog before this year’s Plant Camp!

Thank you to all the native plant enthusiasts who have registered for what once again promises to be a fun and informative week of talks and walks. Registration has topped 300 and everything is closed now except for non-eating commuters. WCU is keeping that open until Friday morning, July 12, then registration will be closed.

Even if you can’t make it this year, please recommend Whee to a favorite colleague or friend and encourage them to attend next year’s conference.  Steering Committee members are trying to expand the conference’s social media presence and hope those who’ve supported Whee through the years will join us in that effort. Committee members realize that attendees know MANY folks, and word of mouth remains our best route to reach new attendees. Please look for opportunities to do that with tweets during the conference using hash tags #whee19, #plantcamp19 and #nativeplants.

We look forward to seeing everyone next week. Travel safely!