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!


Final deadlines loom! Register now for the 37th annual Plant Camp!

Conference Logo

Final deadlines loom! Register now for the 37th annual Plant Camp!

From the Steering Committee:

It’s almost here! The 37thannual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. The June blog represents the last full month until the year-long wait for Plant Camp is over.

That’s a big yeah! It also comes with an even bigger heads up. If you’re planning to attend the conference and haven’t registered, there are a couple of very good reasons to do that today.

For starters, as of June 17, almost all the field trips are full. The closed FTs are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11. Only three are still open: FTs 8, 9 and 12. Wouldn’t it be great if we had so much interest in the conference this year that all the field trips filled up and closed before the conference even started? Yes! On one hand. And, well, no on another – you’ll be out of luck if you want to go on a field trip but procrastinated about registering and missed out on of these great experiences to learn about native Southeastern flora and bond with others participating in your walk, canoe trip or workshop.

Here’s another reason to register if you haven’t already done so – or to encourage a friend or colleague to register. Availability of on campus accommodations will close July 3. So, if you want to stay on campus, the time to send in your registration is now! Please also be aware that July 12 is the last date to register for the conference.

As of June 17, 247 people have registered for the conference including speakers and staff, according to Bobby Hensley, Associate Director of Continuing Education at Western Carolina. Registration is tracking at roughly the same pace as last year, according to Bobby.

We said in this space after the Steering Committee’s planning meeting in October that we heard you loudly and clearly regarding your comments on the survey after last year’s conference. Here’s proof of that: This summer you’ll see an increased presence of recycling and compostable materials. Be sure to thank Bobby for that. Bobby, as regulars at ‘Whee know, is the university’s point person for planning and hosting the conference. He does a great job year in and year out. So, give him an extra “atta boy” when you pick up your room keys if you’re bunking on campus or when you see him at his station in the tunnel leading into Ramsey. We’ll start that here: Thank you, Bobby!

Here’s something else the Steering Committee is working on for the conference that we want to share with you. As part of his opening remarks, Conference Director John Magee is going to encourage everyone to tweet about the conference. The goal is to raise awareness about ‘Whee in the native plant community. John will ask you to use the hash tags #whee19, #plantcamp19 and #nativeplants in your tweets. The Steering Committee has asked Bobby if there is a way to display some of the tweets on the screen behind Ramey’s main stage. Bobby’s working on that but is unsure so far if he can make that happen from a technology standpoint.

Social media appears to be an area where the Steering Committee can lead a charge to increase awareness of the conference. Most of the people who’ve registered this year listed Friend or Employer as to how they heard about ‘Whee. After that, registrants listed email as to how they found out about the conference. Social media, Bobby said, was surprisingly low on their list – only 13 registrants said they heard about the conference through social media.

So, here’s a homework assignment for all the native plant lovers following this blog. Go to your favorite social media platform – heck, all your social media platforms – and chat up the conference. And be sure to use the hash tags above: #whee19, #plantcamp19 and #nativeplants .

We’re looking forward to seeing everyone next month!

Registration slightly ahead of last year….


This summer’s conference is fast-approaching, and registration is running slightly above the pace at the same time last year.

As of May 20, 118 native plant lovers are paid registrants for the conference (169 with speakers and staff), according to Bobby Hensley, Associate Director of Continuing Education at Western Carolina. While it’s wonderful that registration is slightly up year over year, we still have a way to go to meet Western Carolina’s goal of 250-plus paid registrants.  Please renew your efforts to reach out to fellow gardeners and members of garden clubs and native plant societies and encourage them to register for this always informative and enjoyable conference.

Thanks to all who attend the conference year after year and have spread the word about the 2019 conference. And, here’s a special thanks to the marketing efforts of the WCU staff and native plant societies throughout the region that have put the conference on their calendars. Thanks to everyone for getting out information about what is one of the country’s most informative annual native plant conferences!

Not surprisingly, with the increased pace of registration compared to 2018, interest in field trips also appears to be up.. In fact, three are already filled and are closed. Two of those are on Wednesday, July 17: FT7, Highlands Botanical Garden and Other Native Plant Gardens with Larry Mellichamp;and FT 10, Mosses of the Blue Ridge Parkway, with Ann Stoneburner and Robert Wyatt. One Friday, July 19 field trip, FT14, Bogs and Seeps of the Blue Ridge Parkway, is also full and is closed. If you haven’t already registered, be sure to do so as soon as possible to increase your chances of getting in on your first choice of the remaining field trips.

The field trips, which are always a highlight of the conference and will be again, could turn out to have an added element of interest this year. A spate of very warm weather earlier this year caused some plants to bloom earlier than usual, according to Kathy Mathews, a professor of biology at Western and a member of the Steering Committee. While there’s always lots in bloom in the mountains regardless of weather patterns, wouldn’t it be interesting if this trend continues and some things that don’t normally bloom until after the conference are in flower during walks this summer. Time will tell!


The 2019 T-shirt

Each year, Weaver Haney, a lecturer in the Biology Department, solicits designs for the T-shirt, sends entries to the Steering Committee and invites committee members to vote for their favorite. This year, Weaver advised the committee that several designs were especially attractive and that we faced a difficult choice. He was right on both counts!

In fact, we had a runoff. The final choices came down to pokeberry (Phytolacca americana), trumpet creeper vine (Campsis radicans), wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), panax (Panax quinquefolius) and a collection of oak leaves. The winner was the pokeberry. “I love the idea of celebrating this beautiful native plant that has great cultural significance and is often demonized,” said Adam Bigelow, a Steering Committee member who is a graduate of Western Carolina and lives in the area.

Several committee members asked Weaver to use tsdesigns to produce the shirt. is Based in the Carolinas, tsdesigns uses organic cotton in their shirts. Weaver was also asked to be sure to include shirts cut for women. Proceeds from sales of the shirt benefit the scholarship program for the WCU Biology Department.


More than 20 people from across the country, including several from the Caribbean, have applied for sponsorships (sometimes called scholarships) to this summer’s conference.

“The applicants were mostly emerging professionals wanting access to information to improve their product as well as improve business through networking,” said Preston Montague, a Steering Committee member who oversees the sponsorship process. A team of scorers is evaluating the applications and winners will be announced by the end of May. The number of winners will depend on how much sponsorship money is available.


19103329973_7da744fa8a_z  Conference attendees getting ready to head out on a field trip during the 2015 conference.

With the opening of registration for the 2019 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference on April 2, this month’s blog is a welcome letter to the 36thannual conference from conference Director John C. Magee, an award-winning landscape designer who lives in Middleburg, Virginia.

Hello native plant lovers,

More than three-and-a-half decades ago, 36 years to be precise, something very special johnhappened at a small university nestled into the mountains of Western North Carolina. A group of dedicated, passionate individuals started a native plant movement at Western Carolina University that continues to gain strength and recognition with each passing year. That first Steering Committee and those first attendees at the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference couldn’t have imagined what they were starting. I’m sure they would be pleased to know, though, that in 2019 the conference is alive and thriving! In fact, the Cullowhee Native Plant  Conference has become the longest-running conference that Western Carolina University hosts.

As the director of the 2019 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference and on behalf of the 2019 Steering Committee, I’d like to invite you to attend what conference attendees affectionately call “Plant Camp.” Each year, as my batteries start to wane in the summer heat, the setting in and around Western Carolina University and this conference give me the space and time to re-charge and find the energy to carry me through to the end of the year. The speakers, the networking, the learning, the fun, the friendships and the surroundings combine to make the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference a truly unique event that has grown into one of the premiere native plant conferences in the country.

Beyond the conference plenaries and concurrent sessions in the Ramsey Center, the surrounding mountains offer some of the most beautiful scenery and diverse native flora not just in the Southeast but anywhere in this great land we call America. To help you enjoy and explore the regions peaks, valleys, river corridors and balds, the conference kicks off with amazing field trips. There are nearly 1,000 waterfalls in this area, numerous mountain vistas you must see to believe and, of course, unique plant communities. Expert plants people who know, love and respect the region’s history and its native flora lead the field trips. They can pretty much name every plant you see and explain the natural history of the area. How cool, is that?

The Steering Committee has listened to you, the attendees, and tried to incorporate as many of your suggested improvements as we could into what’s already an amazing event. One aspect of the conference that makes Whee so amazing is that full or partial scholarships are available annually to students, beginning professionals, K-12 environmental science teachers, and interns at botanical gardens, nature centers and parks. These scholarships cover the costs of conference registration, lodging, and meals. If you know someone who might qualify for one of these scholarships, please urge them to apply.

It’s my experience that there’s a little something for everyone at the conference. So, please join us if you can for this year’s talks and walks, which will be held July 17-20. Also, please invite a friend and help the Steering Committee reach even more native plant enthusiasts. We’d love to get to know you and your friends or colleagues better and share our passion for native plants and the environment in general with you and them.  If you can’t make it, we’ll ask attendees to post as many pictures and comments from Plant Camp as they can to different social media platforms. Search for the hashtags #whee19, #plantcamp19 and #nativeplants to find us and follow along.

We look forward to seeing you in the mountains – preferably in person or, if that’s not possible, then virtually!


John C. Magee
Cullowhee Native Plant Conference
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, N.C.


P.S. – Here’s a link to register for the conference. Please share it with other native plant lovers!

Early registration is approaching


Keep an eye on your in-box.

What you’re looking for is an email from Bobby Hensley in the Office of Continuing Education at Western Carolina University announcing the opening of early registration for the 2019 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference. As a reminder, conference dates are July 17-20.

The goal is to open early registration April 1. To do that the conference agenda has to be finalized and posted by the end of March. Setting the agenda has been a little more difficult than usual this year because some invited speakers have had to decline for various reasons.

Luckily, the Steering Committee has deep contacts in the native plant community. We’re reaching out to those contacts to fill in gaps where they’ve opened up on the agenda. Hopefully, we fill those gaps in time for early registration to open on April 1 as planned. If not, registration will open as soon after April 1 as possible.

The email from Bobby will be the signal to register and get ahead of the rush for field trips. The latter is important because some field trips tend to fill up quickly. So, keep an eye on your inbox!

The blog follow challenge

We’re at 72 followers on the blog. As spring weather arrives and gardening energy rises, let’s see if we can push that number up.

Let members in your gardening community – native plant societies, gardening clubs, community gardens, heck, even your great Aunt Mildred – know about the blog. Speak up at meetings. Ask newsletter editors to put the blog link in their newsletters. Post it on their websites.

Let’s see if we can get followers to 100.

Then 125. And then … well, you get the idea!

A 2019 attendance challenge

By publicizing the blog we’re also doing something else: We’re promoting the Cullowhee Conference.

Which brings up another challenge. Will every attendee commit to inviting one new person to the 2019 conference? Remember how many first timers we had last summer? Wasn’t that great?

Not every invitee will attend, of course. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could push attendance in July to 400? Last year’s attendance was 304. The last time conference attendance was more than 400 was in the 1990s, at least 20 years ago, according to Bobby.

The effort to boost attendance can begin anytime. But the real signal to begin the big push for 2019 will be when the early registration form lands in your inbox. Keep an eye out. It’s coming!

Why Natives?

IMG_7917Robert Wyatt during the 2018 Moss field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Why Natives?

As the Steering Committee finishes dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” to finalize the agenda for this summer’s conference, there’s a plenary talk we want to let you know about. It is sure to be one of the highlights of what is shaping up to be a very exciting and compelling schedule. The plenary is titled “Why Should We Plant Natives?”, and will be given by Robert Wyatt, a former Cullowhee Conference director and program chair and Professor Emeritus of Botany and Ecology at the University of Georgia.

Robert will begin his talk by pointing out that the Native Plant Movement continues to grow and mature, as more and more people come to recognize the benefits of landscaping and gardening in a more ecologically sustainable way. Wearing the hat of an ecologist and population geneticist, he’ll explain why it’s important to listen to the principles for using native plants advocated by leaders in the field such as Doug Tallamy. Tallamy, as native plant enthusiasts know, has reinvigorated the Native Plant Movement with his focus on the broader role of native plants in food webs. And, as veterans of Cullowhee are aware, Doug has not only been a popular speaker at our conference but received the 2013 Tom Dodd, Jr. Award of Excellence, which the conference grants to native plant leaders for their work in one or more native plant categories. As Robert makes his points, he’ll try to clear up confusion about a term that might be difficult for the casual grower to understand – “variety” in botany versus horticulture – and explain why we don’t need another term – “nativar” – that has crept into the hobbyist and professional lexicon.

From there, Robert will delve into some less-talked about and less-understood aspects of using native plants in home landscapes. One of those will be that some native plant advocates have overstated the benefits of natives, which has led some in the ornamental horticulture industry to respond to customer demand for a steady stream of new native cultivars, which is where the term nativar comes from. Here, Robert will shift into attack mode. Look for him to point out that native cultivars in which stamens and pistils have been converted into extra petals provide no pollen and nectar to feed native pollinators, produce no fruits or seeds to feed birds, mammals or other frugivores and that cultivars of new color variants have reduced palatability to insects that normally feed on them and reduced attractiveness to pollinators. Robert will echo the warnings of Tallamy and others that the failure of these cultivars to fill the role in the food web that their ancestors have for millions of years could wreak havoc on natural ecosystems. Robert will also issue a warning of his own: More research is needed to determine which cultivars of native plants are able to fill the role of wild species and which are not.

Native plants are a topic Robert has been passionate about since the seventh grade, which was when he realized that he wanted to be a botanist and study native plants in natural areas. “An influential teacher at Statesville High School inspired me and challenged me in General and Advanced Biology,” he recalled. He responded to that challenge by earning an undergraduate degree in Botany from UNC-Chapel Hill where he was advised by C. Ritchie Bell and Albert E. Redford and took courses that emphasized native plants. “I worked on the most beautiful native plant in the world (butterfly weed) for my Ph.D. in Botany at Duke University. My original interest in plant systematics moved to ecology and population genetics under the influence of Janis Antonovics. I have always been committed to preserving natural areas and protecting rare and endangered species. So, my dedication to the Native Plant Movement has deep and long lasting roots.”

Robert has served the Native Plant Movement in many capacities. He has been the Executive Director Emeritus of the Highlands Biological Station and has been a teacher in several areas of organismal biology: population ecology, plant reproductive ecology, ecological genetics, plant variation and evolution, and plant systematics, among others. His main area of research has been in the field of ecology and evolution of plant reproduction, with a special focus on unusual systems such as milkweeds and orchids, analyzing their unique adaptations by studying native plants under natural conditions. A Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to publish a book on this subject titled Ecology and Evolution of Plant Reproduction.

Moss field trip

In addition to the plenary, Robert and his wife, Ann Stoneburner, formerly a research biologist at the University of Georgia, will lead a moss field trip on Wednesday, July 17. If you don’t already have a field guide for mosses, a good one to take on the walk is Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians by McKnight et al. (2013). It’s in the Princeton Field Guide series and costs about $20. Here is a link to a story on Mother Nature Network about last year’s moss field trip .

Key dates

A reminder about key dates for making plans to attend the 2019 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference:

  • April 1: Registration opens (tentative; if this changes we’ll let you know in a future post).
  • July 3: Last date to register for on-campus accommodations.
  • July 11: Last date to register for the conference.
  • July 17-20: The 2019 conference.

Important Dates to Remember


2015 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference attendees get ready to attend their field trips. Photo courtesy of WCU Educational Outreach.

From the Steering Committee:

It’s January, and for many people, that means two things: Highlighting important dates on their calendar for the coming year and making New Year’s resolutions.

When it comes to important dates – and what, of course, could be more important than Whee? – here are some days you’ll want to highlight for making plans to attend the 2019 Cullowhee Native Plant Conference:

  • April 1: Registration opens (tentative; if this changes we’ll let you know in a future post).
  • July 3: Last date to register for on-campus accommodations.
  • July 11: Last date to register for the conference.
  • July 17-20: The 2019 conference.

One especially important thing to remember about the registration process is that field trips fill up quickly. As such, it’s always a good idea to register as soon as possible after your registration email hits your inbox to ensure you get in on the field trip of your choice!

Under the heading of New Year’s Resolutions, think about this: Long-time Whee attendees remember that ‘back in the day’ they rushed to return registration forms either the day they received them or the day after. They did this because so many native plant lovers attended the conference that they were concerned the conference would fill up and they would be left out if they didn’t register right away.

That’s when the conference was held at the old University Center. “We moved for the simple availability of space,” said Bobby Hensley, WCU’s Associate Director of Continuing Education who does such a great job of hosting the conference year after year. Even though the University Center has been renovated, Bobby said it’s still not suitable for our event. He gave several reasons for that: Ramsey can accommodate many times more people, plus everything is in one building at Ramsey.

“I’ve “heard” that numbers were closer to 500 in years past, but I don’t recall it breeching 375 since I started in ‘01,” he added. “There were cut-offs only because so much filled up quickly.” There are still caps on campus accommodations, field trips and workshops, but Bobby said that conference attendance itself is not technically limited.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get our attendance back to where it once was? To help make that a possibility, think about making one of your New Year’s Resolutions a commitment to invite a friend or colleague to attend the 2019 conference and join the

Whee family. Perhaps that’s a first-time attendee. Maybe it’s someone who’s been on hiatus you could welcome back. Regardless, let’s all try to grow the family!

You could even take that resolution a step further through your local garden club or favorite native plant society. Ask the group’s calendar editor to put the above dates on the society’s or club’s calendars and ask if you can make announcements about Whee at meetings of your favorite plant groups.

Share Whee memories

Here’s an invitation to Whee veterans: If you attended Whee ‘back in the day’ when it was at the University Center, please share your favorite memories in the comments section at the end of this post.

Agenda update

The Steering Committee is working with Bobby and his team to nail down the last few speaker commitments so we can finalize the conference agenda. We’re in the final stages of doing that, but one agenda item we are comfortable in sharing now will be a main stage panel discussion by members of several key land trusts in the Southeast. One of the topics they will discuss is how to apply for a conservation easement. One thing you may be surprised to know about conservation easements is that you don’t have to own a large tract of land to apply for an easement. As an example, one of the land trusts that has committed to the conference has granted an easement to slightly less than half an acre. The key qualification to be granted an easement is not size but conservation value. We know that you’ll have questions, and we’re building time into the schedule for a Q&A.

We’ll share more information in future posts about the agenda as we work with WCU on the final touches. In the meantime, enjoy the winter garden!