Fall in the Mountains…

45657525_10161005292420134_1574758684020441088_nAs a person who follows Adam Bigelow’s Facebook page commented, the clouds above this barn in the mountains near the WCU campus give the image the feel of a Van Gogh painting. (Photo by Adam Bigelow).

From the Steering Committee:

Greetings to Cullowhee Native Plant Conference devotees from the magical land of ‘Whee, where the leaves turned colors this fall that we’ll never see in July!

Conference attendees who don’t live in the western North Carolina mountains may be interested to know that the peak fall foliage color in Cullowhee was quite late this year, based on observations during the past 15 years by Steering Committee member and WCU botany professor, Dr. Kathy Mathews. This year, fall colors peaked in Cullowhee on the last weekend of October (around Oct. 27), a full two weeks later than the historical average peak date of the second week of October. It was also an extremely short color season, as the leaves have mostly dropped off the trees.

What caused the late fall color? All we can be sure of is correlation: The first frost date in Cullowhee this year was October 22 (according to AccuWeather.com), and colors are known to peak around five days after the first frost in an area. Prior to that date, the temperatures were unusually warm, with nighttime temperatures the previous week ranging from 40-59 degrees Fahrenheit (the average is 51). This was 10 degrees warmer on average than historical night temperatures for the same dates, which range from 40-42 degrees F (the average is 41)! Since leaves need cool temperatures to start changing color, in addition to shorter day lengths, the chlorophyll took longer to degrade and reveal the yellow and orange carotenoid pigments, and the red anthocyanin pigments took longer to develop.

What does this mean for leaf peepers? Dr. Mathews has been keeping track of fall color change on individual trees on the WCU campus for the past five years, and in that time has noticed a shift toward later fall color change. So, this may be a trend that will result in a new fall season for western North Carolina starting in late October and lasting for about two weeks. Despite the delay in color change, it was still a beautiful fall!

As we transition from fall into Thanksgiving and the beginning of the holiday season, images of color in Cullowhee are something we can all be thankful for no matter where we live. At the top of the Steering Committee’s list of the many things we are thankful for are you, the native plant lovers who attend and support the conference year after year; Bobby Hensley and his staff, who do such a great job of hosting us every summer; and the conference itself, which for 35 years has done such an admirable job in fulfilling its purpose of increasing the knowledge and interest in Southeastern native plant species. The year-in and year-out effectiveness of the conference is borne out by this simple fact: It is the longest-running continuous conference Western Carolina hosts.

In 2019, the conference, which is set for July 17-20, will mark its 36th year. Please invite a friend, co-worker or, better yet, both! Not only will they be sure to thank you, they’ll have something extra to be thankful for next Thanksgiving!

We hope you are enjoying the blog and are finding it both informative and inspirational. It’s as new to us in writing it as it is to you in receiving an email alert about the latest post! Our goal is to use these posts to keep you updated about the conference agenda and other aspects of the conference. Let us know how we are doing. We welcome your ideas and suggestions about how we can make each issue useful to you.

We’ve steadily gained followers since launching the blog. To help us continue to do that, please ask the membership officer of your native plant society and/or garden club to send the blog url to their members. Please also continue to share it with your gardening friends and professional colleagues. The most effective way we can continue to broaden the interest in the conference and the number of attendees is by sharing each post with fellow gardeners, landscape architects, native plant enthusiasts, students and academics. It’s worth repeating from last month’s post that the most frequent way that new attendees hear about the conference is from others who love native plants.

Planning for the conference is continuing throughout the holidays. The Steering Committee’s immediate goal is to have verbal commitments from speakers, field trip leaders and vendors by the end of the year. Once we have those, we can finalize the schedule and start letting you know about the next great lineup of speakers.

One schedule highlight we can share now is that there will be a plenary session on conservation easements. The plan is for that session to be a panel discussion that will include the leaders of several land trusts from throughout the Southeast. Among the topics they will discuss will be how to apply for an easement. One of the things you will learn in this discussion is that you don’t have to be a large landowner to qualify for an easement. In fact, one of the land trusts that has committed to participate has granted an easement to a parcel of slightly less than half an acre.

We’re also working on ramping up the conference’s social media presence. There will be much more to report on this front as those plans materialize.

In the meantime, enjoy Thanksgiving with friends, family and those who are special to you.

Note to followers of the blog: More images of fall color in Cullowhee are available on the Facebook page of Steering Committee member and WCU graduate Adam Bigelow: www.facebook.com/adam.bigelow.3


One thought on “Fall in the Mountains…”

  1. Thank you for sending me the blog.

    Regarding the panel discussion on conservation easements, I would highly recommend Tom Fanslow, Land Protection Director for Conserving Carolina (CC) in Hendersonville. I have been working with Tom for several years to preserve my three-acre naturalistic woodland garden called Fernhaven. My hope is for them to assume ownership and responsibility for maintaining Fernhaven, a garden somewhat similar to Corneille Bryan Natural Garden, but with a more aesthetic bent.

    Tom puts a strong emphasis on the use of native plants in the landscape, and is dedicated to that cause.

    I do not have his contact info at hand — it’s buried in my gmail account, but you should be able google him for it.

    Larason Lambert


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