Holiday Greetings

24955625_10159652815670134_7233388714123423021_o (1)Witchhazel sports a winter coat of snow from an early December storm. (Photo by Adam Bigelow).

Holiday greetings from the Steering Committee!

As if on cue to add to the festive mood of the season, a snowstorm several weeks before Christmas blanketed the Cullowhee area with one-10 inches of heavy, wet powder. The amount varied by elevation, with the Western Carolina campus getting between one and two inches.

“We get a December snow here not too infrequently, but this storm was bigger than normal,” said WCU botany professor and Steering Committee member Dr. Kathy Mathews. “The surrounding counties got a lot of snow! Many areas to the east and south, such as Asheville, Highlands and Transylvania County, got as much as two feet.”

Through it all, from snowy Cullowhee to the various locations of Steering Committee members, planning continues for next summer’s July 17-20 conference. Program Chair Dawn Sherry is leading the Committee’s effort to secure commitments from invited speakers, and WCU’s Associate Director of Continuing Education Bobby Hensley is working with the committee to secure photos of plenary invitees and a summary of their talks. He’ll use these for marketing emails as we get closer to the conference.

When we get into the New Year and the agenda begins taking shape, we’ll start telling you about some of the confirmed speakers. In the meantime, at holiday parties and gatherings take the time to share news of the conference with your gardening friends. Learning about the conference just might be one of the best and lasting gifts they could receive!

As a gift to yourself, during some holiday downtime consider visiting this site: Ecoregional Revegetation Application (ERA). The ERA is a draft online database of locally adapted and appropriate plant species. It was developed by botanists and ecologists at the Forest Service, Federal Highway Administration, universities and other institutions. The ERA is meant to assist highway planners, land managers and others to select appropriate native plant species for revegetation projects, but Kathy says it also is potentially a really neat tool for the general public as well as plant professionals. She points out that all the plants listed are said to be commercially available and can be used not only for habitat restoration but also for pollinator enhancement in EPA-designated ecoregions.

From Kathy: “I tried out the tool for the Blue Ridge ecoregion where I live in western North Carolina. This ecoregion appears to span from North Carolina up to Pennsylvania, so I wondered about its actual utility for any specific location. When I selected the Blue Ridge ecoregion, I was given a list of “Workhorse/Pollinator” species that could be used in a landscaping project. Some of the plants listed definitely don’t occur in the southern Blue Ridge (e.g., Picea glauca, white spruce). But most of the plants seemed appropriate for my area, and lots of useful information came along with each species recommendation, such as flower color, moisture requirements and pollinator value (including pollinator larval host plants). There were many native flowering species listed I don’t usually think about, such as Silphium terebinthinaceum, prairie rosinweed, that are said to have high pollinator value (although, again, maybe this isn’t actually native to the Blue Ridge).”

The tool is still under development, and Kathy added that there are several caveats to its usefulness. For instance, she said, some plants listed may be considered weedy and not desirable to plant (such as Prunella vulgaris, all-heal). “However,” she added, “knowledgeable plant people can definitely use their judgment in selecting specific plants off the list, and it sure is a handy tool for coming up with potential revegetation species lists.”

Whether you are a plant professional such as a landscape architect or a backyard gardener devoted to native plants, the Steering Committees hopes you’ll find the tool useful. We also hope you are having a joyous holiday season.

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