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The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference

collage of native plant photos from over the years


July 17-20, 2024
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC

****UPDATE:  Due to unprecedented enrollment this year, all on-campus accommodations are now full. Commuter registrations are still available *****

2024 Schedule-AT-A-Glance
Lean More About Our 2024 Speakers & Trip Leaders
2024 Conference Costs and On-Campus Accommodations

2024 Program & Session Details:

NOTE: Sessions and locations are subject to change.


FT.1 - Exploring Landscape Design Precedents in Panthertown Valley with Preston Montague & Shelby Lyn Sanders
Conservation gardening, ecological landscape design, and naturalistic planting design benefit from critical examination of naturally occurring plant communities and how soils, hydrology, and climate impact their organization and population densities. Join landscape architect, Preston Montague, and ecologist, Shelby Lyn Sanders, for a hike through Panthertown Valley's rich collection of habitats to explore the habits of plants and ways to translate naturally occurring plant communities into landscape design practices. 4 - strenuous: uneven trails, steep terrain, up to 4 miles.

FT. 2 - Panthertown Valley Ethnobotanical Tour with Marc Williams & Kara McKullen
Panther town Valley is a 6,300-acre Forest Service tract that is often referred to as the “Yosemite of the East” due to the granite domes and stunning setting. At an elevation of 3,600 feet, the flat valley floor is traversed by slow-moving, tannin-stained streams and dotted with rare Southern Appalachian bog communities. On this trip we will enjoy the varied plant communities and view the region from an ethnobotanical perspective, especially the Cherokee relationship to selected species. This is a very strenuous hike of more than six miles with several steep, half-hour climbs and descents. You will want to be in good shape and bring a pack, extra water, and rain gear. Hiking difficulty rating = 5, very strenuous. 5 - Very strenuous: rough terrain throughout, over 4 miles.

FT. 3 - Botanizing on the Blue Ridge Parkway with Adam Black and George Morris
We will explore the botanical treasures along the roadsides of the higher elevations on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We will have stops along the Parkway from mountain cove to scree slopes and bog gardens and explore multiple ecotones within these areas and discover the unique plants that inhabit these ecotones. We will likely see sundews, orchids, and multiple hypericums.  This is an easy trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  1 - easy: light walking, in/out of a vehicle.

FT. 4 - High Elevation Grass Bald Ecology Hike with Geoffrey Neal & Sally Heiney
Andrews Bald is the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is one of two grassy balds maintained by the park service. Our hike will begin at Clingmans Dome and proceed along the Forney Ridge Trail for 1.8 miles to the bald. There is an elevation change of 900 feet on this out-and-back hike and portions of the trail are rocky. We will move through a declining spruce-fir forest before coming out to the bald itself. Native azaleas, serviceberry, hawthorn, blackberries will be abundant. We will lunch on the bald itself, carrying in and out what we need. Time will be given to explore the area and discuss ideas concerning the origin, maintenance and future of these enigmatic hilltops. The views (weather allowing) should be amazing! We will take our time on the hike back to explore the surrounding plant communities. 4 - strenuous: significant elevation change, 3.6 miles, cold/wind/rain likely.

FT. 5 - Black Balsam Knob Cloud Community with Randy Burroughs & Peter Schubert
In a series of easy to moderate hikes we’ll ascend through these rare sky-island plant communities: high elevation red oak, beech gap and spruce-fir forests into heath and grassy balds, in spectrums of succession. We’ll learn to read what plants tell us about themselves, their community and to explore the resilience of complex systems. After lunch, we’ll climb Black Balsam Knob (6,214’ el.) for 360 views and Pete’s observations about the underlying geology: mountain building. Last stop is the spray cliff & mini-bog at Wolf Mountain Overlook, for something a little different. Weather is changeable. Rain/wind gear is recommended. Be prepared to enjoy an intense day outdoors in Maine. 3 -  moderately strenuous: away from vehicle, over 1 mile, up to 3.

FT. 6 - Highlands Botanical Garden with Katie Davis
Travel to the highest public native plant botanical garden in the Eastern US. At 3,800’ Highlands Botanical Garden offers cool temperatures, prolific blooms, and botanical diversity due to the high rainfall of the region.  We will peruse meadow paths, the trails of the Highlands Botanical Garden, and bog boardwalks where we will see rare wetland plants! Bring a hand lens and raincoat.  1 -  easy: trail walking, 1 mile.

FT. 7 - Sam's Knob Valley and Flat Laurel Creek Hike with Owen Carson and Lauri Lawson
This strenuous loop hike takes participants on a wild journey through some of WNC’s most amazing and diverse ecosystems! Beginning in the upper valley with Sam Knob looming in the distance, the rugged trail descends southward towards Flat Laurel Creek in the bottom of the valley, skirting beautiful spruce-fir forests to the east and steep, shrub-dominated balds to the west. On our way along the loop, we’ll pass through many different ecotones, including shrub balds, meadows, high-elevation bogs and seeps, northern hardwood forests, acidic coves, and more, and in transit we’ll discuss their defining characteristics, dynamics, and the interesting and uncommon plants they contain. We’ll also explore the natural and anthropogenic history of the valley and why it looks the way it does today. Hikers will take lunch beside Flat Laurel Creek and its beautiful cascades before ascending northward toward Sam Knob then back eastward to the trailhead. Participants should be prepared with plenty of water (a filter will suffice as there are many stream crossings), snacks and lunch, and gear for inclement weather; additional useful gear could include hiking poles, a hand lens, binoculars, and identification guidebooks. Potential hazards include slips/trips/falls, submerged crossings (wet boots), open, exposed terrain, and encounters with venomous snakes, stinging insects, and black bears. 5 - very strenuous: uneven terrain, rough trails, 4+ miles.

FT. 8 - Southern Highlands Reserve with Kelly Holbrooks & Eric Kimbrel
Please join Executive Director Kelly Holdbrooks and Director of Horticulture Eric Kimbrel for a tour of Southern Highlands Reserve. On this walk through the Core Park we will explore 20 acres of garden rooms including Azalea Walk, Maple Entrance, Woodland Glade, the Wildflower Labyrinth, Vaseyi Pond and the Viewsite, all designed with high elevation native plant species. Along the way, Eric and Kelly will share stories about the conception and manifestation of the Reserve as well as knowledge about best management practices learned through their direct experience of adaptive land management. The tour will end at the Nursery Complex where we will discuss our propagation techniques and role in restoration projects for public lands such as the red spruce project. Following the tour, please enjoy a sack lunch on the Rooftop Terrace or at the Chestnut Lodge picnic table. According to Dick Bir, SHR may be the largest naturally existing stand of Vaseyi azlaeas anywhere in the world. 1 -  easy: trail walking, 1-2 miles.

FT. 9 - Big Ridge Preserve and Amazing Grace Properties LLC with Ron Lance
Big Ridge Preserve is a private tract of land covering 2700 acres of forested, mountainous terrain in the Big Ridge Community of Jackson County. It is not open to the general public. The group will be led by Ron Lance, Land Manager of the property. Three interpretive stops and 3 walks are planned as an introduction to this diverse property.  One stroll is easy, one moderate (about 0.5 mile) and one moderately strenuous (near 1 mile).  Natural habitats to be visited include rock cliffs, mountain oak-hickory forests, cove hardwood forests, native grass and Ceanothus meadows, and an orchard.  This property’s vascular plant inventory includes 641 species, to date. A few interesting native species along the walks include: Populus grandidentata, Amelanchier sanguinea, Lonicera flava, Primula meadia, Scutellaria incana, Sabatia angularis, Mimulus ringens, Crataegus schuettei, Carya pallida and white-flowered Rubus odoratus. 2 -  moderate: trail walking, 1-2 miles total.

FT. 10 - Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens with Nancy Adamson and Gary Kauffman
Join botanists/ecologists Gary Kauffman and Nancy Adamson to visit one of the most grass rich sites in western North Carolina. Managed with prescribed fire, Buck Creek’s unusual geology, serpentine dunite with higher Magnesium content, supports more than 25 grass species, along with diverse wildflowers and associated wildlife. Gary has been monitoring and managing the site for 30 years. With Gary’s in-depth plant and cultural knowledge and Nancy’s native bee and other insect skills, we hope participants will gain deeper appreciation for connections between people, plants, and other wildlife on this trip.  Always good to bring a hand lens! Gary and Nancy will co-lead a native grasses half-day workshop Friday morning, July 19th. See the workshop section for more details. 3 -  moderately strenuous: away from vehicle, rough terrain, 3 miles.

FT. 11 - Botany by Boat on Bear Lake with Adam Bigelow
Join Adam Bigelow for a day filled with boats, plants, and waterfalls as we paddle around Bear Lake in kayaks. As a man-made lake, the lakeshore is really mid-slope on a mountain and affords the opportunity to observe Native Plants and Wildflowers from the comfort of your boat seat. We will take a short but strenuous excursion to visit an incredible waterfall. There will be time for swimming and botanizing throughout the day. Experience with kayaking on a lake is REQUIRED as is the ability to get in and out of your boat.  Hike Difficulty:  4 -  strenuous = hiking, uneven trails, steep terrain, up to four miles

FT. 12 - Whiteside Mountain with Jeff Zahner
This field trip includes a hike up Whiteside Mountain near Highlands in the morning, and a garden tour of the old Zahner gardens in Highlands. The hike is a 2-mile loop trail that crosses a variety of habitats and offers many high elevation species to explore plus tremendous views of the Chattooga River basin. The mountain is home to many plant species endemic to the southern Blue Ridge Mountains and offers summer refuge to Perigine falcons, successfully reintroduced to the high cliffs. After lunch on the top, we shall make our way to the old Zahner gardens in Highlands where many types of native plants have been used in the restoration of an old “formal” garden. The use of native plants in design and the long-term benefits and challenges will be discussed. Bring a pack for lunch & water plus a raincoat just in case. 4 -  strenuous = hiking, uneven trails, steep terrain, up to 4 miles.

FT. 13 - Year-round GREEN Success: Moss Landscaping with Mossin' Annie Martin
You can always count on the year-round green appeal of native mosses in your landscape, even in the winter when other native plants are dormant. This experiential field trip/workshop will be led by Annie Martin (aka Mossin’ Annie) in Cashiers at a serene residential retreat which features a Zen moss garden, moss and stone paths, and huge moss labyrinth. Thanks to 2023 WHEE workshop participants, large Pinus trees are now adorned with magnificent moss skirts as verdant focal features in a pine needle abyss. Last year’s WHEE mossers can be proud of their moss landscaping success!  Mossin’ Annie will identify shade/sun moss species; review design considerations; demonstrate maintenance methods and discuss troubleshooting issues pertinent to long-term success. Often overlooked as preferred horticultural choices, mosses play an important role in healthy ecosystems. Experience a unique “hands-on” opportunity to intentionally introduce the first “native” plants on Planet Earth -- bryophytes (mosses). Dress in work clothes. Flat-soled leather shoes or boots without treads are preferred. Gloves are optional. The terrain is easy. However, you should expect to actively participate in all aspects of the moss installation process. We’re going to have a mossin’ good time -- rain or shine! 1 - easy: trail walking, 1 mile.


8:30 am - 4:30pm    On-Campus Workshops

Wed. Workshop 1: Working with Cast Stone and Botanical Imprints with Jeff Jackson
Location: Camp Building 134
In this workshop you will learn multiple techniques for making plant imprints in cast stone. Drawing on Jeff's 25+ years working in this medium, you will learn what goes into cast stone, different mixes, design, mold-making, pigments - the works. And Jeff puts the "work" in workshop, so bring your gloves! You'll go home with a few things of your own making and enough ideas to last a lifetime.

Wed. Workshop 2: An Introduction to Southeastern Graminoid Identification with Scott Ward
Location: Will start as aField Trip (departing at 8:30 with the other trips) then return to Apodaca Science Building.
Graminoids consist of grasses, sedges, and rushes and are a notoriously challenging group of plants to learn, although workshopping these difficult groups is often a valuable first step used to rise past the initial learning curve of graminoid morphology. This workshop will be an all day event split into a morning and afternoon session. In the morning, we will travel to one or more field destinations (to be determined) to learn some basic ID tips and ecology of graminoids in their respective habitats, returning around lunch time to a classroom with microscopes where we will dissect and examine some key morphological features. Some goals of this introductory workshop will be to provide an overview of common reproductive and vegetative structures in each of the three families, use of dichotomous keys, and some basic tips on microscope use and field collection. Hiking should be moderate to moderately strenuous with some possibility of at least a few botanists sacrificing the dryness of their shoes for the betterment of group instruction. 3 -  moderately strenuous: away from vehicle, rough terrain, 2-3 miles.

Wed. Workshop 3: Gardening for the Planet: Native Pollinators, Native Plants, No Pesticides with
Brannen Basham & Jill Jacobs   
Location: Camp Building Room 139
Discover the countless benefits of viewing your land as part of the ecosystem and mimicking the incredible power of natural spaces. Recreating that process is possible within your own garden, and it all starts with gaining a deeper understanding of the native beneficial creatures that are the cogs of our ecosystem. Learn how to foster pollinators and other wildlife through your plantings, so that they in turn can help your garden operate at maximum efficiency. Explore methods of creating a balance in your garden through native plantings and other key pieces of habitat to attract the pollinators, predators, prey, and microbes needed in a thriving and well-balanced ecosystem. The course will be held primarily inside, with explorative walks around campus in the morning and afternoon (difficulty level 1). Information on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and a general IPM template will be provided as part of this course.  1 - easy: trail walking, 1 mile.

Wed. Workshop 4:  Botanical Illustration with Dayna Walton
Location: Camp Building Room 141
Join Dayna Walton of Solstice Handmade to learn the basics of botanical drawing. You will leave with an understanding of the fundamentals of drawing in ink, plus the watercolor basics to add color to your drawings. Using two different styles of ink pens, together we will walk through the drawing process, from sketching to mark making techniques to create rich values and textures. There will be an emphasis on drawing from life, discussing how to sketch efficiently to quickly capture botanical likeness. As we practice we will create a field journal highlighting favorite native plant species of the season. Class will include technique instruction and demonstrations while also offering open time to create. Throughout the day, we will discuss the work of botanical artists from the beginnings of botany to today. This class is suitable for all levels, no creative experience required, just bring an open mind.  All materials will be provided, students will leave with a sketchbook and pens to keep and continue experimenting. Feel free to bring your own artmaking supplies to experiment and ask questions about!  Students will receive:  a brush pen, fineline pen, pencil, drawing paper, watercolor samples from Beam Paints , and a watercolor paintbrush


NEW for 2024!   Wednesday Half Day Combos!

The following on-campus workshops are 1/2 days in length allowing participants to choose 1 morning and 1 afternoon session.

8:30 am - 11:45 am - Morning Session
Workshop 5:  Conservation Through Creation with Elizabeth Evans and Cheryl Geiger
Location: WCU Picnic Area
Repurposing materials extends their life and reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills.  Some of this waste can be repurposed to create tools to enhance our interaction with plants and immerse us in the natural environment!  In this workshop Elizabeth will lead you in creating a pocket-sized flower press and pocket-sized notebook with materials diverted from the landfill.  Afterwards, you will use these new tools on a guided nature walk where Cheryl will help you identify plants and birds. You will be given the opportunity to take notes and record observations in your notebook and collect plant samples in your flower press.  The nature walk will be an easy stroll along the WCU Nature Trail System.  1 -  easy: trail walking, 1 mile.

8:30 am – 12:00 pm - Morning Session
Workshop 6:  Prepare to Play with Plants!  with Robin Whitfield
Location: Camp Building 143
This 3.5 hour workshop offers Robin’s creative practice for connecting to nature though finding, foraging and processing plant and mineral pigments. The workshop will focus on the delights of working with found raw materials directly on paper as well as access to her “Earth Color Buffet” - inks and raw pigments gathered from wild locations in Mississippi and beyond.  Introduction to foraging for water, pigments and creative tools in any landscape.

  • Explore and forage with notes on ethics and possibilities
  • Creative play with a buffet of foraged plant and mineral pigments
  • Process natural materials into usable inks and paints
  • Demonstrations on paper
  • Create color samples and play with visual ideas using a combination of created and traditional art making tools
  • Personal play time - painting, layering, collage, sewing, found stencils and other methods to create imagery

Afternoon Workshops

1:00 pm – 4:30 pm - Afternoon Session
Workshop 7:  Landscaping for Pollinators with Debbie Roos
Location: Camp Building 143
Chatham County Agricultural Extension Agent Debbie Roos will share lessons learned during her 15+ years of experience designing and managing the popular Pollinator Paradise Demonstration Garden in Pittsboro that features over 225 species of perennials, 85% of them native to North Carolina. Debbie will start out by discussing the diversity of pollinators and types of pollinator habitat that we can plant to attract them. She will discuss general guidelines for pollinator gardens, and how these gardens can benefit other wildlife. Debbie will talk about garden design principles but focus on the practical such as winning plant combinations and the best pollinator plants for each season. Participants will be given the tools to create a basic pollinator garden design that can be planted at their farm or home landscape. We will also discuss garden installation and maintenance throughout the seasons.

1:00 pm – 4:30 pm - Afternoon Session
Workshop 8:  Native Plant First Aid Kit w/ Wish Ramsey
Location: WCU Picnic Area
Join Wish for an afternoon of storytelling & medicine-making with some of the most-powerful native plant allies from right outside your door. The first half of the workshop you’ll learn the ethnobotanical history of a handful of native medicinal plants, as well as how to ID, harvest and transform these allies into medicine that you can reach for as a first line of defense to heal and nourish yourself and your loved-ones. Once you’ve learned the how and why of our medicinal plant friends, you’ll learn the simple building blocks of medicine-making, followed by a group activity where you’ll craft your very own native plant formula that heals! You’ll leave the workshop with the base for your own first aid kit, as well as a jar or two of your very own potent medicines - all made by your hands with native plants! Limit 10.

Wednesday Evening

5:30 pm - 6:45 pm          Dinner for Wed. Participants                        Ramsey Concourse

7:00 pm - 7:30 pm          First-timers session                                        Main Stage

7:30 pm - 7:45 pm          Break                                                                Arena Floor

7:45 pm - 8:00 pm          Welcome                                                         Main Stage

8:00 pm - 9:00 pm         Opening  Whee-ception: The Spirit of Cullowhee     Main Stage

Please join us for a moderated discussion around the magic that brought the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference into being. Marking any birthday is a time for remembrance and celebration and so let's mark our 40th with a special panel plenary. We are thrilled to welcome Jan Midgely, Harry Phillips and Ken Moore onto the stage, individuals with long and storied associations with the Conference and the native plant movement. We look forward to a lively discussion and perhaps a bite of celebratory cake!

9:00 pm - 10:00 pm          Networking                                                        Norton Hall

7:00 am - 8:30 am             Breakfast                      Ramsey Concourse            

8:00 am - 9:30 am             Vendor Walk                Ramsey Arena Floor

9:30 am - 9:45 am              Welcome                      Main Stage


9:45 am - 10:45 am        Plenary Plenary 2 - Oaks, Pines, Fire, and Climate Change with Heather Holm (Main Stage)
Natural landscapes in the US and Canada have been drastically altered by human activities such as infrastructure development, logging, overgrazing, introduction of invasive species, and fire suppression. However, prior to Euro-American settlement, highly functional and biodiverse oak and/or pine grassland systems dominated throughout much of the continent. With the current threat of climate change, it is crucial to understand the past and present ecological conditions of these landscapes to inform future restoration efforts. The presentation will look into the past to understand grassland systems at the time of Euro-American settlement and discuss how Native Americans managed and influenced the composition of these grassland systems with their regular use of fire. Heather will also discuss the impacts of fire as a strong selective pressure on keystone plants and bees. Pivoting to look into the future using projected climate modeling, Heather will address the ecological conditions today, focusing on oak ecosystems and grasslands, then paint a picture of what a functional, biodiverse, and resilient landscape may look like in the future, and what actions are needed to achieve these outcomes.

10:45 am - 11:00 am                     Break                                 Arena Floor

11:00 am - 12:00 pm      Plenary3 - Using Mind and Heart Strategies: The Keys to Holistic Work with Thomas Easley (Main Stage)
We will explore how to activate the body in our work by being aware of your thoughts and feelings during an engagement. The P.O.S.T. (personal, organizational, systemic, and transformative) approach will be discussed which is the model we successfully use in our organizational and leadership development work. Participants will learn how to use DEI principles, discuss challenging topics, and expand participation in the plant world. 

12:00 pm - 1:15 pm                      Lunch                                 Ramsey Concourse             


1:30 pm - 2:30 pm          Plenary 4 - Coloring the Conservation Conversation with J. Drew Lanham (Main Stage)
Lanham will discuss what it means to embrace the full breadth of his African-American heritage and his deep kinship to nature and adoration of birds. The convergence of ornithologist, college professor, poet, author and conservation activist blend to bring our awareness of the natural world and our moral responsibility for it forward in new ways. Candid by nature — and because of it — Lanham will examine how conservation must be a rigorous science and evocative art, inviting diversity and race to play active roles in celebrating our natural world.

2:30 pm - 2:45 pm                         Break   


2:45 pm - 3:45 pm       Concurrent Sessions 1

Concurrent 1A - Main Stage
Native Plants 101 with Katie Davis
What are native plants and why are they so important? This presentation will provide basic foundational knowledge and explore the benefits of native plants. This talk will be geared toward those new to native plants who want to learn more about their value and for people who want to “go down the rabbit hole”. Attendees will have judgement-free opportunities to ask questions, grow their knowledge, and have fun exploring the world of native plants!

Concurrent 1B - Hospitality Room
Creating Journeys: An adventure in native plant placemaking with Bob Brzuszek
Curb appeal is for selling houses. A living home landscape instead creates active places for the people and pets that reside there, and includes pathways that maximize the opportunities to create lasting memories and experiences. This presentation will focus on the art of making journeys in your own backyard and how to create special places that people want to be in. You will learn about and see examples of how even the smallest of yards can capture magical glimpses of the larger native landscape.

Concurrent 1C - Concouse Area A/B
Gardening for Bats with Bat Conservation International with Erin Cord
We’ve all heard about gardening for pollinators, but did you know that incorporating native plants can also support our local bat?  Most of the bats in the United States are insectivorous, and native plants support the insect populations that our bats need to thrive.  Anyone can make their yard or space more bat-friendly!  In this talk we will focus on our Gardening for Bats recommendations, the science behind this program, and why bats need our help now more than ever.  We hope to inspire many bat gardens through this program and look forward to scaling nationwide!

Concurrent 1D - Concourse Area DEF
Bluestem Conservation Cemetery: Preserving Land & People through Natural Burial with Heidi Hannapel and Jeff Masten
People of all cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds are seeking a return to simpler, more environmentally conscious body disposition. Restoring Land and People Through Natural Burial, tells the story of a community conservation project called Bluestem, the largest conservation cemetery, in North Carolina, where natural burial is integrated into recreating one of the most endangered habitat types in the Southeast: native grasslands and early successional habitat. Bluestem principles are rooted in conservation, where decision-making is balanced against the long-term ecological health and vitality of the property. Bluestem began by seeding 30 acres of former agricultural fields with over 1000 pounds of native grasses and wildflowers. It continues by managing its land stewardship and burial practices simply and sustainably, allowing only natural and biodegradable items. Two years ago, the property was in corn stubble from a century of agricultural production. Today, Bluestem is a thriving grassland habitat, attracting over 135 bird species, and supporting 50 families from around the state, with a simpler more meaningful final place of rest in a resilient landscape. Join us to learn how natural burial aligns with conservation goals, directly impacting land, climate, and people.

Concurrent 1E - Concourse Area H
A Botanical Garden’s Role in Orchid Conservation with Loy Xingwen
Orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants, but they are also one of the most threatened. Botanical gardens are essential to the conservation of threatened plants. Gardens bring together horticultural and botanical expertise, horticultural facilities and sustain extensive living collections. They also help to promote the importance of plants to millions of people worldwide. In this talk, I share some of the ways in which the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s Southeastern Center for Conservation is helping to save plants in the Southeast, with a focus on some of our recent projects involving native orchids. I will discuss some of our latest research on two threatened species, the small whorled pogonia and the white fringeless orchid, as well as efforts to support orchid conservation in Puerto Rico. The Center’s work is made possible through partnerships with our state and federal institutions, universities, non-profit organizations, and with help from dedicated volunteers. Working together is key to securing a future for threatened native plants.

2:45 pm - 3:45 pm                         Break                  


4:00 pm - 5:00 pm       Concurrent Sessions 2

Concurrent 2A - Main Stage

In My Lifetime: Plant Introduction to Invasion with Johnny Randall
Since about the age of about 10, in 1965, I became aware of and interested in the plants around me by rambling in local meadows and woodlands. I was even aware that there were native and non-native plants in my home landscape, and that some non-natives, like kudzu, were incredibly aggressive. (Kudzu was then, and perhaps still is, the invasive poster-plant fondly known as “the vine that ate the South.”) Most of the landscape plants in my childhood neighborhood seemed, however, to remain where they were planted. But by the time I was around 15, many of the foundation plantings at my home had found their way to the perimeter of our property, and some of our neighbor’s landscape plants were now in our yard! I then began to see these once nonthreatening landscape plants in the meadows and woodlands of my childhood wanderings. Fast-forward some 50 years – dozens of these once benign non-native ornamentals now infest and wreak havoc in our natural areas. In this presentation I will: 1) feature some of the plants that – in my lifetime – have slept, crept, and then leapt, from ornamental horticulture to vex the natural world; 2) provide best management practices and control recommendations; and 3) suggest native plant alternatives to some invasive species.

Concurrent 2B - Hospitality Room
The Stormwater Industry Needs Your Help with Lyn Rutherford
You probably already know many great benefits of working with native plants…but are reducing pollution and managing flooding on your list? Have you ever wondered how gardening impacts waterways? Have you ever considered looking for a native plant job as a stormwater professional? Let’s discuss these overlapping industries. With funding from stormwater fees, The City of Chattanooga’s Natural Resources Team is a newly formed branch of the Department of Parks and Outdoors providing ongoing care for publicly owned vegetated green infrastructure sites. We’ll talk about maintenance and some of our other roles and projects like outreach initiatives, consulting on new design, converting park lawns to grasslands, or increasing tree canopy. Let’s explore how experience with stormwater issues could make us better land managers and could help strengthen the native plant workforce.

Concurrent 2C - Concourse Area A/B
Garden Maintenance in the 21st Century with Peter Spaulding
No more surrounding isolated, meatballed plants with mass quantities of mulch. Now we plant with native plants: planted closely together. How do we take care of this to keep it looking good? Let’s discuss tips and strategies for modern garden maintenance including invasive weed control. 

Concurrent 2D - Concourse Area DEF

New Hope Audubon’s Bird Friendly Certification Program: How to encourage homeowners to plant native, remove invasives, and improve habitat at a residential scale with Rachelle Roake
With widespread land change and habitat loss, the residential landscape can and must support biodiversity. Since 2015, the BFC program has helped over 340 homeowners steward healthy, native habitat in their own yards. This volunteer-run program evaluates habitat value across a series of scientifically-based metrics, largely informed by the research of Dr. Doug Tallamy. This talk will present the program basics, share successes and challenges, and introduce a new toolkit that others can use to start a habitat certification program locally.

Concurrent 2E - Concourse Area H
Bee City USA: Galvanizing America’s Cities & Campuses for Native Pollinator Conservation with Phyllis Stiles
The world became acutely aware of the critical services pollinators provide when honeybee colonies mysteriously collapsed in 2007, raising the terrifying prospect of a world without pollinators. What would happen to all the plants that depend on them, and the animals that depend on those plants—including humans! By 2012, Asheville’s passionate beekeeping community had become the ideal launchpad for responding to the crisis. A small group designed a new city certification program, Bee City USA, that stressed the ancient relationships between native plants and their pollinators and the dangers of pesticides. Their goal was to engage as many communities as possible in enhancing pollinator habitat on public and private land to reconnect fragmented corridors substantial enough to support a diversity of bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, hummingbirds, and wasps. After volunteers managed the program for six years, the largest pollinator conservation organization in the world agreed to adopt it in 2018. Today, under the Xerces Society’s leadership, about 400 cities and campuses are meeting their Bee City and Bee Campus commitments in ways as diverse as their locations in 46 states. This presentation will highlight many examples of how communities are helping reverse pollinator decline.


5:30 pm - 6:45 pm           Dinner                               Ramsey Concourse        

6:45 pm - 9:00 pm          Book & Plant Sales          Ramsey Arena Floor

7:30 pm - 8:30 pm           Plenary 5 -Main Stage

Moths and our Native Flora with Lenny Lampel

For more than a decade, Natural Resources staff and local naturalists have spent many late nights in the nature preserves located in and around Charlotte, NC as part of a coordinated effort to document the diversity of moth species in Mecklenburg County.  This presentation will provide an introduction into this diversity, as well as the connections between moths and our native plant species, and the important roles these insects play in our natural communities.  Also highlighted will be Mecklenburg County’s growing moth collection which is housed in the Dr. James F. Matthews Center for Biodiversity Studies.  Learn about some of the challenges to identification and the growing number of resources that make learning about these insects possible.  From “Moth Nights” to National Moth Week events, an increasing number of people are getting interested in “mothing”.  Now is your chance to discover what the fascination in these insects is all about.

9:00 pm - 10:00 pm        Networking                      Norton Hall                     

7:00 a.m.-8:30 a.m.        Breakfast                          Ramsey Concourse        

8:00 a.m.-5:00p.m.         Conference check-in       Ramsey Arena Entrance


Friday Morning Walks, Workshops & 1/2 Field Trips

NOTE: Walks and Workshops on Friday are included with your conference registraiton. Field Trips are an additional cost when registering.

8:30am - 11:45am  Walks  (on campus / short distance)

All walks will depart from the Ramsey Arena Floor in front of the City Lights Bookstore

Walk 1 - Campus Tree Walk with Geoffrey Neal  
(Departs from Arena Floor)
This walk is for folks with an interest in talking about common trees in the landscape. Together we will check out the many species of native (and nonnative) woody plants found on the WCU campus. We will discuss identification of trees in the landscape as well as general horticultural and arboricultural practices that are essential for a healthy plant community. Time will be given to talk about the ecology of the built environment where these trees now find themselves as well as a critical examination of this environment as it relates to overall tree health and function. Questions and comments will be encouraged throughout. Hike difficulty rating = 2 Moderate (about 2 miles total, slow pace, mostly paved surfaces, some steep slopes and grassy areas). 2 -  moderate: about 2 miles total, slow pace, mostly paved surfaces, some steep slopes and grassy areas.

Walk 2 – Cullowhee Creek Stream Restoration with George Morris   
(Departs from Arena Floor)
We will have a short presentation about the pre-construction conditions, construction, and habitat improvements along Cullowhee Creek and then take a walk on the stream restoration project that dissects the WNC campus. The project was started during the summer of 2005 and construction was completed during the summer of 2006. We will discuss the structures and construction methods used, and explore how vegetation plays a role in stream restoration. Limit 20. 1 -  easy: trail walking, 1 mile.

Walk 3 -
Plant and Fungal Associations Ecology Walk and Mushroom Identification Techniques with Tradd Cotter  (Departs from Arena Floor)
Join mycologist Tradd Cotter on this easy, fun 1.5 hour walk through some campus trails to locate and find fungi and hopefully mummified insects, discuss their roles in the ecosystem, and after take what is collected to the pavilion for a mini-lecture on how to separate groups and classify most species of mushrooms you find. Total time 3 hours. 1 - easy: trail walking, 1-2 miles.


8:30am - 11:45am   Friday Moring Workshops (FWS)

FWS 1:  Prepare to Play with Plants!  W/ Robin Whitfield
Location: Ramsey Center Southwest Conference Room (Southwest Patio Entrance/ Concourse Level)
This 3.5 hour workshop offers Robin’s creative practice for connecting to nature though finding, foraging and processing plant and mineral pigments. The workshop will focus on the delights of working with found raw materials directly on paper as well as access to her “Earth Color Buffet” - inks and raw pigments gathered from wild locations in Mississippi and beyond.  Introduction to foraging for water, pigments and creative tools in any landscape. Max 15.

  • Explore and forage with notes on ethics and possibilities
  • Creative play with a buffet of foraged plant and mineral pigments
  • Process natural materials into usable inks and paints
  • Demonstrations on paper
  • Create color samples and play with visual ideas using a combination of created and traditional art making tools
  • Personal play time - painting, layering, collage, sewing, found stencils and other methods to create imagery

FWS 2: Social Field Safety: Being more inclusive and understanding risks for marginalized and historically excluded individuals who professionally work outdoors w/ Lauren Pharr
Location: Hospitality Room

When it comes to experiencing the outdoors, not everyone’s experiences are equal. Additionally, individuals who carry out fieldwork as a part of their job or research program experience a higher risk of conflict due to identity prejudice. At risk individuals, which include minority identities of the following: race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity and/or religion, are more likely to be either harassed or questioned in certain settings while carrying out fieldwork. Everyone deserves to have a safe experience in the outdoors; therefore, it is important to continue to bring forth awareness, and support marginalized and historically excluded individuals who professionally work outdoors in any natural resources field. This workshop will be given by representatives of Field Inclusive (FI), a new nonprofit dedicated to helping prioritize social field safety (i.e. interactions with the general public or other individuals) both on an individual and institutional level. Information will cover the history of minorities and outdoor experiences, the founding of FI, and strategies and suggestions that institutions and organizations can use in order to provide a safe environment for their researchers.  Max 40.

FWS 3 Cultivate Your Writing w/ Margot Lester
Location: Ramsey Green Room / Arena Floor Level
Get actionable advice on how to make your work even more effective from a professional writing coach. Bring whatever you’re working on -- articles, research papers, grants, marketing, fiction, reference, creative nonfiction or something else entirely. As a group, we review the 6 traits of effective writing and the 9 revision strategies that instantly level up your work. Then we have work time to apply the strategies that resonated most and get one-to-one coaching and feedback. We end with a group session that includes time for sharing your work (optional) and an Ask Me Anything lightning round. After the workshop, you have a stronger piece with more impact and we have a writing community that continues after the Conference. Participants also get a digital playbook that includes the traits and strategies. Max 12.

FWS 4   Native Plant Propagation: Theory & Practice with Emily Driskill
Location: SouthEast Multi Use Area / Concourse Level near Arena Doorway J
Join native plant grower Emily Driskill to learn about propagation methods for woody and herbaceous plant species. We will cover seed and vegetative methods, and how to decide which approach to take. The seed discussion will go over sustainable collecting practices, protocols for conserving genetic biodiversity, cleaning, stratification, and sowing. Vegetative methods will cover stem cuttings, layering, root cuttings, live stakes, and division. There will be demonstrations of seed cleaning and multiple vegetative methods, and everyone will have a chance to make a woody stem cutting to take home.  We will discuss ways to adapt methods to various production scales. You will leave with stem cuttings, a list of supplies needed to start your own project, and a trusty compilation of references.  Please bring clean & sharp pruners or scissors if you have them. Max 24.

FWS 5: Weave and let live- using last year’s perennial stems and fallen branches to create habitat in cultivated spaces with Chris Liloia
Location: Concourse Area A/B
Cleaning up a garden to prepare for spring can be deeply satisfying work that connects us to the seasons and to the spaces we care for but our desire for tidiness often results in landscapes that fall short when it comes to providing habitat. Last year’s perennial stems may hold eggs and larval stages of insect, and, when left in the landscape, provide nesting sites for cavity nesting bees.  We’ll spend the morning exploring some techniques for keeping last year’s perennial stems as well as fallen branches and limbs in the garden by repurposing them into creative garden features that preserve habitat and food sources for insects, lizards, birds, fungi, and others.  This workshop will include a mix of demonstration and hands on creation. We’ll build some ‘wattle’ elements from last year’s perennial stems experimenting with several styles of woven and stacked structures.  We’ll also use fallen branches to assemble artisanal brush piles. Bring your creativity, not too nice clothes, and perhaps some gloves and clippers if you have them. We’ll be outside!  I hope we will also learn from each other and talk about our own innovations in stickery, stumpery, and leaf leaving. Max 12

: Southern Appalachian Native Grasses and Associated Communities w/ Nancy Adamson & Gary Kauffman    
Apodaca Science Bldg Room 503
Join botanists/ecologists Gary Kauffman and Nancy Adamson for a hands-on native grasses workshop highlighting grass identification and grassland communities. We’ll learn to use a Southern Appalachian grasses key derived from Weakley’s Flora of the Southeastern U.S. and other identification tools, look at samples of common native grasses, and learn a bit about grassland communities and the wildlife they support. You should come away from the workshop able to use the key to Poaceae groups and genera, recognize a dozen common grasses by sight, and have ample resources to hone your grass skills. This year we will have a few microscopes, but please do bring your hand lens, FloraQuest or Flora of Virginia apps if you have them, and/or a copy of the grass section from Weakley’s Flora. Gary and Nancy will also be co-leading the field trip to Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens, a very special grassland community (see Wednesday field trips). Limit 24.

FWS 7:
Build Your Climate Change Awareness Using the En-ROADS Simulator With Mary Spivey.
Cordelia Camp Building Room 139
Do you have a solution for solving climate change, that one thing that we could do to bring down the rising temperatures?  Maybe you think that if everyone drove an EV, ate less meat, or planted more trees, we’d have climate change under control. If only there was a way to test these hypotheses.  Enter the En-ROADS Simulator, an open-source engagement tool designed to build awareness of climate change and solutions leading towards its mitigation. Using the En-ROADS simulator, we can test various audience-driven solutions and immediately view the effect on global temperature rise.  The goal of the exercise is to create a scenario that limits global warming to between 1.5 and 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. This experience is hopeful, scientifically-grounded, action-oriented, and eye-opening.  Expect plenty of discussion, interaction, and the opportunity to develop a simple personal action plan. Limit 40.


8:00am - 11:45 am    Friday Morning Field Trips

** Friday Field Trips will depart promptly at 8:30am from the back side of the Ramsey Center (accessible from Concourse level). All trips will return to the Ramsey Center for lunch.


8:00 am - 11:45 am
Friday AM FT 1:  The Secret Life of Lichens with Scott LaGreca and Karin Heiman
Welcome to the wonderful world of lichens! We are lucky to be in a hotspot of lichen biodiversity here in the Southern Appalachians. The field trip will be at the Balsam Mountain Preserve, which is a location that is generally closed to the public and is fairly high elevation, so we look forward to finding very interesting lichen species there. Lichens will indeed be very different than any plants you may have studied. We will start with an introduction and basics about lichenology, then meander the trails to find different species in a variety of habitats. Limit 15 participants. 2-  moderate: trail walking, 1-2 miles total.


8:00 am - 11:45 am
Friday AM FT 2:  Vertical Bog with Adam Bigelow
One of the most special and iconic spots on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Vertical Bog is a roadside seepage area unlike any other, filled with special, rare and endemic plants that exist right along the parkway across from an overlook. Carnivorous Sundews, Grass-of-Parnassus, Sticky Tofieldia, and five different species of st John's wort can all be seen at this short and easy walk. Limit 15 participants.  1- easy: roadside and trail walking, 1 mile.


8:00 am - 11:45 am
Friday AM FT 3:  Birding Cullowhee with Dawn Sherry & Tom Tribble
Western North Carolina is an excellent place for people who enjoy bird watching!  Over 200 birds make their home here year-round, and another 80 species migrate through the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  Join us for a fun walk, learning to identify birds by sight and sound.  The location will be the Kituwah Mound the center of the “Cherokee Mother Town”.  Tips and tricks for bird identification will be covered as well as planting ideas for native plants to attract them.  Handouts will be provided. We recommend you wear good walking shoes and bring a bird identification guide, binoculars and a water bottle for the best experience.  Limit 18 participants. 3 - moderately strenuous: away from vehicle, over 1 mile, up to 3.


8:00 am - 11:45 am
Friday AM FT 4:  Forest Therapy Immersion at Pinnacle Park with Nadine Phillips
Cherish your well-being with an immersive Forest Therapy experience. The inviting woodland space of the Pinnacle Park Forest Therapy Trail is nestled between two streams with abundant wildflowers, and lush understory, as well as ample rocks and openings to view the sky. Such an atmosphere is ideal for slowing down and harmonizing with nature. After a brief opening, your certified Forest Therapy guide will offer insight and subtle practices to reorient the senses and help activate the body’s intuitive relaxation response. You will then be free to roam, discover, and engage your own solo connection for a time before rejoining the group. A circle will be open for sharing before closing. Registrants will receive an orientation email beforehand to help prepare for this outing. Pinnacle Park Certified Forest Therapy Trail is .45 miles with 153 feet in elevation gain. Limit 12 participants. 3 - moderately strenuous: away from vehicle, over 1 mile, up to 3.


8:30 am - 12:00 pm        Exploring & Networking on your own, Plant & Book Sales

12:00 pm - 1:00 pm        Lunch 'n' Learn  Ramsey Concourse D     

12:00 pm - 1:15 pm          Lunch    Ramsey Concourse        


Friday Afternoon

12:45 pm -2:45 pm         Book & Plant Sales                       Ramsey Arena Floor    

1:00 pm - 2:00 pm        Poster/Display Session                 Ramsey Arena Floor    

2:00 pm - 2:15 pm          Announcements                          Main Stage        

2:15 pm - 2:30 pm          Tom Dodd Jr. Award                    Main Stage        

2:30 pm – 2:45 pm         Break                                             Arena Floor


2:45 pm – 3:45 pm
Plenary 6 - The Rest of the Story: Soil, Carbon, Water and Climate with Dale Hendricks  Main Stage
We’ll take a deep and broad  look at interconnected and dynamic systems of the earth-  digging into living and breathing soil, plant, microbial partner and climate interactions. How do native,  diverse, regenerative and productive gardens and landscapes help heal carbon, water and weather cycles? Is it all about just minimizing emissions? Where is the "Carbon Action" and how can we as gardeners most productively engage?


3:45 pm – 4:45 pm           Dreaming Big: Saving the forgotten Grasslands of the Southeast  with Dwayne Estes           Main Stage        

Dwayne will discuss the fascinating but little known story of Southeastern grasslands, what famed Harvard Professor and Alabamian E.O. Wilson termed the "Southern Grassland Biome." Dwayne will explore how these grasslands connect to the story of America's westward migration. From the Atlantic Coast, he'll trace the largely unknown grassland highways and islands that generations settled and followed as they migrated across America from Virginia and the Carolinas to points farther west such as Texas. For millennia, the grasslands of the Southern Grassland Biome have been maintained by fire, grazing, and Native Americans. Fertile prairies were plowed into fields of corn and cotton. Sparsely treed open oak and pine savannas turned into closed-canopy forests due to fire suppression and the loss of bison. Other grasslands were cleared for cities and suburbs. After 500 years of European-American settlement and change, more than 95% of Southern grasslands, including those of North Carolina, have vanished, along with much of their biodiversity. But all is not lost and there is a reason to hope. Dwayne will show examples of resilient grasslands that have managed to survive centuries of degradation and highlight some of the species that are unique to these vanishing ecosystems. For the past six years, SGI has been developing a bold vision and is "dreaming big" to map, research, restore, and rebuild grasslands across SGI's 24-state region. Dwayne will highlight the various ways that SGI is successfully restoring grasslands and is seeking to develop partnerships with key stakeholders to help bring more attention and resources to North Carolina's overlooked and undervalued grassland landscapes.

4:45 pm – 5:00 pm           Break

5:00 pm - 6:00 pm           Book & Plant Sales                        Ramsey Arena Floor    


Friday Evening

5:00 pm                              Silent Auction Closes                   

6:00 pm - 7:00 pm            Picnic                                 WCU Picnic Area             

7:15 pm - 8:30 pm              Talent Show                        Picnic Area        


9:00 pm - 11:00 pm           Moth Watch with Lenny Lampel    WCU Picnic Area
Meet some moths! Sheets and blacklights will be set up at the picnic area to provide you with an opportunity to get up close to a diversity of moth species.  These insects play extremely important roles in our natural areas and this will be a great chance to observe, identify and learn about some of them. Bring a headlamp or flashlight. 


8:30 pm - 12:00 am        Music                                 Picnic Area

7:00 am - 8:30 am                         Breakfast                                         Ramsey Concourse         


8:30 am – 9:30 am          Plenary 8 - Fungal Dynamics in our Ecosystems – The Invisible Threads with Tradd Cotter    Main Stage
Underneath every footstep in the forest is an intricate network of fungal mycelium that could span up to 60 miles. There are mushrooms hiding underground that nourish our trees and feed small woodland mammals in the winter. Invisible in all leaves, needles, stems and roots, most fungi are constantly fighting a hidden war, having adapted symbiotic ecological roles that reward, heal and protect living plant tissue wile combating pathogenic fungi and problematic insects.  A highly visual and thought provoking journey into Kingdom Fungi you won’t want to miss!

9:30 am - 10:30 am                     Plants of Promise with Katie Davis     Main Stage

10:30 am - 11:30 am                     Sponsorship Intros                                      Main Stage             
11:00 am – 1:00 am                     Floor Vendor Sales                                       Arena Floor

What is the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference?

Native Plant Conference


The purpose of the Cullowhee Conference is to increase interest in and knowledge of propagating and preserving native southeastern plant species in the landscape. Past participants of the conference have included landscape architects, commercial nursery operators, garden club members, botanists, and horticulturists from state highway departments, universities, native plant societies, botanical gardens, and arboretums. Both professionals and laypersons will gain valuable knowledge from the informative field trips, lectures, and workshops.

The program schedule allows for informal sessions where participants can exchange ideas. We encourage you to make good use of this opportunity. Information and materials can be displayed and exchanged in each residence hall lobby. Please bring materials you wish to share.

The conference is held at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Cullowhee is located between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains, approximately fifty miles west of Asheville. Close to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cullowhee is in an ideal location for anyone with an interest in nature.

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