Conference field trips offer a wide variety of opportunities to study the natural plant communities of western North Carolina. Trip leaders are local naturalists and professional scientists with diverse backgrounds. Trips are offered on a first come/first served basis, and the number of participants is limited.
Please come equipped to handle rapidly changing weather conditions and mountainous terrain. Participants should wear comfortable hiking clothes and shoes and bring rain gear, a pack to carry lunch, a water bottle, field guides, and hand lenses. Transportation and a bag lunch are provided. All field trips depart from the large parking area near the Ramsey Center promptly at 8:30 a.m. and return by 5:00 p.m.
Field trips and Wednesday Workshops cost $85. Canoe Trips (FT 4) have a surcharge of $15 to cover canoe rentals.
(1) easy = light walking, in and out of the vehicle;
(2) moderate = trail walking, a mile or so;
(3) moderately strenuous = hiking, away from vehicle, more than a mile;
(4) strenuous = hiking, uneven trails, steep terrain, up to four miles;
(5) very strenuous = hiking over rough terrain, four miles plus.
Through a series of short hikes we’ll explore the unique plants that thrive in boreal hardwood and spruce-fir forests, grassy balds, heath seepage slopes, and spray cliffs. The Ericaceous family is very rich: rhododendrons, azaleas, mountain laurel, mountain pieris, Minnie-bush, blueberries (often in fruit), cranberries (usually in flower), sourwood, and others. Carpets of sedge and ferns, wildflower accents, light catching grasses: these communities provide good models for design and landscape management practices. The air is light and the scenery is grand, however weather can turn cool and stormy quickly, so layer and be prepared to enjoy the spectacle. Rain gear is recommended. Some trails are rocky with short steep sections. We’ll adjust the trail selection to suit the group. Leader: Randy Burroughs. Capacity: 9. Trip Difficulty Rating: 2+, Moderate to Moderately Strenuous
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.
Panthertown 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. Limit = 20. Hike difficulty rating = 5, very strenuous.
This field trip will explore the rich natural and cultural history of the upper Little Tennessee river valley, including the travels of the 18th century naturalist William Bartram, who wrote a detailed account of the flora in the valley, Cherokee Indian history, and the current botanical communities found along the river. Participants will visit the historical capital of the middle town Cherokees in the Cowee community, discuss the plant world described by Bartram in 1775, observe the federally listed Virginia spireae, along with other interesting riparian species, such as pawpaw, shingle oak, and more. Participants are encouraged to read the North Carolina sections from Bartram’s 1791 publication Travels (available in various editions). The trip is a canoe trip of easy to moderate difficulty, seven miles in length, and requiring little or no canoeing experience. Basic instruction will be provided. Water shoes, clothing suitable for water exposure, a journal, botanical field guides, sunscreen, hand lens, are essential and recommended for a quality experience. Limit = 36. Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous.
Join Gary Kauffman, National Forest in North Carolina botanist, and Nancy Adamson,
Xerces/NRCS ecologist, for a day visiting grassland communities along the Blue Ridge
Parkway. Grasses are a vital part of Appalachian plant communities--in open balds
or wetlands or in areas periodically disturbed with tree fall, mowing, or fire, and
in shady understory communities. We will visit a variety of sites, learn some of the
rare species that are common in the highlands and some common species you might see
in other parts of the region, talk about how communities thrive over time, plus enjoy
other magnificent flora, fauna, and geology of the Southern Appalachians.
Gary and Nancy will co-lead a native grasses half-day workshop Friday morning, July 19th. See the workshop section for more details. The trip may be moderately strenuous due to the rocky uneven terrain and a few miles in length. We will likely make several stops. Always good to bring a hand lens when with Gary.
With sheer bluffs shining like a beacon over the upper Piedmont, Whiteside Mountain is a regional landmark with dramatic geology, a rich flora, and ancient history. On this three-mile loop hike, Jeff will discuss the many unique high-elevation plants found along the trail and interpret the natural history of the mountain. The views on top are some of the best in the Southeast and one might even see a Peregrine Falcon on the hunt. The hike requires sturdy shoes, rain gear, and a small pack to carry lunch and water. After the hike the group will visit the Zahner homestead, gardens, and nursery to see many examples of native plants in a garden setting. Uses, growth, and management of many types of native plants will be discussed and the slightly over-grown “wild formal” garden of Jeff’s grandmother will be explored. Limit = 10. Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous.
We will visit Highlands, NC, to visit the remarkable Highlands Biological Station Botanical Gardens plus three private gardens to see an unbelievable array of famous, interesting, and attractive native plants in a variety of naturalistic settings. We will see such great natives as Shortia, ginseng, gentians, Hexastylis, pirate bush, Florida Torreya, mountain sweet pitcher plant, mountain sweet pepperbush, mountain mint, silverleaf hydrangea, grass-of-parnassus, prostrate juniper, bottle-brush buckeye, sand-myrtle, pawpaw, turk's-cap lilies, hercules'-club, Spiraea virginiana, many more wildflowers and shrubs, and many different ferns. We will discuss identification, culture, pruning, propagation, landscape use, cultivar selections, interactions with birds and insects, and conservation. Be prepared to say wow! Bring a 10x hand lens, a camera, and a notebook. Limit = 20. Hike difficulty rating = 1, easy.
Sam’s Valley Knob is not only one of the loveliest sites in the southern Appalachians, but is almost unique in its diversity of special native plants and their communities. A number of these plants are known for their medicinal properties. Lauri and Wes will explore and discuss the plants and communities in this valley and creek system. Lauri, a medicinal herbalist, will point out the healing features of a number of plants and we will have some herbal texts along for more in-depth information. The hike is 3 miles on a loop trail. Rain gear strongly recommended. This is a fascinating hike—you won’t want to miss it. Limit = 25. Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous, with some steep descent requiring agility (hiking poles helpful).
The Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens will provide visitors with a glimpse of a unique ecosystem for the Southern Appalachian Mountains, the ultramafic barren. The barrens sit on a deposit of ultramafic rock at 3,500’ elevation. Thin soils and exposed rock create an open landscape, which has been promoted through prescribed fire. Buck Creek supports an unusual flora, including over 20 rare plant species. Rare species that we will see in flower include the small-leaved meadowrue (Thalictrum macrostylum), Canada burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis), and tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa). Make sure to bring long pants, close-toed shoes, water, lunch, and a raincoat in case of weather. For a reference on the site, refer to Mansberg, L., and T.R. Wentworth. 1984. Vegetation and soils of a serpentine barren in western North Carolina. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club. 111:273-286. We will be in the sun for much of the day, traversing unsteady, densely vegetated terrain, and the Trip Difficulty Rating is a 4, Strenuous.
Come explore the magical world of mosses, miniature nonvascular plants that are often overlooked even by avid botanists. Learn about the varied microhabitats in which they thrive and the great diversity of species in the Southern Appalachians. Learn too about their structure and function, as well as their systematics, evolution, and ecology. We will appreciate their beauty in places where they are abundant, including boreal spruce-fir forest, seepage cliffs and bogs, and red oak-beech-sedge forest. Expect to see dramatic stands of “feather mosses” such as Ptilium crista-castrensis, Hylocomium splendens, and Pleurozium schreberi, as well as peat mosses and epiphytes. Higher elevations on the Parkway can be surprisingly cool, so dress appropriately, including rain gear. A good field guide is Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians by McKnight et al. (2013) in the Princeton Field Guide series (cost about $20). Limit = 10. Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous.
Join us for a hike to one of the most glorious waterfalls in Western North Carolina, Cullowhee Falls (a.k.a. High Falls). Along the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River, the trail starts at a rich cove/boulderfield forest and then winds through a mixed hardwood forest, through rhododendron thickets, and along riparian habitat passing Thurston Hatcher Falls, a beautiful cascade, leading to the base of a two-tiered waterfall approximately 200 feet tall, with a box-canyon feel. The waterfall area features a spray-cliff grotto, pot-holed bedrock and a refreshing swimming-hole. Surrounding flowers include mountain dwarf-dandelion, sundrops and Michaux's saxifrage. Along the way, we'll discuss the geologic setting, and view numerous summer wildflowers, including galax, goat’s beard, large-flower heartleaf, Indian ghost pipe, and many ferns, lichens and mosses. Please bring rain gear, sunscreen, sturdy shoes, field guides, hand lens, water, snacks, a swimsuit, and a sense of adventure. Hike difficulty rating = 3, moderately strenuous (hiking, brief rock scrambling near the falls, away from vehicle, more than a mile).
Andrews Bald is the highest grassy bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is one of two 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 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. Time permitting; those with the energy may walk the half-mile ramp up to the Clingmans Dome observation point (100-mile views on a clear day!) before our return.
You've seen his work in our silent auctions for years, now Jeff will be sharing his 2+ decades of experiences with this fascinating and useful material to show you all the tricks and shortcuts so that you too will be able to create beautiful botanical imprints in cast stone. We will be looking at its history and science, how different mixes serve different purposes, mold making, choosing foliage, pigments, and much more! Prepare to get your hands dirty. We will be mixing materials (Jeff puts the 'work' in workshop!) and you will use it to create your very own garden and home treasures! Bio Limit= 24.
Here in America, we learned our seasons from Vivaldi. But the modern European concept of seasons has never really worked here, and as a result, we’ve missed important knowledge about how people and plants make use of their environment. Now, seasons are changing again, perhaps suddenly and dramatically, and the only way we’re likely to be able to adapt is to renew our understanding of what a season is, and why it’s important to all of us. We’ll throw out all the old silly concepts of seasons (four seasons…Hah!) and start over with a fresh look at how seasons differ from place to place and from time to time, and what we’ll have to be aware of to master this new world we’re creating for ourselves.