For nearly two decades, the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference at Western Carolina University has been a long-time favorite educational conference of landscape professionals across the country. With over 20 field trips, this 5-day conference hosts many types of in-depth opportunities to learn about native plants from experts including lectures, workshops, and field trips. The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference is known as one of the oldest native plant conferences in the U.S., attracting attendees from across the nation to visit our region and its rich biodiversity.
SHR staff members Eric Kimbrel and Kyle Meece attended the Conference, noting an increase in attendees from previous years, including many newcomers to the event. Claudia West and Thomas Ranier presented their new publication “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes,” which illustrated how to implement longer-lasting landscape designs that don’t have to be intensely maintained. They shared valuable lessons in how to create gardens that are easier to maintain, productive, and aesthetically pleasing.
Following the conference, Eric commented: “The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference brings together everyone from the homeowner to the college professor to the avid hiker to students, all gaining knowledge in horticulture and botany. At the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, people learn there is an alternative to traditional landscape design that is longer-lived, sustainable, lower maintenance and just as aesthetically pleasing.”
The Cullowhee Native Plant conference opens the door to the region’s rich biodiversity through its field trips. According to the WNC Vitality Index, the Southern Appalachian ecoregion includes the Blue Ridge Mountain Section contains “the highest number of federally listed and proposed threatened and endangered terrestrial species in the Southern Appalachian chain. Most occurrences of federally-listed species are associated with rare community groups such as spruce-fir, grassy bald, high-elevation rocky summit, southern Appalachian bog, montane alluvial, and spray cliff communities.” Many of these communities are represented on the Reserve, creating an experiential learning opportunity for plant experts across the country.
SHR was honored to partner with the conference and lead another field trip, providing SHR with a unique opportunity to have large groups of horticultural professionals touring the gardens with us. During the tour, SHR staff shared stories about SHR’s current projects and activities, while learning from our guests as well. Field trip attendees experienced the native plant gardens, Core Park, and extensively observed the Nursery Complex, highlighting the Reserve’s work in red spruce restoration in Western North Carolina.
The field trip is an excellent example of SHR’s efforts to “cross-pollinate” with other horticultural professionals where discussions of best management practices and lessons learned in the field is shared among colleagues in real-time, creating new opportunities for learning and growth.