Western Carolina University hosts annual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference

CHANGING THE LANDSCAPE: Since its inception in 1984, the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference has contributed to the national popularity of landscaping with indigenous species. In this photo, Wes Burlingame holds a potted specimen ready for transplant at a past conference. Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, now in its 36th year, is like a family reunion for attendees, many of whom have been coming for decades, says Western Carolina University communications specialist Julia Duvall. The university will host the conference Tuesday-Saturday, July 16-20. Newcomers, too, are most welcome, adds Duvall.

Designed to increase interest in and knowledge of the propagation and preservation of plant species native to the Southeast, the conference is aimed at professionals and amateur enthusiasts alike. Its roster of field trips, lectures, workshops and networking opportunities has made it  “a model for similar native plant gatherings around the country,” says Bobby Hensley, WCU’s associate director of continuing education, who’s been overseeing the conference for nearly 20 years.

According to Hensley, the conference has its roots in a 1984 grant from the Tennessee Valley Authority to underwrite a “plant utilization” meeting. As the event grew and evolved, it was also helping change the American landscape. Until then, native species attracted minimal attention outside academic communities, comprising only a small portion of the commercial market. This forum for professors, growers, landscape designers and consumers united individual voices into “a chorus with significant economic and ecological impact,” writes Hensley in an online history of the event.

A highlight among the speaker sessions, says Hensley, will be a talk on the botanical adventures of Charles Darwin by Jim Costa, executive director of the Highlands Biological Station and WCU biology professor. Providing a venue for exchanging  ideas is an integral part of the conference, so WCU’s residence hall lobbies will be available for attendees to display materials they may want to share. Optional field trips on Wednesday, July 17, and a panel focused on land trusts on Thursday, July 18, will round out the schedule.

WHAT: Cullowhee Native Plant Conference
WHERE: Western Carolina University, 138 Cordelia Camp Building, Cullowhee. nativeplants.wcu.edu or 828-227-7397
WHEN: Tuesday-Saturday, July 16-20. Conference registration is $140 through Monday, July 1. Optional field trips cost $85-$100. Housing and meal packages are available for an additional fee.

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