Education Outdoors

Cullowhee Native Plant Virtual Conference

Learn How to Identify, Use and Preserve Native Plants July 16

Speaker Tradd Cotter. Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University (WCU) presents the Cullowhee Native Plant Virtual Conference, opening on Friday, July 16. Now in its 37th year at WCU, the conference teaches attendees how to identify, use and preserve native plants in their own landscape. “The purpose of the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference is to increase interest in and knowledge of propagating and preserving native southeastern plant species in the landscape,” says Julia Duvall, public communication specialist for WCU’s Division of Educational Outreach. “Normally, the conference is a four-day, in-person event consisting of field trips and interactive sessions. Due to COVID-19 in 2020, we were unable to host the conference for the first time in over three decades. This year, for the first time in the history of the conference, we are offering it as a two-day virtual experience.”

Robert Wyatt shows attendees a native plant

The conference will consist of virtual field trips to various locations around Western North Carolina, as well as several pre-recorded and live sessions. There will be two live sessions on Friday. At 3 p.m., Larry Mellichamp, professor emeritus of botany and horticulture at UNC Charlotte, presents Choose Your Trees Like You Choose Your Pets! At 7 p.m., Rick Huffman of Earth Design, Tradd Cotter of Mushroom Mountain and Leif Olson of Integrated Land Enhancement present Applied Ecology: Approaches to Improving Landscapes and Ecosystem Health. Seven field trips and five main sessions will be available to stream on-demand. Virtual field trip destinations include Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia, Cranberry Bog and Wolf Mt. Overlook, Highlands Botanical Gardens and the Francis Marion National Forest. The main sessions cover topics like adapting local seeds for land restoration, landscaping with native plants, ecological interdependence, wildflowers and oak trees.

“This is really a hands-on group,” says Bobby Hensley, WCU’s associate director of continuing education, who has coordinated the conference for 20 years. “They love dirt on their hands and mud on their shoes. We weren’t sure if a virtual event was going to work for them, but so far they’ve enthusiastically embraced the idea until we can get all get back together in person.”

Visit to learn more about the conference and to register.

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