Southeastern Native Plant Confernce in Cullowhee

Southeast Native Plant Conference
Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC

It had been 19 years since I last attended the Southeast Native Plant Conference (SNPC) in Cullowhee North Carolina, so I jumped at the chance to return as a speaker.  For one, who wouldn't want to spend a few days in the Appalachians in July while the rest of the Southeast is baking in mid-90 degree temperatures?  And, could there be a better place to see plants and be around plant people than this conference?

The conference in Cullowhee has a long history.  Based at the campus of Western Carolina University, it has attracted native plant enthusiasts from throughout the Southeast for more than 30 years. This year, the conference committee invited me to speak on a topic suggested by last year's attendees - Gardening with Native St. John's-worts. I came armed with potted plants I had assembled over the past months and a powerpoint based on images I have been taking for what seems like forever.

Hypericum cistifolium           Roundpod St. John'swort
{Editor's note: following are excerpts and photos from Dr. Huegel's blog}

Roundpod St. John's-wort (Hypericum cistifolium) is one of the five-petal St. John's-worts and it occurs statewide in Florida in the edges of wetlands and in moist pine flatwoods and savannas.  In these habitats, it can be abundant.  Outside of Florida, this species occurs throughout the Southeastern Coastal Plain from Texas to North Carolina.

Roundpod St. John's-wort is distinctive.  It generally grows as a single stem and reaches a mature height between 2 and 3 feet.  The leaves are deep green, linear and the edges fold inwards.  These traits make it easy to identify, but because of its narrow growth form , individual plants tend to disappear into the background when they are not in bloom. Look for this distinctive St. John's-wort in flatwoods and open savannas in summer and enjoy its simple beauty.

Hypericum myrtifolium   Myrtle-leaved St. John's-wort
Myrtle-leaved St. John's-wort (Hypericum myrtifolium) has foliage that looks somewhat similar to that of four-petal St. John's-wort (H. tetrapetalum), but the flowers of this species have five petals.  Myrtle-leaved St. John's-wort is a wetland species; found in a variety of locations nearly statewide.  It is confined to the Deep South and occurs only in nearby states -Alabama to South Carolina. Regrettably, it is only rarely offered by commercial nurseries for the home landscape.   Should you locate a source, use it at the edge of ponds or shallow wetlands. Plant it in mass as individual plants are rather thin and to take advantage of its showy blooms.

The SNPC is both similar and very different from the annual conferences hosted by the Florida Native Plant Society. The similarities are based on the general structure of the conference.  SNPC has wonderful field trips the day before the paper sessions, keynote speakers, and concurrent talks for several days following the field trips. The talks are varied and the speakers are top notch.  Of course, I like the vendors as much as anything.  Walking through the various aisles of native plants is like being a child in a candy store for me and each aisle is overflowing with plants native to the forested mountains and pinelands of areas I truly love.  Most would never grow in west-central Florida, but I could dream. And, there was the largest collection of nature-oriented books I have ever seen in one place...

The SNPC also is a great time for social events. Everything is well planned and well organized. It culminates at the Saturday night social when, after dinner, there is an attendee talent show judged by the crowd.  Serious performers and wacky wannabees take turns on the stage for more than an hour and its just plain fun.

What is most different to me between SNPC and the FNPS Annual Meeting is the focus of the talks.  There is less focus on using native plants in home landscapes and more attention on ecological topics.  That may be due to the more regional nature of the SNPC and the difficulty of making home landscape talks fit the varied types of landscape conditions found among the regional audience that attends, but I suspect it's more of a cultural difference between the two groups.

Plumleaf azalea  "You can look but you can't bring it home!"
says Dr. Huegel

I would encourage anyone who has never attended the SNPC to give it a try.  The setting is absolutely beautiful, the conference is interesting and expertly run and there are a great many fascinating botanists to talk plants with.  Fight the urge to buy native azaleas and wildflowers we can only dream about and bring a vehicle large enough to carry home the stuff you will purchase regardless.  I know that I will be back next time much sooner than 19 years from now.

Dr. Craig Huegel
Native Plant Landscaping for Florida Wildlife


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