The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference is July 20-23—Yes, in Person!

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NC Native Plant Society and friends at a recent Cullowhee conference. Photo courtesy of Bettina Darveaux
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By Andrea Thunem

This conference is the granddaddy of all native plant conferences. Truly there is something for everyone—one size fits all.

Imagine a conference in the beautiful Southern Appalachian mountains with field trips, workshops, lectures, vendors, and just about anything that attracts amateur and professional native plant people. This combination of activities has become a model for similar gatherings around the country. And the enthusiasm of the pioneers from almost forty years ago of today’s  native plant movement has sparked a chorus of significant economic and ecological impact.

Here are stories from Bettina Darveaux, Jon and Carol Fox, and Larry Mellichamp, all members of the North Carolina Native Plant Society, about their past experiences.

This year’s much-anticipated annual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference is widely regarded as the place to exchange ideas and rub elbows with professionals and lay people from around the country. After a virtual-only event last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the July 20 to July 23 conference is back on track and in-person. The NC Native Plant Society is a sponsor of the Cullowhee conference.

Based at the campus of Western Carolina University (WCU) in Cullowhee, North Carolina, the 38-year-old conference honors its commitment to native plants and their use in the landscape through scholarships, awarded annually every May to students and interns at botanical gardens, nature centers and/or parks, and to others with careers in environmental and science education.

Bobby Hensley, WCU’s associate director of continuing education, noted, “The purpose of the conference is to increase interest in and knowledge of propagating and preserving native southeastern plant species in the landscape. Past participants of the conference have included landscape architects, commercial nursery operators, garden club members, botanists, and horticulturists from state highway departments, universities, native plant societies, botanical gardens, and arboretums.”

Registration for the conference will remain open until approximately a week prior to the start of the event. Registration for the Vendor Walk is open until June 30. Each vendor will have an opportunity to briefly talk about aspects of their business that relate to plants. The conference schedule allows for informal sessions where participants can exchange ideas. According to Sharon Day, with the Exhibits Committee, “We encourage you to make good use of this opportunity. Information and materials can be displayed and exchanged in each residence hall lobby. Please bring materials you wish to share.”

Cullowhee is located between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains, approximately fifty miles west of Asheville. Close to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cullowhee is in an ideal location for anyone with an interest in nature.


Andrea Thunem is editor of the North Carolina Native Plant Society’s Native Plant News and a member of the NCNPS Southern Piedmont chapter. A retired journalist and landscape designer with a passion for native plants and environmental sustainability, she loves working with people to present their stories about the holistic nature of people, plants, earth, and connections.

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