Connecting with Native Plants

We’ve expanded our palette of native grasses and sedges to meet the growing demand. To help keep up on what’s happening in our region, Hoffman Nursery marketing director Shannon Currey attended the 33rd annual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference in the mountains of western North Carolina.

The Cullowhee conference attracts a mix of nursery people, landscape professionals, botanists, ecologists, home gardeners, and others. There are field trips, presentations, and workshops—too many to enumerate here. However, we wanted to give you a taste of the conference from the grass perspective.

Field Trip - Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens

Taking a walk across slopes filled with grasses and pitch pines is an amazing experience. Taking that walk with Gary Kauffman, botanist with the National Forests in North Carolina, is even better. He knows the plants, the site, and the history of this fascinating ecosystem.

The Buck Creek Serpentine Barrens are in western North Carolina in Clay County. The site has an rare geological profile that supports a unique plant community. Maintained with prescribed burns, it’s characterized by a number of grasses and other plants that are adapted to the unusual minerals found in the serpentine soils.The slopes are dominated by pitch pines and large stands of native grasses, most notably Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). It is one of only two places in North Carolina where Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) grow naturally. We also found Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa), Path Rush (Juncus tenuis), and several species of Carex.

You can read more about this special place and how it was restored here.

Ecological Design in the First Urban Century

Landscape architect Emily McCoy of Andropogon Associates spoke about the approach her firm has taken since its inception more than thirty years ago. They practice ecological design, which use natural processes, environmental science, and sense of place to guide development of a site.

Many firms practice ecological design, but Andropogon is unusual in having an Integrative Research department. They monitor projects before, during, and after completion so they can evaluate their designs and integrate lessons learned into future projects. Their research on green infrastructure projects has helped further the field, and in some cases, changed regulations.

McCoy discussed several projects they’ve evaluated, including Shoemaker Green on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The Green is a public gathering spot that also serves as a giant stormwater control. It uses plants, soils, and underground storage to collect and treat all the stormwater that falls on the site. Working with faculty and students from the University, Andropogon Associates set up a system to monitor and evaluate the project. A recent article in the Summer 2016 issue of Ground Magazine outlines the benefits of this kind of collaborative research

The US Coast Guard Headquarters in northern Virginia has 12 acres of green roof atop its buildings. The roofs feature a range of native grasses, along with other species. Andropogon Associates is working with researchers to evaluate the roof’s impact on stormwater management, alleviation of heat load, and the use of social spaces. They’re also looking at maintenance regimens and changes in biodiveristy as the plantings mature. For more information on Andropogon Associates integrative research, visit their research site.

Plant of Promise: Carex cherokeensis

Cherokee Sedge (Carex cherokeensis)
Cherokee Sedge (Carex cherokeensis)

On the last day of the conference, attendees can present Plants of Promise. The selections can be new species or cultivars, or they can be plants that are underused and deserve attention. This year’s selections included Carex cherokeensis, one of our favorite sedges.

Lauri Lawson, formerly with Niche Gardens in North Carolina, described its performance. She said it had been planted on a berm near the North Carolina Museum of Life & Science in Raleigh. It’s in an urban setting, with high temperatures and harsh conditions. Cherokee Sedge has done very well, helping compete with weeds at the ground level and filling in gaps between woody plants.

We’ve been growing it for several years and have been impressed with it. Cherokee Sedge is a tough, resilient foundation for many plantings. It can take sun, especially with adequate moisture, and also does well in part shade. The arching foliage is a pleasant, medium green, and the intricate seed heads add interest in spring. Read more and see photos in our plant profile.

A Rich Experience

The Cullowhee Native Plant Conference was a rich experience, with a roster of engaging speakers and in-depth workshops and field trips. A half-day workshop on Southern Appalachian native grass and associated communities was a deep dive into knowing and understanding grasses. The diversity of attendees made for fascinating conversations and new, welcome connections. We look forward to next year!

Get Current Availability:   Excel Download |PDF Download