Doin’ Puc Puggy proud

out natcornThe Tennessee Valley Authority, in 1984, found itself with an extra $14,000 lying around. The money was available for outreach projects across the Southeast. Well, we all know how frivolous the federal government and/or quasi-federal organizations (TVA is a corporation owned by the federal government) are with their money, right? And here was another opportunity for the Feds to squander your hard-earned taxes. What did they do with the money?

Half the money went to programs training first responders in whitewater rescue. This effort has been credited with reducing fatalities in American rivers by more than 50 percent. Oh well, they got lucky, I guess.

They still had seven grand to blow – how could they burn that? They decided to use it to underwrite a “one-time” Plant Utilization gathering. The idea was to bring together native plant enthusiasts, botanists, nursery operators, horticulturists, state highway departments, plant society’s, etc. to exchange knowledge and information regarding the use and preservation of native plants in the landscape.

That meeting was held at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, which is tucked in a valley between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge, an area known for its diverse flora. Participants were housed in dormitories and meals were served in the cafeteria to keep costs as low as possible. One hundred twenty-seven participants attended that Landscaping with Native Plants Conference.

 I guess you could say the idea took root. This year’s 31st annual Cullowhee Native Plant Conference — or “The Cullowhee Conference” as it is known — will run July 16-19. Attendance at the conference quickly maxed out at around 400 in 1986. There was talk of expanding the conference, but conference leaders relished the close-knit and lobbied to limit participation. The popularity of the conference was acknowledged and in order to allow greater participation, satellite conferences have sprung up in places like Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Texas and Tennessee.

 The Cullowhee Conference fills up fast. There are several options/prices for attendees. To get the scoop on registration and a preview of this year’s conference go to

 There are tried and true trips and presentations like: “Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest After the Adelgid,” with Ila Hatter and Dan Pittillo; “Ethnobotanical Exploration of Panthertown Valley,” with David Cozzo and Adam Bigelow; “Whiteside Mountain, the Mountain at the End of the Trail,” with Jeff Zahner; and “Wildflower Ecology along the Blue Ridge Parkway” with George Ellison and Tim Spira.

 Plus new adventures like: backyard rain gardens, managing stormwater with sustainable plant ecosystems with Mitch Woodward and Andrew Anderson, discovering meals and medicines in a meadow with Ila Hatter, five easy walks exploring distinctive high mountain plant communities —Black Balsam Knob to Mt. Hardy Area with Randy Burroughs — and designing the attractive native garden with Edward Davis.

 Oh, and as for Puc Puggy — the Creek Indian name meaning “flower puller” given to botanist William Bartram — actor J.D. Sutton will bring him to life Wednesday evening with a performance of “William Bartram Live.”

 (Don Hendershot is a writer and naturalist. He can be reached a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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