Native plants get their spot in the sun

Montreat Landcare Committee Native Plant Sale returns April 29

Fred McCormick

Long before the Swannanoa Valley was populated by the first white settlers, it was thick with majestic chestnut trees, tangled with rhododendron and bejeweled by forest flowers. As the land was developed to accommodate an ever-expanding population, the indigenous flora has abated.

From 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday, April 29 the Montreat Landcare Committee’s Native Plant Sale will give visitors a better understanding of native plants and the advantages of using them.

The native plant sale takes place annually on the Moore Center Field, just beneath Lake Susan. This year’s event will feature coffee from Dynamite Roasting Co. and access to information about planting and caring for a diverse range of vegetation.

The Montreat Landcare Native Plant Sale will return to Moore Center Field below Lake Susan on Saturday, April 29.

Joining organizer Linda Hobson and the landcare committee for the event this year is the Buncombe Master Gardeners, a group of volunteers that provides “current research-based urban horticultural information,” according to the N.C. Cooperative Extension program website.

The master gardeners are just some of the “native plant experts” participating in the event, according to Hobson, organizing the event for the second year.

“The Firewise program, from the N.C. Forest Service, will be there to do a presentation on protecting your property from wildfires,” she said. “Which will be very apropos.”

Appalachian Creek Nursery, In-Site Out Design, Professional Landscape Solutions and Ten Thousand Villages will participate in the event as well. They’ll be joined by Tom Ross, operator of Fairview’s High Country Nursery since 1998.

The retired meteorologist’s nursery specializes in “unusual and unique” plant life, such as the Red Feather Japanese Maple, which performs well in Western North Carolina due to climate conditions similar to those in the plant’s natural habitat.

The Montreat Landcare Native Plant Sale will information about planting and caring for plants, event chairperson Linda Hobson said.

This region's designation as a "6b climate zone" - with the lowest expected temperatures between minus 5 and zero degrees in a typical winter - makes it home to a wide array of native vegetation, according to Ross.

"Our climate is really suited for berries," he said. "We do really well with blueberries, which grow all the way up and down the East Coast. If you have a little bit of an acidic soil, then planting blueberries is great."

Raspberries and beautyberries also respond well to the conditions in the mountains of WNC, Ross added.

Another native plant that has gained popularity in recent years, according to Ross, is the pawpaw tree, which can be found as far north as southern Michigan and as far south as Texas.

"They're often called the 'Michigan banana,'" he said. "It's actually a tropical plant, but it's a deciduous (loses leaves seasonally) plant and it fits our climate here. They can get around 15 feet tall, and the leaves droop on it. It's a really unusual-looking plant."

The pawpaw tree, which is a member of the Asimina genus, produces fruit as well. Ross will have native berries and paw paw trees available for purchase at the sale.

"I've also gotten in to doing roses lately," he said. "A lot of people like the old-timey roses that have a fragrance to them. A lot of the roses now don't really have a smell."

Volunteers will be on hand to carry plants and trees to customers' vehicles, according Hobson, who also points out the event will feature "hands-on activities" for children.

"We're excited to have the ecoEXPLORE program from the (N.C.) Arboretum join us this year," she said. "The landcare committee is very interested in expanding opportunities for children to explore the ecosystems in Montreat. That's a huge deal."

Learn more about native plants

What: The Montreat Landcare Native Plant Sale 

When: 9 a.m.-2 p.m. April 29

Where: Moore Center Field, rain or shine