Earlier this month we announced the choice of the 2014 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year on our website. Hoary skullcap (Scutellaria incana var. punctata) is a native perennial in the mint family with unusual-shaped violet-blue to lavender flowers. A free brochure describing hoary skullcap and including seeds and growing instructions will be available from the Garden in early February. (We should also mention: t-shirts and tote bags bearing a gorgeous botanical illustration of the wildflower can be purchased at our Garden Shop!)
Bees love hoary skullcap (photo by Laura Cotterman)
Like other members of the mint family, horary skullcap has aromatic leaves. “But our favorite thing about this species is its long bloom period,” says Heather Summer, seed program coordinator at the Botanical Garden. “It will provide plenty of cooling color in your garden throughout the heat of summer and into early fall.” Although the flowers of hoary skullcap are pollinated primarily by bumblebees, other insect visitors include butterflies, bee flies, and wasps. The common name “skullcap” comes from the resemblance of part of the flower to a miniature helmet or cap.
Though hoary skullcap is endemic to the southern Appalachians from West Virginia south to northern Georgia, it thrives in a range of soil types and light levels. At the North Carolina Botanical Garden it is spectacular in the sunny, open landscapes surrounding the Education Center. And while no plant is entirely “deer-proof,” hoary skullcap is generally thought to be fairly deer and rabbit resistant because of the reportedly bitter-tasting foliage.
There can be white as well as purple forms of hoary skullcap (photo by Chris Liloia)
The Wildflower of the Year program is a joint effort between the North Carolina Botanical Garden and the Garden Club of North Carolina to promote the use of native plants in the home garden. Each year since 1982, a showy native perennial has been chosen and seeds of that wildflower are distributed to interested gardeners. To view a list of the past thirty-three years of the North Carolina Wildflower of the Year, visit the Garden’s website: ncbg.unc.edu
Our fall asters, the grasses, the sunflowers, and goldenrods have long since gone dormant –some have disappeared entirely, some keep their place in the garden holding seeds, providing perches, and giving us something to look at while we remember last summer. The colors of the garden have changed. Not much purple, and green has taken a backseat. The landscape is dominated by grays and browns, warm gold, and russet. Instead of marveling at glorious white umbrella magnolia flowers we now take the time to notice their graceful buds and the sparse architecture of their reaching trunks and branches.
The few leaves that cling to the sparkleberry bushes suddenly seem dramatic in their shades of wine red. The sun lights the soft white seeds of the split beard bluestem as the wind makes the grasses sway and rustles the oak leaves that just won’t let go.
While the earliest of spring bloomers like hairy wood-rush and sharp lobed liverleaf are biding their time, waiting for the days to get just a little bit longer, it’s a peaceful time for a walk in the garden.
We invite you—if you are here in Chapel Hill—to experience the Campus-to-Garden Trail through our Coker Pinetum. What, you might ask, is the Coker Pinetum? A pinetum, by definition, is a collection of pines or conifers that is used for their scientific study. This particular pinetum came to the Botanical Garden as a deeded gift from the estate of UNC botany professor William C. Coker, who used it for teaching and as a living laboratory. It is a surprisingly hidden 25 wooded acres sandwiched between Manning Drive and Laurel Hill Road.
Hardwoods now dominate this tract, but some of the shortleaf pines are original campus trees and retain the resin-tapping scars known as “cat-faces.” According to the 1946 deed, the described property shall be used “only for a Botanical Garden and Park area.” Thus, the Pinetum was part of the larger plan of Professor Coker, and his student Henry R. Totten, for our now blossoming botanical garden.
"Cat faces" on turpentine trees, northern Florida, 1936. Source: Farm Security Administration (Wikipedia)
The most enduring feature of the Pinetum is Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek (so named by Coker), which tumbles downhill through the Pinetum, passes unnoticed beneath the 15/501-54 bypass near Manning Drive, and courses through ourPiedmont Nature Tails to its confluence with Morgan Creek.
Two trails diverge in the wooded Pinetum: the OWASA easement, which is very pleasant and can accommodate people and mountain bikes, and the nature trail, which is the one less traveled. The easement is maintained by the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, and the nature trail is cared for by Garden staff and a handful of diligent Green Dragon Volunteers. These individuals, along with all of our other volunteers, epitomize volunteerism and are in many ways the Garden’s backbone. The Pinetum nature trail has also benefited from three separate Eagle Scout projects that created a beautiful bridge, benches, and many trail improvements.
Green Dragon volunteers Marcella Grendler, Chris McKeever, Eleanor Rutledge, and Larry Howard at the Coker Arboretum
The prime directive of all Green Dragons is invasive plant removal. Beginning in about 1999, Marcella Grendler decided that she was fed up with the Chinese privet understory and set forth on a removal campaign. Since then, a remarkable transformation has befallen the Pinetum, where native plants now thrive.
Access to the Pinetum at the Garden end is at the terminus of Fern Lane for the OWASA trail; the nature trail begins across from the Fern Ln/Iris Ln intersection. Access to the campus end of both trails is at the bottom of the Boshamer Stadium parking lot drive off of Ridge Road. Sstart your walk on campus at the Coker Arboretum/Battle Park using the following directions:
• From Coker Arboretum, take a short sidewalk-stroll east to Forest Theatre and on to the Battle Park trails, ultimately taking the Deer Track Trail to the Sisters’ Corner on Gimghoul Rd.
• Follow the sidewalk to Country Club Rd.; take a left and follow Country Club across Raleigh Rd. to Ridge Rd.
• Take Ridge Rd. to the Boshamer Stadium parking lot and find the trailhead to either the OWASA trail or Nature Trail
• Both trails end on Fern Ln., which you must follow to the pedestrian crossing at Old Mason Farm Rd., and then over to the Botanical Garden entrance.
So … I invite you to slow down, rediscover Chapel Hill with your feet, practice orienteering, experience urban natural areas, listen to Meeting-of-the-Waters Creek, carefully cross a busy highway, and enjoy what’s happening at the Garden proper! If you’re not tuckered-out, trace your way back up through the Pinetum on the trail you didn’t take down.
—Johnny Randall, NCBG Director of Conservation Programs
Summer interns at the North Carolina Botanical Garden cover a range of daily responsibilities, from leading children’s Nature Explorer groups to weeding garden beds. For me and the other two Conservation Interns, Shannon and Andrea, the typical day begins at Forest Theatre on campus. Upon arrival in the morning, we do a “sweep” of the site to remove trash left behind from the previous night’s event and then prepare the theater for scheduled upcoming events.
Removing bamboo —an invasive species in Battle Park.
The rest of our morning is spent in Battle Park, the 93-acre forest at the edge of the UNC campus. Our projects there are aimed at keeping the park accessible to the community and restoring the forest to its “natural” condition. On any given day, you could find us fixing water bars that prevent trail erosion and serve as steps on steep trails. Or, armed with handsaws and herbicide, we may be removing Chinese wisteria or English ivy—invasive plant species that alter forest composition. Flexibility is key, however: weather can completely alter planned activities. For example, this year, July floods resulting from heavy rains changed our agenda to repairing damaged bridges, removing fallen trees from trails, and renovating areas of trail erosion!
After lunch, we often head over to the Botanical Garden’s Education Center to work on individual projects. Shannon, who is propagating native plants for use in Battle Park, is likely to be found in the Garden’s library or greenhouse. Andrea spends much of her time on the Piedmont Nature Trails, mapping invasive plant species using GIS. I am helping improve Garden outreach through social media, among other things.
The best part about being a North Carolina Botanical Garden Intern is that every day is different and we are always learning something new.