Around the Garden

Sightings & notes from the North Carolina Botanical Garden

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2014 Fall Plant Sale (Sept. 26-27): A Great Time to Go Native

This year’s Fall Plant Sale at the NC Botanical Garden promises to be our best one yet. Matt Gocke, Greenhouse and Nursery Manager, his staff, and loyal volunteers have been busily propagating native plants for this year’s sale since shortly after the conclusion of last year’s sale.

Matt says, “We typically make one-quarter of our annual sales at this event. That’s somewhere between 2000-2500 pots of perennials, grasses, vines, shrubs, and trees – all native to the southeastern United States.”

Matt has been overseeing the Fall Plant Sale preparations and execution for six years now. In that time, he has become adept at juggling propagation staff and tasks with an eye to ensuring enough inventory to keep the Plant Sales area well-stocked throughout the sales season, as well as ensuring enough plants for display areas throughout the Garden.

Matt is very excited about the plants that will be available for this year’s sale, including five different species of Milkweed – an essential food plant for Monarch butterflies, and two species of Pipevine, a key food plant for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies. Lovers of our native carnivorous plants will find several species to choose from, and an array of perennial wildflowers, shrubs, and trees adapted for growing conditions ranging from full sun to shade to moisture-loving to drought-tolerant. Truly, this year’s selection of plants offers treasures to enhance any home landscape.

Plants are priced very reasonably.  Most perennials are $6.00-$8.00, ferns range in price from $7.00-$10.00, woody shrubs, vines, and trees range from $8.00-$30.00, and carnivorous plant prices range from $6.00-$30.00.

But that’s not the best part! Members of the Garden get first crack at the goodies on Members’ Night, Sept. 26, from 5:00-7:30 p.m. This is a great chance for members to meet each other, share refreshments, enjoy live music, and pick out the choice native plants they want to purchase – using their 10% member discount, of course. If you’re not a member, you can join that evening and enjoy the Members’ Night festivities.

The Fall Plant Sale opens to the general public on Saturday, Sept. 27 from 9:00 a.m. – noon. Plenty of excellent plant options will still be available, but to ensure you get exactly the species you want, Members’ Night attendance is recommended.

Be sure to mark your calendars for this don’t-miss event. We look forward to seeing you there!

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The shop lawn, part 1

ARBlog…from Coker Arboretum


I would like to continue the tour of the Arboretum through its lawns and surrounds. This week we’ll start milling about a larger space, just to the East of Davie Hall, a figure 8-shaped area that is in two pieces. The piece I’ll mention today is bordered on the south by an impressive chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia var. caroliniana, pictured below), on the north by a coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens, pictured below) and a katsura-tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), on the east by a bigleaf dogwood (Cornus macrophylla), and on the west by a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and round-leaved sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua var. rotundiloba). Each of trees is worth an article on its own and I hope to oblige as this little blog progresses.



As with many of our green spaces, the use of the term “lawn” implies only that the plants growing within the space can be mowed and walked across. There may be some fescue here and there; the rest of the menagerie consists of wire grass, nimblewill, buttonweed, mondo grass, ribbon grass, knotweed, clover, wood-sorrel, violet, plantain, and creeping charlie. Individually, not much to look at – collectively, a lawn. I will say we do our level best to remove the ribbon grass (Microstegium vimineum) wherever we find it, as it is an invasive exotic in the U.S. Next out are knotweed (Polygonum sp., pictured below) and creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea, pictured below), fond as they are of the garden spaces that give shape to our lawns. All three plants are removed with ease, though the creeper can leave bits of itself behind if removed without some care.



What was I talking about? Sorry, yes, the shop lawn. We call it that because it is the closest to the space where we store our tools, our shop. So many excellent trees in this area, no clear leader in the labeling contest. (Though the bur oak is my current favorite in this space.) The section of lawn closest to Davie Hall keeps a good amount of shade in summer thanks to the maturing hardwoods, and there is a generous bench below the chestnut oak. The trees provide us with gracious plenty leaves for our yearly roundup. We will collect and grind all the leaves that fall in the Arboretum and use them to mulch many of the beds. Beech shreds better than oak, by the way.

Of the trees listed above, many are native, all are lovely in their own right. For the interested reader, I would direct to a great little book called A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America. This book was first published in the early 1950s, and provides some excellent narrative on some of our more prominent neighbors. I quote Mr. Peattie:

“A grand old Bur oak suggest a house in itself – for it is often broad rather than tall, and its mighty boughs, starting straight out from the trunk at right angles, extend horizontally 50, 60, 70 feet, bending with the weight of their own mass to the very ground, so that within their circle is a hollow room, its grassy floor littered with acorns, with the sloughed-off corky bark of the boughs, with a deep bed of leaves, and the birds’ nests of many a summer, and the gold of many a flicker’s wing.”


Poetry. Whilst our specimen is not yet old enough to have boughs drooped to ground, it is nonetheless an impressive tree. I invite you to come seek it out, along with its fellows, next time you happen onto campus. If you’re not in the neighborhood, you can still catch a glimpse: on our Twitter feed (@cokerarboretum) or on Instagram (#ncbg and #cokerarboretum).

- Geoffrey Neal, Assistant Curator, Coker Arboretum    


Weakley, A.S., Ludwig, J.C.,Townsend, J.F. Flora of Virginia. Ed. B. Crowder. 2012. Botanical Research Institute of Texas Press, Fort Worth.

Peattie, D.C., A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and North America. 1966. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. p. 215.

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The Live Oak Lawn

ARBlog…from Coker Arboretum

Should you find yourself in the Northeast corner of the Arboretum, across from the back of Spencer Dorm, next to the bus stop, you’ll find one of the original entrances to the Arb. There is a long straight brick walkway that runs the length of the garden, connecting Raleigh Street to the East side of the Morehead Planetarium. This is one of two paved walks in the Arboretum. It’s called the Senior’s Walk, as that was the path taken by graduating UNC seniors on their way from housing to Commencement. The top of the walk at Raleigh Street branches off into the Arboretum, and as you proceed downslope, you’ll pass alongside two lovely oaks in the area to your left.

This area we call the Live Oak Lawn, as it is home to our two live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). All of our lawns have names, in fact, I hope to get to them all in this blog. The Southeast is no stranger to oaks; Weakley lists 42 species in the 2012 draft of his Flora of the Southern & Mid-Atlantic States. They are all members of the beech family (Fagaceae) along with the beeches and the chestnuts. The live oak is a Southeastern Coastal Plain endemic (meaning its normal range is restricted to a certain geographical region), found from Virginia down to Florida and over to Texas. (It’s the state tree of Georgia, in case you get that question in your next trivia night outing.)

Q. virginiana is notable for being an evergreen, old leaves do not exit until spring. The acorns are up to an inch long and capped 1/3 of the way down. The new leaves are bright green, maturing to a darker shade. They are long-lived, ours should be around for the 400th anniversary of UNC! I especially appreciate the subtle garden and lawn that form the carpet and frame for these oaks. We have removed all of the mondo grass from this area and replaced it with small sedges (maybe Carex rubra, not sure) which are thriving. There are various witch-grasses (Dicanthelium spp.) and Elephant’s foot (Elepahntopus tomentosus) growing right up to the base of the trunk. Along the border you’ll find a handful of cranefly orchids (Tipularia discolor, sorry—no pictures of those, too small!) and a nice patch of white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata, just starting to bloom). And of course there will be spider lilies this fall (Lycoris radiata).

These two trees are overlooked, in my opinion, as folks race to points A, B & C. The overhead architecture of these plants is worth an extra 15 seconds pause. Next time you cut through, stop and pay a visit! Additional pictures can always be found on Instagram, just search #cokerarboretum. You may also consider following my Twitter feed: @cokerarboretum. 

- Geoffrey Neal, Assistant Curator, Coker Arboretum                               


Dirr, Michael A. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. 5th Ed. 1998. Stipes Publishing L.L.C. Champaign, IL. p. 838.

Weakley, A.S. Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. Working Draft of 30 November 2012. University of North Carolina Herbarium (NCU). North Carolina Botanical Garden. UNC Chapel Hill. p. 578

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Are you sure Dr. Seuss didn’t name this plant?

ARBlog…from Coker Arboretum

I know, it’s my third entry and I’ve yet to talk about trees. This is supposed to be a blog from the Coker Arboretum, right? Well, I promise, I will, soon. There’s just so much other stuff going on right now, I do not want you all to miss out. For example, I’ve been watching this plant for the past several weeks, waiting for flowers. Finally they’ve arrived and the time spent stepping carefully in some areas to avoid the ground-hugging foliage has found its reward.

Elephantopus tomentosus goes by more than one common name. A look at the Encyclopedia of Life website lists tobaccoweed as the preferred common name. I’m more partial to the names listed in Flora of Virginia: hairy elephant’s-foot and devil’s grandmother. Come on, those are so much cooler than tobaccoweed (though I would be hard pressed to say which of the three suggests the strongest malodor…). For an entertaining introduction into the genealogy of The Trickster, I refer the avid reader to the article cited below (“The Devil’s Grandmother”). I’m open to theories as to why this lovely little plant got saddled with such a curious common name.

In talking about this plant, I find myself inclined to speak its botanical rather than common name simply because it’s more fun to say. Names that rhyme are always easier, don’t you think? And since we are forbidden, nomenclature-wise, to employ the same specific epithet as genus name (e.g. Gorilla gorilla, the Western gorilla, very easy to remember), a rhyming pair certainly makes remembering that much simpler. There are three species found in the Southeast, our hairy-stemmed friend, as well as E. nudatus (smaller flowers, no leaves along the stems) and E. carolinianus (well-developed stem leaves). The last is found a bit further north, otherwise these members of the aster family enjoy nearly identical ranges.

The flowers of E.tomentosus are about 2 cm across, nested in a little mitt of dark green leaves, and a delightful shade of purple. They open in strong light. The plant will grow in most any condition, in the Arboretum we see them in the shade of a mature cherry tree as well as the afternoon sun of the garden next to the downed swamp white oak. In fact, the sunny cohort are 50 cm + tall whilst the shady group have stayed in the 20 cm range. The stems have a nicely contrasting purplish cast. The basal leaves are flat flat flat against the ground and remain to frost.

This is one of the first summer flowering perennials I direct interns to when we look at identifying plants using keys. The flowers do not hold for long once cut, but the plant parts are readily identifiable and it makes a nice change from all the black-eyed Susans staring up at us. Take a look, you may see one or two along the road even now; I’ve seen them in my neighborhood, poking up through the Microstegium[NG1] . If you’re in the Arboretum, you’ll not miss them as they are cheerfully clumped in a number of spaces.


- Geoffrey Neal, Assistant Curator, Coker Arboretum                               


Weakley, A.S., Ludwig, J.C.,Townsend, J.F. Flora of Virginia. Ed. B. Crowder. 2012. Botanical Research Institute of Texas Press, Fort Worth. p. 316.

“Taxonomic Information for Tobaccoweed (Elephantopus tomentosus) – Biological Classification & Names – Encyclopedia of Life”, Web. 12 August 2012

Chamberlain, Isabel Cushman (1900). "The Devil’s Grandmother". Journal of American folklore (Worchester, Mass.: American Folklore Society) 13: pp. 278–280.

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Button, button…who’s got the button?

ARBlog…from the Coker Arboretum

I’m sitting here at the Arboretum, munching on some really good NC watermelon and having my second cup of really good non-NC coffee, wondering why I chose to blog about buttonweed. I suppose it’s because I’ve been noticing this plant in one of our lawn areas, it’s brightly variegated yellow leaves standing out against the regular grass green, especially after a good mowing. I especially like the combination this patch presents so near to our golden larch (Pseudolarix amabilis).

There are two species of Diodia listed in the Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas and in the more recent Flora of Virginia: D. teres and D. virginiana. The latter is our Virginia buttonweed, found from Connecticut down to Florida and over to Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The other is called common buttonweed or poorjoe and has a greater range, extending over to California and up into Michigan and Wisconsin. The plant itself stays rather small, reclining as it grows from a central rootstock. The very small, white, four-parted flowers are borne in the leaf axils and are around in summer. It is a member of the madder family, Rubiaceae, close kin to the lovely - and much more noticeable - buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).

A quick search within the UNC libraries catalog and Google Scholar gave up a wealth of articles about how to kill this plant. Nothing about how cool it would be to have it as part of a “natural” lawn. The plants we see in our grassy areas have adapted to the weekly invasion of the riding mower and stay below that magic 3” threshold. It’s a walkable plant: no prickles, no thorns, nothing sticky to bother the unclothed foot seeking cool dew on an August morn. But I digress.

Regarding the unfortunate suffix (-weed) attached to the common name, I believe this plant could be a pest if found in the wrong place. The same is correctly said about most any plant, native or non. Curiously, buttonweed was reported for the first time in Taiwan in 1982, demonstrating that we are not the only place that is prone to invasion. I admit, we did pull a bunch up in the Arboretum just today where it was crowding in with some irises and beardtongue. I felt bad about that. 

Feel free to have a walk about the gardens, look for the buttonweed, appreciate the less spectacular flowers. And of course, please look for our Twitter feed (@cokerarboretum) or our Instagram pictures (#ncbg and #cokerarboretum) for a quick check on what’s looking great in the Arboretum.

- Geoffrey Neal, Assistant Curator, Coker Arboretum


Weakley, A.S., Ludwig, J.C.,Townsend, J.F. Flora of Virginia. Ed. B. Crowder. 2012. Botanical Research Institute of Texas Press, Fort Worth. p. 902.

Radford, A.E., Ahles, H.E., Bell, C.R., Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. 1968. The University of North Carolina Press. p. 979.