Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 74

GUEST COLUMN

LIFE QUEST:

'Who Grows Where, and Why'
After a career straddling botany and communications, Laura
Cotterman writes, travels, and gardens in the piedmont of
North Carolina. She worked for more than a decade as
publications and publicity coordinator at the North Carolina
Botanical Garden, where staff hope to counter the modern
ailment known as "plant indifference" by celebrating, promoting
and safeguarding native plants. She coauthored "Wildflowers
of the Atlantic Southeast," a Timber Press Field Guide (2019),
with colleagues Damon Waitt and Alan Weakley.
By LAURA COTTERMAN

I

magine hiking a high mountain ridge through
oaks, hickories and pines, with blueberry and
huckleberry shrubs at your side. Soon the trail
drops down-slope into a cove. It's cool, and a small
stream glides around moss-covered boulders. Once
your eyes adjust to the shade, you realize you are
wading through a lush, knee-deep carpet of ferns
and wildflowers. There's umbrella leaf, with its large
twin leaves and cluster of white flowers. Also pinkflowered trilliums, scarlet-flowered beebalm, and tall,
elegant Turk's-cap lily.
Or perhaps your hike has taken you to a bald, which,
though covered in grasses, sports an assortment of sunloving wildflowers, from wild strawberry and mountain
cinquefoil to the rare cliff avens.
The southern Blue Ridge is a botanist's paradise. The
variety of habitats found in our mountains makes this a
perfect place to explore wildflowers. I learned that early.
At age 22, I landed a summer job as naturalist at the Highlands Biological Station's nature center in western North
Carolina. That job launched my career, which was thereafter guided by abiding curiosity about nature-especially
plants. In the company of researchers hailing from a halfdozen different universities, I absorbed all I could about
native flora, salamanders, birds and Southern Appalachian ecology. After going back to school for a graduate
degree in plant ecology, I traveled North Carolina surveying natural areas and searching for rare plants.

74

BLUERIDGECOUNTRY.COM

JOHN COTTERMAN

Wildflowers, like all plants and animals, are inseparable from their habitats. Observing and identifying
wildflowers, in addition to being an aesthetic pleasure,
will initiate you into an exploration of the landscape.
My own curiosity-a quest to know "who grows where,
and why"-made me want to understand the ways that
climate, geology, water, soils, fire and human history
create habitat.
Fortunately, once your interest in wildflowers is
piqued, there are many helpful resources. And please
don't think that you must go to wild places like national
parks to learn wildflowers! Native plants grow and thrive
in backyards, vacant lots, pastures, old fields and along
roadsides too. You can learn much by visiting a public
botanical garden specializing in native wildflowers. Books
help too. With colleagues at the North Carolina Botanical
Garden, I recently developed a new wildflower guide describing more than1,200 species commonly encountered
from New Jersey to Georgia. Organized by flower color, it
provides a basic key as well as range and habitat details.
Our book was an outgrowth of decades, even centuries,
of botanical exploration in the region and incorporates
information gathered by generations of botanists.
Over the years, my favorite wildflower expeditions
have been to the cove forests, grassy balds and bogs of
the Southern Appalachians. Here's hoping that many
others will discover the pleasures of observing and learning wildflowers of the Blue Ridge and beyond.


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Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019

Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 5
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 6
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 8
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 9
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 10
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 11
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Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 18
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Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 20
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 21
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Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 26
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 27
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 31
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Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 33
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 34
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 35
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 36
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - 37
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Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - September/October 2019 - Cover4
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