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Midwest Native Plant Conference: Brief Recap

Last weekend, July 26-28, marked the 5th annual Midwest Native Plant Conference, held at the Bergamo Center in Dayton, Ohio. Bergamo is positioned in the midst of 150 beautifully landscaped acres known as Mount St. John. This is an especially apropos setting for a native plant conference, as Mount St. John is heavily landscaped with native plants. One only need set foot out of one of the buildings, and the flora and fauna get interesting, fast.

A staple of the conference and a key component of the event are vendors who specialize in native plants. Saturday is the big day for plant selling, and nurseries hawk all manner of cool plants along the entrance drive. In spite of damp weather, plenty of people came, saw, and bought. By now, there are many more native plants roots down in gardens around Ohio and beyond than there was prior to the conference.

This is an important room - the dining hall. One of the great things about conferencing at Bergamo Center is that everything is nearly self-contained. Plenty of rooms for speaker sessions, good food, and nearly enough guest rooms for attendees. If not staying overnight at Bergamo, plenty of hotels are just minutes away.

We pretty much pack the place with nearly 200 people, which is the limit for the facility. This year, the conference was sold out a month or so prior to the event. Get in early next year! We've thought about perhaps relocating to a larger venue - everything must be BIGGER and BETTER! - but event organizers are reluctant to do that. The conference seems to be just about the perfect size, and the people at Bergamo and Mount St. John are fabulous to work with. So, here it will stay, I think.

Three basic ingredients comprise the conference: Vendors selling native plants; expert speakers discoursing on a variety of plant and ecological themes; and field trips. Between all of those things, it makes for a fast weekend. In this photo, we're in the room with Dawes Arboretum botanist Dave Brandenburg, who is giving a hands-on workshop in grasses and sedges. He's a topnotch teacher and lecturer, and packs 'em in. Dave's talk took place during breakout sessions, which offer multiple choices of talks. All of these lectures are repeated, which makes it possible for attendees to hear many of them. Read about all of the conference speakers RIGHT HERE.

Each evening, and Saturday morning features a keynote speaker. Friday night saw the always entertaining Judy Burris and Wayne Richards speaking about butterflies and how to plant for these gossamer-winged insects. Dave FitzSimmons talked about building vernal pools the next morning, featuring the wetland that he constructed on his property. The scene above shows Saturday night's keynote, the legendary Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home. He spoke about "Building Biological Corridors: Networks for Life", a fabulous presentation that brought the house down.

Our other presenters included Cheryl Harner, Bob Henn, John Howard, Terry Fredrich, Janet Martin, Don Geiger, Macy Reynolds, and yours truly. Between everyone, they managed to cover an incredibly diverse array of topics.

Field trips are an integral part of the conference - what good is all of this stuff if you can't get people out to enjoy it?! Always popular are the nocturnal forays around the grounds of Mount St. John, where we always manage to find a diverse assemblage of interesting beasts. Lisa Rainsong, Wendy Partridge and I combined to lead expeditions both Friday and Saturday night, and the ever-popular singing insects were a main target. This is a remarkably tame Oblong-winged Katydid, tolerating our nightlights quite well. It sounds a bit like a frog.

We also featured "mothing" this year. Mary Ann Barnett, Scott Hogsten and Roger Grossenbacher spearheaded the moth sheets and lured in a variety of interesting creatures. And all of this nighttime action within a few hundreds yards of the conference venue!

The conference concludes with Sunday morning field trips to nearby biological hotspots, and a big thanks to Yvonne Cecil for orchestrating all of the trips. One of the main reasons that we initially selected Dayton for the conference is the number of high-quality prairies, fens and other natural areas in close proximity to the city. These habitats are at their peak in late July, and visiting them is a perfect close to a conference that is all about native plants and their conservation.

I always lead the trip to Cedar Bog, and that's our group, above. Cedar Bog is also a recipient of proceeds generated by the Midwest Native Plant Conference, and to date we have raised about $2,000 for the Cedar Bog Association. We also split conference proceeds between other worthy recipients, and the others this year were The Nature Conservancy's Sunshine Corridor Project, Marianist Environmental Education Center, Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association, and Beaver Creek Wetland Association.

A huge thanks to all of the volunteers who manage this conference. I'm reluctant to start trying to name everyone, as I'm certain to forget someone, but you know who you are and everyone that is a part of the conference greatly appreciates your work! I will single out one person, and that's Diana Malas, who acted as our conference CEO this year and did an outstanding job!

The Midwest Native Plant Conference is slated to take place on August 1 thru 3, 2014, at Bergamo Center. Registration usually opens in April. Be there!


KaHolly said…
I used to attend a similar function in Maine. Always had so much fun and learned more than I could absorb!! Not to mention meeting so many wonderful like-minded folks.

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