Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Midwest Native Plant Conference 2019

Beautiful original artwork, courtesy of artist Ann Geise of Cincinnati, featuring the 2019 Midwest Native Plant Conference's conference plants: coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, and wild bergamot, Monarda fistulosa. Keeping with the conference end goal of connecting flora and fauna, a hummingbird moth is included.

The weekend past saw the 11th iteration of the Midwest Native Plant Conference. As for the past ten years, it was held at Bergamo Center on the grounds of Mount St. John in western Greene County, Ohio. I don't see us moving the conference in the foreseeable future even though demand exceeds carrying capacity. The facilities are great, there is onsite lodging, and the 150 acres of grounds is rich in native flora and biodiversity.

We have a "problem" most conference organizers would envy. The event sells out within a day of registration opening. As we would like to be able to host everyone that wishes to attend, but can't, this year we re-jiggered some room logistics and were able to accommodate about 35 additional attendees. That enabled about 220 people to come, plus around 30 volunteers - the latter the lifeblood of this all-volunteer run event. The conference runs like a well-oiled machine and that's due to all of the wonderful people who work year-round and at the event to ensure things go smoothly.

Over the decade+ of the conference, we've raised over $100,000, which has been donated to Ohio-centric conservation causes, most of which are involved in acquisition and conservation of natural lands, such as the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association, Cedar Bog, and The Nature Conservancy.

This photo and the next two are from the Midwest Native Plant Conference's Facebook page.

The main hall in Bergamo Center is packed for one of our keynotes. We are fortunate in being able to attract outstanding speakers well-versed in the world of native flora. This year's slate featured Tavia Cathcart-Brown, Nancy Stranahan, Steve McKee, and Julie Zickefoose, plus a host of excellent breakout speakers. This year's complete speaker roster can be seen HERE.

The aforementioned Ann Geise, who has done our conference artwork since year one. She is also a conference vendor, along with many others and a raft of native plant vendors. Ann's obviously been hugely helpful to the conference, as has our planning committee, which currently consists of Yvonne Cecil, Alan Duffy, Lisa M. Ruschmann, Yvonne Dunphe, Ann Geise, Teri Gilligan, Scott Hogsten, Ned Keller, Randy Lakes, Diana and John Malas, Jim McCormac, Kathy McDonald, Cathy Plum, Joyce Pontius, Mike Shade and Debi Wolterman.

I would be remiss in not giving big thanks to the Native Plants in the Landscape Conference in Millersville, Pennsylvania. I've been going there to speak on occasion starting over 15 years ago, and it didn't take me long to ponder a similar event in Ohio. The Millersville conference is approaching its third decade, and is large, well run, and superb about promoting the importance of native flora - before many people were. Our original Midwest Native Plant Conference committee initially convened about 12 years ago, pulled off our first event the following year and the rest is history. An original committee member is Kathy McDonald and she has operated as our conference CEO ever since. She's the glue that binds the large complex event together.

A staple of the conference is vendors of native flora. The lane in front of Bergamo Center is lined with sophisticated sellers of natives, and attendees can find plenty of cool plants including species quite hard to find. On Saturday, we open the sale to the general public to further our reach and the sales of vendors' wares.

A big part of the conference agenda is field trips. We do nocturnal forays on Friday and Saturday nights, right on the grounds of Mount St. John. There are also diurnal excursions on all three days of the conference. Brother Don Geiger got this ball rolling decades ago when he started experimenting with native plants on the 150-acre grounds. Today the fruits of Don's labors is writ large, and within a short distance of the conference facility we can find all manner of interesting flora and fauna.

This is a last instar caterpillar of the cloudless sulphur, Phoebis sennae, noshing on one of its host plants, wild senna, Senna hebecarpa. It will become a big lemony butterfly with a tinge of green, and we find them here every year.

On Friday's nighttime field trip, we inspected a large path of Culver's-root, Veronicastrum virginicum, and were pleased to see the spires of luminescent white flowers covered with moths. Many moths are nectar-seekers and pollinators - we just don't notice them as much as we do their more conspicuous counterparts the butterflies. This stunner is a zebra conchylodes, Conchylodes ovulalis. Several were on these plants.

On Sunday, we conclude the conference with field trips to farther-flung places: prairies, fens, woodlands, home gardens and other interesting haunts. It's all a great time, and we'd love to have you there in 2020. Some very special speakers will be in the house for that one.

Go to the conference homepage, RIGHT HERE, and sign up for email bulletins. This is the quickest way to learn about news and events (we usually have one or two other mini-conferences annually), and most importantly to receive notification as soon as conference registration opens.

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