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1975 WCBC trip to Sugarloaf Mountain

The Western Carolina Botanical Club (WCBC) was founded in 1973 by a small group of Western North Carolina residents who wanted to learn more about the plants of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The mission of the WCBC is to study native plants and their habitats and to advocate the protection of biodiversity in the natural world. Their organized field trips happen in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Polk, and Transylvania Counties in North Carolina, and Greenville, Oconee, and Pickens Counties in South Carolina.

According to the lore of the group website, the inspiration for WCBC’s formation originated with a series of classes on wildflower identification taught in Brevard in the fall of 1972 by Dr. C. Ritchie Bell, who was at the time a professor of botany at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and the director of the N.C. Botanical Gardens. A few members of the group enjoyed the course so much that at its conclusion, they suggested keeping the interest alive with regular meetings.

An organizational meeting was held on March 27, 1973 with the following members present: Harry Logan, Harvey Krouse, Joe Schatz, Lincoln Highton, Ralph Raymond, Gordon Tooley, Harriet Corwin, Barbara Hallowell, Peggy Camenzind, Nan Morrow, and perhaps a few more unrecorded. Voting occurred to elect the officers: Lincoln Highton – president, Gordon Tooley – vice-president, and Barbara Hallowell – secretary/treasurer.

Oconee Bells by Dick Smith 1982

A June 14, 1973 Transylvania Times news item advertised for new members to meet on June 18 at 9:30 am at the Federal Bank Building on the corner of 5th and Church Streets in Hendersonville, NC. The first membership list from 1973 included 25 names. Perhaps the advertising worked because by 1990 the club had grown to nearly 225 members.

The group decided that annual indoor meetings would be sufficient and that frequent organized plant hikes would be their main activity. As the WCBC grew over the years, they often compiled plant information for various microclimates and documented their club outings. Over time the WCBC has also worked with national and federal sites to survey and document plant species for locales such as the Cradle of Forestry in America and the Carl Sandburg Home.

WCBC began publishing their quarterly newsletter “Shortia” in March 1979 with Harvey and Verna Krouse taking on the editing and clerical work. The group dutifully compiled their newsletters, and in 1996 they deposited the set in the New York Botanical Garden Library, also known as the LuEsther T. Mertz Library. The newsletter archive is still available there, as well as at the Transylvania County Library NC Room, and digitally on the WCBC’s website.

The 1981 issue of Shortia was the first issue to include a regular feature called “Look Again!” by member Dick Smith. Smith was a president of the club from 1983-1984, and his personal scrapbook documenting 1979-1999 is part of the NC Room collection, along with the WCBC’s annual scrapbook collection.

The first “Look Again!” feature in “Shortia” Fall 1981

Among Smith’s collected items are illustrations that he created for “Look Again!” The feature would highlight two plants that resemble each other with his illustrations pointing out the detailed differences. Talented artist and expert botanist Smith created an image of Oconee Bells that was used on the cover of “Shortia” from the Spring 1982 issue until 2019. In 1998 Smith also published the book “Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains,” which is available to check out from the Transylvania County Library.

In 2015 member Penny Longhurst initiated many updates to the WCBC website, including archiving digital versions of the Shortia newsletter, adding and documenting many plant photos to the database, and otherwise building an information hub for all things botanical in the Southern Appalachian region.

The Western Carolina Botanical Club is an active club to this day and just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Learn more about the club and find their archived newsletters and more at:

Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. Sources available upon request. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820. 

Current WCBC members on a plant hike 2024

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