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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with new garden director Damon Waitt

Damon Waitt

Damon Waitt

The North Carolina Botanical Garden hired a new director, Damon Waitt. Waitt is currently the senior director and botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

Daily Tar Heel senior writer Colleen Moir spoke with Waitt to discuss his excitement about his new position, making the change from Texas to North Carolina and his favorite plant.

THE DAILY TAR HEEL: Why did you choose to apply for and accept the position at UNC?

DAMON WAITT: It was just such a clear choice. There’s a saying in the botanic garden world, “It’s a small green world,” and when it comes to conservation-focused botanic gardens, it’s an even smaller green world.

So I’ve been familiar with the people and the programs and the garden for years, and I’ve always admired what they’ve been able to accomplish. It was an easy choice for me to make the transition from the Wildflower Center to the N.C. Botanical Garden. I really like how the N.C. Botanical Garden incorporates people into its mission and doesn’t separate people from nature.

DTH: What do you hope to bring to the N.C. Botanical Garden?

DW: I hope to bring my 53 years of experience and love of the natural world and botany and more specifically, my over a decade of experience in managing almost every aspect of the native plant botanic garden. I think that my administrative and academic background will all come together for the benefit of the N.C. Botanical Garden.

DTH: How will you use your expertise in native and invasive plants in your new position?

DW: Over the years I’ve been very active in invasive species communities — I sit on the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee, I used to be the chair of the National Association of Exotic Pest Plant Councils and I founded TIPPC, the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council. I know that the (N.C. Botanical) Garden’s very involved with invasive species management, both on its own properties but also in North Carolina, so I’m looking forward to working with those groups.

DTH: How will this new position be different from your old one?

DW: The scale of (the UNC position) is much larger. In my position here, (I am) basically managing all the different aspects of the Wildflower Center ... The fact that the North Carolina Botanical Garden has integrated the botanical resources of the University, including the herbarium and the Coker Arboretum, and Battle Park management, and all these conservation lands, the scale is a little bit intimidating. The park’s got a publicly visited botanic garden, but I’m looking forward to that because I just really appreciate the way that the University thinks about those resources.

DTH: What are you most looking forward to about being here?

DW: Oh, that’s easy. The botany, the basketball and the barbecue.

DTH: What do you think will challenge you about the new position?

DW: Over the last 20 plus years, I’ve been able to build a network of relationships in the conservation community here in Texas, and that includes nonprofit organizations, state agencies, federal agencies. That’s taken time, and so that’s going to be a challenge when I first get there — to find out who those players are, get to meet them, get to know them, see where our needs are simpatico and to work in that larger conservation community for the benefit of North Carolina.

DTH: What is your favorite plant?

DW: I’ll tell you what Lady Bird Johnson used to always say when she was asked that question. It’s that they’re like my children, and I can’t pick a favorite one. So, they’re all like my children.

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