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N.C. Botanical Garden provides educational tours of grounds

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The North Carolina Botanical Garden pictured on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

It was a quiet, pleasant morning at the N.C. Botanical Garden on Saturday.

With the tail-end of the fall colors overtop the gray November skies, the only sounds were birds singing in the trees and the footsteps of a small group walking the paths behind garden guide Fran Whaley.

The group was a part of the Second Saturday Botanical Garden tour, a monthly walking tour of the grounds. The garden has hosted the tours for a number of years, inviting guests between the months of March and November to learn about the plants as they explore the garden. 

“The mission of the garden is to encourage the relationship with people, plants and conservation,” Whaley said. “Just acquainting them that the garden's here, what we do, like conserving the rare plants and other plants so people know it's here and can enjoy it and encourage them to come back.”

The tour started under the protective roof of the visitors center, as the morning’s rain drizzled. After introductions, the guests, including visitors from Maryland and Florida, embarked on the journey.

Between short strolls down the path, Whaley flipped around her binder of laminated pictures and maps. She gave the group information about the plants they walked by, including how and why certain flowers show different colors throughout the year.

The guests chatted about the fall coloring and smiled at Whaley’s news that a marriage proposal had taken place earlier that morning in the garden. 

Along with horticultural facts, Whaley explained the plants in other contexts, including what local forests might have looked like for Native Americans before European settlement. She also discussed the ways plants can be used in foods and have been used in medicine.

Hoods and umbrellas went up as rain started to come down, and the group entered the sections of the garden devoted to N.C.’s diverse ecological regions. These areas feature plants that are native to their respective regions, including the sandhills, coastal plains and mountains.

“My favorite part was just learning about the native species, why we're seeing the plants that we're seeing here,” Clare Rigby, an attendee, said. “I've recently moved to the area, so I'm happy to learn more about what's a native species and what to plant in my new garden.”

Throughout the walk, guests lagged behind Whaley, snapping shots of certain plants on their phones and then catching up. The most prominent distractor was the carnivorous pitcher plant, which captivated a few of the guests, including Sherri Toops. 

“The pitcher plants, I love those,” Toops said. “Those are so dramatic looking — they're tubular.”

Toops said she is going to attempt to get one to grow in her South Florida home garden.

The carnivorous plant area was headlined by a N.C. plant celebrity, the venus fly trap, only found naturally within 75 miles of Wilmington. 

Whaley showed guests a special event — the carnivorous plant closing up — by triggering it with a twig. She said they rarely provoke the plant in order to protect it, but the garden’s venus fly traps will soon die because of the cold. 

After the tour, Whaley said she uses these tours to highlight the importance of the Botanical Garden’s mission to encourage relationships between people and plants. The garden offers a number of other educational opportunities and events, many of which are devoted to native plants. 

“With so much development and we're losing places like this, it’s a gem, really,” Whaley said. “And right here, right next to campus, it’s critical that we have places like this.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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