210 Pittsboro Street
Campus Box 6210
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-6210

T 919-962-2091
F 919-962-2279

News Release

For immediate use

Sept. 5, 2006 -- No. 403

Photo: To download photos, see end of story.

N.C. Botanical Garden wildflower program
marks 25 years, one million seeds distributed                                             

CHAPEL HILL - The North Carolina Botanical Garden at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is celebrating 25 years of its wildflower of the year program that has now distributed more than one million free North Carolina native wildflower seeds for growing in the state’s gardens and landscapes.

“We distribute about 50,000 seeds a year for each wildflower, adding up to more than a million seeds and, we hope, a million new native wildflowers now growing throughout North Carolina,” said Dr. Peter White, director of the garden.

The program, which began in 1982, encourages the use of native plants by educating individuals and nurseries about native plant propagation as an ecologically sound alternative to digging plants from the wild.

Former assistant garden director Ken Moore said garden staff during that time were alarmed at the number of wildflowers being dug from natural habitats for replanting or selling. “We realized we had to do something,” said Moore. “The truth is that most of these native plants do not survive transplantation. We wanted to show people that propagating from seed is a much more successful strategy.”

Janie Bryan, who has helped package wildflower seeds for the garden since 1982, now manages the program. “Wild digging of native plants still happens, though not as commonly,” said Bryan. “It is largely through the efforts of the botanical garden and other like-minded organizations, and the popularity of native plant conferences, that this has changed.”

Every year, a N.C. wildflower of the year is chosen for its beauty and ease of seed collection. The botanical garden promotes the selection and welcomes the public to request free seeds. Garden volunteers help clean, package and send out the seeds. The Garden Club of North Carolina supports the program and helps cover the cost of a brochure featuring instructions for planting the attached packet of seeds. Most years, the garden gives out close to 4,000 seed packets, each containing seeds for that year’s wildflower.

The 2006 wildflower of the year is the Eastern bluestar. It gets its name from blue, star-shaped flowers that have been described as “a narrow constellation of stars.” An early bloomer, Eastern bluestar is an important food source for mourning cloak butterflies and other spring pollinators. The glossy green leaves turn gold in autumn. At maturity, each plant forms a 2- to 3-foot-tall clump. It is drought tolerant, but it can also thrive in moist soil. Planting in the sun ensures optimum blooming, but Eastern bluestar can grow in partial shade.

The garden has distributed about 2,500 packets of Eastern bluestar seeds so far this year, and more will be available this fall.

The N.C. wildflower of the year program began as the brainchild of author Harry Phillips; Ritchie Bell, first director of the botanical garden; Rob Gardner, the seed program manager at the time; and Moore.

The cardinal flower, a deep-red-colored flower that blooms in late summer, was the first wildflower of the year and has been chosen two times since. The cardinal flower is a tough plant that can thrive in sun or shade, moist or average conditions, and it attracts hummingbirds. Its scarlet floral display spikes up to 5 feet tall.

To order seeds, or for more information on the program, call the N.C. Botanical Garden at (919) 962-0522, or visit the website at


Commemorative poster image:

Image caption: In honor of the 25th year of the wildflower of the year program, artist Dot Wilbur-Brooks created a colorful poster featuring the different N.C. wildflowers of the year.

Cardinal flower image:
Image caption: Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), N.C. wildflower of the year for 1982, 1983 and 2001.

Eastern bluestar image:
Image caption: The 2006 N.C. wildflower of the year, Eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana).


N.C. Botanical Garden contact: Laura Cotterman, (919) 962-0522,

News Services contact: Kyle York, (919) 962-8415,