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National Wildflower Week honors nature's bounty

Field of bluebonnets and other blooms
ABOVE: Vibrant Coreopsis in DeWitt County. Photo by J. Griffis Smith.

What would an autumn visit to Colorado be like without seeing golden-leafed aspens on mountainsides, California without its giant redwoods, or Arizona minus the saguaro cacti of the Sonoran desert?

With National Wildflower Week just around the corner and springtime wildflowers in full bloom, it’s a great time to visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to see more than 600 different types of plants that are native to the state among the blooming gardens.

We also celebrate National Wildflower Week in May with a wildflower photo exhibit in the McDermott Learning Center and a Q & A with the Texas Monthly photo editor. Gorgeous images taken in meadows across the state and in other settings will be on display from May 4 to May 12. They were captured by professional photographers for the April issue of the magazine, which is co-hosting the exhibit. Come meet Texas Highways’ J. Griffis Smith on Saturday, May 11 at the exhibit from 9 to 11 a.m. to get your own questions answered about shooting these sentinels of spring.

Meanwhile, the Center is working to ensure the survival of native plants in many ways. And you can help!

Wildlife—and that includes birds, beneficial insects and cool-looking lizards—depend on native plants for survival.  There’s no better way to celebrate National Wildflower Week than by getting out in nature and learning more:

Hike at a local park, set up a mini-greenhouse to tend in your kitchen window or find other means to steal some green time. Check out local conservation and plant-related organizations that may have upcoming events for spending time in nature. You can search our affiliates by state as part of finding them.

If the weather keeps you inside, consider reading nature books or finding online resources to learn about the value of native plants. As the largest provider of North American native plant information, our Native Plant Information Network offers thousands of images of native plants and a chance to learn about wildlife they attract, garden conditions they prefer and more. The Wildflower Center website also has Mr. Smarty Plants’ responses to native plant questions and How To articles – including some in Spanish.

Bastard cabbage images
ABOVE: A field of bluebonnets at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Photo by Mark Simmons.

Our green heritage is at risk because wild landscapes are developed into residential and other properties and for agriculture. Traditional development practices often discard native greenery on a site and replace native plants with exotics not well adapted to local conditions.  

The Center’s Ecosystem Design Group works with developers to help landscape architects and others take advantage of the economic and environmental advantages that native plant communities provide. These projects include: the 23-acre campus of the George W. Bush Presidential Center that opens today at Southern Methodist University, national parks, corporate campuses, a mixed-use subdivision and private residences. EDG staff consider factors such as soil conditions, the placement of buildings and ways to retain and re-use stormwater on site.

You can learn more about using sustainable approaches for your own yard by taking classes on this topic through the Center’s educational program, Go Native U, and at www.landscapeforlife.org. Landscape for Life was developed by the Wildflower Center and the United States Botanical Garden. The two have also partnered with the American Society of Landscape Architects on the Sustainable Sites Initiative™, a professional series of guidelines and performance benchmarks for developing sustainable landscapes.

Bastard cabbage images
ABOVE: Cogongrass, an invasive plant threatening Texas ecosystems. Image courtesy of Texasinvasives.org.

Another pressing challenge for our native landscapes is competition from some non-native plants. An invasive plant may have arrived by accident, been planted unknowingly, or popped up alongside a road. These invasive plants lack natural predators and grow aggressively in their new environment, stealing space and resources from native plants.

The Wildflower Center has been a major player in combating non-native plants for more than a decade and recently received a national award for these efforts. The award cites achievements such as developing and managing www.texasinvasives.org, which is the state’s premier tool for learning about invasive plant threats and for reporting their locations. The site created with Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife and other partners served more than 126,000 unique visitors last year.

Jessica Strickland, the Center’s invasive species program manager, has also helped train more than 1,600 Texans as citizen scientists who spot invasive plants and pests and report them through the Texas Invasives website. And in Austin, Wildflower Center Senior Director Damon Waitt and staffers Matthew O’Toole and Michelle Bertelsen have worked since 2010 with the City of Austin to develop and guide implementation of an Invasive Species Management Plan—likely only the second one of its kind for a metropolitan area nationally. Strickland began training local residents in March that are interested in helping the city implement this plan. They are learning to identify and remove invasive species the city will be targeting on its properties beginning this summer.

To learn steps for combating invasive plants anywhere in the United States, visit our how-to guide or download this brochure on how to be plantwise. These guidelines were developed by the Wildflower Center, The Garden Club of America, the National Park Service, and the National Invasive Species Council for which Waitt serves as an advisor. To learn how to help Austin fight invasive plants, or to become an invasive species identifier in Texas, contact Strickland at jstrickland@wildflower.org. You can also sign up for the iWire newsletter Strickland oversees about invasives in Texas.


Story by Barbra A. Rodriguez

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