Wildflower is published quarterly by the Wildflower Center. Its content is national in scope with articles about the conservation and use of native plants as well as news from the Wildflower Center. A subscription is provided to Wildflower Center members as a benefit of membership.
The Bad & The Good
I am writing this in California, where in July hundreds of wildfires burned out of control. Amidst the bad news, it’s good to know that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is working on ways to lessen the damage from this increasing environmental threat.
The Wildflower Center, an organized research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, has been conducting summer burns for the past seven years as part of its Hill Country Research Project, aimed at improving grassland management techniques and restoring the natural ecology of Central Texas. In late June, trained center staff burned six 1.5-acre units to continue to examine how the plants respond. Preliminary findings show that summer burns are highly effective in controlling brush and invasive species that provide fuel for wildfire.
“We know that the buildup of dry brush and vegetation is a major contributor to the devastating wildfires that can affect Texas and most of the West,” said Dr. Mark Simmons, restoration ecologist at the Center.
Simmons said that prescribed burning is very effective at reducing the amount of brush. Most grasses recover within months, and a year after the burn the grassland is usually fully restored – minus the brush.
“Summer prescribed burns are particularly effective because they reduce the amount of grass, which fuels fire up to 40 percent a year or two after the burn. Winter fires, while reducing brush, can actually increase the amount of grasses available to burn by up to 100 percent,” he said.
In an era when all the environmental news seems to be bad, it is heartening to think the Wildflower Center is working on positive contributions to the environment. In July, the Center announced that it had helped establish a statewide council to protect native species from invasive plants and pests. The Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council (TIPPC) has 96 charter members, including representatives of state and federal agencies, local governments, higher education, landowners, conservation organizations and the green industry.
According to acting TIPPC Board President Damon Waitt, senior botanist at the Wildflower Center, "Over half the states in the U.S. have established invasive species councils [www.naeppc.org]. Forming the Texas council will not only help Texas pull together, it will also foster national cooperation to address a threat that knows no geopolitical boundaries.”
In other news, the Center was selected to receive the 2008 Olmsted Medal for contributions to landscape architecture from the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). The award is given for contributions to landscape architecture policy, research, education, project planning and design. The Center was nominated for its “bold move to develop sustainable standards for landscapes nationwide” in partnership with the ASLA through The Sustainable Sites Initiative, an interdisciplinary project that will measure the sustainability of designed landscapes of all types including public, commercial and residential projects.
News was good this summer for the Wildflower Center. This issue of Wildflower – which marks the 25th year of our newsletter turned magazine – chronicles more of that good news and helps prepare you and your garden for autumn. Learn how to create a garden that attracts butterflies with native plants (“Butterfly Effect,” page 12) as well as how to design a usable, attractive front yard using native and well-adapted plants (“Front and Center,” page 20). See how to plant a tree (Root of the Matter, page 30) and how you might not be noticing plants like you should (“More Than Meets the Eye,” on plant blindness theory, page 32).
We are always thrilled to report good news at the Wildflower Center – even more so when some of it helps us pass on better programming or advice to you. Enjoy your autumn. — Christina Kosta Procopiou, Editor