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.
THERE'S NOTHING LIKE AN EXCEPTIONAL DROUGHT to test your endurance. All 254 Texas counties have been declared eligible for disaster assistance by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 30 counties in Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana share that designation.
There is no question that global warming is causing extreme changes in what we have considered normal climate patterns. The rainfall in Austin is only about 38 percent of that in a typical year. Temperatures here began to rise above 100 degrees in May and have stayed there all summer. Texas crop losses are estimated at $3 billion and rising. Many home gardeners are making the choice between paying huge water bills or simply giving up on their plants and trees.
It's taken a toll on the Wildflower Center as well. Our hardy wildflowers put on a beautiful display, but the number of visitors (and with it our income) dropped this year to a five-year low, largely due to the brutal heat and the lack of spring wildflowers along the roadsides.
But the heat and drought just underscore the necessity of finding better ways to create and maintain the gardens and lawns we love.
By championing native plants, the Wildflower Center is teaching people to garden with the species best adapted to the climate where they live. Landscaping with natives is not only good for the environment; under stressful weather conditions, using beautiful, resilient natives can be far more rewarding than watching pampered cultivars expire in the broiling heat – or laboring to keep them alive with expensive irrigation.
Lawns have been called "landscapes on life support," and in many cases that is exactly right. The most irrigated crop in the country is not corn or wheat or soybeans – it's lawn grass. And in some areas, watering lawns and landscaping can represent half or more of a family's monthly water bill. Many cities and communities facing water scarcities are imposing watering limits that demonstrate just how thirsty non-native lawns and exotic plants can be in water-short climates and situations.
Much of what we do at the Wildflower Center is using what we know about native plants to find ways to, as Lady Bird Johnson said, meet the needs of people and nature. We've developed a native grass turf mix that has excellent drought resilience and resistance to weeds compared to other common lawn grasses.
We now are testing the rating program for sustainable landscapes (SITES) that we have developed with our partners the American Society of Landscape Architects and the United States Botanic Garden. A key element of SITES is the frugal use of water, achieved in part by using the right plants in designs that minimize irrigation with potable water.
In this issue is a story about how growing perennial food crops that don't require tilling and planting year after year like annual crops do can be gentler on the land. Even on a relatively small scale, these alternatives can help conserve scarce water supplies and reduce their contamination by pesticides and fertilizers.
I wish the end of the summer meant the end of the drought, but weather forecasts predict that the La Niña pattern that brings hot, dry weather to Texas and the South may persist through next spring. That's just another reason for those of us living here to introduce drought-resistant native plants and grasses to our lawns and gardens – and for the Wildflower Center to step up our research efforts to find alternatives that are truly sustainable.
— Susan K. Rieff, Executive Director