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.
Plants & People by Kathie Hoxsie - Summer 2004
During spring snowmelt in California's High Sierra, tiny yellow plantainleaf buttercups (Ranunculus alismifolius) and purple sprouts of skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) appear in the moist earth of the forest. Harbingers of summer, these natives dramatically transform this area's summer landscape. How and why do they grow? Do they have an importance to the land, to animals, to our planet?
America's public botanic gardens, where the emphasis is on native plants, ask and answer these questions. Wherever you live, there's likely to be a botanic garden within a short drive of your home. Possibly one exists on the route of your summer or autumn vacation.
Based on their commitment to conserve North America's native plants and to educate the public about them, five gardens stand out from the rest. Gardens in Austin, Texas; Framingham, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; Phoenix, Arizona; and Santa Barbara, California all showcase native plants, each offering visitors exciting ways to see, appreciate, and obtain natives.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin, TX 78739
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, located in Austin, Texas, on the Edwards Plateau, is now in its 22nd year of operation. The majority of its 80,000 visitors come in March, April, and May or for the Center's popular plant sales in October and April.
"Most people associate wildflowers with the spring months," said docent Marie Bassett. "It is hard to convince them that our Center is beautiful all year round, with its seasonal changes." In the fall and winter, visitors can appreciate native grasses and colorful autumn favorites such as Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani), eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii), and gayfeather (Liatris mucronata)."
In any season, visitors enjoy the Center's five trails: the Forest Trail, the John Barr Trail, the Restoration Research Trail, the Savannah Meadow Trail, and the Woodland Trail.
The 1-mile Restoration Research Trail features several 1 1/2- to 2-acre plots, demonstrating scientific experimentation that has been done since 1999 on how different land management techniques affect native wildflowers, grasses, trees, and shrubs of the Texas Hill Country.
Restoration ecologist Dr. Mark Simmons suspected that prescribed fire could be used to selectively encourage or discourage the native and non-native plants that now occupy the savannas of central Texas. For example, ranchers normally burn in winter to help control the invasion of unwanted plants and to encourage the productivity of summer grasses - good for grazing animals.
"But this practice does not reflect natural wildfires, which would have occurred in summer," he says. "We were surprised to see that our data indicates that prescribed burning in the summer also encourages many summer grasses as well as wildflowers, resulting in a diverse plant system."
The results are visible on the trail. Currently, Simmons and others are looking at what happens to lizards, monarch butterflies, and grasshoppers when certain practices are applied to the land.
Bassett says that by walking the trails visitors can see the results of the experiments first-hand and understand them through excellent signage. She describes the Wildflower Center's network of trails vividly: "It is a walk in the country, but better, with benches located under magnificent live oaks. Our wheelchair-friendly crushed-granite trails give a unique perspective on the ecology of this area, which has elements of flora from the Great Plains, Eastern Deciduous Forest, the Chihuahuan Desert, and the Tamaulipan Thornscrub."
Near the trails are the Center's themed display gardens and home-comparison gardens resembling typical front yards, from formal to informal design. Education programs take place year-round throughout the grounds. The Center's new Ann and O.J. Weber Butterfly Garden - designed as a butterfly habitat to attract and sustain pollinators with native plants - opened in 2002 and draws visitors.
Research occurs off-site as well. Flo Oxley, a botanist in the Center's rare-plant program, is completing a three-year study on Texas wild rice (Zizania texana). The rice grows only in one place - in Hays County, Texas, on a 4-mile stretch of the San Marcos River in San Marcos.
Garden In The Woods
New England Wild Flower Society, Inc.
180 Hemenway Rd.
Framingham, MA 01701-2699
A garden in New England that is similar to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, a short drive west of Boston.
"We are a sister facility in the sense that we're both interested in the same thing - promoting and preserving the flora of North America," said Cheryl Lowe, horticulture director of the New England Wild Flower Society.
As the headquarters of the New England Wild Flower Society, America's oldest plant conservation organization, Garden in the Woods is the only native-plant garden in America owned and operated by a native-plant society.
The 45-acre garden features more than 1,500 native species and cultivars displayed in lovey, well-labeled habitat gardens and 30 acres of natural woodlands. Ninety-five percent of the plants at the garden are North American natives, including more than 200 rare and endangered species, many native to New England.
Garden in the Woods trails are open from April 15 through October 31, and the educational programs and visitor center are open year-round. The largest retail native-plant nursery in New England is on site and features 500 native species available from mid-April through mid-September. Informal walking tours are led daily at 10 a.m. (except Sundays, with tours at 2 p.m.), with no reservations required. Group tours and electric cart tours are by reservation. Visitors should allow at least an hour on the 1-mile Curtis Trail that includes a glacial riverbed formed 20,000 years ago.
"Whether a rare native plant grows in Garden in the Woods or a private garden doesn't mean it's protected," said Lowe. "The importance for plant conservation is the health of the wild population. For example, our New England coastal areas are under pressure due to population growth and development. It's wonderful to grow a native in your garden, but it's not the same as protecting it in the wild or understanding a native plant in its full context." According to the staff, one-sixth of New England's native species are endangered, making education, propagation, preservation, and conservation requisite undertakings of the New England Wild Flower Society.
The society provides seeds, plants, and horticultural support to researchers. Its annual education program in native plant studies each year offers the public and professionals more than 250 workshops, lectures, field trips, and classes. "Big Bugs," a sculpture exhibit of huge bugs emphasizing the web of life, runs July 17 through Oct. 17, 2004.