2018 | Volume 35, No. 1
Dive In A SEASON IN THE FIELD WITH A BOTANIST PAGE 16
MAKE SOME MILKWEEDS
Coastal dunes like those at Padre Island National Seashore mitigate the impact of waves, wind and storm surges on areas further inland. But it’s not just the height and girth of dunes that help — it’s also what’s growing on them. Native plants like railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae) help filter water, stabilize ground, prevent erosion and anchor the dunes in place. Here, its gorgeous violet petals and leafy green scrambling stems drape the beach in garlands of color. The added splash of yellow from expiring foliage completes the palette. Read about the effects of Hurricane Harvey on Houston’s natural areas on page 24. PHOTO Chris Helzer |1
Coastal residents, beachcombers and native plant enthusiasts aren’t the only appreciators of railroad vine (Ipomoea pes-caprae). Insects like this cameraready bird grasshopper (Schistocerca sp.) enjoy munching on the plant’s purplish petals. Beaches may beckon a big-picture panoramic view — the ocean and vast stretches of sand and sky will do that — but there are always interesting things to find if you look closely at what’s dwelling in the nooks and crannies of plants and landscapes. These hoppers might be hard to spot among green leaves, but they pop against the bold hue of railroad vine’s funnelshaped flowers. PHOTO Chris Helzer
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FROM THE Executive Director
Buzzworthy I HAVE SOME GOOD NEWS: We’re popular. Not only is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center considered one of the top 20 attractions in Austin by both TripAdvisor and U.S. News & World Report, but the book “1,000 Places To See Before You Die” features us in its Hill Country section, and — continuing with that somewhat morbid line of thought — BuzzFeed reports that we’re one of the “35 Things Everyone Should Do In Austin, Texas, Before They Die.” All this buzz means that we welcomed more than 150,000 guests last year, more than we’ve ever seen. That also means that our gardens, arboretum and programs are inspiring growing numbers of people to appreciate, conserve and use native plants. (And those numbers don’t include all of the people we influence with our online and statewide outreach efforts.) Never content to rest on our laurels, we want to reach even more. When the Wildflower Center opened in 1995, Austin was a different place. And the Center was much smaller, both in its total acreage and organizational size. But, like Austin, we have grown. We are what we are today because of the countless hours our founders dedicated to this place combined with the efforts of hundreds of staff, supporters and volunteers. As the Central Texas population continues to grow and expand around us, we are working to improve our capacity to inspire and serve larger numbers of guests through our educational programs, special events, and award-winning gardens and natural areas. Over the past few months we have made many improvements, including new restrooms in the Arboretum,
restoring the aqueduct arches to their original beauty, significant upgrades in our courtyard restrooms, repairing pumps and improving ponds, adding new gates and fencing, and much more. I hope you will come see all that is afoot. I also hope that you will join us in our excitement as we embark on a journey that will redefine our guest experience. Through a competitive process, we have identified a stellar team of landscape architects, architects and planners to help us develop a new “gateway plan.” This team will work with us to craft a framework for future improvements; together, we plan to create a better entry from MoPac Expressway, reconsider the flow of parking and traffic, conceptualize a new welcome center and gift store, and design a new private event facility to help generate revenue for future sustainability and growth. Please keep an eye on our website and social media channels for updates as this process moves forward. The resulting plan will be strong because of your support, which I — and everyone at the Center — greatly appreciate. I hope to see you at the Wildflower Center soon.
Patrick Newman Executive Director 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
TABLE of Contents
16 FE ATU R E S
Botanizing on the Banks Spring fieldwork along the Texas border
by Dr. Karen Husum Clary
Houstonâ€™s natural areas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey by Amy McCullough
7 PERSONAL FAVES A Texan troubadour shares his favorite native plant 8 BOTANY 101 Sorting out the fruits 10 IN THEIR ELEMENT Creepy crawlies and tiny fish of the Comal 12 PULL IT OR PLANT IT A friendly debate about horseherb 13 PLANTS IN PRACTICE The evolution of a West Texas parking lot
14 URBAN GROWTH Habitat networking for beloved butterflies 36 THANK YOU, DONORS 38 FLORA FILES A cordial introduction to monardas 44 STAFF PICKS A few of our favorite things 46 CAN DO Supporting insects one milkweed at a time 48 WILD LIFE Growing up to become a kid again
ON THE COVER Sun-loving pitaya (Echinocereus enneacanthus) brings a dab of brilliant pink to Viewpoint Cliffs at Amistad National Recreation Area. PHOTO Jack G. Johnson/ National Park Service ABOVE Wildflower Center Invasive Species Program Coordinator Dr. Hans Landel encounters a pack of horses during fieldwork at Lake Amistad. PHOTO Stephen Scace
an illustrator with a passion for wildlife, conservation and traveling. He strives to make the natural world and art more approachable to young and old. Whether putting on nature-drawing workshops or dispensing random animal facts, Joe is a fan of our awesome lands and wants everyone in on the party.
Austin-based journalist Melissa Gaskill writes about science, nature and the environment for a variety of publications, including Mental Floss, Newsweek, Men’s Journal and Alert Diver; her books include “A Worldwide Travel Guide to Sea Turtles” and “Best Hikes with Dogs: Texas Hill Country and Gulf Coast.”
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Amy McCullough DESIGNER
Joanna Wojtkowiak PLANT INFORMATION EDITOR
Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS
DIRECTOR OF ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND DESIGN
DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS
is a corporate, advertising and editorial photographer who is known for creative collaboration and a love of adventure, both in the studio and on location. He manages his studio from Houston, where he lives with his wife, son and their dog, Kirby. He is currently president of the American Society of Media Photographers, Houston Chapter, and exhibits regularly in FotoFest, an international exhibition.
Susan Hanson spent
nearly 40 years on the English faculty at Texas State University, where she taught environmental writing
2018 | Volume 35, No. 1 curator at Idaho Botanical Garden, and founder of Awkward Botany, a weekly science blog. He has a master’s from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he researched green roofs. Daniel specializes in native and waterwise plants. As a punk rock fan and longtime zine writer, Daniel likes to cheer for the underdog. This has compelled him to begin writing a book about the world’s most hated plant group: weeds.
Daniel Murphy is
a writer, collections
DIRECTOR OF GUEST EXPERIENCE
DIRECTOR OF HORTICULTURE
Paige Richmond is
a dedicated educator who specializes in teaching students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. When she’s not teaching, she still makes time to write, bake, eat fro yo, and explore national park sites whenever possible (her favorite is White Sands National Monument, which she considers one of the most beautiful places on earth). Her writing has appeared in Seattle Weekly, City Arts, The Seattle Times, Seattle Sound Magazine, the Inlander and more. She lives in Seattle with her husband and their two cats.
DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS
ADVISORY COUNCIL CHAIR Chris Caudill
VICE CHAIR Jeanie Wyatt
SECRETARY Alexandra Prentice Saenz
Wildflower (ISSN 1936-9646) is published biannually by The University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin, TX 78739-1702. Copyright © 2018 by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Members of the Wildflower Center receive a subscription as a benefit of membership. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the written consent of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The opinions expressed herein may not necessarily reflect those held by the Wildflower Center. Please direct any inquiries or letters to 512.232.0100 or email@example.com. Materials are chosen for the printing and distribution of Wildflower magazine with respect for the environment. Wildflower is printed in the United States by Times Printing, Random Lake, WI.
WILDFLOWER.ORG facebook.com/wildflowercenter instagram.com/wildflowercenter @WildflowerCtr
IMAGES (Melissa Gaskill) author-provided, (Daniel Murphy) Sierra Laverty, (Paige Richmond) Keiko Wilson, (Joe Feliciano and Nathan Lindstrom) self-portraits
Joe Feliciano is
and an honors course in nature writing. She is the author of “Icons of Loss and Grace: Moments from the Natural World” and co-editor of “What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest.” Susan is passionate about the San Marcos River, where she snorkels at least once a week, year-round.
PHOTOS (main) David Cutts/Dreamstime, (inset) Nancy Rankin Escovedo
Renowned singer-songwriter and guitarist Recipient of the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Performing, 2006 FAVORITE NATIVE PLANT:
Century Plant (Agave americana)
“I remember my mother’s century plants in San Antonio and how they seemed to symbolize Texas and the home of my father, which is Mexico. There is something very poetic about a plant that flowers and then dies. As my memories take me back to those early days in San Antonio, the century plant has always been a part of the landscape.”
Drupes, achenes, nuts and follicles — what the heck’s the difference? by Daniel Murphy | illustrations by Collene Sweeney LIKE ALL LIVING THINGS, PLANTS ARE DRIVEN TO REPRODUCE. For flowering plants, the product of sexual reproduction is a fruit — a mature ovary housing one or more seeds. A seed is a plant in embryo waiting to grow into an adult plant. First, it must be dispersed to a suitable location and kept protected in the meantime. This is the role of the fruit. Just as plants differ wildly in form and function, so do their fruits. This is due, in part, to their accessories. A true fruit consists of the ovary wall and the seeds inside; however, some fruits find themselves inside of or attached to other flower parts. These “accessories” aide in protecting and dispersing the seeds. Fruits can be simple or compound, fleshy or dry. Simple fruits are formed either from a single ovary or fused ovaries of a single flower. Compound fruits are formed from several separate ovaries in a single flower, such as raspberries, or from multiple flowers, such as mulberries and pineapples.
Texas persimmon Diospyros texana
Mexican plum Prunus mexicana
FLESHY FRUITS Plants with fleshy fruits generally rely on animals to disperse their seeds. These types of fruits are the most recognizable to us because, like other animals, we enjoy eating many of them. Fleshy fruits can be organized into three main types: berries, drupes and pomes. In berries, all parts of the fruit are soft, and seeds are found distributed throughout the “flesh.” Examples include blueberries, cranberries and tomatoes. Drupes, commonly called stone fruits, have a fleshy outer layer but a thickened, “stony” inner layer that contains the seed. Plums, apricots and peaches are drupes.
PEPO Stinking gourd Cucurbita foetidissima
Blanco crabapple Malus ioensis var. texana
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Pomes, like drupes, also have a fleshy outer layer surrounding a tougher inner layer, but in this case, the inner layer is papery or leathery. Pomes include apples, crabapples and pears. Two additional types of fleshy fruits are pepos (cucumbers, squash, pumpkins) and hesperidia (some citrus fruits). Both are considered modified berries because the seeds are found throughout the flesh of the fruit; however, their outer layers are tough or leathery.
Texas mountain laurel Sophora secundiflora
DRY FRUITS Dry fruits can be either dehiscent or indehiscent. The outer walls of dehiscent fruits break open (or dehisce) when mature to disperse the seeds. Indehiscent fruits remain sealed; since they don’t split open when mature, they rely on decomposition or some other outside force to release their seeds. Follicles and legumes are dehiscent fruits. They differ mainly in the way they split open when dried. Follicles split along a single seam. Milkweeds, columbines and peonies all produce follicles. Legumes split along two seams and are the characteristic fruit of the pea and bean family, Fabaceae.
Antelope horns Asclepias asperula
Nuts, achenes and samaras are indehiscent fruits. Nuts are distinguished by their thick, durable outer walls. Acorns, the fruits of oaks, are an obvious example. Achenes have a more pliable, thin outer layer and sometimes include a fuzzy, whiplike tail that allows them to float on the wind. (Fruits of the aster family, Asteraceae, are similar but topped with a “pappus,” the umbrellalike fluff that disperses dandelion seeds when you blow on them.)
Pecan Carya illinoinensis
Samaras (what some call “helicopters”) are the fruit type of maples and elms; they are similar to achenes but have winglike attachments that aid in wind dispersal. Fruits and the flowers that produce them are key to identifying plants. Learning the names of fruits and the plants they are attached to can help us feel closer to nature and more appreciative of our native flora. Fruits are also an essential part of the food web, keeping countless species of animals fed, including humans. The next time you stop and admire the flowers, look a bit further and consider the fruits that are sure to follow.
Bigtooth maple Acer grandidentatum
Large buttercup Ranunculus macranthus
IN THEIR Element
Endangered species of the Comal get a habitat makeover by Susan Hanson
A vision of the future for the Comal River and Springs. RENDERING Lake|Flato Architects
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FROM ABOVE, IT LOOKED LIKE AN UNSIGHTLY ASPHALT SCAR, more than 16 acres of impervious cover dotted with a handful of nondescript structures. Calling this property an environmental jewel in the rough would seem a stretch; yet, that’s how some forward-looking people in New Braunfels, Texas, saw it. Ironically, this industrial site, used from 1940 until 2004 by New Braunfels Utilities, is also home to the headwaters of the pristine Comal River. At the urging of the State Health Department in the early 1930s, the main spring from which the river flows was encased in concrete and capped, a measure intended to prevent contamination of the city’s main source of drinking water. Thus, what had been for millennia a magnet for human life — first for native tribes as long as 10,000 years ago and, later, for the Spanish and Germans who settled there — was hidden for decades. But humans aren’t the only beings dependent on this cold, clear water. Four endangered species — the Comal Springs riffle beetle (Heterelmis comalensis), the Comal Springs dryopid beetle (Stygoparnus comalensis), the fountain darter (Etheostoma fonticola), and Peck’s cave amphipod (Stygobromus pecki) — have long existed here too. Their survival, however, has been threatened not just by drought and excessive water use, but also by runoff and the proliferation of invasive plants. Anyone who doubts the fragility of these species need only look at the drought of the 1950s, after which the fountain darter had to be reintroduced using stock from the San Marcos River. That’s a scenario no one wants to repeat. Fountain darters need clean flowing water, consistent water temperature and submerged vegetation for survival, all of which are more likely to be present in a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Young fountain darters, in particular, need heavy vegetation and the slower water that comes with it to thrive as they develop.
After New Braunfels Utilities moved its facilities in 2004, the aforementioned property around the Comal’s main spring lay essentially unused; almost a decade would pass before NBU, along with partners in the community, unveiled its new vision for these 16 acres: Headwaters at the Comal. The Headwaters project broke ground in 2016 with the removal of most of that asphalt. The spring was partially uncovered, allowing air and light to reach that part of the ecosystem for the first time in more than 80 years. “Luckily, we had some very sensitive board members,” says Nancy Pappas, managing director for Headwaters at the Comal. “We have to do the right thing.” The “right thing” in this case is nothing short of magical: turning an old brownfield into a showcase for riparian, woodland and prairie restoration. It’s a team effort, with partners including the Wildflower Center, Lake|Flato Architects, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and the city of New Braunfels. The Center’s Ecological Research and Design team participated in the master plan, is overseeing construction, and will eventually train Headwaters staff on landscape maintenance. “We created restoration strategies that ultimately guided landscape design,” says Environmental Designer John Hart Asher. Headwaters at the Comal aims to be an information hub for the latest in water and energy conservation. But it will also be a place to observe and learn about plants and animals that thrive in Central Texas riparian and underwater ecosystems. Eyeless, shrimplike Peck’s cave amphipods, for instance, live in rock crevices near spring orifices and eat organic material such as decaying leaves and each other. As City of New Braunfels’ Watershed Program Manager Mark Enders notes, the extent of impervious cover on the property caused significant runoff, carrying pollutants directly into the Comal. These included not just soil, but contaminants from vehicles and industrial residue — all of which are harmful to fauna trying to survive in these waters. The Comal Springs riffle beetle, for instance, subsists on algae and plant-based detritus, both of which degrade with reduced springflow and increased pollution. The Comal Springs dryopid beetle also needs clean, flowing water: Its form of respiration — an ingenious gas exchange facilitated by a thin air bubble held in a tuft of unwettable hair on its belly — depends on healthy levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Removing asphalt was just the first step. “We’ve put in a lot of berms and swales, and we’ve planted hundreds of plants,” Pappas explains. These include native perennials such as fall obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus), blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), pigeonberry (Rivina humilis) and shade-loving Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus), as well as trees such as Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii), Eve’s necklace (Styphnolobium affine), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and pecan (Carya illinoinensis). Pervious nature trails wind through what will ultimately be prairie, savanna and woodland ecozones. Work is also being done along Blieders Creek, which connects the major spring to the Comal River. “We’ve had a
FROM TOP Fountain darter, Comal Springs dryopid beetle, Peck’s cave amphipod PHOTOS Abbott Nature Photography
pretty extensive effort to remove [invasive] hygrophila,” says Enders, who also manages the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan. In its place, he and his team are planting native Carolina fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana), creeping primrose-willow (Ludwigia repens), delta arrowhead (Sagittaria platyphylla) and Illinois pondweed (Potamogeton illinoensis), all of which hygrophila (Hygrophila polysperma) can crowd out. “Through this aquatic restoration, we’re trying to provide the best available habitat,” says Enders, adding, “We’ve seen some increased populations [of fountain darters].” It’s a hopeful outlook for these and other creatures, as every step toward cleaner water opens up greater chances for life. | 11
PULL IT or Plant It
LT I V A CU
R CAL Y P TO C A
John Hart Asher
People love to hate on horseherb — what I call straggler daisy — I guess because it has a tendency to dominate yards and make otherwise diverse landscapes more homogenous. (It has been known to infiltrate spans of turfgrass, however, upping heterogeneity in those cases.) True to form, it was the only thing growing in my rental house’s mostly shaded backyard for the first eight years I lived in Austin, and I much preferred it to bare dirt and pebbles (and bottle caps and strange machine and toy parts, which also turned up). It still holds a special place in my heart.
Let me be clear, I don’t absolutely hate horseherb, but I am constantly battling it in my pocket prairie. The grasslands of Central Texas are disturbance-driven ecologies (think wildfires and high intensity, low frequency grazing), and therefore benefit from some rough love every once and awhile. So, you can feel good while enthusiastically editing this plant and chanting my mantra of “BE THE DISTURBANCE” with each savory swing of your mattock. Get in there and go crazy kids; the Texas landscape ain’t no wimp!
WI LD LI F E VA LU E This perennial’s tiny yellow flowers attract Lepidoptera aplenty, from dogface butterflies and painted ladies to Texan crescents and variegated fritillaries. And it’s a useful host plant for bordered patch caterpillars. So they add color to your garden or yard in more ways than one!
OK, it attracts butterflies. I got it. But do you know what attracts even more butterflies? A species-diverse plot of wildflowers. What are you going to get if horseherb explodes? A temporary monoculture that outcompetes many of our beloved forbs. Boo.
Horseherb is semi-evergreen, doesn’t use much water, can grow in sun or shade, and practically propagates itself. This is perfect for (ahem) lazy gardeners and cost-effective to boot. Set it and forget it, y’all.
To remove horseherb, you have to go with chemical control or manual removal. We all know that chemicals can have negative collateral effects, so I wouldn’t advocate that unless a heaping stand covers your property. Otherwise, you have to dig, dig, dig, and be sure to remove all of the main root section or it will just resprout.
O N TH E OTH E R H A N D . . . Familiarity does breed contempt, and you see this stuff everywhere. And there are perhaps prettier native groundcovers — woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) and silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) both come to mind (but both also require way more sunlight). I admit a combination planting would be more aesthetically pleasing than a full yard of horseherb. But I’ll take what I can get, and I prefer it over bare ground or invasive turfgrass.
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If you have a stand of invasive, water-wasteful turfgrass or a shady area where nothing else will grow, then horseherb might be the groundcover to spice up your life. The only caveat is that it will recede with the driest conditions and during winter, so you’ll be left with a bare spot during those times. You could mix it with Texas frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) for a more permanent planting (though frogfruit is also a bit of a loner).
PHOTOS (horseherb) Melody Lytle, (portraits) Joanna Wojtkowiak
M A I NTE N A N C E
PLANTS IN Practice
PHOTO Adam Barbe
Desert Song THERE’S AN EVENT SPACE IN MARFA, TEXAS, that seems to be listening to the landscape around it. The dry, hot breezes of West Texas are mimicked in the play of its garden’s native grasses, while the cool pink blooms of Mexican evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) hint at an unspoken fragility. The building and outdoor spaces at Capri — designed by Lake|Flato Architects and Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, respectively — were once home to a motel parking lot. That was before philanthropist Virginia Lebermann reimagined the lot as a community gathering space and restaurant/beer garden; before the rigid branches of ‘Bubba’ — a variety of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) born at San Antonio Botanical Garden — brought their skeletal shadows to the scene, recalling the hall’s roof supports; before shrubby Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) added tufts of dusty rose and leaves in vibrant green. Now, land and plants sing in harmony with the music and chatter from within. | 13
A String of Pearls
Little pieces of urban monarch habitat add up to a lot by Melissa Gaskill
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling plants lantana (Lantana sp.) with a young girl. PHOTO Quinta Mazatlan, McAllen, Texas
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WHEN MCALLEN MAYOR JIM DARLING heard the monarchs were in trouble, he decided to take action. Darling signed the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, committing to restore habitat for the iconic butterfly in McAllen, Texas, and encourage its citizens to do the same. He joined other signatories in Mexico, Canada and the United States — nearly 80 in Texas alone. The pledge outlines actions communities can take that will help, from striking milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) from noxious plant or “weed” lists to planting native nectar plants in medians and public rights-of-way. Mayors must agree to initiate at least three actions within a year from taking the pledge; McAllen and San Antonio both pledged to take all 24 actions suggested by NWF. Twenty years ago, more than one billion monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) migrated south to Mexico for the winter, roughly following Interstate Highway 35 (which reaches as far north as Duluth, Minnesota) through the middle of the U.S., right over Texas. In the winter of 2014, only 60 million made the trip; the North American monarch population has declined by more than 90 percent over the past two decades. Scientists attribute the decline to degradation and loss of habitat in both the U.S. and Mexico. That’s where the pledge comes in.
PHOTO Le Do/Shutterstock
“We have one of the World Birding Center sites, Quinta Mazatlan, and the manager asked if I was interested in taking the pledge,” Darling says. “I had read about the monarch’s journey and thought, ‘What a journey that is,’ but I wasn’t aware of their habitat needs.” Schools, city parks and other facilities throughout McAllen have installed native plant gardens, and Darling even planted one in his backyard. Colleen Hook, the Quinta Mazatlan manager who started the ball rolling, stresses the benefits of having the mayor involved. “I can pick up the phone and call city departments or businesses and say I’m calling on behalf of the mayor. It makes it a citywide project.” NWF, she adds, provided tools and a roadmap for increasing habitat in the city. The Mayors’ Pledge focuses on partnering with other groups and individuals in a community, creating monarch conservation networks for each city that signs. It also complements other NWF programs, says Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón, outreach coordinator for a Central Texas network that includes Monarch Heroes, a program encouraging children to help create gardens. “I love our garden,” said Rafael Gillion, a fifth grader at Zilker Elementary in Austin. “It brings back our monarchs, and I get to help them survive while I learn in science class. I am proud of our school for helping.” Likewise, seventh-grader Jane Lange says Houston ISD’s Tanglewood Middle School wants to become “a more eco-friendly place, especially to the monarchs. We added milkweed and designed places for [caterpillars] to hang their cocoons, plus small puddles with rocks and lots of flowers.” “Anyone can create a small habitat, with food, water, cover and a place for raising young,” says Quiñonez-Piñón. “Lots of small pieces of habitat add up, and it definitely makes a difference.” Bring Back the Monarchs, a Native Plant Society of Texas program, also encourages collaboration to increase urban monarch habitat, providing public institutions with grants to purchase plants. NPSOT awarded 28 grants totaling almost $9,000 this spring; recipients range from public schools and church pavilions to courthouses and city and state parks. Master naturalist Carol Clark heads the program, which accepts grant applications from December to February each year. “Gardens need a good ratio of milkweed to nectar, a good seasonal mix and diversity of plants, and a long-
term care and maintenance plan,” Clark says. “Since monarchs funnel through Texas twice a year, it is crucial to have milkweed for them to lay eggs and nectar plants for fuel, especially in the fall.” One grant recipient is the Dona Marie Clubhouse, a nonprofit psychiatric rehabilitation day center near Houston. Dona Marie volunteer Sharon Smith proposed a butterfly
“There are no borders for the butterflies,” he says. And with enough native plants along the way, no barriers, either. garden to the members, collecting seeds and obtaining a grant from NPSOT. After volunteers from several organizations helped plant the garden, Smith says nearly 100 caterpillars made their chrysalises on the home’s sunroom. “That got everyone interested because they could see it happening,” she says. Through its Project Milkweed, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wildflower Center collects wild seeds and propagates native milkweeds. These species are adapted to the specific weather, pests and other conditions in Central Texas and are known hosts for monarch larvae (or caterpillars). Now in its third year, the project has donated more than 1,800 plants to NWF and other programs and provided more than 100,000 seeds to commercial and noncommercial growers. While collaborations are crucial, individuals play a key role too. “Each citizen can make a difference,” says Hook, of Quinta Mazatlan. “It’s like pearls on a necklace. Your house is one pearl and your street becomes a string of pearls, a corridor for birds and butterflies. That is pretty powerful for such a simple step.” Darling finds it symbolic that monarchs freely travel all the way from Mexico to Canada. “There are no borders for the butterflies,” he says. And with enough native plants along the way, no barriers, either. Learn how to propagate milkweeds, page 46. | 15
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Spring fieldwork along the Texas border by Dr. Karen Husum Clary
HE WEATHER FORECAST WAS
ABOVE All aboard! Researchers approach a boat landing at Amistad National Recreation Area. PHOTO Hans Landel PREVIOUS SPREAD Cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) brightens the uplands at Lake Amistad. PHOTO Jack G. Johnson/ National Park Service
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perfect for a day in the field: highs in the 60s, light winds, no rain, cloudy all day. Hunting season had ended two days before. This meant we could comfortably hike pretty much all day without being too hot, too cold or too wet â€” and without getting shot. No mosquitoes either. And the rattlers, we hoped, would still be snoozing in their dens on this first day of March 2017.
We set out in jet boats for an hour-and-a-half trip 30 miles up the Rio Grande to our westernmost study site, an “X” on the map. Amistad National Recreation Area encompasses the lower reaches of the clear-flowing Pecos and Devils Rivers in addition to a sizeable portion of the Rio Grande. Lake Amistad, the second largest lake in Texas, was created when the Rio Grande was dammed downstream from those confluences in 1969; it was given the name “Amistad” (Spanish for “friendship”) because the lake was meant to serve the water needs of both Mexico and the United States. Our task was to survey and map vegetation at the recreation area. Study sites (806 of them) had been selected by members of the National Park Service Vegetation Mapping Program and the U.S. Geological Survey; we managed to survey 560 of them. (The Center has also mapped plants at Padre Island National Seashore, Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Thicket National Preserve.) Besides filling the need for a map that identifies where plant communities grow, these maps are
vital for planning, vegetation management and resource protection, including the management of invasive plants and protection of rare and endangered species. The Rio Grande was mesmerizing. It snaked through vertical cliffs of mottled limestone, which reflected every nuance of sunlight and shadow. A gallery forest of ash trees, just starting to leaf out, anchored the soft, sandy riverbank. Near-impenetrable stands of invasive giant cane (Arundo donax) grew alongside the gallery forests, competing for a foothold on the bank. The Mexican side looked no different from the U.S. side — except that it was on the left as we flew upriver. We saw no one else, human or animal, save cliff swallows and hawks on this stretch of river. Along the way, we botanists took mental notes on familiar plant species as well as those that were new to us. Our tech staff monitored GPS units and maps, getting a feel for the river and checking off data points we would come back to later. The boat ride was bone-jarring. We sat on the metal floor of the boat, and our bottoms
ABOVE (left) Wildflower Center Plant Conservationist Minnette Marr is dwarfed by towering invasive cane Arundo donax. (right) A map showing study sites at Amistad National Recreation Area. PHOTOS Karen Clary, Stephen Scace
slammed into every wave. Our daypacks quickly became seat cushions and we scared up extra life vests to lean against. The pilot, a Park Service ranger, steered standing up, an assault rifle racked on the console beside him. His job was twofold: transport and security. He was tasked with keeping a close eye on us, especially when we ventured near known contraband crossings. Twice a day, a fully armed pair of U. S. Border Patrol agents trolled the river in an air boat, scouring the banks for visible signs of recent border crossings. Later on, we found black trash bags on game trails where migrants traversing the river had left behind worn out clothing. When the boat got as close as it could to the first study site, two team members hopped onto the bank, set their GPS units on the location inland, and slipped into the giant cane stand to find it. (We quickly learned that the cane breaks were much longer than they were wide; it made no sense to go around them.) Once at a study site, our team used standard protocols to identify, record and photograph dominant plant species in circular plots (each of which has a radius of about 31 yards). We motored downriver about 500 yards, and the next team hopped out and made their way through a thicket of poverty weed (Baccharis 2 0 | W I L DF LOW E R
OPPOSITE PAGE (top) A canyon touched by sun, shadow and flowers. (bottom) Button cactus (Epithelantha micromeris) displaying reddish pink fruit. ABOVE A foggy morning walk to a study site. THIS PAGE (top) Walking up a side canyon to a study site. (bottom) Scarlet muskflower (Nyctaginia capitata) in bloom. PHOTOS (clockwise from bottom left) Karen Clary, Jack G. Johnson/National Park Service, Hans Landel, Karen Perez, Hans Landel
spp.) to the next study site. Our pilot leapfrogged back upriver to pick up the first team. And so it went for the rest of the field season from March to May. Our study sites were scattered throughout the 17,820 acres above the waterline, some a few feet away from the shore, others a mile or two upland. The lake is walled in by cliffs surrounded by private land with few public roads. So we used the water as a roadway. Amistadâ€™s Park Service staff had our backs the whole time â€” supplying boats and, most importantly, institutional knowledge of the area that was essential to getting the job done. On reaches of the Pecos and Devils Rivers that were too shallow for even flat-bottom jet boats, they guided us in kayaks and canoes. On the lake, they ferried us in a 28-foot cabin boat powered by a pair of 225-horsepower outboard motors. They made a carefully coordinated effort look easy. | 21
ABOVE Botanist Patty Manning in a field of Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera). RIGHT Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) in bloom along the Figueroa Trail. PHOTOS Hans Landel, Jack G. Johnson/National Park Service
Where the water ran out, we hiked up side canyons, some with rock shelters bearing traces of Lower Pecos rock art and fire-blackened ceilings left by prehistoric hunters and gatherers who lived here as early as 4,000 years ago. According to Texas botanist Jackie Poole, the plant species in the recreation area make up approximately 10 percent of the stateâ€™s floral diversity. However, like much of Texas, the land has felt the effects of hard grazing and the relentless advance of invasive species. An invasive species odd couple, lilac chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus) from the Mediterra-
None of us were prepared for the grandeur of the spring bloom at Lake Amistad. nean Basin and tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) from South America, proliferates along the shoreline in spite of attempts to control non-native species. They likely came from a nursery plant or two growing in someoneâ€™s yard whose seeds got away. Invasive salt cedar 2 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
(Tamarix spp.) and giant cane are wellestablished, and old world bluestems (Bothriochloa ischaemum, Dichanthium annulatum), Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon) and other invasive grasses have moved in as well. Despite the presence of invasives along the shoreline, native plants prevailed higher in the landscape. And none of us were prepared for the grandeur of the spring bloom at Lake Amistad. Throughout the field season, we witnessed the desert come alive with one succession of flowering native plants after another. Blackbrush acacia (Vachellia rigidula) is regarded as one of the thorniest and orneriest plants out there. But in early March, it was covered with fragrant yellow blossoms and humming with bees breaking their winter fast. Shrubby cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) abounded on the uplands. Known as barometer plant, it fills the desert with sweet-smelling purple blossoms two days after a rain. Giant stands of retama (Parkinsonia aculeata) and huisache (Vachellia farnesiana) came alive with their spectacular golden blooms. Plants rarely seen outside of this desert and only at this time of year wowed us as we came across them on our daily treks. We saw thorny
NOW AVAILABLE! goatbush (Castela erecta ssp. texana) with lipstick red flowers and buds, delicate Rio Grande stickpea (Calliandra conferta) and yellow desert mallow (Hibiscus coulteri). Guayacan (Guaiacum angustifolium), a desert evergreen, showed its indigo blossoms. Many of the native plants showcased in the gardens at the Wildflower Center are native to Amistad: We found tulipan del monte (Hibiscus martianus) growing out of bare limestone. Button cactus (Epithelantha micromeris) was in fruit, and Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) and scarlet muskflower (Nyctaginia capitata) were in bloom. The uplands are home to red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), a popular drought-resistant staple of the nursery trade. Ironically, it is a truly rare plant, never having been abundant in its native habitat. Sometimes we are lucky enough to realize when a perfect moment has found us. For me, there were many such moments on this project. I know it had a lot to do with the enthusiastic, knowledgeable team we had assembled from the Wildflower Center and National Park Service and the satisfaction that comes from a job well done. But it was also the place itself. The canyons, the rivers, the rocks, the plants, the critters, the sky, the clouds, the shadows, the wind, the quiet. They filled me with awe and let those perfect moments come my way.
Completely updated by the Wildflower Center with flowers organized by color, larger photos and current plant names. Purchase the new edition and other guidebooks from our gift store today!
Dr. Clary served as project director and oversaw five eight-day trips to Amistad National Recreation Area for the Wildflower Center. She retired from her position as the Centerâ€™s director of plant conservation last August. Maps resulting from this work will eventually be available to the public at science.nature.nps.gov/im. | 23
NATURAL DISASTERS AFFECT PEOPLE. THAT’S NO SURPRISE.
Many of the stories we hear after an event like Hurricane Harvey are those of human displacement and loss. They include heartrending testimonials and horrific photos of homes destroyed. They also tell of humans being exceptionally kind and generous to one other, rescuing pets and property and people themselves in any boat they can find. Clearly, massive flooding and hurricane-force winds also affect natural areas. They uproot trees, sweep away lawns, move massive amounts of soil and drown gardens. Because plants are integral to how we identify — and identify with — the places we love, their sudden degradation can leave us feeling robbed, even lost. Instead of the familiarity of gnarled live oak branches or the orange-sherbet pop of Texas lantana, there may be emptiness, a landscape stripped of its natural character. For those reasons (and perhaps because we work at an urban garden ourselves), we at the Wildflower Center wondered how Houston’s natural areas fared and are faring in the months after this historic storm. Are they recovering? Do people still use them? In an effort to tell the plant side of the Hurricane Harvey story — and to acknowledge, months later, that recovery for people, plants, wildlife and the city itself is far from over — we checked in with a handful of distinct Houston green spaces and asked how they are doing now. Here’s what we found out. 2 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
THE CULTIVATED GARDEN
MERCER BOTANIC GARDENS and the Strength of Native Plants
ABOVE Trails emerge from the silt-swept landscape after months of shoveling and pressurewashing at Mercer Botanic Gardens. PREVIOUS SPREAD The sun still shines on Buffalo Bayou Park in downtown Houston.
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TH E R E ’ S A N E W F E ATU R E AT M E RCE R
Botanic Gardens in Humble, Texas (on the northeast side of Houston’s metro area). It’s called Silt Mountain — unofficially. The result of a massive post–Hurricane Harvey cleanup effort, it is the gardens’ deposition spot for all the silt and mud scraped from their pathways. It looks like the ash pile from a Bunyanesque charcoal grill: a hulking gray scab on the land, a mound that, figuratively, is healing around the edges but still reminds its owner of pain. Or you’d think so. But Greenhouse Manager Jacob Martin smiles as he recounts running up the dusky pile with other garden staff to plant flags on top. “We had to make fun with some of this stuff,” he says. “This stuff” refers to months of labor and recovery from seemingly endless damages, something Houston residents and businesses
have been dealing with since late August 2017. Mercer — a free botanic garden in Harris County Precinct 4 — was still closed six months after the hurricane but partially reopened in conjunction with March Mart, their spring plant sale. Realistically, though, Martin thinks it’ll be another year for the whole site to be back to something resembling “normal.” Mercer’s front gardens were submerged under 8 feet of water, thanks in large part to its location along Cypress Creek. As a botanic garden with a nursery, one of Mercer’s main cleanup issues was the fact that countless plants floated out of their nursery and into the woods behind the gardens. There were (and still are) pots everywhere: in trees, on the tops of fences, scattered across the ground. Martin points out a tiny, potted Texas ebony (Ebenopsis ebano) cradled in the branches of a full-grown Texas
“Natives are really resilient” Martin interjects, saying they gave him “a nice sense of hope.”
ebony. “It floated back to its mother,” he says with a laugh. Despite his silver-lining attitude, Martin estimates that 40 percent of the nursery inventory was lost. But, overall, he and Botanical Collections Curator Suzanne Chapman, who’s been at Mercer for 20 years, are impressed with the gardens’ toughness. “Plants [are] really resilient,” says Chapman with a little awe. “Natives are really resilient” Martin interjects, saying they gave him “a nice sense of hope.” Between them, they list aquatic milkweed (Asclepias perennis), Neches River rosemallow (Hibiscus dasycalyx), which is endemic to just a few counties in east and south Texas, and Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) as a few native species that did just fine. Martin looks at flood recovery as “a chance to redo things, a new beginning on a lot of proj-
ects.” One of those do-overs is the chance to put native shrubbery back along the creek. Martin says they cut it down “for sun, for ornamentals,” which “played a huge part in the erosion on the banks.” Now, they plan to replant a native buffer. When asked about other factors that contributed to the degradation of the gardens, Chapman automatically says “increasing development.” Martin agrees: “I think they should probably just not allow [nearby, irreparably flooded] homes to be refurnished; they should buy the people out [because it’s] going to happen again,” he says, offering an alternative vision for that land: “Just expand the park.” It’s an idea echoed by many: Perhaps these repeatedly devastated developed areas have proven unsuitable for people and buildings but could be just the place for plants.
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT A flood-buried bench awaits future visitors at the once-popular Storey Lake. Mercer staff said bluebonnets were “popping up in the funniest places” after flooding spread their seeds far and wide. Greenhouse Manager Jacob Martin shows the post-Harvey waterline in one of Mercer’s greenhouses.
THE COUNTY PARK
JESSE H. JONES PARK & NATURE CENTER and Landscapes Past and Future
ABOVE Erosion along Spring Creek at Jesse H. Jones Park; Horticultural Coordinator Matt Abernathy believes a nearby flood gauge at the San Jacinto River and Highway 59 crested just shy of 70 feet, but he’s not sure because “the GPS transmission antenna [most likely] went underwater.”
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YOU KNOW HOW LIVING OUT OF A SUITCASE
gets old after a while? Or that experience after you’ve recently moved when you can find all your shirts but not a single pair of pants? That’s sort of what the 12-person staff at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center has been going through at their workplace (meaning they’re displaced, not pants-less). The park’s Nature Center — a structure that once housed staff offices, interpretive displays and dioramas, mounted specimens of local wildlife species, a natural science library, and a permanent collection of live amphibians, fish and snakes — has been completely gutted after floodwater following Hurricane Harvey reached 78 inches high inside its walls. At least it’s “truly an old brick-and-mortar building,” says Horticultural Coordinator Matt Abernathy, so they were able to remove all the “soft” materials (carpet, shelving, drywall, etc.) and then pressure-wash and disinfect the shell. A water line near the top of a door indicates that most people, even tall ones, would have been
standing completely underwater when the water was highest. The Nature Center is set to reopen in June; in the meantime, a dozen employees are crammed into a side building, sharing three computers in what used to be a break room. (And the live animals, including an 11-foot Burmese python named “Lucky,” are being fostered by staff.) Like Mercer Botanic Gardens, Jesse H. Jones is right next to a creek, in this case Spring Creek. “We’re no strangers to floods here,” says Abernathy. Also like Mercer, they just didn’t see the severity of Harvey coming. “The crest wasn’t forecast to be catastrophic,” he says. “We couldn’t really fathom the idea of getting more than 6 feet [in the Nature Center]. The creek was going to have to rise 30-plus feet” for that to happen. And it did. In addition to damage at the Nature Center, more than 250 acres of land were underwater (roughly three-quarters of the park), resulting in erosion, sand deposition and trail impacts: “lots of sediment everywhere — sand, silt, clay, just muck,” says Abernathy.
The landscapes that fared best were historic, naturally occurring cypress ponds. “It makes perfect sense,” says Abernathy. “That’s what they were meant to do. They were meant to take on floodwater, fill up, absorb the water; those areas look the best and rebounded the quickest without any help from us.” He credits that resilience to native species like bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor). And he’s been pleased to see bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) popping up in the forest understory in other areas of the park. It hasn’t been seeded or planted, he notes; it was just there. After the damage, their main goal was clearing trails and making everything safe so they could open the park (which is free to visit) as quickly as possible. “It’s hard … when your building floods, and the park’s underwater, and the trails are mucked up,” says Abernathy, “but I also know that’s why we’re here.” He and others
at Jesse H. Jones want to be available to their community, to offer programs and a pleasant place to walk, fish, bird and just be in nature. Abernathy knows firsthand the benefit of having the park to come to — even in its postflood state. He, like many, was experiencing chaos at home as well; he had 22 inches of water in his house and said coming to work helped him cope. Development on the west side of Houston is “just exploding,” says Abernathy, and everything that runs off those largely impermeable surfaces heads downstream toward them. But Harris County is working to acquire land along Spring Creek through the entirety of Precinct 4. It’s an effort to turn the 12-mile Spring Creek Greenway into a 40-mile trail system and natural corridor. Abernathy says the greenway will be “awesome for recreation and resources” but — even better — it will act as a “giant flood plain buffer.” And that makes him hopeful for the future, which is crucial. He says you’d go crazy if you focused on recovery 100 percent of the time.
LEFT A boardwalk through one of Jesse H. Jones Park’s most resilient ecosystems, a native cypress swamp. RIGHT Native plants such as Texas spiderlilies (Hymenocallis liriosme) are right at home in a flood plain.
THE BIRD SANCTUARY EDITH L. MOORE NATURE SANCTUARY and the Power of Participation BY THE TIME BETHANY FOSHÉE HAS FIN-
ished walking the West Bank Trail at Houston Audubon’s Edith L. Moore Nature Sanctuary, she has an armful of trash: candy wrappers, plastic bags, wire, random detritus. “We were just painted with plastic bags and Styrofoam,” after Harvey, she says, “and large trash like furniture and car parts and construction debris.” The 18-acre sanctuary is tucked discretely into a highly residential area near Houston’s CityCentre development. Ironically, it was originally meant to be a bucolic escape from the city for its namesake and her husband; now, Houston has completely engulfed the property. “People are funny,” says Foshée, who is sanctuary manager and docent programs coordinator. “They’ll go, ‘Wow, how did you get here in the middle of all our neighborhoods?’ Actually we were here first.” “The thing we’re experiencing now,” she says, “a lot of people call them ‘McMansions’: huge houses that take up the entire lot,” so there just
One of the most amazing things to her was the fact that a lot of neighboring families whose own properties were flooded ... came over to help. isn’t as much green space. “We used to have a cushion of backyards on our border; now it’s walls of houses 4 feet away.” And Houston Audubon’s urban sanctuaries did take “the biggest hit” according to Conservation Director Richard Gibbons, Ph.D. “The coastal sanctuaries were particularly resilient,” he wrote in a post-Harvey blog update, which was what he expected. Gibbons describes coastal ecosystems as able to “flourish in the face of dynamic weather events.” Despite the city pressing in, Foshée says “the forest is rebounding really quickly,” noting that erosion along Rummel Creek, which runs through the property, and trail degradation were their biggest issues. The first things to grow back were vines, including greenbriar (Smilax spp.) and trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). You can hear the fondness in her voice when she talks about the sanctuary, which is free to visit and home to Houston Audubon’s headquarters. “We have some favorite trees,” she says, 3 0 | W I L DF LOW E R
pointing out their only black cherry (Prunus serotina), which has a deep gouge in its bark from a floating bridge slamming into it — a hurricane scar. Foshée refers to the trees with the pronoun “she.” “Let’s see how she’s doing,” she says when approaching one of the sanctuary’s two toothache trees (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis). “She split in the storm, because she’s just long and spindly.” (The tree is currently splintered but their arborist isn’t very hopeful.) As a bird sanctuary, they are obviously conscious of wildlife as well. “When the storm hit, it was that in-between time when summer residents are done breeding and winter migrants are going to come in,” says Foshée of their bird populations. But she did think winter migrants (who, of course, were coming in from elsewhere) seemed fine. Amphibians and reptiles took the biggest hit. “They literally seem to have been washed away,” she says. “We normally have healthy populations of hognose snakes, nonvenomous water snakes, ribbon snakes, and they … have been gone since the storm.” Because the sanctuary is an “island of habitat” surrounded on all sizes by urbanization, she wonders if those species will have to be reintroduced. People came back on their own. “We’re a restorative space,” says Foshée. “On the weekends, [it’s] pretty busy with people who’ve been working in cubicles all week.” At a September workday just after the storm, they had more than 100 volunteers (compared to 30 or 40 on a typical Saturday) help demolish bridges that were ruined, collect trash, clear debris from trails, create temporary trails and lay caliche. Two volunteers brought a canoe and a chainsaw and went to work ferrying trash up the banks of the creek. One of the most amazing things to her was the fact that a lot of neighboring families whose own properties were flooded, who were displaced and living in hotels, came over to help. “They said it felt so good to do something positive during that incredibly frustrating time when everyone’s hands were tied while they waited around for insurance adjusters. We had a family who demoed [a bridge],” says Foshée, “two little boys and mom and dad … with sledgehammers, and they were going after it.” They said it was like therapy, to be able to help a place they care about in their flooded community — and take their anger out on something.
HOUSTON ARBORETUM and the Importance of Opening Up EMILY MANDERSON KNOWS THE IMPOR-
tance of opening up — not in a spill-the-beans personal sense, but environmentally. As conservation director at Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, which didn’t experience much damage due to Hurricane Harvey, she has witnessed the power of open landscapes firsthand. “Open” meaning prairies, grasslands and savannas, which are actually covered in herbaceous plants but seem open because they lack an abundance of what arboreta are known for: trees. The devastation caused by Hurricane Ike in 2008 made the arboretum, through its master plan process, realize that the site was actually too woody. Their entire understory had been taken over by invasive species (primarily Ligustrum spp.). To eradicate the invasives, they are now mimicking what natural fires would do by
clearing out their forest’s understory and making room for grasses and forbs. “Immediately there was more light, wind and pollinator activity,” says Manderson. “The silver lining of Hurricane Ike,” she explains, is that it “highlighted the vulnerability of the site and the need for more proactive management.” The arboretum, as well as Memorial Park (of which the arboretum is part), lost over 50 percent of its tree canopy due to Ike and the corresponding drought. “It became evident that the majority of tree mortality occurred in areas that were historically prairie and savanna ecosystems,” Manderson reports. Now, there are more of those ecosystems at the arboretum, and Manderson sings their praises repeatedly when discussing the site’s resilience in the face of Harvey. “Wetland,
ABOVE A mix of woodland and prairie ecosystems helped Houston Arboretum fare well during and after Hurricane Harvey.
ABOVE Prairies dotted with trees and ponds give rainwater a place to pool and help it absorb into the ground. RIGHT Native grasses such as bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) have extensive, deep root systems that drink up rainwater and prevent erosion.
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prairie and savanna ecosystems are excellent at holding and infiltrating water,” she says, likening them to big green sponges. And the arboretum’s well-established prairie infiltrated a significant amount of water during the flooding; Manderson says there was “ponding for about a week, but trails soon were dry and the grasses and flowers in general looked happy and refreshed.” Of course, there are still trees. The landscape is simply more diverse now — which is how it was meant to be. Manderson says the site has “an undulating topography” that’s typical of Gulf Coast prairies, “with subtle height elevations and depressions referred to as pimples and dimples.” It’s a working combination: Pimples are sandier and more conducive to tree growth while dimples have higher clay content and are dominated by grasses. In their woodland areas, Manderson says they’ve seen the arrival of native plants such as American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), passion flower (Passiflora spp.) and dwarf sundew (Drosera brevifolia) in place of invasives. These little rays of hope — as flowers often are — are just some of what she calls the “many indications that we are pushing the ecosystems in the right direction.”
THE URBAN GREEN SPACE BUFFALO BAYOU PARK and Going Greener HISTORY IS WRITTEN IN THE TREES OF
Buffalo Bayou Park in downtown Houston. It’s also written along the banks, scored into hillsides and wedged under Memorial Drive. The story is told by trash clinging to high branches, waving like ragged flags in the breeze; silt in hulking mounds where it’s been collected or swept into permanent impressions of running water; tree trunks lying horizontal on the ground or stuck under bridges where they’ve been lifted by high water and left there — nonsensical, out-of-place things; and blank space where there once were plants. Even in late January, five months after the storm, Harvey’s destruction was apparent in Buffalo Bayou Park (the section of Buffalo Bayou between Sabine Street and Shepherd Drive, specifically). Still, it was busy with runners, bikers, people and dogs walking, picnickers and skateboarders — a testament to the value of green space in cities. This space’s palette is leaning more toward brown and gray than green these days, but, according to Anne Ol-
son, executive director of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, this green-brown-gray space was flush with activity within days of Hurricane Harvey. “Houstonians were out and about using the park,” she says. “The large amounts of sediment did not deter them.” Harvey didn’t just paint the scene taupe; the flooding it caused wiped out an estimated 400 trees along the banks due to erosion and silt deposits. (Trees For Houston, a nonprofit dedicated to planting and protecting trees, is donating 150 redbuds, Cercis canadensis, to help replenish the landscape.) Olson says the park was planted in phases: “Where the trees had been planted earlier in the project, the banks fared very well” — not so much in places where trees hadn’t had time to get established. On a brighter note, native grasses and palmettos (Sabal spp.) near Lost Lake, at the west end of the park, appeared healthy and undamaged, and Communications Coordinator Jessica McFall describes the park’s four perennial gardens as “virtually unharmed.” They are situated
BELOW Buffalo Bayou Park is cherished by Houston residents as a place to exercise, relax and be in nature. Even massive erosion and silt deposits after the hurricane couldn’t keep people away.
ABOVE Floodwater in Buffalo Bayou reached high enough to wedge an entire tree trunk under adjacent Memorial Drive, creating an odd sight after the storm.
along the park’s highest banks, however, where fast-moving water and silt deposition weren’t as extreme. Olson calls it a “tale of two parks” in her post-hurricane web update, writing that the upper portion “fared extremely well with very little damage, while the lower areas were greatly impacted.” She mentions bald cypress as particularly resilient and says willow stakes planted by the Harris County Flood Control District prior to the storm “performed very well.” (Stakes are dormant, branchless woody cuttings often employed for erosion control and site restoration.) The partnership is doing further research into erosion-control techniques and may plant more native riparian species such as eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) going forward. But it’s not like they didn’t think about flooding in the first place; after all, this is Houston. The park’s master plan (by landscape architecture firm SWA Group) reduced lawn coverage
by 50 percent and incorporated wildflowers and native grasses with robust root systems with inevitable flooding in mind. But after Harvey’s catastrophic rainfall, it simply wasn’t enough. Like all waterside places, really, Olsen says Buffalo Bayou Park is “very dependent on what happens upstream” — where, in Houston, breakneck development and impermeable surfaces abound. The severity of Hurricane Harvey meant water was being released from upstream reservoirs for approximately six weeks, a situation Olson calls “very unusual,” adding, “this long period of water releases exacerbated the erosion.” Given the city’s location and history, it’s safe to say Houston will flood again. When asked what she thinks needs to be done to address that reality moving forward, Olson’s answer is simple, and it matches the sentiments of everyone we spoke with: “Increased green space along our bayous is a must.”
THIS WAS MEANT TO BE A STORY ABOUT PLANTS . But it was destined to be about people too.
Because people — especially people in cities — need plants. Plants don’t necessarily need us if they are in the right place. They grow on their own; wildlife comes to them, sun comes to them, water comes to them (admittedly, sometimes way too much water). But people need plants, so this is also their story. It’s the story of people who appreciate plants and natural spaces in their cities and who care enough about plants to work with them, to focus their lives on them, to make sure they are a part of our urban fabric — and to rebuild with them again and again. 3 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
YOUR MONTHLY GIFT supports projects like this one. PHOTO Adam Barbe
This 11,000-square-foot green roof at The University of Texas at Austin’s Dell Medical School offers a wide variety of ecosystem services: It filters particulate matter from the air, slows rainwater and mitigates flooding, provides habitat for pollinators, and improves human health by adding visible green space to areas used by students, staff and patients. It features native succulents and wildflowers and is able to flourish with little irrigation. Visit wildflower.org/donate and select “Give Today” to set up your regular contribution.
Thank You, Donors
WE ARE GRATEFUL
to those who contributed to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin from October 1, 2017, to February 28, 2018. *Lady Bird Society | Society members sustain the work of the Center by pledging unrestricted annual gifts for three years or more, providing a stable source of funding for key programs.
$25,000 and ABOVE
Rembert Block Jeanie and Thomas Carter* The Eugene McDermott Foundation Ann H. Moore*
$10,000 to $24,999
Kathryn Fuller/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation* Laura Beckworth/Hobby Family Foundation* Brian and Debra Jones Shivers* Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust Linda and John Swainson/Visa Matching Gift Program* Ellen C. Temple/T.L.L. Temple Foundation* Jeanie and William Wyatt/ South Texas Money Management Ltd.
$5,000 to $9,999
Joseph E. Batson* The Brown Foundation Inc. Chris and William Caudill* Elizabeth Cooper Bruce Leander Thomas C. Mays and Orlando Zayas Robert and Carol Paddock Nancy Perot and Rod Jones* Lynda and Chuck Robb/Heart Sing Foundation* William and Jennifer Sargent
$1,000 to $4,999
Tara Armistead* Elizabeth Ann Beck Simon Brown-Valdez Amon G. Carter Foundation Mason and Lynn Carter Cari Clark* Susan G. Conway and John R. Howell* Hester J. Currens* Carolyn and Tom Curtis* Kit and Carl Detering* 3 6 | W I L DF LOW E R
Dick and Tweety Eastland/Camp Mystic Karen and Warren Hayward* Lewis S. Horton Jeffrey Howell and William Press* Dede and Bradley Hull Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin/LBJ Family Foundation* Carole Bond Jordan and Chris Jordan* Karen M. Kennard* Mary E. Kramer Sally and Dennis Loner Carolyn and Jack Long* Julia Marsden Mary P. McKeown-Moak and Lynn Moak The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation James and Jean Murff/ExxonMobil Foundation Diana and Ryan Myers Paul and Kay Passmore Ellen and Eric Petersen* James and Warrie Price Camille and Richard Raycraft* Jennifer Robb* Celina Romero and Paul J. Williams* Deedie Rose Alexandra and Paul Saenz* Deen Day Sanders Art Sansone Nancy W. Scanlan Anissa and Mark Scholes John and Page Schreck Kay and James Stueve Margot and Grant Thomas Alex Tschursin Retta Van Auken Kenneth and Sibyl Wells Donald R. Wertz Michael A. Wiley Living Trust
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Hello, My Name Is Monarda
Getting to know five species of this ubiquitous and
generous native Texas plant by Amy McCullough
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HAVE YOU EVER IMAGINED DISCOVERING A PLANT? What if you stumbled across a chile pequin not knowing the fiery flavor of its tiny red fruit, or unsuspectingly approached a Texas mountain laurel in bloom, only to be hit in the nose with a grape-soda fragrance bomb? That’d be crazy, right? Nicolas Bautista Monardes — a 16th century physician and botanist — didn’t actually discover plants in the genus Monarda. Their singular scents and towering stacks of petals and bracts were known and used by indigenous North Americans before him. But he did study them extensively from across the pond in Spain, where he took a particular interest in their medicinal properties (monardas are said to treat an array of human ailments). And they were eventually named in his honor by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus. Part of the mint family, Lamiaceae, plants in this aromatic genus are popular with pollinators as well as people, counting native bees, butterflies, hawkmoths and hummingbirds among their biggest fans. Besides that, they’re darn pretty and just might inspire a friendly competition (see page 40). Get to know these brawny bloomers and keep an eye out during spring and summer: They are most likely coming to a field or garden near you.
PHOTOS (left) Wiildflower Center, (right) R.W. Smith
Spotted Beebalm Monarda punctata
LANGUAGE LESSON: puncta = point (which,
in this case, refers to flowers’ spotted petals)
NATIVE DISTRIBUTION: VT to MN, south to
TX and NM and north to KS, through to East Coast; isolated in CA NATIVE HABITAT: Prairies, Plains, Meadows, Pastures, Savannas WATER USE: Low LIGHT REQUIREMENT: Sun SOIL MOISTURE: Dry
This aromatic, erect perennial ranges in height from a squat 6 inches up to 3 feet. Yellowish rosettes feature deep maroon specks and occur in whorls, forming dense spikes at the ends of stems. Each whorl has a fringe of more conspicuous bracts under it — the parts many would mistake for petals. These leaflike bracts can be whitish, pale to dark purple, bold pink or even pale yellow or light green. (Like all monardas, it’s susceptible to powdery mildew.) GET GROWING: Spotted beebalm is easily propagated from untreated seed sown in fall or strati-
fied seed sown in spring.
THE NOSE KNOWS: This monarda’s noticeably fragrant leaves smell like fine Greek oregano. HEALTH NOTE: Liquid from fresh leaves crushed and steeped in cold water is said to ease back-
ache; also used for fever, inflammation and chills.
Shrubby Beebalm Monarda fruticulosa
LANGUAGE LESSON: frutica =
bushy or shrubby
NATIVE DISTRIBUTION: Southern
TX (specifically Nueces, Zapata, Jim Hogg, Brooks, Kenedy, Starr and Hidalgo counties) NATIVE HABITAT: Prairies, Plains, Brush Country, Savannas WATER USE: Low LIGHT REQUIREMENT: Sun,
SOIL MOISTURE: Dry
This striking monarda is particularly hardy in dry, hot weather, something its silvery color and covering of fine hairs help with (both reflect sunlight, and the fuzziness can help trap moisture). It is said to be easily grown from seed, but you might have to harvest seed from the wild — with permission, of course — as it is rarely sold. Because this bushy beauty is partial to arid climes, it is one monarda that’s less prone to the dreaded powdery mildew. South Texas homeland, where it’s endemic. Endemic means it’s found nowhere else because it’s “really well suited to that particular spot,” according to Center Plant Conservationist Minnette Marr.
Do the Monarda Limbo
The question is not how low can you go, but how high can it grow? Monarda species are long and lean and grow in what look like “stories.” This led some Wildflower Center staff to challenge one another to find the most levels on blooming monardas around the Center and on their travels. Yours truly found this 13-level behemoth (which we’ve narrowed down to either Monarda fruticulosa or M. viridissima) near Luling, Texas, in early summer 2016. Explore outdoors and let us know what you find! 4 0 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTOS (bottom left) Amy McCullough, (top left) Bill Carr, (right) Wildflower Center
GET GROWING: Plant in deep, sandy soil that drains well and you’ll be doing a good job of replicating this species’
Horsemint Monarda citriodora
LANGUAGE LESSON: citria = lemon or citrus NATIVE DISTRIBUTION: Eastern KY, MO and
KS, south to AR, TX, NM and Mexico; introduced eastward NATIVE HABITAT: Prairies, Plains, Meadows, Pastures, Savannas, Hillsides, Slopes WATER USE: Low LIGHT REQUIREMENT: Sun, Part Shade SOIL MOISTURE: Dry
Horsemint is an aromatic annual with unusual flower heads. Like ruffles on landscapes, this monarda is perhaps the most commonly seen in Central Texas, and its elongated spikes of flowers and bracts captivate onlookers with bold color from near-fuchsia to lavender (with occasional appearances in almost white). Several stems grow from the base and are lined with pairs of lance-shaped leaves. GET GROWING: This highly deer-resistant monarda is very easy to grow and often forms large
colonies (in fact, it can become aggressive). Though its prime bloom months are May through July, kept watered, it will continue flowering as late as early October! THE NOSE KNOWS: Horsemint has a distinctive citrus or lemony scent when the leaves are rubbed
or crushed — hence another common name, lemon beebalm. Some think the more common “horsemint” comes from horses being partial to eating the plant (à la Mentos for the equine). MATTERS OF TASTE: Raw and cooked leaves are also consumed by humans, adding flavor to salads
and entrees, and steeped leaves make a pleasantly mellow tea that is said to relieve stomach aches.
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa
LANGUAGE LESSON: fistulosa = porous,
hollow, reedlike or tubular (which refers to its hollow stems) NATIVE DISTRIBUTION: Most of southern
Canada and the U.S. east of the Rockies, except Maritime Provinces and peninsular FL, south to Veracruz in eastern Mexico NATIVE HABITAT: Grows in dry open woods, fields, wet meadows and ditches, and at the edges of woods and marshes in eastern Texas. WATER USE: Medium LIGHT REQUIREMENT: Sun, Part Shade SOIL MOISTURE: Dry, Moist
Wild bergamot is a popular perennial, in large part because it’s showy and smells nice: First, it wows your eyeballs with ragged pompom clusters of lavender, pink or white flowers. Then it coaxes your nose with its citrusy, slightly spicy, elegant scent. And its blooms perch atop open-branched stems that can get as tall as 5 feet, making for an all-around intoxicating plant. GET GROWING: Wild bergamot thrives in a wide range of soils, from acidic to alkaline, rich to poor,
and sand to clay. It’s relatively hardy, but be wary of poorly aerated soils, as they can lead to mildew. Cultivar ‘Claire Grace’ is more mildew resistant. THE NOSE KNOWS: Extract from wild bergamot is a common ingredient in perfumes. MATTERS OF TASTE: Leaves can be boiled to make mint tea, used for seasoning, or chewed raw
HEALTH NOTE: Long ago, oil from the leaves was used to treat respiratory ailments. And wild ber-
gamot tea has been used for treating everything from colic and flatulence to colds, fevers, stomach aches, nosebleeds, insomnia, menstrual cramps and heart trouble. Poulticed leaves have even been said to cure headaches, sore eyes and pimples. 4 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
Scarlet Beebalm Monarda didyma
LANGUAGE LESSON: didy = twin, occur-
ing in pairs
NATIVE DISTRIBUTION: OH to NJ, south
PHOTOS (left) Sally and Andy Wasowski, (top right) Vahan Abrahamyan/Shutterstock, (bottom right) Wildflower Center
along mountains to GA and TN; escaped elsewhere NATIVE HABITAT: Moist, open woods; meadows; stream banks; mountains to 6,500 feet WATER USE: Medium LIGHT REQUIREMENT: Sun, Part Shade SOIL MOISTURE: Moist, Wet
The blooms of scarlet beebalm are reminiscent of bright red fireworks bursting over a night sky on the Fourth of July. This classic eastern wildflower is often blooming then too (it is typically seen flourishing from May through October). Stems are 3 feet tall on average and adorned by large, oval, dark green leaves (which aid in that night-sky impression). Individual flowers are narrowly tube-shaped, clustered tightly together, and fascinating to look at up close. Another common name is Oswego tea. GET GROWING: Scarlet beebalm does best in full sun and rich soil that’s evenly moist. It spreads through stolons and
rhizomes, so you’ll have quite a patch going if you want one. But it, too, is susceptible to powdery mildew (some cultivars, such as ‘Jacob Cline,’ are mildew resistant). This showy, frequently cultivated plant pairs well with coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) and gayfeathers (Liatris spp.). THE NOSE KNOWS: The leaves of scarlet beebalm have a distinctly minty aroma. HEALTH NOTE: Its medicinal uses include expelling worms and treating gas, fever and stomach ailments. The name
“beebalm” comes from the use of crushed leaves to soothe bee stings.
BIRD BESTIE: Hummingbirds are especially attracted to the red flowers.
Monarda species generally play well with others. In Central Texas, you’ll find them blooming among common wildflower species including (but certainly not limited to) black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia hirta), standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) and plains coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria). The combination offers a nice mix of warm and cool colors, from deep rust and fiery red to soothing violet. Plant a rainbow! | 43
Things We Love The drinks, tools and places we’re currently into by Wildflower Center Staff
“Pretty dang awesome” is how horticulturist Karen Beaty describes the Center’s garden carts — made by Carts Vermont. A longtime personal fave, she admits to taking them for granted simply because they’re something she uses on a daily basis. “But they are so sturdy and take so much abuse,” she says, “and they are easily repaired when they finally start to give out.” She says they’re great for hauling bulky things and “bulk” things, such as rakes, brooms, tools, tubs, heaps of mulch and plant debris headed to the compost pile. “I have yet to haul a coworker in one,” she adds, “but I bet I could!”
The Native Plant Center Just as we love our members, the Center has fond feelings for its affiliates. The very first of those was The Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, New York. Like the Wildflower Center, The Native Plant Center (nativeplantcenter.org) champions gardening with natives, hosts annual native plant sales, and inspires visitors and students with its gardens and educational programs. They are currently celebrating their 20th year; happy anniversary, partner!
Curry Comb Gloves Horticulturist Leslie Uppinghouse says her new gardening obsession is a pair of gloves she found at her local feed store. “I love, love, love them,” she gushes. The glove version of a curry comb, these rubber-studded mitts are intended for horse grooming, but Uppinghouse immediately thought they were “finger raking” gloves. “In fall and winter,” she explains, “when you need to clean out small spaces but plants are too fragile for a rake or broom, you have to ‘finger rake’ out the debris.” She says these gloves are perfect for the task.
Maple Pecan MALK PR, Media and Marketing Coordinator K. Angel Horne says plant-based dairy alternatives make her day, but — on seriously special days — Maple Pecan MALK makes her cup runneth over. Made in Texas with five simple ingredients (filtered water, organic sprouted pecans, organic maple syrup, vanilla and Himalayan salt), it’s a naked nut milk wrapped in virtual satin sheets. “Yes, it’s a splurge,” she admits, “but I really don’t mind paying more for a product with fewer ingredients.” The maple gives just a touch of sweetness and the texture is crazy creamy, so our resident health nut feels unabashedly frou-frou splashing it into her fair trade coffee or whipping it into other “dessert-in-a-glass” concoctions. The brand gets bonus points for pretty, modern packaging and a (perhaps unintentional) nod to “The Simpsons” with its name.
4 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTOS (clockwise from top left) Joseph Squillante, Joanna Wojtkowiak, HandsOn Gloves, MALK
PHOTO Two Pair Photography
Make the memories of a lifetime, naturally.
Helping monarchs (and other pollinators) is all the rage by Wildflower Center Staff MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But most challenges are worthwhile, and growing milkweeds is no exception. Monarchs cannot reproduce without them — they’re where adults lay eggs and what caterpillars eat — so planting more milkweeds is vitally important to their survival. Despite the efforts of many concerned individuals and groups, monarch numbers are still decreasing. According to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund-Mexico, forest area occupied by overwintering monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) decreased almost 15 percent compared to the 2016-17 season. A reduction in available milkweeds along the central migratory path is a commonly cited reason for this decline. Milkweeds face many of the same challenges as other species of conservaton concern: namely, habitat loss due to specific types of development and agriculture. How can you help? Plant milkweeds. Lucky for you, Center Propagation Specialist Susan Prosperie has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. 1. COLLECT MATERIALS Here are the materials you’ll need to get started: · Milkweed seeds collected from or purchased for your specific ecoregion · A plastic bag with a seal or zip closure · A bulb growing tray or other large, shallow container with drainage holes · Numerous 4-inch pots
· Seed germinating mix (can be found at garden centers or nurseries) · Well-draining growing mix. Wildflower Center experts have successfully used several different growing mixes: - One part coarse sand to one part compost, or - One part coconut coir to one part coarse sand to one part compost, or - Composted pine bark (can add coarse sand) 4 6 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTOS Joanna Wojtkowiak
· Stratification mix (one part perlite to one part vermiculite)
2. SOAK AND STRATIFY SEEDS Milkweed seeds require some time in the damp cool. · Soak milkweed seeds in water for several hours or overnight; tap water is okay. · After the seeds have soaked, put them in a sealed plastic bag filled with moist stratification mix (and by “moist” we mean like a damp sponge, no excess water). · Refrigerate the bag of moist seeds in their mix for at least two weeks. For some species of Asclepias, 30 days of cool moist stratification yields 85 percent germination or better. · Check your seeds every day or so; some seeds such as A. incarnata and A. tuberosa may begin to germinate in the bag. 3. GERMINATE Once cold stratified, your milkweed seeds are ready to germinate. · Transfer moist seeds and stratification mix into a bulb tray (or similar) of damp but not soggy germinating mix. · Cover lightly with germinating mix. · Mist to moisten soil surface thoroughly and check daily. · As seeds germinate, mist occasionally. If they are kept in a germinating mix that is too moist, the seedlings will “damp off,” which means they’ll die. Good air movement reduces the potential for damping off, so if the weather is mild or warm, move the bulb tray outdoors under bright, indirect light. 4. TRANSPLANT Those little seedlings are growing up! Time for them to move out on their own. · Once the seedlings have one or more sets of true leaves, gently transplant them into 4-inch pots or 5-inch liners filled with well-draining growing mix. · Prosperie advises leaving seedlings in pots for at least six weeks (until they grow enough roots to survive) and transplanting them into the ground in fall or spring. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and get growing! Learn how communities, schools and organizations throughout Texas are working together to create habitat for monarchs, page 14. | 47
Nature Redux It’s never too late to
become a Junior Ranger by Paige Richmond illustrations by Joe Feliciano
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MY FAMILY’S ROAD TRIP in the summer of 1990 had the makings of an epic adventure: four people in a 1985 Dodge Caravan and a plan to visit several of California’s National Parks in two weeks. I was 7 years old, with a wicked perm and a thirst for knowledge. My 10-year-old brother was obsessed with fish. My father, an engineer from rural Michigan, was itching to record wild animals with his new, state-of-the-art camcorder. My mother was promised many a night’s stay in luxurious, beautiful lodges. Best laid plans, of course. Our Caravan’s air conditioner broke while driving through Death Valley. My brother’s interest in fish proved limited to tropical ones he could keep in a tank. The lodges, to my mom’s chagrin, were two-star motels. My dad, however, did spend three hours parked in the same spot filming a single moose drinking water. We finally drove back to our home in Orange County, California, three days early, overheated and exhausted. That trip was the last time I would visit a National Park for 25 years. To my 7-year-old mind, spending time in nature meant people were going to be miserable. My parents seemed to feel the same way. We spent the remainder of my childhood summer vacations at a hotel in San Diego, 50 miles south of our house, swimming in pools, sitting on the beach, and sleeping in clean beds. From then on, nature and I had an uneasy alliance. Thanks to some very patient friends and boyfriends, I went camping a handful of times and braved a few hikes. I knew that Washington, where I moved in my 20s, was full of National Parks, but I hadn’t visited any. When I spent time in nature, it was to make other people in my life happy — not because I really wanted to. Then I learned I could become a Junior Ranger.
In the summer of my 32nd year, my husband, two friends and I took a road trip from my home in Seattle to Deadwood, South Dakota. It was my friends’ idea, my husband was excited, and I was promised there would be no camping — only tourist traps and Airbnbs. And I’d grown to like traveling. My perm had long grown out, but my thirst for knowledge was ever-present. I wanted to learn about the weird wonders of America by visiting Wall Drug or petting a prairie dog. But I had no plans to seek out and explore the wilderness. On our way to Deadwood, we stopped at Little Bighorn National Monument and Battlefield, a historic site run by the National Park Service. (There are 417 such sites in the U.S.) It was interesting enough to look at: a huge national cemetery, an obelisk, and tons and tons of open field where the battle took place. After about 15 minutes of staring at all that land, I wandered into the gift shop, feeling a little bored. I saw two kids about 10 years old, standing in front of a park ranger, adorned with badges and reciting a pledge. I was captivated. I wanted what they had. It’s not hard to become a Junior Ranger: Any one of any age can get a Junior Ranger booklet
at almost any Park Service visitor center. The booklet is a scavenger hunt around the park site; some are more challenging than others — Yellowstone suggests you take three days to finish because there are so many parts of the park to visit — but it’s designed for kids ages 6 to 12. When you’re done, you take the booklet to a park ranger and they give you a badge. But to earn that title — my first — from Little Bighorn, I had to walk around all that open land. I had to look at plants and draw pictures of them. I had to be outside, in nature, and interact with it. I did. And I loved it. I kid you not when I say that I’m a proud Junior Ranger at 38 park sites across 10 states. I’ve hiked in and out of Carlsbad Caverns when the elevator was broken. I’ve climbed to the top of a gypsum dune at White Sands. I’ve hiked 3, 6, 10 miles — sometimes even in the snow. While the badges are great, they’re not the reason I do it. I get to feel like I’m a kid again, only this time it doesn’t matter if the air conditioner is broken or if the fish are all swimming too fast or a moose hasn’t moved in hours or a hotel wasn’t nice enough. It’s just me, a booklet and a beautiful place to be.
SAVE THE DATES, Y’ALL! Join us at these upcoming events: Nature Nights June 7, 14, 21 & 28 Four nights of free family fun! Themes include outdoor recreation, Texas fauna, bats and water
Lady Bird Day July 28 Honoring our cofounder, the “Environmental First Lady”
Austin Museum Day September 23 Join us for story time, lawn games, a scavenger hunt and more!
Fall Native Plant Sale Oct. 12 & 13 Fill your yard and garden with native plants
Movies in the Wild Nov. 1 Celebrate Day of the Dead with a special screening of “Coco”
Texas Arbor Day Nov. 3 Appreciating Texas trees from the ground up
A trip to Lake Amistad, Houston natural areas post–Hurricane Harvey, a primer on Monarda, Junior Rangering, endangered species of the Comal,...
Published on May 1, 2018
A trip to Lake Amistad, Houston natural areas post–Hurricane Harvey, a primer on Monarda, Junior Rangering, endangered species of the Comal,...