2020 | Volume 37, No. 1
Brush Strokes TEXAS ARTISTS FIND INSPIRATION IN NATIVE PLANTS PAGE 16
IN SEARCH OF NATIVE PRAIRIES
GARDENING FOR WILDLIFE
The arrival of summer can feel like a celebration. And this shot of Clymer Meadow Preserve northeast of Dallas certainly looks like a party. A festive mix of native Blackland Prairie species sprinkle the landscape like colorful confetti: Scruffy purple horsemint (Monarda citriodora), sunny clasping coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis), a prominent prairie plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum) and thistlelike American basket-flower (Centaurea americana) all get in on the fun. Captured last June about a year after a prescribed burn, the photographer notes, “This is not a selected photo that makes it look like there were more flowers than there really were — it really looked like this across much of the site.” – A.M. PHOTO Chris Helzer |1
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A favorite of butterflies and native bees, American basket-flower (Centaurea americana) has a honey-sweet scent and all the beauty of thistles without the thorns. This drought-hardy annual is easy to cultivate and looks charming fresh and in dried arrangements. It produces rather big flowers, making itself conspicuous in the wild, at the Wildflower Center (where it dominates the parking lot, of all places), and in native prairies such as Clymer Meadow Preserve, where this photo was taken. It gets its common name from the basketlike quality of straw-colored bracts that enclose those bold violet flowers before they burst forth in May and June. â€“ A.M. PHOTO Chris Helzer |3
FROM THE Executive Director
A Voice for Our Flowering Friends SOMETIMES, IT IS HARD TO TAKE IN ALL THE BAD ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS. Recent reports highlighting the precipitous decline in many North American bird populations are stunning. What once were extremely common species, such as the charismatic red-winged blackbird, have become too rare. Bees, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, fish — there are animals of all kinds struggling to stay alive across our ecosystems. Unfortunately — and not by coincidence — native plants are not just beautiful but critical the same dire news is reflected in our plant pop- to our well-being — that they are worth saving. ulations. Many species and whole ecosystems And we hope people will turn inspiration into have either disappeared or are severely threat- action, planting natives and advocating for ened. The Texas Blackland Prairies offer us an ecologically rich landscapes. example. What used to be large bands of deepBeyond our educational programs and soiled prairies flourishing with native grasses resources, we steward a 284-acre tract of land and wildflowers just east of Interstate 35 have in the burgeoning southwest corner of Austin. been converted largely to agriculture, towns Beneath us lie the sensitive Edwards and Trinand neighborhoods. Prairie-associated plants ity Aquifers, including caves, unique critters, (and animals) are found in only small pockets and stores of water for people, plants and aniof their previous ranges, if at all. mals. We steward an oak savanna landscape Plants may be less charismatic than our where bobcats prowl, owls fly silently through feathered and winged friends, but they are the night, ringtails slink around corners, and no less important. In fact, the majority of ter- bobwhites hide in native grasses. We manage restrial animals — in decline or not — depend this landscape with prescribed fire and a numwholly or partly on plants for survival, and it’s ber of other techniques to keep it healthy and not just for the oxygen plants produce that we thriving as the world around us changes. all breathe. Native plants provide these aniWithout you — our members, donors and mals with food and shelter as well. guests — we would not be able to carry out this The good news is the Lady Bird Johnson critical mission. It’s because of you that these Wildflower Center is a voice for those plants. plants and animals have a home and, hopefulWe speak for our flowering friends that do so ly, a future. Each of us can make a difference much for this earth. We focus on native plants through relatively small actions, and, collecbecause they are worthy in their own right, tively, we will make the world a better place. and because they support birds, bees and, ultimately, people. We help people understand that Thank you for your support.
Patrick Newman Executive Director 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
TABLE of Contents
26 FE ATU R E S
Texas artists find inspiration in local landscapes and native plants by Lauren Moya Ford
Gardening for fauna, beauty and resilience by Susan J. Tweit
7 PLANT PICKS Native plants to covet and cultivate
10 BOTANY 101 Plants and fungi working together 12 SCIENCE SPOTLIGHT Dr. Suzanne Simard and the wood wide web 13 PULL IT OR PLANT IT A debate about century plants 14 FIELD NOTES The commendable hobby of a conservationist 36 CENTERED Center news that’s close to home 40 OFF-CENTER Center news beyond the garden gate 41 THINGS WE LOVE A few of our favorite things
42 THANK YOU, DONORS 44 CAN DO Get planting with a mobile, versatile container garden 46 WHEN IN ROAM Urban green space goes big in Mexico City 48 WILD LIFE Drawing nature to soothe the modern mind
ON THE COVER “Fall Plants” by Texas artist Erika Duque depicts bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus), a handsome native grass, in acrylic paint on wood. IMAGE Courtesy of the artist ABOVE The owners of this front yard prairie in Houston like to sit and watch pollinators visit golden tickseed (Coreopsis tinctoria) and other flowers. PHOTO Jaime González/The Nature Conservancy
2020 | Volume 37, No. 1 EDITOR
Brian Birzer, a
photographer and Austin resident of 25 years, creates portraits that evoke the hidden nature and often humor of their subjects. When not taking photos, Brian enjoys mountain biking at his family’s ranch in Utopia and playing music. He has a bachelor’s degree in graphic communication from California Polytechnic State University. Explore more of his work at brianbirzer.com.
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Joanna Wojtkowiak PLANT INFORMATION EDITOR
Lee Clippard, K. Angel Horne
Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS
Lauren Moya Ford
is a Texan artist and writer who grew up across the street from a greenbelt filled with native plants and wildflowers. Plant life is central to her art practice, which includes drawing, painting, photography and artist books. She currently works as an art writer based in Madrid, Spain, where her favorite places are the Prado Museum and the city’s Royal Botanical Garden. Her work is online at laurenmoyaford.com.
is currently a senior at The University of Texas at Austin, double-majoring in journalism and communication and leadership. While her primary focus is on photography’s ability to tell stories, she’s also passionate about writing. After graduating, she hopes to work in the nonprofit sector, helping to im-
the rural foothills of Virginia. He works on projects that encourage stronger relationships between people and their environment for the purpose of improving public health. Preston holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from North Carolina State University as well as bachelor’s degrees in horticulture and fine art.
is an artist, educator and landscape architect who developed a passion for the natural world while growing up in
DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
Shannon C. Harris
DIRECTOR OF ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND DESIGN
DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS
DIRECTOR OF GUEST EXPERIENCE
Susan J. Tweit is
an award-winning writer and a plant ecologist fascinated by the relationships that grow a healthy planet. She began her career studying wildfires, grizzly bear habitat and sagebrush communities before turning to writing. She has authored twelve books, including the memoir “Walking Nature Home” and “The Rocky Mountain Garden Survival Guide.” Tweit’s work has appeared in magazines and newspapers from Audubon and Popular Mechanics to High Country News and the Los Angeles Times. She is a columnist for Houzz.com and a co-founder of the Habitat Hero project.
DIRECTOR OF HORTICULTURE
DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS
CHAIR Brian Shivers
VICE CHAIR Jeanie Carter
SECRETARY Celina Romero 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 © 2020 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 @wildflowercenter @WildflowerCtr
PHOTOS (Brian Birzer) brianbirzer.com, (Brianna Casselman) Brian Casselman, (Lauren Moya Ford) Carolina Díaz, (Preston Montague) self-portrait, (Susan J. Tweit) Robert Muller
prove people’s lives. When she’s not studying, Brianna enjoys listening to true crime podcasts, hanging out with her bearded dragon, and training in Krav Maga.
Our recommendations for plants to covet and cultivate by Amy McCullough and Andrea DeLong-Amaya
Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii
WHY WE LOVE IT: This perennial’s foliage is
lush and lovely, adding beauty to gardens even when it’s not in bloom. When it is, you’ll find showy scarlet spirals filling shady areas. Turk’s cap will adapt to and thrive in many different sites, and it’s a friend to hummingbirds, butterflies and moths (who all enjoy its nectar); birds and mammals also eat its small, applelike fruit.
PHOTO Wildflower Center
PREFERRED ENVIRONMENT: Partial shade
and moderately moist soil
PERFECT PAIRING: Spring-blooming giant
spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea) holds court during cooler months when Turk’s cap is dormant, making for a nice garden duo year-round. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: May through November
HORSEMINT Monarda citriodora
WHY WE LOVE IT: A popular annual, horse-
mint readily reseeds and smells great, releasing a citrusy scent when crushed (hence another common name, lemon beebalm). Bees love it, and itâ€™s beautiful in dried arrangements. Plant seeds in fall for a spring show. PREFERRED ENVIRONMENT: Full sun and
PERFECT PAIRING: Fellow purple-blooming
gayfeather (Liatris) species are good companions, adding foliage and late-summer color to gardens after horsemint is spent. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: May and June, into
July during rainy years
WHY WE LOVE IT: Its sprays of tubular flow-
ers are like party favors for your garden. Bold pinkish-orange blooms attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, and its evergreen foliage feeds the larvae of spring azure butterflies and snowberry clearwing moths. A veritable fauna buffet, it also provides birds with fruit in fall. PREFERRED ENVIRONMENT: Full sun to
part shade, moderate moisture, good airflow and drainage
CORAL HONEYSUCKLE Lonicera sempervirens
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PERFECT PAIRING: A sturdy trellis or arbor â€”
give this plant something to climb!
BRINGS THE BLOOMS: Starting in mid-
spring and intermittently (usually following warm spells) throughout the year
GREGG’S MISTFLOWER Conoclinium greggii
WHY WE LOVE IT: In short, butterflies! The Center’s mistflower is al-
ways busy with royalty: Queen and monarch butterflies are drawn to its nectar, the latter using it to fuel their autumn trip to Mexico. Clumps increase and eventually fill the space they are given. Plants bloom better if trimmed to the ground periodically, but cut them back in sections to leave enough in bloom to feed nectarivores. PREFERRED ENVIRONMENT: Full to part sun, moderate moisture and
PERFECT PAIRING: This plant likes to fly solo. Plant it en masse and
wait for the orange-winged beauties to arrive. If you’re determined, try pairing with Texas star (Lindheimera texana) or Texas toadflax (Nuttallanthus texanus), but pull those once they’ve seeded to free space for the mistflower to grow. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: Late spring through late fall
PHOTOS Wildflower Center
WHY WE LOVE IT: Also known as Texas sage or barometer bush (the latter because its blooms
are purportedly triggered by weather), this super-drought-tolerant shrub is a malleable hedge species. Its silver foliage contrasts nicely with pretty much anything; evergreen and dense when sheared, it makes an excellent natural screen. It’s also deer resistant and feeds the caterpillars of theona checkerspot butterflies. Lovely violet flowers are floral icing on the cake. PREFERRED ENVIRONMENT: Full sun to mostly sunny conditions and very good drainage PERFECT PAIRING: Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) flowers throughout the warm season
and will fill the space between the ground and cenizo’s lower branches. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: On and off throughout the summer months
Need more native plant info? Search our mobile-friendly Native Plants of North America database for bloom times, planting conditions and more: wildflower.org/ plants-main |9
Magic Mushrooms Exploring a beautiful, million-yearslong relationship by Joseph Marcus AMONG LIFE’S MOST SUCCESSFUL EVOLUTIONARY achievements is a relationship that has developed between two entirely different life forms. It is a type of mutualism more than 400 million years in the making. The phenomenon, involving vascular plants and fungi, can be found virtually anywhere plants grow. It occurs all around us, yet most of us are blithely unaware of it, much less see it. With photosynthesis going on in leaves and reproductive development taking place among flowers and fruits, much happens in a plant’s aboveground parts. But there is a whole world of action that goes on below ground that we cannot easily see. That unseen action, however, is also critical to plant life — and, by extension, our lives. In addition to anchoring and supporting plants, roots and other underground structures play key roles in carbohydrate storage and, in some plants, vegetative reproduction. Roots also function vitally in the uptake of oxygen, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients, all of which are delivered to a plant’s aerial parts. In one sense, roots can be thought of as a plant’s mouth, grazing through soil for the food, water and air it needs to survive and thrive. It has long been recognized that certain types of fungi play a role in assisting plant roots. Research in recent years has revealed that these fungi, known collectively as mycorrhizae, are nearly ubiquitous — and absolutely essential to life for most plant species. Depending on the species, most plants and fungi form one of two basic mycorrhizal relationships. Ectomycorrhizae form mutualistic pairings with many types of plants, most notably many forest tree species. (See our “Science Spotlight” on page 12 for more on that.) These fungi form a kind of sheath around their partner plant’s roots, providing water and essential nutrients to their host in exchange for plant-manufactured food 10 | W I L DF LOW E R
that the fungi needs. Endomycorrhizae work in a similar way, but actually penetrate the cell walls of plant roots to facilitate a more intimate exchange of nutrients and carbohydrates. The relationships, though often mutually beneficial, should not be thought of as plants and fungi singing “Kumbaya.” Each organism acts in its own interest. In fact, the cost-versusbenefit equation is very often unbalanced, with one of the participants a net winner and the other giving up more than it gains. In some cases — especially an ectomycorrhizal relationship commonly involving nonphotosynthetic orchids and monotropes such as Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) or pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) — the plants are parasitic on their mycorrhizae
and provide no advantage at all to the fungi. These plants are often incorrectly referred to as saprophytic, but no plant obtains nutrients through the direct digestion of dead organic matter. Fungi or soil-borne bacteria are always intermediaries. All plants with chlorophyll manufacture food in the form of carbohydrates through the process of photosynthesis. The food not used for growth and other needs of aerial plant parts is transferred through the vascular system underground for root growth and storage. For most plants, a portion of that transferred food is shared with adjacent mycorrhizae. For their part, one of the most important functions of mycorrhizal fungi is to greatly
enhance their partner-roots’ ability to access water. The other vital function is to provide essential minerals, especially phosphates and some micronutrients that are otherwise poorly taken up or wholly unavailable to the plants. Some mycorrhizal fungi actually kill and digest minute soil-dwelling insects called springtails and can provide a surprising amount of nutrients from these organisms to their partner plants. If you’re feeling sorry for springtails right about now, please be aware that they make their living mostly by eating other soil-borne fungi. The circle of life. And you have to admit: A relationship lasting nearly half a billion years? That must be a healthy and beautiful thing.
Mycelia are the vegetative parts of fungi, including mycorrhizal fungi; compared to plant structure, they are similar in function to roots. This still from the film “Fantastic Fungi” shows an embellished underground view of branching mycelium threads, known as hyphae. IMAGE Courtesy of “Fantastic Fungi”
Dr. Suzanne Simard Unearthing the wood wide web
by Susan J. Tweit IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE PLANTS ARE CONNECTED by underground communication networks similar to human neural networks; where network hubs — the largest, oldest trees — regulate the movement of food, defense signals and knowledge; a world where the sharing of resources helps the community thrive. This is the “wood wide web,” the term Uni- Geiger counter clicked like mad on the seedlings versity of British Columbia forest ecologist she hadn’t injected with C14, proof that the trees Dr. Suzanne Simard coined to describe the were sharing carbon below the surface. information-rich fungal networks she and her Simard’s findings were published in the prescollaborators discovered connecting trees in tigious journal Nature, giving her work “inforests and woodlands. (Other mycorrhizal stant” credibility. In the decades since, she and networks have since been discovered in prai- her lab group have fleshed out our understandries and grasslands.) Simard’s research on ing of the wood wide web. Among their findings: these underground communication pathways Mother trees can recognize their own offspring and their “mother tree” hubs has revolution- and preferentially route nutrients and informaized our understanding of plant communities tion to kin. When they are injured or die, these and informs popular literature, including Peter elders “dump” carbon and defense compounds Wohlleben’s best-selling book, “The Secret Life into the network, in essence uploading food and of Trees,” and Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize– information stores for future generations. winning novel, “The Overstory.” The group’s newest research shows that half Simard’s fascination with fungal mycelia and of the carbon in a forest is stored in the soil, the roles they play began during her childhood maintained in part by the networks managed exploring British Columbia’s temperate rainfor- by mother trees. “When those forests are clearests. Her 1997 Ph.D. thesis focused on her theory cut, about half of that carbon returns to the that mycorrhizae allowed trees to communicate atmosphere — that’s a huge problem,” Simard and share resources. Funders were not impressed, says. “We’re looking now at how we can harvest and Simard had to scrounge for supplies and forests to retain mother trees.” equipment. Undeterred, she planted seedlings of We can grow healthy mycorrhizal networks three native tree species — paper birch (Betula too, says Simard, if we inoculate our landpapyrifera), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menzie- scapes with native plants and their fungal partsii) and western red cedar (Thuja plicata) — and ners: “Embedding our cultivated plants within injected some with C14, a radioactive isotope of natural-habitat type gardens is our best hope carbon, to trace carbohydrate movement. for restoring those networks and fostering reWhen she went back to scan the seedlings silience,” she says. Plugging into those natural with a borrowed Geiger counter, a mother grizzly networks benefits our gardens and our planet — bear chased Simard away from her plots. (Let no and humans too. one say that field research isn’t exciting!) When Simard returned — bear spray in hand — the For more on mycorrhizae, see page 10. 1 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
AM PHOTOS (opposite page) Jdoswim/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); (this page, agave) Eric Beckers, (portraits) Joanna Wojtkowiak
PR, MEDIA & MARKETING COORDINATOR
Not many species make the news for positive reasons, but American century plant is a leviathan headline-maker. Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago held a (sold out) party to celebrate the blooming of its 50-year-old Agave americana, named Maya. An eruption of blooms atop a telephone-pole-tall stalk, decades in the making? Newsworthy. And there’s nothing more beautiful than a drought-tolerant, wildlife-supporting plant in a climate like ours. I have to give props to any plant that not only survives in the harshest landscapes but manages to thrive and provide shelter and sustenance for a variety of fauna in the process. The towering blooms of this cyanic evergreen agave are basically goblets of nectar for struggling bat populations. While they may not have a high rate of successful sexual reproduction through seed dispersal, there’s something deeply poetic about a plant that prolifically reproduces asexually (through “pups”) yet sustains genetic diversity through a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime bloom. Sure, those spiky tips are not fun to stumble into, but that’s what makes it protective habitat for small animals.
K. Angel Horne
E R I C A N A)
PULL IT or Plant It
PLANT ( AG
I V AT E T ! L
Andrew McNeil-Marshall ARBORIST
Agave americana is a sloppy, unruly, spreading plant that can easily and quickly outgrow its intended space. Suckers from the base eventually expand this footprint farther, probably ad infinitum. And its long, sharp, hard and unpliable spikes can inflict serious damage at leg, torso and eye level. This plant is a maintenance nightmare in any but the most hands-off landscape. In life, its lower leaves will deteriorate and need to be removed — a painful and dangerous exercise. Sucker removal, unless done frequently, also requires a lot of work and can ruin clothes with bloodstains and tears (read “tears” either way). In death, the plant is an ugly mess with a giant, unwieldy stalk protruding from the center. Do you really want to plant something that only lives for about 30 years (on average) before needing time- and labor-consuming removal? Agaves are a lazy horticultural choice that can easily be replaced with more graceful, interesting plants such as cenizo, sotol or one of the softer-leaved yuccas. If you must plant one, try A. havardiana or A. parryi ssp. neomexicana, which have the positive aspects without the absurd appearance.
O N TH E OTH E R H A N D . . . Once its lifecycle is complete, an agave becomes a massive burden to remove. If you have room, why not let it continue to provide habitat for critters? If not, throw a removal party and serve some bat-friendly (sustainably farmed) tequila.
The Agave genus has been in cultivation for as long as 10,000 years, meaning that when we plant agaves we are participating in an ancient horticultural and agricultural practice that goes back forever. Highly interesting.
Searching for native prairie remnants could be your new favorite pastime by Amy McCullough
This pitcher sage (Salvia azurea), a native prairie wildflower, had just missed being mowed when Marr spotted it last October on the edge of Iâ€“35. PHOTO Minnette Marr
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MOST OF US HAVE GO-TO, TIME-KILLING activities when we’re stuck in traffic: We check our phones, answer a few messages, bite our nails, check our hair, zone out. Minnette Marr does something else entirely. She looks for plants — particularly those that could signal the existence of an unknown remnant of native Texas prairie. Marr is the Wildflower Center’s conservation program manager, and she saw just such a plant along Interstate 35 southbound, on her way home to San Marcos. Sitting in traffic, her eyes wandered west, and she noticed spikes of green-white flowers on what she thought might be Arkansas yucca (Yucca arkansana). This required further investigation. What she found was “a little remnant prairie sandwiched between the southbound service road and a railroad track and private property with a barbed wire fence.” The roughly 200-by40-foot plot contained Arkansas yucca and a host of other interesting native prairie species, including an uncommon goldenfruit sedge (Carex aureolensis) and a native hemp known as prairie dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). She discovered the latter when roaming the site with a headlamp after dark. This is not something Marr does in an official work capacity; it’s a labor of love, a task she engages in on her own time because she’s just that curious about native plants — and that concerned for their welfare. Marr believes this particular area is preserved because “it is immediately associated with a support stand for a large electrical wire.” When crews come in to mow — which they do because, as she puts it, “It is easier to mow a cedar elm sapling than to cut down a cedar elm tree” — they are forced to leave a buffer around the support. Similarly, prairie advocate Matt White, author of “Prairie Time: A Blackland Portrait,” says remnants are often found in areas that are hard to plow or mow, such as bluffs, cliffs, rocky outcroppings and creek bottoms. He also claims that prairie-spotting is not a task best left to experts; Lan Shen, a volunteer with the Houston Chapter of the Native Prairies Association of Texas, agrees. Shen believes saving genetic material by collecting seeds and rescuing plants is not only worthwhile but contagious. “When someone who is passionate about the prairie interacts with other people, others often catch the enthusiasm,” she says. Marr notes that any long-lived plants with deep roots, such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), are a good sign. Another interesting species she encountered and harvested
seeds from is prairie acacia (Acaciella angustissima). Those seeds will go into the Wildflower Center’s Hill Country Trails area. It’s this type of practical conservation that she considers essential now, particularly due to the disappearance of native landscapes she’s witnessed firsthand. “So many of the sites that I was familiar with [from previous collecting] have just disappeared,” says Marr. At the time, she and collectors were careful to only take 20 percent of the seeds or fruit produced in order to leave a healthy wild population intact — “and now the entire population or entire site is gone,” she laments. A lot of those areas now have shopping centers on them, were damaged by flooding, were flattened for recreational use, have experienced land-use change, or have fallen victim to robust invasive species such as giant cane (Arundo donax) shading out plants that need more sun. That’s why it’s so important to spot native prairie remnants. Even a small suite of plants like Marr’s commute-home plot can be rich with species that are hyper-locally adapted. “They’ve lived with local rainfall and changes from year to year for centuries if not millennia,” says Marr, “so they’re as well adapted as they can be.” Her goal in working with groups like the Hays County Master Naturalists and the Austin NPSOT Chapter is to make small collections from these remnants and get the seeds out to new sites. “If you get the seeds back out in their habitat, the plants will become re-established and usually spread on their own,” she says. Her advice is to start small and “focus on that one plant that grabbed your attention to begin with.” Though she was disappointed that she couldn’t collect seeds from the Arkansas yucca or the hemp (the flowers were browsed by deer), she eventually found the prairie acacia, the sedge and “all these things I would never have seen sitting in traffic,” she says. “It’s a learning process.” And you know Marr will be back, keeping an eye on this small, preserved-for-now prairie. She recommends spending 15 to 20 minutes at your pet prairie even twice a month, just observing. Better than sitting in traffic.
Don’t think you have the skills to recognize a remnant? NPAT’s Prairie Seekers program teaches people how to notice these areas. Learn more at texasprairie.org/ finding-prairies. | 15
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Native plants and the local landscape in Texas art by Lauren Moya Ford
NATURE HAS BEEN A KEY THEME IN ART SINCE TIME immemorial. But with climate change and sustainability concerns mounting, today’s artists are looking at the plants around them with new urgency and intimacy. No longer mere still life, native plants are now integral elements of artists’ personal, cultural and environmental worlds. These seven young Texans are making work inspired by the beauty, diversity and resilience of the state’s botanical landscape.
ELIZABETH CHILES “Weave (Redbud),” 2018, photographic collage on rice paper
Photography & Collage
Sometimes something comes from nothing. During the drought that plagued Central Texas from 2010 to 2013, Elizabeth Chiles decided to explore how the lack of water was affecting the local landscape. Her “Figs from Thistles” photographic series revealed that our native wild grasses, though parched and stiffened by drought, “still had incredible movement and texture,” she says. Even more surprising were the Texas wildflowers, particularly firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) and prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), still hanging on to life during the worst drought in over a century. For Chiles, those flowers were a symbol of hope that also hammered home the necessity of native plants for a sustainable Texas landscape. Born in Austin and raised in Houston, Chiles spent much of her childhood outdoors. She describes her early days watching light filter through plants around her as “awakening both my senses and my mind.” Nowadays, that feeling of warmth, familiarity and transcendence is what Chiles hopes to convey
through her artwork. To do that, “plants are the portal,” she explains. Her work captures grasses swaying, flowers reaching skyward, and branches bending as the plants respond to wind, drought and rain. Chiles shows the resilience and beauty of Texas flora as it struggles against increasing stress — a reminder of how close global environmental concerns hit to home. After studying in New York City and San Francisco, Chiles returned to Texas in 2007, strengthening her connection to the local landscape. Her 2018 “On Water” series, for instance, traces historic flooding along Austin’s Colorado River in kaleidoscopic digital collages. Working in tandem with the weather patterns and growth cycles around her, Chiles incorporates herself into those ecological systems. “Flooding and drought have literally and spiritually changed the way I see the Texas landscape,” she says, and her work — which includes recognizable natives such as redbud trees (Cercis canadensis, left) and palmettos (Sabal minor) — is an ongoing testament to that change. | 17
BRADLEY KERL Painting
Bradley Kerl’s connection to plants runs deep. A Beaumont native, the artist’s earliest memories are of riding on a tractor with his grandfather on the family farm. “The area where I grew up is basically tucked into the very bottom of the Big Thicket [National Preserve], along Pine Island Bayou,” Kerl says. “The soundtrack of my childhood definitely includes the gentle whir of wind through loblolly pines [Pinus taeda] and the clatter of palmettos [Sabal minor].” However, plants didn’t enter his own pictures until college, when he was studying at the University of North Texas in Denton. In his bold, almost-abstract canvases, plants such as native cacti, common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) and non-native philodendron become vibrant fields of color and funky shapes. Plants are Kerl’s perennial motif. “I find endless joy and fascination from being around plants,” he says, and it shows: There’s greenery in nearly every piece he paints. His work is also featured on two album covers for the band Ultimate Painting, which is often described as having a pastoral sound. 1 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
The artist works from live plants in his studio, along with found images and personal photographs of “all kinds of plants and plant-related stuff.” Kerl’s quirky sense of humor comes through in his still lifes, which depict an eclectic mix of native and exotic plants, artificial fruits, packaged products, and even the occasional human skull. “I deal with native plants in my work simply because they are among the things I encounter on a daily basis,” Kerl explains. But they also form a diary of his experiences. In paintings of a loved one’s greenhouse, bridal bouquets and funeral sprays, plants represent key moments from Kerl’s life. Based in Houston since 2011, Kerl takes great pride in being a native Texas painter. Through his artwork, he hopes to share the local landscape with a larger audience. And the plants aren’t only in his paintings: Now Kerl and his young family tend their own home garden as a way to spend time together outdoors. “I suppose it’s in my genes,” Kerl says, and his paintings say it too.
(opposite) “Rosedale 3,” 2019, oil on canvas; (this page) “Lindale Park,” 2018, oil on canvas
ASHLEY THOMAS For Ashley Thomas, flowers are a sign of home. Growing up, her mother decorated their house with plastic flowers and floral wallpaper and fabrics. “That imagery is very connected with my memory of home,” Thomas says. But she also connects to flowers’ fleeting nature, noting, “Their ephemeral quality pairs well with the things that I choose to draw.” Take her recent graphite illustration of a Texas passionflower (Passiflora foetida, right). At nearly two by three feet, Thomas’ picture freezes and enlarges the unusual bloom at its peak. The artist was interested in the medicinal qualities of the plant, which is thought to relieve anxiety and insomnia and was used by Native Americans to help heal wounds. She was also fascinated by the species’ Catholic symbolism — its common name, corona de Cristo, refers to Jesus’ crown of thorns. Thomas had an early interest in plants and gardening and recalls her family’s vegetable patch fondly. Today, she has native edible plants such as chile pequin (Capsicum annuum) in her own garden along with Turk’s cap 2 0 | W I L DF LOW E R
(Malvaviscus arboreus) and honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa). And for Thomas, plants are always in sight: She passes through her garden every time she travels from her house to her backyard studio. Thomas studied in Chicago and lived in Austin before returning to her hometown of Corpus Christi in 2016. She was pulled back by the city’s coastal landscape and the vastness of the gulf. “When I think of Corpus Christi, I think of the horizon line,” Thomas says. The move has shaped her art practice too. “The drawings I make are formed out of the landscape I’ve grown up in,” she says, explaining that this landscape can be cultural or physical, interior or exterior. Thomas’ black and white drawings cut out color and context to focus on intense detail and scale. The viewer is drawn in by soft gray tones and the artist’s steady hand. For a moment, we are as focused on her subject as she was while drawing it. That’s how Thomas gets us to pay attention to her world: It becomes our world too.
“Passionflower,” 2018, graphite on paper
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“Spring Vessel,” 2019, stoneware
Birds brought Jessica Ninci to plants. Earlier this year, the Galveston-based artist took an observation trip to High Island to research the spring migration patterns of native birds on the Texas Gulf Coast. The variety of native plants that she found there piqued her interest, and she decided to investigate the region’s f lora through a new series of porcelain vessels. Ninci had been thinking about humans’ impact on the natural world for a while, and she’d incorporated floral motifs into her ceramic pieces in the past. But the two lines of thought hadn’t fully come together until she took that birding trip. “I first saw my interest in plants and the landscape as separate from my artist practice, even as an escape,” she reflects. “I now see a connection forming and it’s enriching to my work.” Since moving to the Texas Gulf Coast two years ago, Ninci and her partner, artist Dan Schmahl, have been turning the land around their Galveston home into a refuge for native plants such as Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and milkweed (Asclepias spp.). Once she started growing and documenting local varieties, Ninci experienced a heightened awareness of the native plants all around her. She began to spot whitemouth dayflower (Commelina erecta), firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), beach primrose (Camissonia cheiranthifolia), powderpuff (Mimosa strigillosa), Texas frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.) and others in her yard and in the surrounding Galveston area. “I had always seen them, but it’s amazing how much more you notice once you start growing them yourself,” she muses. Ninci’s “Native Plant Series” (sample, left) spotlights these local plants and fuses her passion for ceramics, gardening and observing the natural world. Along with their individual art practices, Ninci and Schmahl have recently launched Rising Tide Projects, a creative community space sponsored by the Idea Fund. Inspired by Hurricane Harvey and the dangers of heavy rain, high tide and climate change, Ninci and Schmahl’s new space in historic downtown Galveston is architecturally adapted to extreme Gulf Coast weather. Here, they host public exhibitions and workshops that explore local environmental issues through art making. The space is also a printing press, and the duo collaborates with local Texas artists to publish limited-edition zines and art books.
EMILY HALBARDIER & ERIK SULTZER
“Texas Natives,” 2015, Risograph print
Emily Halbardier and Erik Sultzer share a profound respect and appreciation for flora. “Plants offer us so much and ask so little in return,” they say. It’s a statement that guides much of their creative and personal lives. Halbardier and Sultzer met nine years ago as graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and have been working and living together ever since. The duo’s collaborative project, the Center for Imaginative Cartography and Research, is a creative studio and printing press. Together they make works on paper, publish limitededition art books, and teach art at a Houstonarea high school. Halbardier and Sultzer see these activities as part of their artistic and personal mission: to raise awareness about native Texas plants and environmental conservation. “We like native plants because they can sustain themselves without too much human intervention [and] are good for pollinators, birds and soil,” says Sultzer. “They are also part of what makes a place feel unique, and since our work involves mapping or documenting the world around us, native plants need to be included in that.” True to their teaching vocation, the CICR’s “Texas Flora Series” (sample, right) started as an educational tool. Separated into six categories — Texas natives, toxics, medicinals, invasives, illegals and edibles — the posters are informative and eye-catching. But they also refer to the “connection between language and the perception of a plant’s value (or lack thereof).” For example, the spiky ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) has medicinal properties, while the showy angel trumpet (Datura wrightii), which sounds divine in name, is toxic if consumed. The couple loves to spot evening rain lilies (Cooperia drummondii) and Texas frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) while walking Houston’s Buffalo Bayou, and they grow native plants such
as purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) in their own garden. Some of their strongest childhood memories involve plants. Halbardier, a Houston native, recalls “looking forward to when the Texas mountain laurel [Sophora secundiflora] was in bloom, so I could stop and smell the heavenly grape scent of the blossoms, watching birds devouring ripe American beautyberries [Callicarpa americana] in my mother’s garden, and making the yearly pilgrimage to the best patch of bluebonnets [Lupinus texensis].” These cherished experiences continue to inform their passion for Texas plants. The CICR’s artworks and projects are Halbardier and Sultzer’s ever-evolving effort to protect the natural world around them. | 23
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“White Flower,” 2017, acrylic on wood
For Erika Duque, native plants add a sense of place. Duque lives in Fort Worth but was born and raised in New York City. Although she grew up in America’s largest metropolis, Duque didn’t miss out on nature: Her childhood home was located between the Queens Botanical Garden and the Kissena Corridor Park. She says her parents also always kept their apartment filled with greenery. “I cannot imagine life without being surrounded by or caring for a nursery of plants,” the artist says. Duque associates her childhood and current homes with specific plants, native and introduced: Buttercups and trees such as apple, cherry and maple represent New York, while crepe myrtles, paddle cactus, succulents and tall bushy grasses bring North Texas to mind. Duque’s paintings of flowers, bushes and trees buzz with energy and emotion. Plants are so important to her that she’s started painting what she calls “portraits” of them as a way to press pause on their growth and decay — to highlight a specific moment in their plant lives. Her subjects include her own houseplants, plants she keeps at her parents’ house, and plants that she sees around her neighborhood or along her usual Fort Worth commute. “I have been collecting succulents, cactus and all sorts of plants for over a decade,” Duque says. Some of these were gifts from loved ones, and others are mementos from special moments in her life. “I feel like I have become familiar with them over the years and have seen them go through changes,” she says. Thanks to her portraits: “If they die, I am left with their memory.” Duque exhibited a selection of her painterly but precise plant portraits at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas’ art gallery in 2018. One of these pieces (left) depicts a spider lily (Hymenocallis latifolia). “I spotted the spider lilies in Houston during a family trip. I loved their long tentacles and pointy, geometric look,” she says. Another canvas features bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus, on the cover). Duque saw it growing around the entrance of BRIT and was intrigued by its intense copper color and different textures. “I love plants that are odd or just have an interesting shape,” she says. Beyond her plant portraits, Duque makes paintings and drawings of natural landscapes that she’s traveled to. Her pictures of geysers, forests and lakes focus on the feelings of awe and absorption that those places inspired in her. Using a combination of field notes, photographs and memories, Duque recreates a landscape’s essence through animated brushstrokes, brilliant colors and rich textures. The resulting scenes are otherworldly but sharply focused, painted with the urgency of someone capturing a dream they don’t want to forget. Tornados, hurricanes, rainstorms and fires ravage Duque’s recent landscapes. Between smoking grounds and charred trees, it’s difficult to determine whether these disasters are natural, man-made or a combination of the two. The increasing volatility in the artist’s paintings conveys a lot about our current moment, when climate change and its impact on natural disasters looms large. That uncertainty makes Duque’s artwork all the more compelling and vital. “It’s at the forefront of my mind and it’s hard not to feel helpless,” the artist laments. But her vivid, striking canvases continue to call attention to the landscapes that affect us most: our own. | 25
Living Space Native habitat gardens provide for birds, pollinators and people by Susan J. Tweit
Horsemint (Monarda citriodora) blooms at Hatton Spring Prairie, another name for Houston resident Jaime González’s front yard; he posts interpretive signage and encourages neighbors to learn about the area’s historic land use. PHOTO Jaime González/ The Nature Conservancy
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Our love for turfgrass lawns and exotic plant species has turned urban America into an energy- and water-intensive “food desert” that doesn’t sustain the pollinators we depend on or the songbirds we enjoy watching. What can we do to return health and resilience to our nearby spaces? Plant habitat. Habitat gardens are landscapes designed to provide food, water, shelter and community. They’re based on local native plants, and they mimic natural groupings in surrounding wildlands so that our nonhuman neighbors, including pollinators, recognize our yards as home. Chickadees are a great example of how critical habitat is: Research by Desirée Narango at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute shows these perky, black-capped songsters are declining in suburbia because they successfully reproduce only in landscapes dominated by native species. Like most songbirds, chickadees feed their young insects — lots of insects. Entomologist Douglas Tallamy, author of the popular book “Bringing Nature Home,” calculates one pair of black-capped chickadees requires 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars per brood. Native plants have long-term relationships with our indigenous insects and thus host insect buffets; exotic plants by and large do not. Native plants call in pollinators, birds and other wildlife, from microbes to reptiles, by 2 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
broadcasting “come hither” scents on the airwaves and signaling to fauna with characteristic colors and forms. And as forest researcher Dr. Suzanne Simard of the University of British Columbia points out, native plants work below ground too, connectings plants in a communications web to foster community health, retain carbon in the soil, and maintain resilience in the face of change. (See pages 10 and 12.) Audubon Rockies Habitat Hero co-founder Connie Holsinger tells how this “plant it and they will come” effect lured hummingbirds to her construction-bared suburban lot: “As soon as [we] unloaded a blooming scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata), my first-ever hummingbird zipped right in.” The bird hovered next to the flower spike, chattering, and followed the nectar plant it recognized as food into her yard. Designing a habitat garden is as simple as carving out a section of lawn and planting natives. It begins with knowing the characteristics of your site, including exposure and soil. To learn what plants are native to your area, take
a field trip with an organization such as the Native Plant Society of Texas (or your local equivalent) or consult the Wildflower Center’s Native Plants of North America database (wildflower.org/plants-main). Also get a feel for your regional terroir, the “flavor” of nature: Which plants grow together and in what patterns? Are the wild landscapes around you prairie? Scrubland? Woodland or forest? That assemblage of local characteristics will inform the design of your habitat garden. For specific ideas, visit public gardens with habitat plantings and take notes and photos. Stroll the Texas Native Trail at San Antonio Botanical Garden for an introduction to three bioregions: the shaded Pineywoods of East Texas, the meadow-dominated Hill Country, and the characteristic shrubs of the South Texas scrublands. Explore the desert’s diversity at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute’s botanical garden outside Alpine. Wander the waving expanses of restored native prairie at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas in
Fort Worth. Or ramble the Pollinator Habitat and Nectar Gardens at the Wildflower Center. All of these inspirational examples embrace four basic components of habitat gardening. With tips from experts at public and private gardens, here’s a primer on how to incorporate them into your own outdoor spaces.
Blooming agaves (Agave spp.) provide high-energy nourishment in the form of nectar for bird and bat populations. PHOTO Andy Morgan Photography
Providing food for fauna means growing plants that offer complete nutrition — seeds, fruits, pollen, nectar, browse (twigs and shoots of young trees and shrubs) and insects for protein — not just hanging feeders. Where a hummingbird feeder provides hydration and the quick energy of simple sugars, for instance, the flowers on a Salvia plant offer the same hydration plus a longer-burning mix of carbs, not to mention protein from insects stuck in nectar as well as lipids and vitamins from stray pollen grains — in other words, a full meal. Food plants are often region specific: The best species for West Texas won’t necessarily work in | 29
ABOVE A male rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) visits flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus), which attracts birds and pollinators with both its color and flower shape. PHOTO Hal Livings OPPOSITE PAGE (top) A female phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) takes a drink at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. PHOTO Andy Morgan Photography (bottom) Wildflower Center Environmental Designer John Hart Asher added this water feature to his backyard prairie and stocks it with native fish. PHOTO John Hart Asher
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the Pineywoods of the East or on the Gulf Coast. The Wildflower Center’s director of horticulture, Andrea DeLong-Amaya, suggests selecting plants that offer different types of food and designing your habitat to furnish it year-round. She recommends plants in the aster family (Asteraceae) for their appeal to a wide variety of pollinators and songbirds over a long season, including butterflies (nectar), native bees (pollen and nectar), and songbirds (fat-rich seeds). She particularly likes common sunflower (Helianthus annuus), a simple-to-grow annual that can thrive almost anywhere. “They attract dozens of kinds of native pollinators,” she says, “and watching goldfinches pry out seeds is pure entertainment.” She also recommends frostweed (Verbesina virginica), a tall perennial with clusters of small, white flower heads especially attractive to butterflies (including monarchs). Named for the sculptural ribbons of ice that form on its stalks during freezing weather, frostweed thrives in part shade.
At the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute’s botanical garden, Head Gardener Seth Hamby points out that desert gardens are not limited to “agaves, cacti and gravel.” Hamby recommends Texas kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana), an aromatic shrub or small tree that is native to Central and West Texas and the Rio Grande plains. Kidneywood’s spikes of white f lowers have a long bloom period and are frequented by native bees; plus, the leaves are eaten by caterpillars of dogface sulfur butterf lies. Hamby also likes the many native sumac (Rhus) species, which provide nectar for pollinators, nutrient-rich berries to sustain birds in migration, and gorgeous fall foliage. The Nature Conservancy’s Jaime González, director of Houston’s Healthy Cities Program, nurtures a front yard prairie. His species recommendations include Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), which reseeds itself; golden tickseed (Coreopsis tinctoria) for butterflies; pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa);
and Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) for late-season pollinators, birds and small mammals.
While we might all wish for a babbling brook like the Hill Country Stream in the Wildflower Center’s Woodland Garden or a lake like the one at San Antonio Botanic Gardens, a water feature doesn’t have to be large or expensive to be effective. Providing water can be as simple as using a dish that doesn’t have a drain, says the Center’s DeLong-Amaya. Refresh the water frequently, and maximize its availability for wildlife by keeping it from freezing. For butterflies, add gravel and fill with water to the gravel’s top. Shallow water is best for lizards and smaller insects that can drown in more depth. “Or use a rock with a natural depression that will hold water,” says DeLong-Amaya. Birds are attracted to the sound of dripping water, she notes, which can come from a drip emitter. | 31
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The Center’s stock tank “pond” is a great example of a larger but still simple water feature: “You don’t need a pump or filter,” says DeLong-Amaya; “you just need fish to eat the mosquito larvae.” A flat rock placed at the water’s surface serves as both bird bath and “rescue platform” for toads and other animals that can’t climb the slippery sides of the tank. Capturing runoff from an existing building also works. At San Antonio Botanical Garden, the Bird Watch Structure includes a cistern that collects rain from the roof. Water from the cistern flows into a trough near the viewing windows and then drips into a bird bath. In Houston, González channels the condensate from his home air conditioner into a tiny pond where toads breed.
Shelter means a place to escape from inclement weather, be that rain, snow, wind or heat; places for nesting or wintering; and protection from predators. Think in terms of layers: What’s the natural overstory where you live? Trees? Shrubs? Tall grasses? What’s the plant spacing: close together or widespread? How do the different layers from groundcover to canopy interact, both vertically and horizontally? Is the ground in natural areas covered with leaf or needle litter or partly bare? Echoing those patterns will make your habitat garden attract more pollinators, songbirds and other wildlife. Bare ground, for instance, is necessary as nesting habitat for many species of native bees. Bark flakes can be cozy winter homes for some insects; dried grass or wildflower stems serve as cavities for others. Growing a diversity of plants means you’ll have a variety of materials for nesting, from fine grass blades to acorn shells. Attracting certain fauna can provide fodder for others: Hummingbirds use spider webs, for instance, like spandex fiber to weave their stretchy nests. Save tidying until spring, making seeds, fallen leaves and dried stems available for winter visitors. At the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, a restored prairie with a grassy overstory now waves in summer breezes on what once was a 2.7-acre parking lot. To transform the degraded site into prairie, BRIT researchers drilled seeds of 35 native grass and wildflower species into the compacted soil; they also aided sprouting and survival by inoculating the soil with microorganisms from nearby prairies. Greg Gunn, BRIT facilities manager, says that as soon as the first grasses sprouted, wildlife appeared: “Almost right away we noticed
dragonflies and other flying predators. Then the snails showed up — the species you only see on prairies. Worms and beetles and grasshoppers joined the party … and birds, not the usual urban blue jays and mockingbirds but kingbirds, scissortail flycatchers, bluebirds, indigo buntings and little sparrows I had to research to identify.” He also mentions kestrels and red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks. BRIT’s prairie wildlife list now boasts numbers in the hundreds, from pearl crescent butterflies to coyotes — all living where a parking lot once baked in the sun. To restore prairie in your yard, Gunn advises, “Go walk a prairie remnant in your area and get the look and feel, the sound and smell.” He adds, “Start with one of the colonizing grasses, like silver beardgrass [Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana], which will grow just about anywhere.” (For more tips, search “pocket prairie” on wildflower.org.)
ABOVE Oak trees (Quercus spp.) adjacent to BRIT’s restore prairie host such frequent visitors as this native gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus, top) and eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger); the latter was hiding from a red-shouldered hawk in this image, according to Facilities Manager Greg Gunn. PHOTOS Courtesy of BRIT OPPOSITE PAGE Native grasses such as Muhlenbergia species create natural cover and protection for all sorts of fauna, from small mammals and birds to insects and reptiles. PHOTO Courtesy of BRIT
Jaime González adds “dirt patties” to his front yard every October and sprinkles them with native wildflower seeds with the help of family and neighbors. PHOTO Jaime González/The Nature Conservancy
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Community grows from the relationships between species, which give natural landscapes and habitat gardens their distinctive regional flavor. In the Chihuahuan Desert of Carlsbad, New Mexico, retired National Park Service botanist Renee West began converting her Bermudagrass lawn to a vibrant desert habitat 20 years ago. She removed the invasive grass and planted over 100 species of desert plants. “I didn’t want it to be a garden; I set out to create a habitat,” she says, “which meant letting the plants grow where they do best.” The slimlobe globeberry (Ibervillea tenuisecta) she initially planted died, but another sprouted in a different place in the yard; a vine in the squash family, it grew a huge tuber over the years. Today, her desert yard boasts dozens of wildflowers, grasses and shrubs under an overstory of netleaf hackberry (Celtis laevigata var. reticulata). Her birder husband has recorded more than 140 species of birds in the yard.
The Nature Conservancy’s González is reviving Houston’s forgotten prairie. He has created more than 30 prairies with the help of partners, including Hatton Spring Prairie, the seasonal prairie in his urban front yard. From June through September, González mows the area like a conventional lawn. Come October, he and his family form “dirt patties” about a foot square, sprinkle them with native wildflower seeds, and invite neighbors to stomp the seed in to help it sprout. The prairie flourishes without mowing until June, when the grassland is cut to lawn length again. Hatton Spring Prairie, located near the busy Texas Medical Center and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo grounds, is a very public demonstration of habitat gardening. González posts interpretative signs to educate passersby about the nontraditional landscaping. “Much of the bloom coordinates with the stock show and rodeo,” he says, “so we can point out that this land used to be a prairie and a ranch.” He and his family like to set up lawn chairs in the
front yard, sit out there and watch what they call “bee TV.” Being present offers his family a way of connecting with their neighbors and the opportunity to do some prairie evangelizing. THE BENEFITS OF HABITAT GARDENS go far beyond hosting pollinators and other ecologically important fauna. They include almost instant, gratifying results; plant a plot of Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii) or damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), and you’re sure to see beautiful butterflies. That’s a rich payoff. They also include the civic engagement González finds so satisfying, along with the joy of raising his young son where dragonflies, toads and birds find a home, grounded in nature. As Dr. Simard says, “Restoring habitat can restore connection and resilience in our communities.” In other words, birds and bugs give us something to talk about, to wonder at, and — by planting native gardens — something to come together in creating and supporting.
Queen butterflies (Danaus gilippus) visit Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii, top), and a juniper hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus) sips nectar from damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), both at the Wildflower Center. PHOTOS Julie Shaw
CENTERED Center news that’s close to home by Brianna Casselman
GROWING MINDS DOES YOUR CHILD NEED A BREAK IN THE SHADE after a day of nature play? Lynda’s Library, a place for kids to read, opened in the Luci and Ian Family Garden in April 2019. “It’s nice seeing parents with their young children relaxing and reading together,” says Family Garden horticulturist Karen Beaty. Guests can also donate their own lightly used children’s books to the library to pass on the joy of reading to another child. The library was given in honor of Lynda Johnson Robb by her sister, Luci Baines Johnson. One of Lynda’s passions in life is promoting children’s literacy.
ON SITE AND HANDS ON SCULPTOR MERIDETH HILLBRAND WAS AWARDed the St. Elmo Arts Residency and Fellowship for the 2019-20 academic year. The residency is a joint program between the Department of Art and Art History and the Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin. She will teach courses at UT and the Wildflower Center, as well as hold a public exhibition at the Center in April 2020. Hillbrand, who recently received an MFA from the University of California, Riverside, says this of the Wildflower Center’s influence on her work: “I’ve been thinking a lot more about plant structures and how things grow as a
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contrast to my focus on architecture, which is much more planned and designed. In gardens, there’s a diversity to looking, so many different things to observe.” On Austin Museum Day 2019, she taught a children’s sculpture workshop, noting, “It’s really inspirational to work with younger students and see what they engage with.” Hillbrand will lead an upcoming course at the Center where adult students can create petite ceramic planters for their home gardens. “I really like to work hands-on with people,” she says. See our Spring/Summer 2020 Guide insert for details on her exhibition and March 29 class.
PHOTOS (opposite page) Wildflower Center, (this page) John Hart Asher
THE WILDFLOWER CENTER’S RESTORATION RESEARCH TRAIL , which transects a 70-acre area of native grasses, trees and wildflowers, has been renamed the Simmons Research Trail in honor of Dr. Mark Simmons, who passed away in 2015. Simmons was the director of ecological research and design and significantly impacted projects and practices at the Center, such as implementing the use of prescribed fires since 2001. His work focused on restoring natural landscapes and building urban green spaces to increase environmental benefits for humans and wildlife. “Mark really believed that people have the power to heal the environment,” says Lee Clippard, the Center’s director of communications. The Simmons Research Trail, with major support from the Lebermann Foundation, will include updated signage describing how we can positively impact land through wise management practices, as well as several new field stations designed pro bono by notable architecture firm Lake|Flato. The Fire Station will feature an elevated walkway where guests can observe ongoing research about human intervention within the oak savanna ecosystem. There will also be a Wildlife Station, allowing guests to further connect with the abundant animal life, such as bobcats, coyotes and a variety of birds, that can be observed at the Center. The new Roadrunner Trail, made possible through a generous donation from Jeanie and Thomas Carter, connects this refurbished area to the Texas Arboretum, giving guests more convenient access to both. Through the renaming and improvement of the Simmons Research Trail, Mark’s legacy of innovative research and deep care for the native environment of Texas will be remembered.
GIFTS OF NOTE
The Wildflower Center would like to acknowledge a generous gift of $100,000 given through the estate of MAXIE G. TEMPLETON (via the estate’s executor, Wynn Anderson). These funds will be used to update our Native Plants of North America database, with a specific focus on increased usability. We would also like to thank the ZACHRY FOUNDATION for a donation of $110,000,
which will be used for equipment and maintenance in the Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum. The money also sponsored SKYFORT in last year’s Fortlandia exhibition. “Gifts such as these are game-changers since they allow big projects or maintenance to occur that might otherwise be deferred,” says Shannon Harris, director of development at the Center. >>
FORTLANDIA 2.0 WHETHER PLAYING AND IMAGINING in the Fairy Pavilion (bottom right) or climbing to new heights on B-A-B (top left), guests thoroughly enjoyed their time at the second edition of Fortlandia. “I’ve heard a lot of comments about how much guests loved the first year,” says Tanya Zastrow, the Center’s director of programs, “but they loved 2019 even more.” The numbers don’t lie: 62,000 people visited from October through December 2019, a 70% increase over the same period in 2018. Fortlandia gave guests the opportunity to experience the natural world with a fresh perspective. With many forts referencing particular parts of the local environment, guests learned about nature while engaging with the structures. “It got people out and moving with nature,” says Zastrow. “It was a great benefit, physically and mentally.” Forts such as Hamaca de Flores took inspiration from the iconic imagery of rolling hills of bluebonnets, while others were influenced by the Center’s namesake. “In our research of Lady Bird Johnson, we read that [Indian paintbrush and bluebonnets] were her favorite flowers,” says Sean Guess, a designer with Faye and Walker, makers of Color Trail (bottom left). “That was the reason we chose those colors for our fort.” Fortlandia also created opportunities for adults to get in touch with their inner child and use their imaginations through nature play. “We were here for opening weekend, and we heard these guests talking about how they felt like kids again after playing in our fort,” says Hidden in Plain Sight designer Daniela Valle of Nelsen Partners. “I think that’s something really treasured — to capture that inner kid we all have and experience it all over again.” The forts gave families the chance to play and explore together, creating memories that will last for years to come. “As our executive director says, we are in the business of creating emotional souvenirs,” says Zastrow. “There were memories being created out there minute by minute.”
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(Fairy Pavilion and Color Trail) B. Birzer, (SKYFORT), dwg.
PHOTOS (clockwise from top left) (B-A-B) Brian Birzer, (Fortmosa) Lee Clippard,
SCULPTING A LANDSCAPE
IN APRIL 2019, the Contemporary
CENTER ARBORIST ANDREW
THANKS TO A DECADE-LONG
Austin premiered a new sculpture by Chicago-based artist Jessica Stockholder at its Laguna Gloria location. Leslie Uppinghouse, a Center horticulturist, collaborated with Stockholder to create a landscape specifically for the sculpture. Stockholder’s “Save on Select Landscape & Outdoor Lighting: Song to Mind Uncouples” (above left) juxtaposes common materials, colors and shapes with the natural environment. Uppinghouse designed the grounds with that in mind, repeating the strong geometrics of the sculpture by incorporating circles and triangles in garden beds and plant choices. She chose reddish-orange Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and bright green twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) as one of many striking plant combinations in her design. “Jessica was very generous with her time and ideas,” says Uppinghouse. “The hardest part was all the moving pieces — construction and infrastructure.” In the end, Uppinghouse felt “really happy with the way that the landscape showed off the new piece” and thankful for the honor of working with Stockholder. – A.H.
McNeil-Marshall traveled to Nacogdoches, Texas, to collect seeds of native oak trees in October 2018. He was joined by Peckerwood Garden’s Adam Black and Peter Loos of the Pineywoods Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. McNeil-Marshall collected 11 different species of oak that are not currently present in the Center’s Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum, including Quercus arkansana, which is relatively rare and requires focused conservation efforts. “The goal of the arboretum is to represent as many woody plants native to Texas as possible,” McNeil-Marshall says. “This trip definitely contributed to that.” Another benefit of the trip was being able to tour the arboretum at Stephen F. Austin State University, which McNeilMarshall says “shares a lot of the same goals as the Center.” He values the opportunity to see other collections, learn about plant acquisitions, and discuss “ideas for how an arboretum can be useful.” There are currently around 87 unique tree taxa in the Texas Arboretum; trips like these enhance the collection and assist with conservation efforts. – B.C.
relationship between Keep Austin Beautiful and the Wildflower Center, fourth-grade students participating in the Clean Creek Campus program at Travis Heights Elementary planted over 80 native plants in a “grow zone” along Blunn Creek in fall 2018. “The students walked away with the sense that they played a significant role in improving the community space,” says Andrew Gansky, former KAB development manager. “Because the students are in the greenbelt almost every school day, they’ll have the opportunity to observe the growth and changes in the ecosystem over time.” Green Teens after-school programs at two Austin high schools, Travis and LBJ, have been planting natives in their schools’ courtyards too (above right). “The Green Teens have built edible garden beds as well as a pollinator garden and braved a rainy day,” says Gansky, to plant Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana), mistflower (Conoclinium spp.), flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), prairie goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), all of which were donated by the Center. – B.C.
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PHOTOS (left) Leonid Furmansky/The Contemporary Austin, (right) Courtesy of Keep Austin Beautiful
News from outside the garden gate by Brianna Casselman and Ashley Hackett
THINGS WE LOVE The films, garden tools and more we’re currently into by Wildflower Center Staff
IMAGES (film) NEON, (tool) Joanna Wojtkowiak, (book) Daniel Stone Books
The Biggest Little Farm Many of us come to our love of the land through food and vegetable gardening, and the learning curve is steep for the naive and idealistic young couple in “The Biggest Little Farm.” Watching their mistakes and struggles while they focus on healthy soil and erosion control is as much about land and ecosystem restoration as it is about cultivating peaches. It shows a wonderful holistic approach to plants, animals and people working together and what harrowing things can happen when systems are out of balance. A tale of domesticating land, it does not gloss over the hard lessons of who eats and who gets eaten, but there is much growth, understanding, compassion and beauty along the way. Carrie McDonald Manager of Volunteer Services biggestlittlefarmmovie.com
Action Hoe Action hoe, stirrup hoe, swivel hoe, hula hoe, scuffle hoe, oscillating hoe — these specialty hoes are essentially the same thing: a stirrupshaped metal blade on the end of a long handle. Sharp on both sides, the blade slices weed roots just below the crown without churning the soil or gravel as you push and pull the tool shallowly through the ground. Loosened weeds can then be easily raked up, clearing a path in no time. (In delicate spaces or where a traditional rake proves too wide, “finger raking” may be a better bet.) It’s a little trickier to use in narrowly planted garden beds, but with a little caution, weeding is satisfyingly efficient with this handy tool and true time saver. Weed it and reap! Andrea DeLong-Amaya Director of Horticulture
The Food Explorer In the 1800s, an American diet could be described as wholesome and totally bland with an emphasis on substance and not taste. By the end of the century, that was to change dramatically due to a young, passionate botanist named David Fairchild. He set out in search of foods no one had ever tasted and, in doing so, provided new crops for American farmers. This book by Daniel Stone chronicles the many trips made by Fairchild, who was often accompanied by financier Barbour Lathrop, a San Francisco philanthropist and millionaire. He visited 50 countries, finding seeds and plants to send back to the United States and encountering disease, prison, physical challenges and bureaucratic stonewalling by U.S. government officials. In spite of all these challenges, his successes now provide us with peaches, mangos, kale, avocados, dates, lemons and so on. Crops like Egyptian cotton and hops from Bavaria, and the flowering cherry trees that fill Washington, D.C., in the spring, all came from Fairchild’s perseverance. An entertaining, well-written book that will interest foodies and scientists alike. Frances Cushing Assistant to the Volunteer Manager danielstonebooks.com
THANK YOU, DONORS Recognizing contributions given from Sept. 1, 2018, to Aug. 31, 2019
$25,000 and ABOVE
Jeanie and Tommy Carter* Colin Corgan* Kathryn Fuller and Stephen Doyle*/ Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Tony Guzman Estate of Betty E. Haskell Heart Sing Foundation Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin* Lebermann Foundation Carolyn and Jack Long* Mays Family Foundation Ann H. Moore* Lynda and Charles Robb* Estate of Maxie Groce Templeton Marcia and James Truchard* The Zachry Foundation
$10,000 to $24,999
The children of James C. Armstrong Laura and John Beckworth* Kit and Carl Detering* Jane and James Flieller Les and Winnie Gage Regan and William Gammon* Edwina and Tom Johnson Meredith Family/MFI Foundation Ellen Petersen* Esther L. Raizen Jenny and Lonnie Samford Liz Shelton Brian and Debra Jones Shivers* Linda and John Swainson*/ Visa Matching Gift Program T.L.L. Temple Foundation Christine E. Ten Eyck and Gary Deaver Marilyn and Ben Weber* Winkler Family Foundation
$5,000 to $9,999
Mary Balagia Joseph E. Batson* Ruthie Burrus* Rose and Harry Cullen* Hester Currens* Carolyn and Tom Curtis* Kathryn J. Dinardo Fund Trisha and James Elizondo Jack Hight Irrevocable Charitable Trust Jeffrey Howell and William Press*
Kathleen Vetter Jenkins Dawn and Tommy Lee Jones* Cecilia and Dale Kelley The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation Patti and Kenneth O’Meara Nancy Perot and Rod Jones* Jennifer and William Sargent Anissa and Mark Scholes Nancy Taylor Ellen C. Temple*
$1,000 to $4,999
Elizabeth and Tyler Abell Amy A. Adams Ramona Adams Michelle Addington* Richard M. Archer*/Overland Partners Tara Armistead* Robert and Sara Awe Carole and Ken Bailey* Mary Ann and George Baker* Paul C. Baria Ariane Beck and Eric Sebesta* Elizabeth A. Beck Mary Hooper and Jerry A. Bell* Amy Bishop* Kolleen and Donald Blanton Lois Black Booth Suzanne Deal Booth Bill J. Boyd James and Peggy Budd Karen Canaan Sue and George Cannon Carolyn A. Capps Steve Carothers* Theresa and Daniel Carroll Mason and Lynn Carter Chris and William Caudill* Therese A. Ciolek Cari Clark* Susan Conway and John Howell* Mary Ann and Richard Cree Elinor C. Crews Susan and William Crews Eleanor Butt Crook Germaine Curry and Borge Endresen* Deen Day and Jim Sanders Linda and Russell Deason Dea Lemke Eggleston Catherine Elder
Farabee Family Fund Inga Farshler Marialice and Dillon Ferguson Tyrrell Flawn and John Howe* Cherie and James Flores* Sherrie and Robert Frachtman Marilyn T. Gaddis and George Carruthers Pam and Don Gardner Vincent Geraci Deirdre and George Glober Catherine and Harry Graham Karen and Warren Hayward* Paula Hern and Thomas Barbour Mary Hickok Anne and Thomas Hilbert Dede and Bradley Hull Bobby and Nancy Inman Parker and Paula Jameson June and Brandon Janes Robert Johnson Melanie and Charlie Jones Sue Jones Chris and Carole Bond Jordan* Karen Kennard* Carol Walsh-Knutson and Kelley Knutson* Mary E. Kramer Jennifer and Conners Ladner Keith Lain Sarah Westkaemper Lake* LBJ Family Foundation Bruce and Patty Leander Elizabeth and Robert Lende David and Malia Litman Sally and Dennis Loner Julia Marsden* Thomas Mays and Orlando Zayas* Maline and Dudley McCalla Mary McKeown-Moak and Lynn Moak James and Jean Murff* Irene and Dale Murrell William Nehman Bettye and William † Nowlin Ron M. Ogden John and Janea Pabst Carol and Robert Paddock Lois Pausch Camille and Richard Raycraft* Arthur Reis* Jennifer Robb and Joshua Glazer* Alexandra and Robbie Robinette Celina Romero and Paul Williams* Beryl and John Rose
*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. † In memoriam 4 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
Deedie Rose Jacqueline C. Russell/ExxonMobil Foundation Carl Sandlin/ExxonMobil Foundation Luke and Jennifer Schneider* Page and John Schreck Lucinda Seale Lauran Serafy Wendy and Howard† Serrell* Diane Shaktman and Clifford Jones Alane and Doyle Simons* Deborah Stewart Charlotte and J. Terry Strange Kay and James Stueve Mary and Gary Terrell Laurel A. Treviño-Murphy and Carlos Torres Verdin Jan Treybig Alex Tschursin* Paul Wade Mary and Roger Wallace* Mary and Frank Watson Banford Weissmann* The Wells Texas Foundation Donald Wertz and David Lowery Lyn and Gene White Melinda Winn* Jeanie† and William Wyatt Dudley and Sandy Youman Mollie and Bartell Zachry
$500 to $999
Michael and Patti Abkowitz Elizabeth Alford and Michael Young Lynnette Alley Dale Amstutz Stuart A. Bailey and Linda Fontaine J. Marie and Delbert Bassett Patrick Bell Sudha Bidani Lois Birdsong Carol and Russ Bixby Chris Bolling Mary Booth Terry and Lee Anne Box Judy Bunch Janet Carrick Maude Carter and Boyd Parker Rebecca and Gene Christy Sally Clayton Richard Colyer Jose Cortez Brian Crews Duane and Sondra Lee Crowley Richard Danforth Michael Davis Margaret Deaderick C. Henry and Judith Depew Phil and Christine Dial
Dawn Dickson Mary Anne and Bill Dingus Mary Dresser Analecia Dumke Laurie and Andrew Duncan Robert and Bonny Eakens Victoria and Rodger Elliott Raleigh Emry Michael Exner Melanie Fontaine and Michael Plonien Xavier Homero Garza Loretta and William Gase Ted and Linda Greenwald Julie Greenwood Denise L. Gregg Juan Guerrero Douglas Gullickson and Judith Streett Shelley and Gus Gustafson Michael Haddon Nan Hampton Margaret Hanus Susan and Richard Harding Shannon C. and Steven Harris Bill Haskell J. Russell and Isabel Hoverman Mary Beth and Dan Jester Charlene Johnston Luanne Kelly and Charles Cullen Marie Kidd Mary and Stephen Knight S. R. Lehman Louise Lehrman Mary and Gus Lott Pat and Ray Marshall Keith and Barbara Martinson Dana McGinnis Declan and Christine McManus Mary Anne Mekosh Sue G. Mellard Tait Moring Susan and Michael Murphy Darwina Neal Marianne and Clas Olsson Anne Palmer Elizabeth and James Patterson Ann and Robert Peck Nathan Pekar and Sarita Prajapati Jean Petrick Devier Pierson Wanda Potts Carol Ray Patricia Roback and Douglas Warner Beverly and Jay Roberts Karl and Karen Rove Paul and Pat Sackett Alexandra and Paul Saenz Jan S. Sanders Nancy Scanlan Edwin and Florine Schmid
Deborah and David Shafer Liz A. Shearer Linda and Dwight Shipp Susan and Robert Shrader Katie and E. Hayne Shumate Mary Louise and Andries Sigtenhorst Winnie and Maynard Spitz Deb Sull Ray Toburen Richard and Jacqueline Tomhave Carolyn and Jerry Whitehead Dottie and Donald Willhouse Roger and Gayland Williams Betty J. Wright Darin and Elizabeth Wyatt David Yeomans* Jim and Jan Yost
CORPORATE GIFTS & SPONSORS $25,000 and ABOVE Royal Fig Catering Tito’s Handmade Vodka
$10,000 to $24,999 Balcones Resources Bartlett Tree Experts H-E-B Tournament of Champions Wella Bar
$5,000 to $9,999 BB&T Charitable Foundation James F. McDonald Insurance Agency Port Enterprises
$1,000 to $4,999 Austin Wood Recycling ExxonMobil Corporation ILIOS Lighting Kirk Root Designs North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery The North Door Premiere Events Richard Linklater/Detour Filmproduction Sabre Commercial They Might Be Monkeys! Texas Tree & Land Company Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming Circle C
$500 to $999 The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf EBSCO Industries Richard’s Rainwater
The Wildflower Center is a member of EarthShare of Texas, which facilitates workplace giving by offering employees the opportunity to pledge a portion of their paychecks to environmental nonprofits. To learn more and donate, visit earthshare-texas.org. | 43
Plant and Parcel
Get growing with a versatile, portable container garden by Patrick Newman
Wildflower Center Executive Director Patrick Newman demonstrates container gardening basics. PHOTO Brian Birzer
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WHETHER YOU’RE A BUDDING GREEN THUMB, live in an apartment or condo and have limited space, or simply want to dress up your balcony or patio, using native plants in containers offers the perfect solution. They can also provide texture and color to existing gardens. Containers come in a dazzling array of shapes, colors and sizes. They can be planted with a single plant or a combination of plants depending on the look you are trying to achieve. And they are mobile, giving you the option to change your mind about a plant’s position as often as you’d like — and take it with you when you move. It’s no wonder potted plants continue to be a popular choice for new and experienced gardeners alike. The key to successful container gardening starts with a little homework. Before getting your hands dirty, find out which plants are native to your region by using the Wildflower Center’s Native Plants of North America database, being sure to narrow your search with the available filters (including state, size, sun requirements and more). Once you know which plants you’d like to include, heed these important tips to help ensure success.
Fill ’Er Up!
Our Recs for Texas Container Plants Compiled by Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya
THRILLERS Sun to Part Sun CONTAINER SELECTION
Whichever containers you choose, be sure there’s at least one hole in the bottom to ensure proper drainage. Additionally, a small layer of pottery shards, crushed aluminum cans or gravel placed at the base of the container will facilitate drainage and keep soil from plugging up the hole(s) in the bottom.
Plants in containers typically require loose soil that allows roots to easily grow. The soil should be fast draining yet retain moisture — quick drainage means roots won’t run the risk of suffocating in wet, soggy soil, and good moisture retention saves you from having to water constantly, especially during the heat of summer. Regular garden soil, even if it has been well amended, is too dense for containers and should be avoided. A better bet is one of the packaged potting mixes (often including absorptive substances such as vermiculite) sold at many nurseries and garden centers. Bear in mind that while many native species are content with standard potting mixes, there are also some fussier species out there. Give heed to where a plant grows naturally and try to replicate those conditions as best you can.
PHOTOS (agave) Eric Beckers, (stemodia) Joseph Marcus, (fleabane) Lee Page
One easy guideline for combining plants in a container is to include a “thriller,” a “spiller” and a “filler” (see sidebar). That translates to at least one focal-point plant (thriller), combined with several plants that spill over the edge of the container (spillers), and plants with smaller leaves and flowers that add color and round out the arrangement (fillers).
Because they have only a limited amount of soil from which to draw moisture, container-grown plants require more frequent watering than those grown in the ground. Watering frequency depends on plant selection and external conditions. In hot or windy weather, some containers may need daily watering. In cooler weather, it may be sufficient to water weekly or even less often. Feeling the soil and checking the appearance of your plants is the best way to determine a watering schedule. To check moisture, insert your index finger into the top inch or two of the soil and water when it feels dry. To water thoroughly, apply water over the entire soil surface until it flows out of the pot’s drainage hole(s). This moistens the entire soil mass and prevents dry pockets. A final word of warning: An overwatered plant will look a lot like an underwatered one, and in the harshness of a summer day, plants may wilt from heat rather than lack of water. Check soil moisture often and be careful not to overwater. Find plants and growing conditions at wildflower.org/plants-main.
Agave spp. Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) Spineless prickly pear (Opuntia ellisiana)
Part Shade to Shade Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) Scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea)
SPILLERS Sun to Part Sun Gregg’s dalea (Dalea greggii) Nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi) Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) Texas frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) Woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata)
Part Shade to Shade Cherisse (Callisia micrantha) Horseherb (Calyptocarpus vialis)
FILLERS Sun to Part Sun Annual phlox (Phlox drummondii) Black dalea (Dalea frutescens) Blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) Prairie fleabane (Erigeron modestus)
Part Shade to Shade Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) Meadow sedge (Carex perdentata) and other sedges (Carex spp.) Texas baby blue-eyes (Nemophila phacelioides)
When in Roam
A Sensory Journey
The joy of a green urban oasis and the invitation to explore by Amy McCullough THE FIRST TIME I GOT A PROFESSIONAL MASSAGE, the masseuse said she was going to take me on a “sensory journey.” She was referring to a series of essential oils to be held under my nose. Whichever I was most partial to would be my massage’s scent du jour. I went with bergamot (as a tea enthusiast, it probably had positive connotations as a key flavor in Earl Grey). I recently went on a completely different sensory journey — a literal journey across geographic space, with way more information than just olfactory. I traveled to Mexico City, the second largest city in the Western Hemisphere after São Paulo, Brazil. A wonderful, vibrant place, it filled my senses with the inventive flavors of al pastor pizza and tacos filled with deep-fried shrimp and chopped-up chiles rellenos. A 16th-century colonial building covered in gorgeous blue tiles captivated my vision. And the cool, pleasant air of the city’s ideal climate touched my skin each evening while I watched locals walk their dogs along streets and through plazas. For all these sensory delights, Mexico City is very urban; it’s easy to feel swamped by people. But amid the chaos of taxis vying for traffic lanes that don’t exist and the bustling, costumed crowds of Día de los Muertos lies a treasure, the Bosque de Chapultepec, a green oasis twice the size of New York City’s Cen4 6 | W I L DF LOW E R
tral Park. And inside this 1,695-acre forest is a captivating jardín botánico. Marking a bold contrast between metropolitan and boreal, the park’s entrance lies at the base of three shockingly massive buildings. In fact, many things — public art, streets, architecture, tortas — felt enorme in Ciudad de México (Texas has a challenger for the “everything’s bigger in” title). The substantial bosque (forest) itself includes a castillo (castle), several museums, five lakes, an amusement park, food and merchandise vendors galore, and much more. And in early November, it also included endless potted marigolds (Tagetes spp.), many species of which are native to Mexico; these plants are an important emblem of Day of the Dead, said to help guide spirits to their altars via color and scent — key floral senses to be sure. Tucked along the southern edge of Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, the Jardín Botánico del Bosque de Chapultepec may seem like a single
leaf in a grand pile of foliage, but its outright inducement to slow down and experience the surroundings is special even amid such a noteworthy public space. One of the first things visitors see upon entry is a grid of cinder-block planters filled with a variety of succulents. Mexico lays claim to more than 85 percent of the world’s Echeveria species, a large genus of rose-shaped succulents. These low-maintenance plants are undeniably charming, with their waxy leaves and cool tones from wintry blue-green and subtle purple to pale white; they stand out among forbs, trees and even their spinier brethren, cacti. And this garden celebrates them lavishly. A path near the succulent spread leads through a woodland sprinkled with sensefocused activities, from a wall of textures to recumbent benches inviting guests to recline and peer up at the canopy of poplars (Populus spp.) and other trees. Couples take advantage of a spiraling pallet creation that hearkens to the Wildflower Center’s Fortlandia exhibition (see page 38), finding nooks for cuddling or picnicking on top of the surprisingly tall wooden structure. The urge to play takes over and you can’t help but climb its lofty wooden steps. The long, drooping flowers of various Brugmansia species bloom in apricot orange and pale pink. They attract the eye and the hand, their flowers almost asking to be raised and
peered into; these enchanting plants are native to South America and related to Texas’ Datura wrightii (both are in the nightshade family and toxic if consumed). Svelte swamp sedges (Cyperus spp.) adorn the wetland garden, growing along the edges and out of a flat-bottomed, wooden canoe just like the boats vendors sell flower crowns, pulque and various snacks from in the canals of Xochimilco. (Once historic urban farmland, these canals on Mexico City’s south side are now a place of leisure for locals and a popular tourist attraction.) The jardín also features the same small ball kelp that grows in the canals, and it once temporarily housed rescued axolotls, fascinating (and endangered) gilled salamanders that remain aquatic into adulthood and live only in the waters of Xochimilco. Whether it’s the unexpected sight of various seed capsules, such as buckeyes or chiles, displayed in vertical, see-through cylinders near their mother plants, a “dagger tree” with mythological roots reaching to the center of the earth, or a stunning forest of horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) with sun shining through its scour-brush tips, Chapultepec’s Jardín Botánico is an invitation to take a multifaceted sensory journey, one very different from that offered by the surrounding city. It’s also a reminder that to experience new things is to appreciate them, and that to travel is to learn.
Looking into and out of the Bosque de Chapultepec, a massive park sometimes referred to as Mexico City’s “lungs.” PHOTO Jimmie Buchanan Jr.
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Still Life Drawing nature to soothe the inflamed mind story and illustration by Preston Montague CLOSING MY EYES AT NIGHT, SEARCHING for peaceful thoughts, I’ll often return to the woodland stream I played in as a child: clear water spilling over rocks, meandering through ferns, filtering through moss, washing sleep over me. Twenty years later, I revisited my childhood stream, curious to see if it had changed as much as I have. Approaching the bank, my ears spoiled the surprise: The voice of the stream, once rich in character, had lost its accent. Peering over the edge, I discovered only a trickle of water, oozing past boulders that had been stripped of fern and moss, stained red by the iron-laden clay calved from the eroded bank. On the other side of the bank, a tidy row of new houses had replaced the forest, one so close I could see children fighting over video games in the den. Creeping cedar (Lycopodium digitatum), the charismatic groundcover that once covered the forest floor here, had been converted into lawn. Absent any nostalgia, I returned to my car where I found three ticks embedded in my leg. Growing up here, I don’t remember finding three in 10 years. Back at home, I poured over aerial photographs of the area. During the late ’90s, the forest for which the neighborhood was named was suddenly fragmented into tiny pieces. Roads had grown new cul-de-sacs, transforming the forest into nominal edges around sharply green lawns, asphalt and concrete. Maintaining these edge conditions in a place that wants to be forest keeps that environment in an agitated state. Though edges can be diverse and fertile, they are essentially an inflamed condition. This fragmentation is also reflected in our lifestyles as busyness becomes a national sport. Struggling to be an MVP myself, I have fallen prey to consumer technology; its alerts and seductions have carved edges into my mind. Along these edges spread invasive species such as false urgency, fear and dissatisfaction, threatening the stillness of mind from which complex connections emerge. This heightened mode of distraction and shallow
thinking disrupts the states of mind responsible for creativity, growth and repair. We may be getting busier, but that doesn’t mean we’re getting better. Slowing down and connecting to deeper, diverse parts of the mind soothes this mental inflammation. Drawing, a form of meditation, helps make this connection, pushing one through edge-thinking and into the forest where the mind can wander. As in any exercise, the artist’s approach to drawing is important in determining which parts of the mind they engage. Drawing directly, using explicit lines that define a subject, leanstoward the shallow mode of the urgent mind. Drawing a subject indirectly, as the negative space between things, exercises parts of the brain that are at home in complexity and helps balance the frantic, demanding mode oftenfavored to navigate the day. To do this, an artist first draws all the surrounding elements of a scene until the subject emerges as the negative space between elements. This approach to drawing implicitly can feel unfamiliar, and the modern mind will strike back. I ask students in my drawing workshops to take note of how often critical, anxious thoughts invade their minds while drawing a subject in this indirect way, and how that prevents stillness. I encourage students to maintain serenity through deep breathing, allowing invasive thoughts to exhaust themselves, and daydreaming as much as possible. We naturally resist the slow, complex, pensive habits of our minds in favor of quick, analytic and judgmental thinking. Urgency was once essential for identifying food and fighting, but what makes us human is our ability to also relax, be playful and make creative connections. Displacing the forest with shallow, restless thinking endangers the diversity in our minds and has implications for our health. Drawing, particularly in nature, can sooth our overstimulated minds and strengthen our awareness of — and thus our relationship to — the environment that is so crucial to our health as a species.
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Texas artists find inspiration in the local landscape, habitat gardening tips, the search for native prairies and more.
Published on Feb 12, 2020
Texas artists find inspiration in the local landscape, habitat gardening tips, the search for native prairies and more.