__MAIN_TEXT__
feature-image

Page 1

WILDFLOWER

2020 | Volume 37, No. 2

Hangin’ Tough ROCK-LOVING PLANTS CONQUER CHALLENGING TERRAIN PAGE 18

+

BEAUTIFUL BURNS

SWEAR-WORTHY BIRDING

THE FUTURE OF NATURAL RUBBER


FAR Afield Though it sounds fantastic, you could almost believe these eastern cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) drink molten gold from a Midas-touched river to obtain such color. Alas, the nearby Rio Grande flows with regular freshwater (most of the time). Like other members of the willow family (Salicaceae), fast-growing, deciduous cottonwoods are often found near rivers; these particular stunners shade Big Bend National Park with broad, green canopies in summer and burnished beauty later in the year. They also bring a flurry of seeds in March and April, when downy fluff covers landscapes in a seemingly unseasonable blanket of white. Seeds come from female trees (cottonwoods are dioecious), so it’s the golden girls you have to thank for snow in spring. – A.M. PHOTO Gabbro/Alamy

|1


2 | W I L DF LOW E R


LOOK Closer

One easily recognizable characteristic of eastern cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) is their deeply furrowed, thick, gray bark; even for tree bark, it gives a weathered, mountain-man impression. What lies inside that bark, however, is something you might not be aware of: a hidden star. Snapping a cottonwood stick often reveals the mark of a five-pointed pith (the spongy tissue vascular plants use for moving and storing nutrients), upon which much poetry and legend have been based. Some say that small, dry twigs with growth wrinkles (think of the lines on a bendy straw) make the best star sources. Next time you find one, snap it and make a wish. – A.M. PHOTO Joanna Wojtkowiak |3


FROM THE Executive Director

Here Is Hope AGAIN AND AGAIN THROUGHOUT THIS VERY CHALLENGING YEAR, I have come across a quote from our founder — not only in our own communications, but also shared by many other people and organizations. As we have all struggled through quarantines, closures, sicknesses and, in some cases, death, it has been there: “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Lady Bird Johnson’s message has become a flowers unfurl, and the fruits grow heavy and mantra for me, a soothing balm that calms my fill the bellies of birds. The butterflies flitter nerves and brings peace to my soul. It is a wise about, and the sun shines bright and hot in the and deceptively simple statement that holds Texas sky. profound, complex truths. It deftly connects We are fortunate to have an amazing and the destinies of plants and people and relates committed staff. Our horticulturists have safely to so many of life’s diverse experiences. And tended the gardens and natural areas and grown while she used it in the context of lifting people plants throughout this time. Our facilities crew out of poverty, it nevertheless applies to many has made progress on much needed projects of life’s challenges. around the Center. Our education, events and I hope that throughout these last months, communications teams pivoted to offer virtual you have been fortunate enough to witness the content, classes and experiences to our commubeauty of nature — whether on a quiet walk nity. And our guest experience specialists have outside or through a window during isolation — demonstrated nimbleness in the ever-shifting and feel connected to the great rhythm of time. landscape of openings and closures. It is hard not to stare at the color-drenched In so doing, we have all learned new and petals of a flower or the twining green leaves positive things that we will bring forward into of a growing vine without feeling some sense of the future. Amid the chaos of the past months, happiness, hope and peace. we find hope in what is to come. The Wildflower Center has navigated one So there we are, back to Mrs. Johnson’s quote: of its most difficult periods in response to Flowers offer us hope. They point to a verdant the coronavirus pandemic — a reality expe- future that will certainly be changed but perrienced by so many organizations around the haps no less beautiful. And in those flowers — world. We are not alone in having to close, to and because of them — I still see a Wildflower lose significant amounts of revenue, and to Center that is growing strong and there for all experience organizational change. And our of us. staff members are not alone in bearing the For those of you that have been able to mainemotional weight of working while having in- tain your membership, newly join the Center, creased family duties and decreased access to rejoin after a break, or donate, I cannot thank the aspects of life that bring normalcy and joy. you enough for supporting us through this time. Yet, through this difficult time, we persist. You are making our future possible. The seeds continue to germinate and grow. The weeds still march into our gardens. The Thank you,

Patrick Newman Executive Director 4 | W I L DF LOW E R


TABLE of Contents

28 FE ATU R E S

18 16

Born to Rock

Meet lithophiles, rock-loving plants adapted to survive in extreme environments by Jennifer Wehunt

28

Plant Some Rubber

The country’s next — and best — rubber source could be a native Texas shrub by Amy McCullough

7 PLANT PICKS Native fruit trees offer beauty and bounty 10 BOTANY 101 How plants have evolved (and improved) with fire 12 IN THEIR ELEMENT An avian survey shows the proof is in the plantings 15 PULL IT OR PLANT IT A spirited debate about inland sea oats 16 FIELD GUIDE Flowers and the pollinators that love them 36 CENTERED Center news that’s close to home 38 OFF-CENTER Our work beyond the garden gate 40 THINGS WE LOVE A few of our favorite things

42

41 THANK YOU, CORPORATE PARTNERS 42 CAN DO Tips for creating bee habitat at home 44 WHEN IN ROAM A Frank Lloyd Wright site embraces native plants 48 WILD LIFE On sunflowers and family, endings and beginnings

ON THE COVER Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillusveneris) thrives on narrow shelves of rock, living off rainwater that percolates down cliff faces. PHOTO Wildflower Center ABOVE Guayule (Parthenium argentatum), a native shrub, provides high-quality natural rubber for tires, gloves and more, and it’s poised to revolutionize the industry. ILLUSTRATION Drue Wagner

|5


WI LDFLOWER

FEATURED Contributors

ma survivor, mother of two and executive at a startup in Austin, Texas. A transplant from San Diego, California, she focuses her healing into helping empower others through creative essays and public speaking.

Samantha N. Peters is a science

illustrator based in Dallas. She received her bachelor’s in neurobiology from UT Austin and a graduate certificate in science illustration from California State University, Monterey Bay. She was the founding president of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Texas Group. Though her first love remains botanical art, Samantha is delighted to spend most days drawing animals in the graphics department at the Dallas Zoo.

6 | W I L DF LOW E R

Jill Sell is a free-

lance journalist, essayist and poet, specializing in the environment and nature. Sell is the co-founder of Three Women in the Words, a nonprofit arts collaboration; contributing writer with Great Lakes Publishing; and a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She was named Best Freelance Writer in Ohio by The Press Club of Cleveland five times. Sell enjoys tending a wayward herb garden in Sagamore Hills, Ohio, and unapologetically hugging her trees.

Drue Wagner is a

Texas-born illustrator and graphic designer. She started at Pentagram design in Austin before working at various publications in New York City, including

GQ, Bon Appétit and The Wall Street Journal. Happy to be back in Austin, she is currently freelancing, swimming whenever she can, and looking for quirky characters and scenes to draw and paint.

EDITOR

Amy McCullough DESIGNER

Joanna Wojtkowiak PLANT INFORMATION EDITOR

Joseph Marcus

ASSOCIATE EDITORS

Lee Clippard, K. Angel Horne

FOUNDERS

Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Patrick Newman

Jennifer Wehunt

is a journalist by training, a Texan by birth and a New Englander by happy happenstance. Despite being allergic to nearly everything outdoors, she continues to harbor secret fantasies of developing an alter ego as a botanist. Formerly the editorial director of the Appalachian Mountain Club, Jennifer is now a full-time freelancer specializing in stories of how the environment impacts society and vice versa. Read more at texpatatlarge.com.

DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS

Lee Clippard

ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Dawn E. Hewitt

DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT

Shannon C. Harris

DIRECTOR OF ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND DESIGN

Matt O’Toole

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS

Mike Abkowitz

DIRECTOR OF HORTICULTURE

Andrea DeLong-Amaya

DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS

Tanya Zastrow

ADVISORY COUNCIL CHAIR Kit Detering

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 magazine@wildflower.org.

Follow Us:

WILDFLOWER.ORG facebook.com/wildflowercenter @wildflowercenter @WildflowerCtr

PHOTOS (Michael Robin Manning) courtesy of Ebco, (Samantha N. Peters) self-portrait, (Jill Sell) Jane Rogers, (Drue Wagner) Jesse Will, (Jennifer Wehunt) self-portrait

Michael Robin Manning is a trau-

2020 | Volume 37, No. 2


PLANT Picks

Fruits of Your Labor

Native fruit trees to plant and appreciate by Amy McCullough

MEXICAN PLUM Prunus mexicana

WHY WE LOVE IT: Positively stunning in bloom,

Mexican plums are popular for their looks alone. But their fruit is also sought after by birds and mammals (including people) — and they’re a good nectar source for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. A single-trunked species with attractive gray bark, these trees are commercially available and make for great “parking lot harvests,” as they are used regularly in landscaping and fruit is often left for the taking. PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Part

PHOTO Bron Praslicka

shade to sun and well-drained, dry to moist soils THE UNDERSTUDY: Our natural areas man-

ager strongly feels that Chickasaw plums (P. angustifolia) are tastier than Mexican plums; the trees also require less water. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: February through April HARVEST TIME: July to September

|7


PAWPAW Asimina triloba

WHY WE LOVE IT: Pawpaws have fascinating,

blood-colored flowers and foliage that looks a bit tropical, making them a uniquely eyecatching option (also see page 16). Small mammals are drawn to the highly fragrant fruit, which has a bananalike flavor. Make sure to eat fruit as soon as it’s ripe, as it spoils quickly after picking. The only species on our list not native to Central Texas, pawpaws thrive further east along the Texas-Louisiana border. PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Part

shade to shade; moist soil mimicking ditches, ravines and flood plains PERFECT PAIRING: An understory species,

pawpaws thrive in the shade of taller species. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: April and May HARVEST TIME: When flesh turns brown

starting in late summer

cally lobed leaves are easily recognizable and turn bright yellow in fall, but we’re mostly crushing on this plant due to its truly delicious, sweet, dark fruits, which are similarly enjoyed by birds and mammals. An easygoing, good-looking, medium-sized tree with a rounded crown, red mulberries do well in understories but aren’t too picky about conditions in general. PREFERRED ENVIRONMENT: Sun to shade,

dry to moist soils (quite versatile!)

RED MULBERRY Morus rubra

THE UNDERSTUDY: Texas mulberry (M.

microphylla) is common to the western side of Texas, meaning it’s more tolerant of dry conditions and difficult soils. Its fruit is very tiny, making it a better provider for wildlife than humans. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: March through June HARVEST TIME: April to early June

8 | W I L DF LOW E R

PHOTOS (pawpaw) Scott Bauer, (red mulberry) syaber/iStock

WHY WE LOVE IT: Those simple, asymmetri-


TEXAS PERSIMMON Diospyros texana

WHY WE LOVE IT: A handsome tree usually in the 15-foot range, Texas

persimmons are admired for their smooth, peeling, pale gray bark — similar to that of non-native crepe myrtles. Whitish-green flowers attract butterflies in spring, and foliage supports gray hairstreak and Henry’s elfin caterpillars. Dark purple to black fruit with an earthy flavor (think blueberry crossed with fig) is tasty in baked goods or right off the tree. PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Sun to part shade; will tolerate

limestone, clay, caliche soils

THE UNDERSTUDY: Similarly drought-tolerant eastern persimmons

(D. virginiana) yield beautiful, bright orange fruits considered more reliably delicious, but they also need more water and deeper soil.

PHOTOS (Texas persimmon) Jason Penney, (Blanco crabapple) Wildflower Center

BRINGS THE BLOOMS: March and April HARVEST TIME: Late July to September

BLANCO CRABAPPLE Malus ioensis var. texana

WHY WE LOVE IT: We’ll admit the sour fruit of these small trees is not the attraction. But their

gorgeous pale pink blooms will have you quickly forgetting any puckering bites (the fruit, we might add, is happily consumed by birds – and it can successfully be jellied). PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Full sun to part shade with moist soil, an admittedly

high-maintenance combo

BUZZ WORD: Bees! Blanco crabapples are considered highly beneficial to native bees (learn

more about supporting bees on page 42).

BRINGS THE BLOOMS: April HARVEST TIME: August through October

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


BOTANY 101

Antelope-horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula) grows after a prescribed burn in a Wildflower Center research plot. PHOTO Lee Clippard

10 | W I L DF LOW E R


Burns Into Boons

The phoenixlike adaptations of native plants by K. Angel Horne and Amy McCullough Sometimes, just when you think everything’s gone, you find a way. Like after a prairie fire. ... It seems like the end of the world. The earth is scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. … People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way. – Celest Ng, “Little Fires Everywhere”

PHOTOS (switchgrass and green milkweed) Carolyn Fannon, (narow-leaf conflower) Janice Lynn, (ponderosa pine) James L. Reveal

MAYBE A HOT WORK OF FICTION OFF REESE WITHERSPOON’S BOOK CLUB LIST isn’t where you normally turn for botanical knowledge, but it seems like a good time to reflect on rejuvenation, resilience and rising from the ashes. Some native plant species have grown for millennia in wildfire ecosystems and have masterfully adapted to thriving through the flames. Hopefully, we humans can draw some inspiration from this fire-friendly flora — and also better understand why modern prescribed burns are a key conservation tactic in some landscapes. While it may seem counterintuitive, many species benefit from the fresh start a wild or prescribed fire provides. Biomatter can create a thatch above ground, and when fire sweeps through the “clutter” is cleared. Seeds that are already in the soil can often withstand the heat and are given a chance to germinate if precipitation patterns cooperate. In fact, some are released or stimulated to germinate by the heat or cued by chemical signals from smoke. “When there’s a clear shot at some sunlight and less competition for resources, we can get a little pop of diversity,” says Michelle Bertelsen, a land steward at the Wildflower Center who’s participated in prescribed burn research for 15 years. Let’s take a closer look at a few native species that have learned to survive and thrive with fire: PR AIRIE GR ASSES: Root to Rise Like skyscrapers in cities, we often think growth in plants means going up. While prairie grasses do allot resources for getting taller and putting out seeds, their superpower is focusing energy into establishing deep, reliable roots. Because they’ve evolved in fire ecosystems and also historically experienced occasional grazing from large roaming mammals, grasses are accustomed to having their tops removed, making underground investments a crucial asset. Those deep root systems support intricate webs of subterranean life, filter water, and enrich soil with organic matter, all of which supports aboveground life. The “big four” tallgrass prairie species (in Texas and beyond) are switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). These significant species thrive when treated with a rolling schedule of prescribed burns.  NARROW-LEAF CONEFLOWER: Fire-born Fecundity Increased reproduction is a firerelated bonus for narrow-leaf coneflowers (Echinacea angustifolia), which were observed over the course of 20 years as part of the Echinacea Project in Minnesota. Fall and spring prescribed burns caused plants at the study site to produce more blooms, which led to more successfully pollinated flowers. This, in turn, means more seeds and better proliferation of the species over time. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that fires nearly doubled seed production.

PONDEROSA PINE: Thick Skin for the Win For some plants, survival means resilience; for others, it takes resistance. The ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), a large evergreen prominent throughout the mountainous regions of western North America, establishes a deep taproot that can send water and nutrients skyward even if more superficial roots are fire-damaged. As for its grit, the pine is literally thick skinned, with a corky layer that can take the heat as well as chunky, scaly bark that flakes off when aflame. Other favorable facets (as reported by the U.S. Forest Service) include water-stowing needles, the shedding of lower branches (making it harder for fire to climb), and an open crown that may help release heat. GREEN MILKWEED: Growing a Monarch Nursery Green milkweed (Asclepias viridis) responded positively to the removal of aboveground plant matter by fire at an Oklahoma study site, according to a paper in Biology Letters. The study compared density of green milkweed in transects that received summer prescribed burns and those that didn’t — and found notably higher density in plots that burned. Because this milkweed is a host plant for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), summer burns could significantly help pre-migrant populations in the Great Plains. Researchers also counted monarch eggs and larvae, finding dramatically higher numbers in burn plots. The post-fire milkweed produced supple new growth, preferred by egg laying butterflies, when the same plants would normally be deteriorating, sans fire. | 11


IN THEIR Element

A Natural Calling

Native plants in mosaic habitats bring birds to the Mission Reach by Amy McCullough M A RTIN R EID A DMITS HE “ DROPPED THE F-BOMB” W HEN HE FIR ST SAW a black-capped vireo on the San Antonio River Mission Reach, a statement that sounds oddly sophisticated in his English accent. A veteran birder, Reid was hired by the San Antonio River Authority to do an avian study along 8 miles of the river, gathering data that would validate the extensive landscape restoration work that’s been conducted there — they hoped.

A black-capped vireo (Vireo atricapilla) in a cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) tree along the Mission Reach. PHOTO Martin Reid

1 2 | W I L DF LOW E R

Lee Marlowe, the River Authority’s sustainable landscape ecologist who hired Reid for the job, says you know he’s seen something noteworthy if he lets out a swear word. And a black-capped vireo is indeed noteworthy: Striking and tiny with black heads and what look like white goggles, Vireo atricapilla

is a threatened species, in large part due to habitat destruction. They require low, woody cover for nesting, much of which has been lost to development and grazing. Beneficial wildfires that keep shrubs growing close to the ground are also less common since human settlement (read more about the benefits of fire


on page 10), leaving fewer and fewer places for these birds to procreate. But Reid has seen them and many other exciting species over the course of the threeyear study, which took place from 2015 to 2018 (with ongoing incidental surveys into 2020). To be exact, the survey has documented nearly 65,000 birds actively using the area, with over 200 unique species in that number. He admits that, upon taking the job, he wasn’t really sure what to expect. But five years later, he is beyond satisfied: “I have been consistently surprised by diversity and number of birds. It’s better than I imagined.” Reid credits this biodiversity to the landscape’s “mosaic” style, which is what it sounds like: a variety of native habitat types contributing cover and forage for a mélange of wildlife, year-round. Along this stretch of river,

that mosaic includes aquatic, scrub-shrub and prairie/savanna habitats, a combo that supports numerous resident and migrant birds, plus a few unexpected visitors, such as Audubon’s orioles (Icterus graduacauda), Couch’s kingbirds (Tyrannus couchii) and, of course, Reid’s swear-worthy vireo. Plant selection is an important part of such a restoration, as it determines what will be fruiting and leafing at various times of year, not to mention providing nesting material and bank stabilization. Wildflower Center environmental designers were heavily involved in this part of the process, developing plant communities and seed mixes based on historical climax plant communities and reference visits; they also helped drive site design as part of a decade-long restoration done in collaboration with the River Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,

Birder Martin Reid in the restored native habitat along the San Antonio River, where he documented a black-capped vireo and many other bird species. PHOTO Lee Marlowe

| 13


TOP A painted bunting (Passerina ciris) rests in a huisache (Vachellia farnesiana) tree. PHOTO Martin Reid BOTTOM Many birds, such as this house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus), are drawn to post-bloom common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) for food. PHOTO Martin Reid

14 | W I L DF LOW E R

and Jacobs Engineering Group. To date, 317 native plant species have been documented along the restoration site, only 170 of which were deliberately planted (the rest are volunteers). Marlowe believes embracing those volunteers and working with nature, such as letting shoals stand where they didn’t pose flood risk and learning to love “weedy” plants such as black willows (Salix nigra) and hackberries (Celtis spp.), have been key to the project’s success. According to Reid, you could find 20 bird species “in pretty much any urban habitat,” but they’re going to be birds that don’t need cover, such as blue jays and grackles. They’re seeing an additional 30 to 40 noteworthy bird species (after that baseline) along the Mission Reach restoration, compared to seven to 10 noteworthy species along unrestored parts of the river. An interesting takeaway from their findings is support for a handful of oft-maligned native plants, such as giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), huisache (Vachellia farnesiana), retama (Parkinsonia aculeata), honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), poverty weed (Baccharis neglecta), and the aforementioned hackberry and black willow. Marlowe enthusiastically touts these early colonizing species as “very important for birds and pollinators.” It’s hard to argue with photos from their survey depicting giant ragweed covered in seed-eating red-winged blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and denuded ragweed leaves teaming with bordered patch (Chlosyne lacini) caterpillars. Black willow branches are similarly covered in cedar waxings (Bombycilla cedrorum) and perched upon by belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon), waiting and watching for a meal. Giant ragweed provides low cover, while black willows make valuable waterside screens, says Reid. He calls the end result a “movement corridor” that contributes to the restoration’s holistic effect, with birds able to move safely from one type of habitat to another throughout the seasons — something he’s been lucky enough to watch firsthand for several years now. When told he’s got a pretty enviable job, walking a beautifully restored riverscape, looking for and documenting birds, Reid replies with a laugh, “Somebody’s got to do it.” And it’s a good thing he is: Native plant enthusiasts believe in the habitat mantra “plant it and they will come,” but we’ll take all the proof we can get.


O

AND SE A

ADI

C

Minnette Marr

CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER

A native grass in many states, inland sea oats has a lot going for it when it comes to visual aesthetics in the garden: lovely, dense greenery and pleasant, gentle movement in the breeze are two right off the top of my head.

Inland sea oats can outcompete nectar-producing wildflowers in areas with large deer populations. As the native wildflowers disappear, so will the pollinators that evolved with them, not to mention the tapestry of colors and textures they provide.

Its broad leaves and arching seed heads offer more interest than thinner-leafed grasses and even add a hint of Asian influence, almost like bamboo — but not invasive (unlike commonly seen golden bamboo).

Inland sea oats is hard to control in small areas with loamy soils. It has the potential to grow too tall for some homeowner association landscape guidelines. And I’ve seen several coral snakes using inland sea oats for cover and habitat (I suppose you can look at this as a plus or minus).

It’s easy to grow and maintain with very little work (other than annual cutback). Believe me, I do virtually nothing to mine, which inhabits a South Austin urban setting with no irrigation and is flourishing like a champ. This is a great plant for shade or partial shade and helps stabilize ground in areas where soil erosion may be an issue (such as steep banks). And it’s relatively easy to pull up when it has spread too far. Bonus: The flat, oatlike seed heads can be cut and dried for use in indoor floral arrangements. They are truly very cool looking.

!

INL

ER

TE

PHOTOS (inland sea oats) Wildflower Center, (portraits) Joanna Wojtkowiak

PULL IT or Plant It

IU

A

DIRECTOR OF MEMBERSHIP

TH

TIFOLIU M )

Lori Bockstanz

ASMAN

LA

C U LT I

(C H

M

V

E! T A

A

TS

Rather than planting a grass that occurs in many states, consider selecting local wildflowers that do well in your neighborhood’s natural areas. For instance, focus your search on wildflowers that thrive in combination with the trees in your yard. Native wildflowers that naturally occur in shady areas — such as pigeonberry (Rivina humilis), scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), Drummond’s wax mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and frostweed (Verbesina virginica) — will attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. And the results are more interesting and diverse than an unwieldy patch of inland sea oats.

O N TH E OTH E R H A N D . . . If left unmanaged, inland sea oats could likely take over in an area with ideal growing conditions, which is probably why some people gripe about it.

Inland sea oats is commercially available. Many native wildflower species are not (all the more reason to purchase plants from the Center; details on our reenvisioned Fall Native Plant Sale forthcoming at wildflower.org).

| 15


FIELD Guide

Bloom, Set, Match

What draws certain pollinators to particular plants by Amy McCullough

BUTTERFLIES Often purple and red blooms Faint-but-fresh scents A broad place to land Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

illustrations by Samantha N. Peters T H E R E A R E P L E N T Y OF U N F U S S Y pollinators that will sip nectar or scoop pollen from any plant they can find. But there are also some flower traits that generally appeal to particular types of pollinators (grouped together, they’re often called “pollinator syndromes”). Flower shape, fragrance, color and bloom time are all important in attracting the right pollinator and aiding in successful plant reproduction. Here are some common floral traits associated with certain types of pollinators.

MOTHS Pale flowers in white, yellow and pink tones Sweet scents Night blooms Datura (Datura wrightii)

BEES Bright, highly visible flowers in white, yellow or blue Ultraviolet patterns on petals Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea)

HUMMINGBIRDS Red and orange blooms Funnel- or trumpet-shaped flowers Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)

FLIES Putrid smells Challenging, complex flowers in dark brown, red or purple Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) 16 | W I L DF LOW E R

BEETLES Bowl-shaped flowers in white or green Sweet, fruity, often pungent fragrances Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

BATS White and greenish flowers Strong and musty night smells Organpipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) To demonstrate these features, Center horticulturists planted a new Theme Garden; see page 37. Also see page 42 for more on supporting native bees.


R U O Y M AKE E M I T N SCREE ! E M I T GREEN

MEMB

E RS

SAVE 10%

Learn about native plants, relax with yoga, and get gardening with our virtual class offerings. WILDFLOWER.ORG/LEARN

WHY WE GIVE

Tom Mays and Orlando Zayas • Members since 1995 • Donors since 2011

PHOTO Lisa Hause

“We support the Wildflower Center to help continue the legacy of Mrs. Johnson — a champion of conservation and highway beautification — and celebrate and preserve our natural landscapes for future generations. A visit to the Center is an opportunity to recharge the soul and find respite from the demands of everyday life.” — Tom Mays (above left, with Lynda Johnson Robb and Orlando Zayas)

WILDFLOWER.ORG/DONATE | 17


BORN TO ROCK Lithophilic plants don’t need no stinking soil, and don’t call them cute either by Jennifer Wehunt

1 8 | W I L DF LOW E R


Lace hedgehog cacti (Echinocereus reichenbachii), start out as spheres and become more cylindrical as they mature, rarely exceeding 8 inches in height. Give them a soil patch in a rock outcropping, and they are happily at home. PHOTO Joseph Marcus

| 19


It’s a bluebird day in early spring — so sunny, so breezy, so pinch-me picturesque, it’s almost impossible to believe a withering blanket of heat will soon smother this landscape. But as all Texans know, summer always comes, even to Austin’s idyllic Bull Creek District Park, with its limestone slabs and emerald green swimming hole. Less than 10 miles north of the capitol building, this hidden gem is a far cry from the movie-set deserts of West Texas. And yet, for the resident plant communities carving out a hardscrabble existence here, it’s an equally extreme environment, for two big reasons: One, rock absorbs heat, so when it’s high noon in high summer, this limestone bonanza will be baking. Two, even on a mild March day, there may be limestone and water, but there’s not much in the way of soil. And if you’re a plant, soil is your breakfast, lunch and dinner. For most plants, that is. Not for lithophiles, a motley crew of flinty, weather-beaten vegetation that settles in the cracks, crevices, potholes 2 0 | W I L DF LOW E R

and bare cliffs of rock; dirt be damned. These varieties don’t really need soil, and they’ve evolved to withstand blistering temperatures. They’re tough — Texas tough. Some of them also just happen to be miniature, but don’t make the mistake of calling them cute. Botanists Dr. Karen Clary and Bill Carr prefer “charismatic microflora,” a playful term honoring the miniature scale that allows many of these blinkand-you’ll-miss-them varieties to survive. Clary, Carr and I have synchronized our watches and convened here, at Bull Creek, to see if we can spot some scrappy native plants hanging out on the ample limestone. Because lithophiles are opportunistic sprouters, squatting in any chink where conditions are tolerable, we don’t have a map, but we do have drinking water, hiking boots and a healthy respect for botanical tenacity.


TOUGH CUSTOMERS How do you know what’s a lithophile and what isn’t? For starters, not all rock dwellers are tiny. Some varieties of agave and yucca are stop-inyour-tracks stunners, larger-than-life beauties you couldn’t overlook if you tried. So, size doesn’t matter. Neither does scientific classification, geographic location or type of rock. Some lithophiles live only on rock. Other shapeshifters take up residence on rock, gravel, sand, shallow deposits of junk soil, you name it. Some are Texas natives. Some are endemics, meaning they don’t grow naturally anywhere else. And some are invasive species. In fact, “lithophile” isn’t a taxonomic genus or family. It’s more like a mindset. The common characteristic these plants share is in their nickname: “litho,” for “rock,” and “phile,” meaning “lover.” Over millennia, these rock-loving flora have evolved and adapted to thrive in and on rock, from the karstic limestone of the Llano Uplift to the basalt of Big Bend. Lithophiles aren’t into luxury. Besides setting up camp on the hardest of surfaces, they’ve learned to withstand the harshest of climates (see: anywhere in Texas in August). Some use size as their secret weapon, as in the case of the charismatic microflora. By staying itsy-bitsy,

they’re able to concentrate whatever precious resources they manage to grab. “Lots of plants in this area are very energy conserving,” says Clary, the former director of conservation at the Wildflower Center. “They’re just big enough to reproduce, to flower, to attract pollinators, to fruit” — and no bigger. Others are ascetics, living a monastic life on an extremely spartan diet. “For a lot of the rock lovers, their metabolism is totally different [from typical plants],” Clary explains. “They don’t need the level of nutrients that soil provides. They’ve figured out a way to get what they need without having full plates. Their menu is very, very small.” How do they make that work? “By conserving water,” says Clary. “By not growing very fast. By changing shape.” In other words, by being wily, a skill familiar to lizards and coyotes and other desert dwellers that scrape by in challenging climates. The ability to go with the flow, to shift and adapt, lets them make a home where others couldn’t. In Central Texas, certain lithophiles have learned to pitch their metaphoric tents on cliff faces and to suspend themselves upside down from rocky overhangs. Take rock daisy (Perityle lindheimeri), which hangs off the rocks

Though comfortably upright in this image, rock daisy (Perityle lindheimeri) has envious grappling skills; it’s been known to live upside down on rock faces to avoid being eaten by hungry goats and deer. PHOTO Sally and Andy Wasowski

| 21


at Hamilton Pool. The region has long been a hotbed for raising goats and, more recently, for runaway populations of deer. Choosing a gravity-defying homestead gives rock daisy a refuge since, as Carr points out, “You don’t see a lot of deer climbing cliffs.” Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillusveneris), in abundance at Bull Creek, has cornered its own real estate market. Rainwater percolating down through crevices in the vertical limestone eventually hits an impenetrable layer of rock, at which point it runs laterally. Voilà: a half-inch-wide shelf of home sweet home too

ABOVE Wright’s cliffbrake fern (Pellaea wrightiana) doesn’t bother with flowers; rather, it reproduces via spores. PHOTO Alan Cressler RIGHT Ovateleaf cliffbrake (Pellaea ovata) does the same and is found only on the rocky slopes and ledges of Texas’ Edwards Plateau and Trans-Pecos regions. PHOTO Joseph Marcus

2 2 | W I L DF LOW E R

narrow for other would-be colonizers. And then there’s guapilla (Hechtia texensis), one of Clary’s personal favorites, with a rugged moptop of leaves that could pass for a pineapple. Also like pineapples, guapilla comes from the bromeliad family of mostly tropical plants. So what’s it doing growing in the limestone terraces and gravel flats of Big Bend? “Most plants sweat a lot, but desert plants that grow on rocks don’t do that,” Clary says. They save up every little bit of moisture they can, and, instead of respiring 24 hours a day, they lean nocturnal. Like joggers who


time their workouts after dusk, “They breathe [most] at night.” Another is living rock cactus (Ariocarpus fissuratus), a Big Bend species whose dormant appearance Clary likens to a dead sponge. But when it blooms, boy howdy! “It has the most gorgeous purple flowers,” she says. “We call it facultative,” meaning it blooms when it can (in this case, after rain). It’s just biding its time.

A WEST TEXAS MINDSET Guapilla and living rock cactus are Far West Texas endemics, found nowhere else on the planet. In fact, Big Bend is a veritable rock garden, with some endemic and many native lithophiles. Now retired, Patty Manning was the longtime greenhouse manager at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas. When I reach her on the phone to talk lithophiles, she wanders into her backyard greenhouse, a much less state-of-the-art affair than her former domain, she assures me, but what sounds like heaven for rock-loving plants and their appreciators. Manning is unabashedly pro-charismatic microflora. Although she’s surrounded by attention-grabbing desert beauties, the lithophile closest to her heart is purple scaly-stem (Elytraria imbricata). “It’s actually kind of a weed in Mexico,” she says, laughing. “It’s a very small plant that grows in cracks on cliff faces. You find it in really harsh areas where you wouldn’t expect to see something that delicate. I like it because it has a really small,

really beautiful, really tiny little flower. It’s not showy. It’s just pretty.” Other lithophiles to look for in the TransPecos include two melodramatically named varieties. First, there’s resurrection plant (Selaginella pilifera), which, most of the year, you might mistake for a clump of dead leaf litter. But when rare rain comes, the fern goes through a time-lapse lifecycle: rehydrating, producing spores, reproducing and then returning to dormancy in a matter of days. And then there’s desert savior (Echeveria strictiflora), the only echeveria that grows native outside of Mexico. I ask Manning why so many of us are gaga for echeverias, a genus of lithophilic succulents beloved by houseplant Instagrammers everywhere. Is it because their juicy little pads are almost — well, fleshy? “I think it’s sort of that anthropomorphic thing,” she says. “But they’re also pretty forgiving. Of course, anyone who has grown succulents knows they’re not foolproof. You do have to pay attention. You can’t water them too much. But they root pretty easily.” Is the ability to adapt, to get by in austere environments, something lithophiles have in common with, say, the residents of Far West Texas? Manning laughs again. “I don’t know that I’m tougher than anybody else. But I can certainly live without a lot of resources.”

LEFT Guapilla (Hechtia texensis), also known as Texas false agave, thrives in deserts but can also work as an accent plant in a xeric home garden. PHOTO Stan Shebs (CC BY-SA 3.0) RIGHT Camouflage master living rock cactus (Ariocarpus fissuratus) has spongelike stems that shrink and become less and less visible as conditions dry out (making it almost indiscernible from surrounding rocks at times. PHOTO Adam Black

CLIFF NOTES Back at Bull Creek, Carr lifts the brim of his circular sunhat to get a better look at the cliff | 23


THIS PAGE (clockwise from top left) Desert savior (Echeveria strictiflora), sand spikemoss (Selaginella arenicola) and resurrection plant (Selaginella piliferafa) PHOTOS (top left) Sean Watson, (other two) Alan Cressler OPPOSITE PAGE (counterclockwise from top) Purple scaly-stem (Elytraria imbricata), bluntlobe cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa), and Bill Carr investigating a rock face at Bull Creek District Park. PHOTOS Wynn Anderson (CC BY-NCSA 3.0), Alan Cressler, Jennifer Wehunt

2 4 | W I L DF LOW E R


| 25


face rising above us. “This is all Cretaceous, 65 to 100 million years old,” he says. “Most is Edwards Limestone, but you’ve got bands of Glen Rose and marl — crumbly limestone that erodes faster than the layers on top of it. The plants grow out of those layers.” Carr will be the first to tell you he’s no geologist, but as a field botanist specializing in landscape inventories for the likes of Texas Parks and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy, as well as for private clients via his own firm, Acme Botanical Services, he knows a thing or two about rock. Just over the hill, he explains, is a major fault zone, the Balcones Escarpment. And on the other side, underneath Austin, is much younger rock: the eponymous Austin chalk, as well as lots of geologic material that never consolidated. Meanwhile, over at Enchanted Rock, there’s one kind of granite, called Town Mountain, and a little further northwest, at Inks Lake State Park, there’s another, called Valley Spring Gneiss.

Rock quillwort (Isoetes lithophila) and yellow stonecrop (Sedum nuttallianum), the flowering plant on the right, take advantage of a vernal pool at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. PHOTO Carl Fabre

2 6 | W I L DF LOW E R

“You look at a geologic map of Texas and northern Mexico, and you’ve essentially got an island of limestone surrounded by things that aren’t limestone,” Carr says. “It got isolated.” In order to survive the desert island experience, plants began to eye their siblings. “There was not a whole lot of gene flow,” Carr says. “Things got closely related after a while.” Just down the road, however, you might find an entirely unique plant family — a whole other gene pool, if you will. A few years back, Carr was conducting simultaneous plant inventories of Government Canyon State Natural Area, near Helotes, Texas, and Bastrop State Park, 100 miles away. He found more than 500 plant species in each park, but only about 18 percent

of those were shared between the two. That’s like almost nobody moving from San Antonio to Austin for millions of years. Soil chemistry might explain the neighboring tribes. Bastrop is neutral or slightly acidic, while the greater Llano Uplift is moderately alkaline. “These two parks, they’re like nextdoor neighbors, practically, but they have almost nothing in common,” he says. “It happens all over the world, different things growing on different substrates. But it’s cool that we live in a place where that happens right next to each other, where we can see it. “That’s why I’m saying Texas is the best place to be as a botanist,” Carr continues. “We’ve got 513 endemic [plant] species”— maybe 50 to 75, he estimates, in Central Texas alone. “Talk about a good reason to conserve: These plants don’t grow anywhere else.”

SMALL PACKAGES Led by Carr and Clary, I’ve seen a veritable field guide of native Texas lithophiles (at Bull Creek as well as Inks Lake State Park): Lindheimer’s silktassle (Garrya ovata ssp. lindheimeri), evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola), yellow stonecrop (Sedum nuttallianum), sand spikemoss (Selaginella arenicola), lace hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus reichenbachii), water pygmyweed (Crassula aquatica), two kinds of cliffbrake fern (Pellaea wrightiana and P. ovata), bluntlobe cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa), Wright’s lip fern (Cheilanthes wrightii) and rock quillwort (Isoetes lithophila). We’ve foraged our way through a moveable feast of pepperweed (Lepidium densiflorum), cucumber plant (Parietaria pensylvanica), prickly pear tuna (Opuntia engelmannii) and who knows what kinds of wild onions. We’ve talked native habitats, both plant and human (Carr, Ohio; Clary, Panama; me, Texas). And I’ve heard Carr hold numerous friendly, if one-sided, conversations with plants (“You blooming yet, buddy?”). But the thing I’ve heard most often, from Carr and Clary and Manning alike, is: “How? How did they get here?” Because as much as we know about lithophiles and the botanical science of what and where they grow, we don’t really know how they ended up where they did or didn’t. Perhaps no plant we come across underscores this serendipity more than our last find of the day at Bull Creek. After fording the stream, we’re squelching our way along the east bank, following a footpath that veers to and fro in the shadow of the cliff wall. We’ve just passed a smattering of invasive species, suburban yard plants


deposited here by way of bird diet. I’m spacing out in the dappled sunshine, soaking up the sensations of spring, when I hear a squeal of delight. Up ahead, Clary and Carr are huddled around a pockmarked limestone outcropping. Tender green shoots, each with a tutu of leaves encircling its midsection, sprout from cavities in the rock. Atop every stem is a tiny white flower, smaller than a pinkie fingernail but, with the sun catching it just so, absolutely luminescent against the shadowy rock. If I was here by myself, I would have missed it or dismissed it as another weed. But today, it’s heart-stoppingly beautiful, like someone took an ethereal tulip and shrank it down to dollhouse scale. Talk about charismatic microflora. It’s thimbleweed, Anemone edwardsiana — as in the Edwards Plateau, the endemic homeland of this lithophilic buttercup, often found in shaded canyons (check), especially along limestone ledges (check), at the bases of bluffs (check). “It’s only out this time of year,” Clary says. “Its window is really, really short. If you were here in another week, you wouldn’t see it.” Whether our timing is fate or Mother Nature or luck of the draw, I’ll take it. Turns out how doesn’t much matter when the what is so marvelous.

An Edwards Plateau thimbleweed (Anemone edwardsiana) in bloom marks a successful lithophile treasure hunt. PHOTO Jennifer Wehunt

Free with admission— always free for members!

YO U R

HIDEOU SECRET

TS T AWA I

October 2020 through January 2021

Explore a collection of unique forts by local designers in our Texas Arboretum.

WILDFLOWER.ORG/FORTL AN DIA LEAD AND SUPPORTING SPONSORS

Carolyn and Jack Long Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin • H-E-B • H-E-B Tournament of Champions

| 27


Plant So Rubber

2 8 | W I L DF LOW E R


ome An unassuming native shrub could change the future by Amy McCullough illustrations by Drue Wagner

| 29


Y

ou’ve

probably

thought

about

supply

chains more than you even hoped to this year. Whether dog food or toilet paper was running low, how we get things — and how

people become innovative when necessary — are top of mind whether we like it or not. Native plants have come to the rescue over the course of U.S. history in many unsung and perhaps unknown ways. From filling life preservers during world wars to building formidable ships, native plants are often saviors at trying times. Disruption (and, yes, necessity) has led to invention. One of those plants has stepped up to pinch-hit in such circumstances, time and time again. Yet it continues to be left on the table — or in the desert, as it were. Now, it could be a new beginning for the United States’ domestic natural rubber supply.

3 0 | W I L DF LOW E R


RIDING ON IT

Chances are, you’ve never heard of guayule (Parthenium argentatum), a perennial shrub with small, yellow-white flowers and gray-green foliage resembling that of sagebrush species (they’re all in the aster family). Guayule is native to the deserts of Mexico and four counties in the Big Bend area of Texas: Presidio, Brewster, Pecos and Terrell. Despite its lack of notoriety, this seemingly modest native plant has a rich history in the United States, and it could have a bright future too. Guayule (pronounced “why-YOUlee”) also goes by the name “rubber plant,” a reference to its latex content. Latex is the raw material used to make natural rubber; it is typically tapped from rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) in a process not unlike harvesting maple syrup. Though H. brasiliensis trees are native to South America, 89% of Hevea-sourced rubber comes (rather inexpensively) from plantations in Southeast Asia. Wondering how much rubber comes from the United States? Zero, zilch, nil. That’s pretty astounding considering Americans use natural rubber for thousands of everyday items, from erasers and pacifiers to rubber bands and balloons. “No other critical material or food only has one source,” says Dr. Katrina Cornish, an Ohio State University researcher who’s been studying alternative rubber and latex production for over 30 years. “It would be like a potato famine meaning that there are no carbohydrates now.” The most significant product that uses natural rubber is tires. Car, truck and bus tires are made of 50 to 100% natural rubber; bike tires and shoe soles all contain natural rubber; and airplane tires are entirely made of it (airplane tires made of synthetic rubber, which is less durable, flexible and heat tolerant, would likely explode upon landing). That

means natural rubber takes you pretty much everywhere you go, regardless of method. Of course, we’ve all lessened our travel in the past several months, which Cornish says is actually a good thing when it comes to America’s rubber situation. “People are staying at home; they’re not wearing out their tires,” she says, explaining that we’d be “in dire straits” if that weren’t the case because natural rubber from Hevea trees was already running out. Our current source of natural rubber faces numerous threats: Climate change is constricting the area suitable for growing these trees. Clear-cutting rainforests to make room for rubber tree cultivation, thankfully, is being halted due to deforestation moratoriums such as those sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund. And devastating diseases such as South American leaf blight have the power to take out entire forests. Because cultivated Hevea rubber forests are cloned, they are genetically identical across miles of trees, which leaves them no ability to fight such diseases as individuals. They are also planted very close together, so leaves and roots are all in contact. Leaf blights are essentially a death sentence. In other words, our natural rubber supply, on which many products rely, is far from secure, which is why Cornish claims we are facing a “pending rubber apocalypse.” It’s not a matter of if, but when. “It’s inevitable that it’s going to happen,” she says. This is where guayule, our understated Texas native, comes in. There are roughly 2,500 plants that produce latex and can be used to make natural rubber, but Cornish says most “don’t make the sort of rubber we need.” To compete with Hevea-sourced rubber, the result has to be high quality and the source farmable. Guayule offers both. >> | 31


LIKE A GLOVE

The major use Cornish envisions for guayule rubber — which is made from the tops of plants and can be harvested again and again from the same crop — is in medical products such as gloves, catheters and condoms. Guayule rubber offers some impressive upgrades as a medical material: It doesn’t contain the proteins in Hevea-sourced rubber that many are seriously (even life-threateningly) allergic to. In fact, guayule is the only nonallergenic natural rubber option. And it plays well with others. Because it’s remarkably soft, strong and stretchy in the first place, Cornish explains, you can blend it with other components and still end up with a thin, supple glove. “It’s a really spiffy polymer,” she says. Her team has successfully combined it with bismuth trioxide, a radiation-resistant substance that results in gloves able to protect wearers from both disease and radiation. Surgeons who need both currently wear two pairs of gloves at once, which she likens to getting an operation by someone wearing boxing gloves. Cornish recently submitted a funding application to the USDA’s COVID Rapid Response Research Program to create ultrathin, uber-protective guayule rubber gloves. When asked if her work feels more relevant than ever, in light of supply chain issues and the 32 | W I L DF LOW E R

demand for personal protective equipment, she says, “Absolutely.” For guayule to become a true commodity, however, it needs to be incorporated into that big rubber industry: tires. Doing so would require millions of acres to grow the plants on, infrastructure, processing facilities, and research and development. Tire companies such as Bridgestone and Cooper have begun exploring their domestic options; the former is operating research stations in Arizona and partnering with University of Arizona and U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers to develop guayule-sourced rubber. They created their first guayule-rubber tire in 2015, but the product is not yet commercially available. As Cornish puts it, “You can’t jump from nothing straight into tires.” So she’s trying to make a name for guayule rubber in the niche glove market first. To that end, she is CEO and chief science technology officer at her own biotechnology start-up, EnergyEne Inc. Though they currently get their guayule shrub supply from Arizona, they are looking for new land and new sources, including field sites at Texas Tech. She hopes to be able to work with tribal nations in the Southwest and utilize retired cotton farms as well.


HOME GROWN

Speaking of Arizona and Texas, guayule is a desert plant. Besides creating what Cornish calls, simply, “a wonderful material,” it could also be a sustainable domestic source. Evergreen guayule thrives in environments with poor soil, full sun and little rainfall. And land to grow it on could come relatively cheap. Tommy Roach, owner of Noircroxx Biological and Dr. Cornish’s project coordinator in Texas (a post he describes as “hunting land” and “running around trying to help for the last five years”), agrees. Roach says land for growing guayule — which he’s scouted and soil-tested for miles around Marfa and the Davis Mountains — goes for about a third of the cost per acre that one would pay for potato or alfalfa farmland in Texas’ High Plains. Plus, he says guayule “likes that area,” noting that the soil, dry air and micronutrients are compatible, and there aren’t any pest or disease problems of note. Another advantage Roach mentions is that you can grow it on oil land right up to the rigs because, unlike other crops, “You’re not gonna consume it.” Cornish and her colleagues are also researching a dandelion species native to Kazakhstan (Taraxacum kok-saghyz) that produces rubber in its roots. It needs moist, fertile conditions to grow outdoors, but its best setup for high rubber yields comes from hydroponic cultivation. In either case, guayule is low maintenance by comparison. Some means of production already exist. To extract latex from guayule, the harvested tops of plants are put into what is essentially a giant blender, then “immersion ground” in water, which releases the rubber particles. These are skimmed off the top, not unlike skimming cream from milk. Cornish says “We actually use a hot-milk separator” (a type of centrifuge used in the dairy industry), indicating that guayule rubber production could easily take advantage of existing methods and equipment. Growing latex-producing plants and moving natural rubber production home could also bring an enormous amount of agricultural and manufacturing jobs to the U.S. In the long game, Cornish says we could eventually be a rubber exporting country. With all these advantages and the security that inherently comes with controlling our own supply, why does the U.S. keep importing natural rubber? It’s simple: money and inertia.  >> | 33


BURNING RUBBER

Guayule has resurfaced and disappeared throughout American history. “If it wasn’t for politics,” says Cornish, “we’d have a thriving domestic guayule industry now.” It’s not hard to believe her. Cornish seems to know everything about guayule. In a half-hour conversation, she brings up a famous surfer known as the “Guayule Kid” (Phil Edwards), references a 1950s stock deal involving (an almost-defunct) Intercontinental Rubber Company and Texas Instruments, and mentions a failed guayule crusader (Hugh Anderson) who she’s afraid to end up like. She even recalls a bad novel someone passed along with a plot revolving around leaf blight terrorism. That may seem like a ridiculous storytelling device, but guayule actually has a past filled with geopolitical intrigue. In “Growing American Rubber,” author Mark Finlay writes that guayule originally gained attention after a Mexican display featured it at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Italian and German chemists became interested, fueling a competitive boom in the United States from 1900 to 1907. Interested parties included such well-known names as

“If it wasn’t for politics, we’d have a thriving domestic guayule industry now.” Thomas Edison, U.S. Senator Nelson Aldrich and John D. Rockefeller. In 1906, The New York Times reported that Aldrich and Rockefeller obtained options on all guayule rubber manufacturing plants in Mexico in an effort to “syndicate the guayule industry.” But the plant’s true moment in American history was during World War II, when Congress passed a law forming the Emergency Rubber Project in 1942 (Finlay calls it “the Manhattan Project of the plant sciences”). Its goal was to establish a domestic rubber source after Japan cut off 90% of the world’s supply in Southeast Asia. This included tens of thousands of acres of land being devoted to guayule growth and research in California and the Southwest — a great many of which were at Manzanar, a JapaneseAmerican internment camp in California. 3 4 | W I L DF LOW E R

In his paper, “The Role of Botanists during World War II in the Pacific Theatre,” former Arnold Arboretum director Richard A. Howard writes: “It has been said that no nearer complete or better coordinated organizational plan had ever been prepared in government.” The project was put on hold, however, to prioritize food production — and ultimately called off in 1945. It produced 1,473 tons of rubber, but the plantations and seeds were ultimately destroyed (along with over 10,000 tons of rubber), leaving guayule underexplored for another few decades. Cornish and Finlay both identify racism as another reason the project was liquidated: Americans didn’t want to give credit to Japanese-American scientists for their discoveries. So they (literally) burned it and put their money on synthetic rubber, which Cornish says has never been able to perform like natural rubber. American interest in guayule was briefly rekindled in the world oil crisis of the 1970s, which incentivized finding naturally occurring substitutes for synthetic polymers. History really does repeat itself. But guayule, with all its promise, has never truly taken hold. As Finlay writes, “Government officials continually rebuffed, for nearly thirty years, efforts … to develop guayule as a new American crop and strategic resource.” All of these efforts were embarked upon in order to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign natural rubber sources, a problem we still very much have today — a problem Cornish is working hard to solve. When asked if another disaster is necessary for guayule to finally make progress, Cornish says, “I hope it doesn’t come to that,” adding, “You need to establish it so you can be commercially viable in a normal economy.” But she is also the one giving Ted Talks on a forthcoming rubber apocalypse. The thing is, she wants the U.S. to beat a rubber crisis to the punch for once. In order to do so, guayule needs land, infrastructure and research, but it also needs that thing every cause does: “somebody with a vision who’s also got money,” as Cornish puts it. With four significant investor groups looking into her research, she feels hopeful for the plant’s future. “It’s all ready to go,” she says. In the Lone Star spirit, Texans might say come and take it — or, better yet, come and grow it.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Two more unsung native plant heroes

Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca Common milkweed happens to be one of the 2,500 plants that contains latex (and it has also been explored as a domestic rubber source), but its claim to wartime fame has to do with life jackets. During World War II, milkweed fluff — seeds outfitted with silky parachutes (or “comas”) for wind dispersal — replaced fibers that typically came from kapok (Ceiba pentandra) trees, a massive tropical species. Exports to the U.S. (and Canada) dwindled after Japan gained control of Indonesia, and North America needed a domestic source of buoyant stuffing. “In 1942 or ’43, when I was in grade school in central Pennsylvania,” says Wildflower Center member and volunteer John Irwin, “we were given a day off school to go out in the woods and collect milkweed pods for life preservers.” His collection was part of a larger effort across the country to fill the vital vests. As Joe Marcus, coordinator of the Center’s Native Plants of North America database, puts it, “It’s hard to imagine today how virtually the entire country pulled together between 1941 and 1945 for a common goal.” But it did. And many sailors reportedly owe their lives to the effort.

Candelilla Euphorbia antisyphilitica Native to the Chihuahuan Desert of Trans-Pecos Texas, New Mexico and Mexico, candelilla yields a high-quality wax that has been useful throughout North American history, particularly in times of war. Its stems have a waxy coating (a water-conservation adaptation of many desert plants), which can be harvested by boiling plants with sulfuric acid, a historic industry along the Rio Grande. While candelilla wax has been used in products from shoe polish and candles to chewing gum, records and soap, its waterproofing ability made it a valuable military supply during both world wars. In “Coyame: A History of the American Settler,” Dr. Francisco Javier Morales Natera describes its military uses as “countless,” listing waterproofing airplane wings, tents and tarps among the most common. Candelilla wax has been commercialized since the early 1900s, but demand increased circa World War I, when the supply of imported vegetable waxes declined. Wars (and pandemics) lead to all sorts of needs, and native plants often come to the rescue. | 35


CENTERED

MOUNTAIN STANDARD TIME THE WILDFLOWER CENTER recently added more mountain to its West Texas Mountain Collection. OK, perhaps “mountain” is an overstatement, but the terraced garden beds across from our Observation Tower mimic a mountain landscape to some extent, so we’re taking advantage and expanding our high-and-dry offerings to a new area. Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya says she wanted to represent West Texas “in a bigger way” to continue owning up to our title as the state botanic garden. She also wanted this particular collection — which is spread among beds near our Administration building, Wildflower Café, the Library and, now, leading from the Courtyard toward the Savanna Meadow — to offer guests a “richer interpretive experience.” The original West Texas Mountain Collection was planted in 2007. The new expansion takes over a nearby terraced area that “looked good before but wasn’t really an exhibit with a theme,” per DeLong-Amaya. Plants now growing there were selected based on natural elevation ranges (using the Chisos and Davis Mountains for inspiration), with

3 6 | W I L DF LOW E R

an eye for species that are common to or iconic of Texas mountains, not to mention things we could obtain as well as “really cool stuff,” as DeLong-Amaya puts it. One noteworthy species she lists is desert rose-mallow (Hibiscus coulteri, above left), which features pale yellow flowers that look like tissue paper. “I’ve seen full patches of it out in Big Bend,” says DeLong-Amaya, “and it’s beautiful.” Mariola (Parthenium incanum); horsetail milkweed (Asclepias subverticillata, upper right); five species of penstemon (Penstemon spp.); and two buckwheats (Eriogonum spp.), what DeLong-Amaya describes as “low, pincushiony plants,” also made the cut. Cory’s pipevine (Aristolochia coryi, bottom right) that’s “tucked into little cracks” will spread across rocks and fill in gaps as well. The area currently features at least 28 species not on display elsewhere in the gardens. DeLong-Amaya knows not all of these new-to-theCenter species will survive in our more humid climate, but she plans to replace those that fail and keep experimenting: “That’s gardening,” she says.

PHOTOS (desert rose-mallow) M. Falk, (milkweed) Alan Cressler, (Cory’s pipevine) Richard Rintz

Center news that’s close to home by Amy McCullough


SQUARE DANCE EASILY RECOGNIZED BY THEIR BOXY PLOTS AND

PHOTO Wildflower Center

flanked by vine-covered arbors, the Center’s Theme Gardens, which demonstrate various uses and categories of native plants, welcomed a few updates this year. Plants from the Chalk Prairie Theme Garden moved into a sunnier section of the nearby Woodland Garden, consolidating plants that naturally occur together for a more fully representative Hill Country collection. A new Pollinator Syndromes Garden has been planted to educate visitors about which flower shapes, colors and attributes attract certain types of pollinators. (Learn more

about pollinator syndromes on page 16.) Plants from the Wildflower Center nursery will be “let out of captivity,” as Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya puts it, in a new Trials Theme Garden. The idea is to see, through monitoring and observation, how certain native plants that are new to horticulture respond in a cultivated setting. And a Botanical Keys Theme Garden featuring three common plant families — Fabaceae, Scrophulariaceae and Asteraceae — will introduce guests to the concept of a botanical key and how to use one to identify plants.

GIFTS OF NOTE THE WILDFLOWER CENTER would like to acknowledge these generous gifts and their donors:

Jeanie and Tommy Carter: $161,360 as part of their 2009 Charitable Lead Annuity Trust and $150,000 toward the new Roadrunner Trail

The Estate of Sharon C. Graham: $500,000 to the Luci and Ian Family Garden Endowment Fund and $195,000 in additional support

| 37


OFF-CENTER News from outside the garden gate by Amy McCullough

GREENING SOUTH FIRST AUSTIN’S SOUTH FIRST STREET got a bit more verdant after Wildflower Center environmental designers installed a green roof — three distinct green roof sections, to be exact — at the headquarters of real estate developer StoryBuilt (also the client) in summer 2019. Summer is a particularly tough time to plant a green roof in Texas, but Ecological Research and Design Director Matt O’Toole says we ensured success by implementing a “regimented irrigation protocol” that began with spray irrigation and switched to drip irrigation once plantings became more established. Center experts selected plants, led implementation, and will contribute maintenance recommendations for the roofs, which are part of a mixed-use development at 900 S. First St. Like all of our green roof projects, the roofs use SkySystem™ planting medium, developed by Wildflower Center researchers.

3 8 | W I L DF LOW E R

O’Toole says this project was unique because one of the three sections is shaded throughout the afternoon. “We did some sunshade analysis,” he explains, “and selected the plant palettes from there.” In the two sunnier sections, they employed a mix of 51 native species, mostly herbaceous plants representing our local Blackland Prairies ecoregion (one of the most endangered areas in North America). By contrast, nine shade-loving species were used on the shaded section of roof, including inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium; also see page 15), pine muhly (Muhlenbergia dubia), tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var.  hispida) and paleleaf and twistleaf yucca (Yucca pallida and Y. rupicola, respectively). O’Toole describes the result as “much more ornamental” than our typical green roofs, which are designed to endure extreme heat and sun exposure.


GARDEN PARTY PHOTOS (opposite page) courtesy of StoryBuilt, (this page) courtesy of Central Texas Gardener, Austin PBS, KLRU -TV

SENIOR ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGNER John Hart Asher (above left) has been moonlighting as the host of “Central Texas Gardener,” a long-running Austin PBS show, since fall 2019, in addition to his work at the Wildflower Center. Though Asher is more used to being an interviewee, he says he’s really enjoyed hosting the show and has learned a great deal. He particularly valued getting to chat with landscape architect Thomas Rainer (above right), co-author of “Planting in a Post-Wild World.” In addition to learning from his guests, Asher says it’s “great to hear the reputation the Wildflower Center has” with such influential people, noting children’s author Sharon Lovejoy as another highlight from his guest roster. “It’s helping establish relationships

between the Center and professionals around the country,” he adds. One interesting aspect of the show for Asher is that there is more flexibility in plant topics since CTG does not have a native-only approach. He’s used to coming at things from a “purely ecological perspective,” and he’s learning that there’s an interesting dialogue to be had between native specialists and gardeners more broadly. “Gardening is such a big, wild universe,” says Asher, who’s embracing the opportunity to consider alternative perspectives and offer his own vice versa to guests. He sees it as a testament to the value of people “on different wavelengths” and with various areas of expertise coming together and just talking.

SHOUTOUTS FROM THE GARDEN-VERSE WILDFLOWER CENTER DIRECTOR of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya has the honor of being one of “75 extraordinary women working in the world of plants” featured in “The Earth in Her Hands,” a new book by gardening writer and educator Jennifer Jewell. DeLongAmaya also appeared on an episode of Jewell’s popular “Cultivating Place” podcast (search “Amaya” at cultivating place.com/blog-1 to listen).

EDGELAND HOUSE , a spectacular home in East Austin created by architecture firm Bercy Chen Studio LP

and Wildflower Center environmental designers, was the subject of an episode of “Home,” a new series from Apple TV+. The structure, which is nestled into a hillside and topped with a 2,300-square-foot green roof, belongs to lawyer and science fiction author Chris Brown, who says on the show: “This division between human space and nature is a construct of our own making. This house is about inviting the immediate environment in.” Center Senior Environmental Designer John Hart Asher (above left) appears in the episode and discusses how the home came to include a native prairie.

| 39


THINGS WE LOVE The tool and apparel we’re currently into by Wildflower Center Staff

GARDEN TOOL

The best feature of an expandable rake is versatility: You can open it completely so tines are fully spread out and use it to rake leaves or paths — which works especially well on decomposed granite, allowing you to pick up debris while leaving granite pieces behind. Or you can pull it in to rake tight places, such as between plants or along garden edges. It’s also so lightweight a child could easily use it, and sturdy enough for most garden tasks (do avoid raking hard, rocky ground with one). It’s even great for random, pop-up jobs such as raking caterpillar webbing out of trees or lifting algae out of ponds. That’s a lot of usefulness in a seemingly simple tool. Julie Marcus Senior Horticulturist

APPAREL

Our Favorite Socks When it comes to gardening, what you wear on your feet is darn important. After all, you’re going to be on them most of the day. Our horticulturists weigh in on their favorite brands (which, we’ve been told, they’re devoted enough to arm wrestle over).

Darn Tough Their unconditional lifetime guarantee is pretty amazing (return for any reason and they’ll send you another pair). And they couple durability with fun designs such as mountain ranges, bears and veggies (a style that supports Vermont Foodbank). Amy Galloway Horticulturist

4 0 | W I L DF LOW E R

They’re made of Merino wool, which regulates temperature well. And, true to their name, Darn Tough socks are extremely durable! I’ve had three pairs for multiple years, and they don’t have any holes in the toes or wear in the heels. Kate Gliniak Gardener darntough.com

Smart Wool

Stance

It might sound silly, but, honestly, if your feet aren’t comfy, it can wreck your whole day. These are also made of Merino wool, which is environmentally responsible, breathable and odor resistant. Karen Beaty Horticulturist smartwool.com

I love that they are so technical in their offerings; you can buy any weight or height (and almost any color or pattern) you can think of. I have never worn them out — ever! Leslie Uppinghouse Horticulturist stance.com

IMAGES (tool) Joanna Wojtkowiak; (socks, left to right) Amy Galloway, Kate Gliniak, Karen Beaty, Leslie Uppinghouse

Expandable Rake


THANK YOU Recognizing our corporate partners

Applewood Seed Company | Art Seen Alliance | Austin Outdoor Design Austin Wood Recycling | Emerald Lawns | FactSet FastFrame & The Westlake Gallery | Her Royal Hempress ILIOS Lighting | Kirk Root Designs | KOMPAN | Letterpress PLAY The Muskin Company | The North Door | Premiere Events They Might Be Monkeys! Texas Tree & Land Co. Uptown Modern | 41


Can Do

The Bees’ Needs

Creating habitat for native bees is as easy as one, two, three by Lee Clippard

Adding a bee box like this one to your garden provides a place for these important pollinators to nest. PHOTO Brianna Casselman

4 2 | W I L DF LOW E R

EUROPEAN HONEYBEES GET A LOT OF LOVE, AND FOR GOOD REASON: They produce sweet, delicious honey. But there are thousands of species of equally fascinating and important North American native bees in dire need of our support. This may seem obvious, but prior to the arrival of Europeans and their hives of honeybees, North America’s native bees did all of the beerelated pollination on the continent. Sadly, many of these bees are disappearing (for all of the oft-cited reasons: development, climate change, pesticide use and so on). Yet let’s not lose hope, because it’s pretty easy to support our native bees, even in very urban environments. You too can have a garden filled with iridescent, jewel-colored bees; tiny, shiny, green bees looking waxed and buffed like a new car; big, bumbling, fat, fuzzy, black-and-yellow bees; and giant, dark bluish-purple bees shaped like winged bullets.


Here’s how to support bees in three easy steps:

PHOTOS (sweat bee on flowering partridge pea) Wildflower Center; (plants, left to right), Melody Lytle, Wildflower Center, Ray Mathews, Wildflower Center

1. GET A BOX OF HOLES

There are many species of solitary native bees that nest in holes in wood. Females wiggle their way down into the hole, lay an egg, stuff the hole with pollen, seal it, and leave the larva there to hatch, grow and become an adult. (Cool side story: There are native cuckoo bees that parasitize these bees by sneaking in and laying their eggs in the holes provisioned by the other bee.) To see all of this play out in your yard, make a bee box. All you need is a thick hunk of untreated wood and drill bits of various sizes. Once built, hang your box in a protected place a few feet off the ground and facing the morning sun. For specific ideas, the Xerces Society is a great resource (visit xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/nesting-resources). You can also buy a premade bee box. There are a lot of companies that now sell insect hotels and bee boxes online. That’s a good way to go if you don’t want to build your own, and some of them are quite stylish.

2. OPEN UP SOME BARE GROUND

Ground-nesting bees need bare soil to excavate their little holes. Just like solitary wood nesters, most of these bees lay their eggs in the ground and basically fly away. Bumblebees are a different story: A queen bumbler will generally look for an old rodent hole or some other premade cavity and start a colony filled with sister bees that care for each other. Bumblebees are extremely good pollinators (we wouldn’t have the tomato industry as we know it without them). Find a spot or three in your garden and clear away the mulch and leaf litter. It might not result in bees right away, but keep at it. You never know when a momma bee will decide that your little patch of bare soil is the perfect spot to start a family.

3. PLANT GOOD BEE PLANTS

Every region in North America has native plants that provide nectar and pollen to a wide variety of native bees. Visit our Native Plants of North America database (wildflower.org/plants-main) for plant lists and check with your local native plant society or nursery. In Central Texas, the following plants are often covered with native (and honey) bees:

Kidneywood Eysenhardtia texana

Fall aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

Mealy blue sage Salvia farinacea

Partridge pea Chamaecrista fasciculata

As with all gardening, start small. Plant a few bee-friendly plants; stop using pesticides in your landscape; and leave some bare ground. Then, mount a few bee boxes around your space. Even a balcony in the right location could work. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the bees buzz in. | 43


When in Roam

4 4 | W I L DF LOW E R


Falling Water, Thriving Plants A famous Frank Lloyd Wright site embraces native landscapes

PHOTO Christopher Little, courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

by Jill Sell VISITORS APPROACH ALMOST REVERENTLY. Conversations die down; voices are lowered. They are here to see Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic residence in Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Some look straight ahead, ignoring the graceful cinnamon ferns (Osmunda cinnamomea) or abundant white-pink rhododendrons (Rhododendron maximum) of early summer. Others take a second to smile at pink lady’s slipper orchids (Cypripedium acaule) or trilliums as they pass. A wide gravel path flows from the Visitor have been challenged by what that environment Center, flanked by lush, sun-spotted woodlands should look like. At stake is not just the future of with eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), the landscape around Fallingwater, but the 5,100tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), red maple acre Bear Run Nature Reserve surrounding the (Acer rubrum), oak and hickory trees (Quercus house. Mingled within the native plants of southspp. and Carya spp., respectively). Then, almost western Pennsylvania are aggressive invasives. like a mirage, Fallingwater appears. The cantiWalking paths wind near the house and levered dwelling, designed in 1935 and certain- within the lush reserve. Depending upon the ly one of the most famous houses in America, season and time of day, it can be shady, cool or was built for the Edgar J. Kaufmann family of humid. It all looks like paradise – and mostly Pittsburgh as a nature retreat. Its architecture is. It’s possible, however, to spot wayward garmimics the horizontal rock ledges of Bear Run lic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) tucked behind stream over which the house is built. Falling- native plantainleaf sedge (Carex plantaginea) water looms large — and, as Wright would say, or see remnants of aggressive English ivy “organically” — rising from the earth. (Hedera helix) spreading across the ground. The home’s natural surroundings are as im- But don’t blame Wright. portant as its massive concrete terraces. But Fallingwater horticulturalist Ann Talarek since its donation to the Western Pennsylvania said the architect had very little to do with Conservancy in 1963, Fallingwater’s caretakers the landscape design. Topographical maps | 45


A rosy sunrise highlights the beauty of restored native prairie at Muirhead Farmhouse, where wildflowers attract pollinators, birds and humans. PHOTO Sara Montgomery-Porter, courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Kane County

4 6 | W I L DF LOW E R

indicate only what key trees Wright believed should remain during construction. But the Kaufmanns, like many at the time, considered exotics to be fashionable and planted periwinkle (Vinca minor), burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and what Talarek considers the worst invasive on site: Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’). “We hand pick all the pods off and burn them,” says Talarek of the wisteria. This year Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) is a main target, along with wisteria that will be cut out of trees and thistle that pops up in the parking lot, brought in with mulched materials. Plants will be burned (including “truckloads,” per Talarek, of garlic mustard) in recessed pits. Volunteers helping to control invasive species have gotten creative: One Thanksgiving, they made a cranberry relish from the edible fruit of Japanese silverberry (Elaeagnus umbellata), sweetened with honey. But it is an ongoing battle. Talarek, who has worked at the site since 2007, says prior attempts at controlling invasives had mostly been sporadic. “Now we have a master plan that emphasizes cyclical maintenance,” she explains, noting that other Frank Lloyd Wright sites “have adopted our

formula” — an encouraging trend. Muirhead Farmhouse in Illinois, for instance, is restoring farmland to native prairie with an emphasis on showy, pollinator-attracting forbs such as black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta). At Fallingwater, plants reflecting the home’s historical integrity and the original wishes of the Kaufmanns are not ignored. Bouquets of cut lilies, one of Liliane Kaufmann’s favorite flowers, are displayed inside the house but not grown on the property. Elsewhere, including the reserve’s wildflower meadows and woodlands, natives such as wild ginger (Asarum canadense), with its beautiful heartshaped leaves, are sown to replace invasives. Other native wildflowers at the property and reserve include wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica). From a popular viewing point across Bear Run stream, Fallingwater looks like it will survive to see its 100-year mark. But it is easy to envision what could happen if invasive plants gone wild have their way. The famed dwelling would resemble a crumbling temple belonging to an ancient, extinct civilization. It’s enough to make you volunteer for a garlic mustard pull.


Tee Time

Lady Bird Johnson famously said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Celebrate her words and her legacy with one of our colorful new T-shirts. Purchase at bonfire.com/store/ wildflowercenter

PHOTOS (main) Emily Cannata, (inset) courtesy of the Scholes family

WHY WE GIVE

The Scholes Family • Members since 2014 • Donors since 2015

“The Center became immensely important to our family when our medically fragile daughter Elisabeth Maxine was born in April 2014 (peak wildflower season!). Many of her 373 days on Earth included short trips with her three big brothers to our favorite swing in what is now Elisabeth Maxine’s Cathedral of Oaks. Her endowment allows us to share the Wildflower Center’s beauty and mission with others in perpetuity.”  — Anissa and Mark Scholes

WILDFLOWER.ORG/DONATE | 47


Wild Life

4 8 | W I L DF LOW E R


Planted The challenge of finding one’s place and growing in it by Michael Robin Manning

ILLUSTRATION www.delphinejones.com

illustration by Delphine Jones SUNFLOWERS ARE RESILIENT and versatile plants. They grow along highways, in deserts and in poor soils — needing only a few resources provided by nature, including warmth, sunlight and water. They are rumored to look for and follow the sun wherever it goes. After living with my adoptive family for a decade, I met and moved in with my biological mother. One of the first things she shared with me was her love for flowers and plants. Her garden was protected by a sloped hill overlooking the house, with a glorious patch of Sunzillas* facing her country home in Alpine, California. When she brought me there for the first time, it was early summer. I was amazed. Never had I seen such a sight: The sunflowers stood tall and proud on the hill, facing the sun with allegiance in what appeared to be an intense, reciprocal relationship. Though it’s a myth that mature sunflowers are phototropic**, it appeared to my young eyes as if the big, gold flower heads looked up at the sun as it rose in the east and chased its disappearing light over a ridge to the west. Like my siblings and I, the flowers seemed to soak up every ray the sun had to offer while it stared back at them, enamored. Watching for sprouts in early spring helped us know the final frost had cleared. Each year, it was invigorating to look for the Sunzillas; we’d eagerly wait for their erect stems to appear atop the hill and for hearty buds to burst into strong, cheerful blooms. The flowers’ annual return brought life (literally and figuratively) into our family. On rare rainy days, they were perhaps even more special to behold. With less sunlight to hypothetically guide their path, the flowers seemed to turn toward each other and share their energy — a reminder from nature to seek light from one another when dark clouds block the sun from view.  After three years of warmth, nourishment and light, the storm of my mother’s substance abuse surfaced once again. My siblings and I, ranging from ages 5 to 14 at the time, often

turned to each other for comfort during this time. Summer quickly gave way to fall, leaving parched terrain and exhausted resources. We too felt as if our nourishing life cycle was coming to a close. By Thanksgiving, the first frost had arrived, and the sunflowers began eroding, one by one losing their petals and seeds. It looked like a warzone up on sunflower hill, resembling how we all felt inside. With the turn of the season, I felt it was time for me to go. It had become clear that, like that year’s patch of sunflowers, I could not grow in this place any longer. I had to start over and replant myself several times. First I went back to my adoptive parents, then to a distant relative, until settling down in my final years of high school with relatives of my biological father. Each time I moved, I had to start over: rooting, growing, feeling loved and nurtured, until the situation was no longer tenable for reasons beyond my control. It wasn’t until very recently, as an adult and mother myself, that I finally felt supported by the elements around me in a place that could truly cultivate my growth — planted, so to speak. Common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), like many sunflowers species, are annual plants, expiring after they flower. As a young woman, I learned to embrace all aspects of their life cycle and crave each next phase, even the period when the flower heads decompose, loosing their seeds onto the soil to start the process all over again. Their setting of seed felt, to me, like setting the stage for what the future could bring. In the face of each new season that forced my personal growth, I have relied on my own roots growing strong, emboldening me as they create a new form, push forth new leaves, and, eventually, bloom with new petals to look for and find the sun. *A giant, tall-growing, cultivated variety of common sunflower (Helianthus annuus). **Developing sunflower buds and leaves may exhibit some phototropism.

| 49


Cultivate Your Legacy Share your love of nature and inspire future generations to improve our world through native plant conservation. Include the Wildflower Center in your estate planning to leave a lasting legacy. TO LEARN MORE: Visit wildflower.org/donate/planned-giving Or contact Leslie Zachary at lzachary@wildflower.org or 203.984.9001

Profile for Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Wildflower Magazine 2020 | Volume 37, No. 2  

Rock-loving plants, the beauty of prescribed burns, a native plant that could transform the rubber industry, how to support pollinators and...

Wildflower Magazine 2020 | Volume 37, No. 2  

Rock-loving plants, the beauty of prescribed burns, a native plant that could transform the rubber industry, how to support pollinators and...

Advertisement

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded