Wildflower Magazine 2021 | Volume 38, No. 1

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2021 | Volume 38, No. 1






FAR Afield

When you think of a swamp, what comes to mind? Mosquitoes, humidity, all-around discomfort? Perhaps there is some truth in that impression, but, as this scene from North Carolina shows, “dreamy” and “gorgeous” are fair game descriptors too. Ensconced by woods, a blushing band of Virginia saltmarsh mallows (Kosteletzkya virginica) have created a hovering fog of pink petals and lush foliage. Native to brackish marshes, coastal plains and swamps from Maryland to Florida on over to Texas, these sleeping beauties close their blossoms at night. A nectar source for butterflies and hummingbirds, Virginia saltmarsh mallows will adapt to less saline sites and even grow in standard garden soil. Learn more about bringing them home on page 40. – A.M. PHOTO Jack Spruill, courtesy of North Carolina Native Plant Society


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LOOK Closer

Sometimes a single flower in a landscape unabashedly catches your eye, calling you to come a little closer, appreciate its structure, and, yes, snap a photo to capture it in time. This simply stunning Virginia saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica), photographed at the Wildflower Center by a longtime member, is one of those singular blooms. The perfect pink and faint filaments of its petals; the bold gold of its protruding, pollen-covered staminal column; the fuzzy five-pointed crown of its spherical stigmas: They all seem born — or grown, as it were — for the camera. And if you really lean in, you’ll see there’s a tiny insect resting deep within the flower, taking a front row seat at nature’s splendid show … a lucky creature indeed. – A.M. PHOTO Jim McCulloch |3

FROM THE Executive Director

In This We Share NATURE CAN BE A SOLITARY EXPERIENCE, and quite often that is exactly what the doctor ordered: quiet, contemplative time spent soaking in the natural world. Yet there are also times when nature is sublimely collective. I think of that “ooh ah” moment I’ve had with friends, family or even nearby strangers as the sun goes down and floods the sky with color — a shared witnessing that further binds us together. I was pondering this as I floated down one of have more differences than similarities, but to Central Texas’ beautiful spring-fed rivers last quote Lady Bird Johnson, the environment “is summer. In a normal year, I would’ve been able the one thing that all of us share.” to tiptoe across the water from one bank to anAs we begin 2021 with lessons learned from other on my fellow river rats’ tubes. Last sum- a tumultuous year, let’s ask ourselves: How mer, however, there wasn’t another soul in sight can we better share our environment? How aside from my wife and our two daughters. It will we treat our home on Earth? Can we work was magical. together across this highly connected planet At the same time, it caused me to long for the to steward its resources for the benefit of all? days when people would come together from all I believe we can. walks of life to enjoy one another’s company in Regardless of whether we are physically tothe environment. gether at the Wildflower Center, at home, at The environment gives and gives — if we treat work or at large in the world, I hope that we will it right. And we must, because we need the en- make a shared commitment to conserve water, vironment to provide the food we eat, the water support healthy ecosystems rich with native we drink, and the air we breathe. We need it to plants, spread beauty, and minimize resource settle our restless minds and inspire a deeper use. It will pay dividends to our minds, bodies connection to both the earth and the heavens. and souls now and into the future. We need it to bring us closer to ourselves and each other. It may sometimes seem that we Until we meet again,

Patrick Newman Executive Director

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TABLE of Contents



Reading the Rings

What trees can teach us about history, climate and the future by Susan J. Tweit


The Influencers

Acknowledging the impact of Black women on American horticulture by Abra Lee

7 PLANT PICKS A handful of stunning, wildlife-supporting wetland plants 10 BOTANY 101 Busting myths about blushing bluebonnets


12 IN THEIR ELEMENT Humans get much more out of water than hydration 15 PULL IT OR PLANT IT A spirited (internal) debate about passionflowers 16 FIELD GUIDE An Athena-inspired primer on common Texas owls 34 NEWS AND UPDATES The latest on our gardens and our work 37 THINGS WE LOVE A few of our favorite things


38 THANK YOU, DONORS Recognizing our supporters 40 CAN DO Make a splash with a practical stock tank water garden 42 WHEN IN ROAM Discovering nearby beauty during lockdown 48 WILD LIFE The life-changing power of one small flower

ON THE COVER Print of a cross section of a Douglas fir tree (Pseudotsuga menziesii). IMAGE Erik Linton ABOVE A dendrochronology student examines a tree-ring core, which is mounted on a block for added support. PHOTO Laboratory of TreeRing Research at the University of Arizona



FEATURED Contributors

is an environmental science student and nature writer from the U.K. His work has been published in Birdwatching, The

Theresa DiMenno’s

decades-long photography career emerged from a three-month trip to California in 1977. Her journey has since carried her through the Texas music scene, photojournalism, and countless portraits, events and exhibitions. Her work reflects an intimate connection with people and nature.

Garden, Scottish Field, This England and more. He is involved with several environmental youth organizations, volunteers regularly with Essex Wildlife Trust’s education team, and teaches acoustic guitar in his spare time.

Daniel Murphy is

Abra Lee is a

speaker, writer and owner of Conquer the Soil, a platform that combines Black garden history and pop culture to raise horticultural awareness. She has spent time in the dirt as a municipal arborist, extension agent, airport landscape manager and more. Lee is a graduate of Auburn University and alumna of the Longwood Gardens Society of Fellows, a global network of public horticulture professionals.

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a writer, collections curator at Idaho Botanical Garden, and founder of Awkward Botany, a plant

science blog. He has a master’s from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and specializes in native and waterwise plants. A punk rock fan and zine writer, he often cheers for the underdog and enjoys researching, photographing and writing about weeds.

Samantha N. Peters

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

Susan J. Tweit is an

award-winning writer and plant ecologist. Her thirteen books include the forthcoming memoir “Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying,” hailed by author Craig Childs as a story that left him “awed and shaken.” She lives in and writes from the high-desert West.

Vaughn Sills uses

photography to explore the link between people and the natural world — how the environment influences culture and our individual experiences of reality. Her work in this issue is from the book “Places of the Spirit: Traditional African American Gardens.” She is an associate professor emerita at Simmons University and can be found online at vaughnsills. com and on Instagram @vaughnsillsphotographer.


Amy McCullough DESIGNER


Joseph Marcus


Lee Clippard, K. Angel Horne


Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Patrick Newman


Lee Clippard


Dawn E. Hewitt


Leslie D. Zachary


Mike Abkowitz


Andrea DeLong-Amaya


Matt O’Toole


Tanya Zastrow


Kit Detering Jeanie Carter SECRETARY Celina Romero CHAIR


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 © 2021 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. Materials are chosen for the printing and distribution of Wildflower magazine with respect for the environment. Wildflower is printed locally in Austin , Texas, by Capital Printing.

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

PHOTOS (Theresa DiMenno) self-portrait, (Abra Lee) Carlos Alejandro Photography, (Andrew Millham) Thomas Millham, (Daniel Murphy) Sierra Laverty

Andrew Millham

2021 | Volume 38, No. 1


Making a Splash

Native wetland plants for ponds and more

by Amy McCullough and Andrea DeLong-Amaya


Equisetum hyemale

WHY WE LOVE IT: A striking addition to any wetland garden, horsetail adds visual interest

with its svelte stems, horizontal banding and interesting cones. But our absolute favorite feature is its attractiveness to dragonflies as a waterside perch. PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Moist soil in sun to part shade, tolerates poor PHOTO Wildflower Center

drainage, will grow in shallow water

PRO TIP: Contain your horsetail and keep a watchful eye on where it wanders; left un-

tended, this species can be very aggressive.

FUN FACT: Like ferns and their relatives, horsetail does not feature flowers or seeds;

rather, it reproduces by spores (it also spreads readily via rhizomes).


TEXAS SPIDERLILY Hymenocallis liriosme

WHY WE LOVE IT: It’s all about those spindly

spider legs when it comes to this remarkablelooking perennial. While the count is six rather than eight, Texas spiderlilies’ long white tepals are its eye-catching claim to fame. (“Tepal” is a term used when petals and sepals are virtually indistinguishable.) Bright pops of white on lengthy stems are also a joyous garden sight. PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT:

Consistently moist soil in sun to part shade FAUNA FRIENDS: Stunning flowers attract

hummingbirds and provide nectar for insects. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: February

through September

to-grow wetland plant that offers conspicuous pipe-cleaner blooms in purple, blue and sometimes white. A member of the water hyacinth family, it also boasts long, heart-shaped leaves that fill in a water garden quite attractively. PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Sun

to part shade in moist soils (including mud); prefers shallow, calm water

FAUNA FRIENDS: A veritable buffet, pickerel-

PICKERELWEED Pontederia cordata

weed provides nectar for bees and butterflies and produces seeds that are eaten by waterfowl and humans alike. Plus, it offers perches for dragonflies! BRINGS THE BLOOMS: June

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PHOTOS (spiderlily) Wildflower Center, (pickerelweed) Harry Cliffe

WHY WE LOVE IT: Pickerelweed is an easy-

YELLOW WATERLILY Nymphaea mexicana

WHY WE LOVE IT: Remaining sleepily closed

in the milder hours of morning, this waterlily presents sunny yellow blooms as a midday delight. Its large, lotuslike flowers stay open into the afternoon and are a perfect accompaniment to a ribbon snake’s stripes. PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Fully

submerged except for its floating leaves and flowers, in full sun to part shade

BUZZ WORD: The specific epithet “mexicana”

refers to the plant’s original place of discovery, our neighbor to the south. BRINGS THE BLOOMS: March through October

BIGFOOT WATERCLOVER Marsilea macropoda

PHOTOS (waterlily) Joseph Marcus, (water-clover) Karen Beaty

WHY WE LOVE IT: Those leaves! Bigfoot water-

clovers’ default number of leaflets is four, giving its foliage a fortuitous feel that cannot be ignored. It’s like a carpet of good luck for your garden! PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Sun

to shade in wet or poorly drained soil

PRO TIP: This plant requires frequent main-

tenance (digging out or trimming of runners) if you don’t want it to take over; occasional cutting back also encourages lush foliage. Though naturally an aquatic plant, it can also be used as a groundcover in shady areas. FUN FACT: Bigfoot water-clover is not a true

clover but actually an ancient fern.

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 Learn how to plant a stock tank water garden on page 40. |9

PHOTO Wildflower Center


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Old Brides’ Tales

Debunking a popular myth about our state flower by Daniel Murphy TEX AS BLUEBONNETS R ARELY SELF-POLLINATE. If bees aren’t lured in to help, making seeds is pretty much out of the question. A wide banner petal that sits above the wing and keel petals signals to bees and other pollinating insects that a pollen reward awaits those that visit. A prominent white spot in the center of the banner does most of the heavy lifting, reflecting ultraviolet light which bees use to guide themselves toward flowers. When a bee lands on the flower of a bluebonnet — the weight of it pushing aside the wing petals of the pealike blossom — its underbelly connects with the sex parts of the flower. Sticky pollen, which the bee came looking for, attaches to its fuzzy body. From flower to flower goes the bee, collecting protein-rich pollen that keeps smacking into its abdomen. Some of this pollen is knocked loose from the bee and deposited onto the stigmas of the flowers it visits. The pollen fertilizes the flowers’ ovules, which go on to form seeds — the only means by which Lupinus texensis, an annual plant, is able to survive from year to year. Bluebonnets are modest flowers, keeping their sex parts enclosed within two layers of petals. After a while, their white banner spots blush pink and then purple. Flowers in this state have been called “blushing brides” and are the subject of a common misconception that banner spots turn purple as a result of the flower being pollinated. It’s a convenient narrative: A bee undresses the flower, transfers its pollen so that it can make seed babies, and the flower blushes in response. The trouble is this simply isn’t the case. Research published in natural history journal The Southwestern Naturalist states that banner spots of bluebonnets grown in the absence of bees still change color. After a flower has been open for five days, the 1980 study found, banner spots take on a rosy hue, which becomes completely red-purple by the sixth day. When plants were observed in both greenhouse and natural settings, bees were far more likely to visit flowers with white banner spots than purple ones. Furthermore, 6-day-old flowers that were hand-pollinated didn’t set seed, and their pollen lacked the stickiness and viability of younger flowers. The purple banner spot on a bluebonnet is simply a sign of age and has nothing to say about whether or not the flower has been pollinated. The color change does, however, seem to help bees differentiate between a young,

fertile flower and a likely infertile one. Pollinators are directed to a better pollen reward while furthering the plant’s plans to reproduce. But why hold on to old flowers anyway? After all, lots of other plant species lose their petals shortly after being pollinated. Findings from another study, published nine years later in Evolution, looked at a different lupine species, silvery lupine (Lupinus argenteus), which holds on to infertile flowers for several days. After comparing groups of plants whose spent flowers had been removed to those whose were retained, more pollinators were observed visiting plants with more flowers, despite the fact that many of those flowers offered no reward. Retaining old flowers helps bring in more bees; color then guides them to the best flowers. The relationship between a plant and its pollinators is among the most intimate found in nature. Bluebonnets are no exception. They rely on the help of pollinators to reproduce, their banner spots specifically designed to lure in bees. By retaining old flowers, banner spots blushing but still useful, the plant gives everything it has to get bees to notice it. While the color change of its banner spot may not signal successful pollination, it does remind us just how important pollinators are — and the lengths to which plants will go to attract them. See more bluebonnets on page 42. | 11

IN THEIR Element

To Witness Water

How self-care could impact urban design and water conservation by K. Angel Horne W E A R E LIK ELY BEYOND THE N EED TO SET U P THE STORY OF WATER A N D human history. It is well established that civilizations, nomadic communities and colonizers have perpetually flocked to, fought for, and built identities and livelihoods around bodies of water. It’s elementary knowledge that most organisms cannot survive without regular access to the wet stuff, least of all under the blistering gaze of the sun in the sparsely shaded terrain of Texas.

Paddlers of all kinds enjoying Lady Bird Lake, as seen from a Blue Index station under MoPac Expressway in Austin. PHOTO courtesy of Blue Index

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But basic survival aside, it is well worth wading into what proximity to water means to humans on an emotional and spiritual level. Even those with the privilege of a running tap and central air conditioning feel the pull throughout the ever-longer summer months to plunge into a spring-fed pool, paddle down

a river, or at least splash their ankles in the shallows of an ephemeral creek for a spot of relief. Yet, beyond the saving grace of evaporative cooling (we do, after all, produce our own sweat for this purpose), can nearness to water affect our mental health? If we are led to a reflecting pool and lock eyes with an image of our

own well-being, will we become the good stewards and conservationists our waterways need us to be? This stream of queries manifested as Blue Index, a research project initiated by then student/now landscape designer Kevin Jeffery. Blue Index is a study designed to assess the effects waterscapes have on human wellness with the ultimate goals of increasing public participation, advancing urban design practices, and advocating for the requisite consideration of emotional welfare and community health in urban waterscape management. The public-facing piece of the Blue Index assessment involved 34 stations (erected throughout 17 watersheds) where visitors were prompted to take a photo of a water scene in front of them and fill out a digital survey. With 1,819 responses, the project met its goals of stimulating public participation in water management and highlighting the connection between mental health and closeness to waterscapes. Two of the stations were posted at the Wildflower Center, one each at our Wetland Pond and Hill Country Stream. These watery vantage points, which are flanked by carefully tended native plant gardens, earned two of the highest relaxation and emotion scores. And the Hill Country Stream in our Woodland Garden — a peaceful, shaded retreat featuring interesting tree species such as Texas madrone (Arbutus xalapensis), American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) and Texas Hercules’ club (Zanthoxylum hirsutum), with an understory of dwarf palmettos (Sabal minor), red buckeyes (Aesculus pavia var. pavia) and seasonal wildflowers — received the highest Blue Index score overall, with guests noting “moving water” and “sound” as positive aspects. It stands to reason that since the health of waterscapes and landscapes are inextricably linked (and we depend wholly on both), humans would be drawn to spaces where their senses are swaddled in the many benefits of blue and green in balance. Jeffery’s research for Blue Index Austin culminated in a 220-page report including all the prescribed scientific fixings (hypothesis, goals, methodology, findings, etc.), but takes a holistic approach by including historical, cultural and even artistic elements of interpretation. The project even has a creative director, Sarah Davidson. The study itself strays from the strictly impartial stance of traditional Western science and seeks to sway participants to

“It is so inspiring that after all the literal crap we introduce to the water and nature, it still shows remarkable signs of resiliency and adaptation.” not only inventory the benefits of water to their well-being, but to walk away from the experience with an empowered sense of stewardship. Blue Index cleverly leverages our individualism (“This makes me feel good, so it is important!”) to address a need for collective investment in the protection of shared waterways. En route to positively impacting the future of water management, Jeffery ventures to challenge the common settler-colonial mindset of stewardship by presenting (and personally confronting) the historical significance and

Blue Index founder Kevin Jeffery at a station along Boggy Creek in Austin. He says the effort is currently transforming from research project to consulting service. PHOTO courtesy of Blue Index

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The Blue Index station at the Center’s Hill Country Stream received the top score overall, with particularly high marks for relaxation and emotion. PHOTO Wildflower Center

emotional impact of water on Black and Indigenous people. Chapter 1 of the report opens: “I would like to first acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Tonakawa, Comanche, Lipan Apache, and Waco Indigenous peoples, on which Blue Index and countless others are learning, working, and organizing. On behalf of the project, we thank you for being the first stewards of these beautiful waterscapes, since time immemorial, and continuing to do so.” The report also acknowledges “the traumatic events that led to the removal of Indigenous peoples from this area.” Jeffery says that his deep personal connection to water originated in childhood but also ties him to a collective past. He considers himself

lucky to have learned to swim at his community pool, noting that, “A lot of Black people do not have this luxury or have negative associations with water. … Water, although a major source of freedom and respite for me, also represents trauma because of the history of slavery on the planet. Waterways were the slavers’ highways and ancestral graveyards for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t make the harsh journey.” While acknowledging these heavier connections to the element, it’s also clear that he is an advocate for the rejuvenating and healing capacity of waterscapes. “It is so inspiring that after all the literal crap we introduce to the water and nature, it still shows remarkable signs of resiliency and adaptation,” says Jeffery. While Blue Index’s field stations measured the surface effects of water on human emotions in a given moment, there is an undercurrent of hopefulness that the impacts will reverberate into the future. Texans will need hope — and much more — to stay afloat with climate change exacerbating both droughts and storms. And with a rapidly expanding human footprint increasing stormwater runoff and further straining potable water resources, it is crucial to have invested residents and equipped professionals advocating for the future of blue spaces and their biomes. If protecting endangered species and securing the survival of future generations haven’t quite gotten us there by now, maybe the concept of “selfcare” will be our bridge to truly embracing and conserving our vital, sacred waterways.

Nature Is the Best Teacher Learn about native plants, relax with yoga, and get gardening with on-site and online classes. MEMB


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PHOTO Bill J. Boyd




PULL IT or Plant It










Dick Davis


PHOTOS (passionflower) Joseph Marcus, (portraits) Joanna Wojtkowiak




E R (P A S S



E! T A



Dick Davis


The flowers of larger species, such as purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), are incredibly ornate, complicated and attractive. Spanish missionaries, who used these flowers’ complex parts to illustrate the story of Christ’s crucifixion, gave the common name “passionflower.”

These things send out underground runners and spread like crazy, almost like golden bamboo. I planted some P. incarnata on a vertical trellis, and I not only need to constantly pull nearby suckers, but it can send runners to very impressive distances — we’re talking upwards of 20 feet.

After the incredible flowers come tasty fruits. Tear the skin open and scoop out the seeds, which are coated with a thin layer of exotictasting flesh (much like the fruit of P. incarnata’s tropical relative, P. edulis, sold as “passionfruit”).

Meanwhile, I’ve got perhaps slightly less aggressive action coming from corona de Cristo (also known as “stinking passionflower”) growing on a fence. But, before you know it, I am untangling 30-foot long vines from the incredibly spiny branches of my Thai lime tree (not a fun task).

The Biblical imagery continues with P. foetida, which has slightly smaller and less showy flowers. The correspondingly smaller fruits are clasped by long, ornate, feathery bracts, which inspired the name “corona de Cristo” or “Christ’s crown.” It is also known as “love-in-a-mist.” For those less romantically or religiously minded, the bractenclosed fruit might more readily recall alien pods from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Importantly, the foliage provides larval food for several very desirable butterfly species, such as the Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and — if you’re lucky — the zebra longwing (Heliconius charithonia).

Actually, it’s not even really corona de Cristo, but the Latin American fringed passionflower (P. ciliata), which has for many years been sold as the South Texas native corona de Cristo because its red fruits are much more attractive than the yellowish-green fruits of corona de Cristo. A little further down the fence, blue passionflower (P. caerulea) from South America just appeared on its own. Maybe a bird helped. I sure didn’t plant it. In other regions, certain passionflowers are considered invasive and can seriously compete with crops.

O N TH E OTH E R H A N D . . . These plants can spread aggressively, so cultivate with caution. If you are growing them for caterpillar food, consider some of the smaller, perhaps less unruly species: P. affinis, P. lutea or the striking birdwing passionflower, P. tenuiloba.

They sure look cool; I enjoy snacking on the fruits (note: not all are edible); and they produce some of my favorite butterflies. Someday I will move mine into containers and eradicate the rest from my yard. It took only a few years to get rid of the bamboo.

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Owls About Texas A quick guide to some common Texas owls by Amy McCullough illustrations by Samantha N. Peters THERE’S A REASON OWLS ARE OFTEN painted as wise wizards in animated tales and children’s storybooks. Something about those big eyes, that grumpy-seeming demeanor, and the ability to swivel their heads up to 270 degrees is both imposing and seemingly intellectual. In celebration of these brainy-looking birds, we’ve whipped up a primer on four common Texas species.

GREAT HORNED OWL Bubo virginianus Tall ear tufts or “horns” Yellow eyes surrounded by copper-brown facial discs Sounds like: A deep “Whowho-whoo, who-who?” Look for them: In young woodlands adjacent to open areas, but habitat varies widely We’ve had a pair (Athena and her mate) nest at the Center for more than a decade! More on page 34.

EASTERN SCREECH-OWL Megascops asio Pale greenish bill, yellow eyes Small ear tufts can be upright or flat Sounds like: A whinnying sound like a high-pitched horse Look for them: In various woodlands — preferably near water

BARRED OWL Strix varia Round head, yellow beak and dark eyes surrounded by ripples Prominent horizontal bars on upper breast Sounds like: “Who cooks for you; who cooks for you all?” Look for them: In forests near swamps or rivers 16 | W I L DF LOW E R

BURROWING OWL Athene cunicularia Rounded heads and notably long legs Large yellow eyes and bold white eyebrows Sounds like: A variety of clucks, screams and rattles; cooing during mating season Look for them: Perching on the ground in open habitats during daylight Special thanks to Travis Audubon volunteer Jane Tillman; this article also heavily referenced allaboutbirds.org.

Native Plants of North America All the native plant knowledge you can handle — right at your fingertips


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READING THE RINGS PHOTO aarrows/Zoonar/Alamy

What dendrochronology can tell us about sunspots, jet streams, pirates and gardening by Susan J. Tweit

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Say the word “dendrochronology,” and what comes to mind? Perhaps a tree cross section showing concentric circles of annual rings, with arrows pointing to the rings from years that mark historical events. That correlation of tree growth rings to human history is dendrochronology, but there is so much more to the science of studying “tree time” (dendro + chronos) than just counting rings and calculating a tree’s age. 2 0 | W I L DF LOW E R

Dendrochronology began in 1904 when Harvard-educated astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglass sawed rounds from ponderosa pine logs at a Flagstaff, Arizona, log yard to analyze the patterns in their growth rings. Except in the tropics, trees generally add wood each year in a regular alternation of light “earlywood” tissue bounded by a thinner ring of dark “latewood” tissue. The two comprise an annual ring. Douglass theorized that since the growth of ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa) in the Southwest is limited largely by available moisture, the pattern of the rings would reveal past climate patterns with narrow rings indicating drought and wide rings, wet periods. The astronomer hoped to find a connection between cycles of sunspot activity and Earth’s climate in the tree rings. As dendrochronologist Dr. Valerie Trouet writes in her book, “Tree Story: The History of the World Written in Rings,” Douglass had arrived in Flagstaff in 1892 on a commission from Percival Lowell, a wealthy Bostonian, to choose a site for an observatory focused on Mars. Douglass ran the Lowell Observatory until 1901, when Lowell fired him after Douglass showed that the “canals” in telescope images of Mars were the result of imperfections in the images, not evidence of Martian civilization as his patron preferred to believe. (Ignoring the evidence is apparently not a new thing.) The resourceful Douglass pivoted to researching the connection between climate and sunspot activity, hence his excursion to the log yard. He was right about what the tree rings said about climate, but wrong about a correlation with sunspot cycles. Regardless, his work established a whole new field of science. In 1906, Douglass joined the faculty at the then-fledgling University of Arizona in Tucson, which is how the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research — where Trouet works — sprouted in the tree-challenged Sonoran Desert. Douglass cut slices from tree trunks and stumps and then counted the rings in each slice, looking for patterns in the ring widths that revealed drought/wet cycles. Those patterns allowed him to cross-date chronologies, correlating the climate story between different trees and different locations. Within a decade,

Douglass had developed a cross-dated chronology of wet and dry years dating back more than four and a half centuries — the age of the oldest ponderosa pines he found. As word spread about Douglass’ dendrochronology work, anthropologists interested in precisely dating the construction of prehistoric ruins at Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon and other sites contacted him with the idea that those chronologies could date the ponderosa pine roof beams in these structures. Well-preserved by the arid climate, the beams did yield readable rings, but they didn’t connect to his existing tree-ring chronology: They were too old. Finally, in 1927, Douglass sampled a beam from a ruin near Show Low, Arizona, with a ring pattern whose youngest rings overlapped the modern series and oldest rings linked to the older roof beams. That allowed him to precisely date dozens of archeological sites — and extended the Southwest’s tree-ring climate record back to about A.D. 900. >>

ABOVE Andrew Ellicott Douglass collecting tree-ring samples using an increment borer. PHOTO Arizona State Museum/University of Arizona/Alamy OPPOSITE PAGE Using a cross section of a giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) as a massive visual aid, Douglass demonstrates how tree rings correspond to certain historical periods. PHOTO Charles Herbert/ Arizona State Museum/ University of Arizona

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TOP Dr. Valerie Trouet in the Laboratory of TreeRing Research at the University of Arizona. PHOTO Geoff Notkin BOTTOM An increment borer and two resulting cores. PHOTO Hannes Grobe/Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

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These days, dendrochronologists usually forgo chain saws and sample trees with a tool called an increment borer: slender, threaded tubes ranging from 16 inches to 3 feet long. Screwing the threaded end into the tree requires significant muscle power; backing the borer out requires care to preserve the core, a wood cylinder about the diameter of a pencil containing a record of the tree’s growth from youngest rings just under the bark to oldest at the middle. If the tree is healthy, researchers say, coring doesn’t injure it: Sap seals the bore-hole just as it does when a woodpecker drills into the trunk. “It’s a bit like drawing blood,” comments Trouet. “You pierce the skin and then pull out the

sample.” Wildflower Center Arboretum Manager Phillip Schulze points out that in humid climates such as Austin’s, the bore-hole might allow fungus to enter the tree. Due to that risk, and the fact that many of the Center’s oldest trees are oaks with rotten cores, he dates the trees by counting the rings of large branches he prunes and extrapolating from there. What makes tree-ring research so compelling is that trees are sensitive recorders of their environment. Dr. Park Williams, professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, calls them “in situ soil-moisture sensors.” Their growth rings also record damage from violent storms such as hurricanes, dramatic annual temperature fluctuations, inundation by tsunamis, and other catastrophic events. The environmental stories that researchers read in those rings deepens our understanding of human history. For example, Trouet says that European tree rings reveal three centuries of climate instability (exceptionally warm and dry periods alternating with cold and wet ones) between A.D. 250 and 550, shedding light on the breakup of the Roman Empire. The sustained climate fluctuations, she points out, would have depressed farming and food supplies, contributing to the empire’s collapse. In Central Asia, the treering story shows that the period between 1211 and 1225, when Genghis Khan and his cavalry conquered Asia, was wetter than any time in the previous 1,000 years. That bounty of precipitation likely gave Khan’s cavalry a boost by dramatically increasing the productivity of the region’s semiarid grasslands. Looking at the past also helps us prepare for the future. Some of what researchers are seeing pertains directly to gardens and gardening. Williams points to evidence of four megadroughts in the Southwest during the 900s, 1200s and 1500s, periods he characterizes as having “phenomenally dry conditions lasting for decades or even centuries, unlike anything we have experienced recently.” That is, until the extremely dry years from 2000 through 2018. Williams compared the pattern of soilmoisture loss revealed in the tree-ring data for those recent dry years to the onset of the medieval megadroughts. His analysis showed a troubling similarity: The modern dry period shows a sharp decline in soil moisture very similar to the first 19 years of each medieval megadrought. In fact, the drying trend of the recent years is more severe than all but one of the megadroughts, Williams says. If, as the tree rings suggest, the region is

heading into another megadrought, that means serious impacts for the Southwest’s perennially short water supplies. And it also means rethinking gardens and landscapes, including planting more drought-hardy native plants.


New research also shows that the density of the wood in tree rings connects the movements of Earth’s jet streams, our planet’s highaltitude winds, to weather far below. The link? Air temperature during the growing season: The jet streams, those waving rivers of wind powered by Earth’s rotation and flowing 5 to 9 miles above our planet’s surface where jets fly, separate cold Arctic air from warm tropical air. Their position affects seasonal air temperatures, which in turn determines wood density of growing trees.

Trouet and her colleagues tested this by trekking to remote forests in the Balkans and Scotland, increment borers in hand, to sample the oldest trees in each area. After reconstructing a thousand-year tree-ring chronology, they measured wood density in the rings by calculating the thickness of the cell walls to see if it correlated with the opposing poles of summer temperatures in the region. The North Atlantic jet stream, the one Trouet and her colleagues focused on, is normally located at around 52 degrees north latitude in summer (just north of Scotland and Scandinavia). When it oscillates farther north, tropical air follows, bringing anomalously warm summers to Scotland, while the Balkans and Eastern Europe shiver. When the North Atlantic jet strays south, the effect reverses: Scotland turns cold, while the Balkans swelter. The researchers’

Another hefty cross section (once on display at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park in Burney, California) was annotated with presidential terms and historical events, such as the invention of the telephone. PHOTO Mark and Audrey Gibson/Alamy

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wood density measurements tracked those temperature patterns and thus the movement of the jet streams. In North America, a similar opposing-poles effect created by the jet stream’s waving path causes drought to parch California and the Southwest, while the eastern half of the continent freezes. Past fluctuations in the jet streams chronicled in the tree-ring record may help us understand what climate change could bring — and which regions might be sizzling in heat waves and apocalyptic forest fires, or buried in “snowmageddons.”


TOP Tree-ring research on past wildfire patterns can direct how often to conduct prescribed burns such as this one in Sequoia National Park. PHOTO Tom Swetnam/Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona BOTTOM A cross section of giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) shows both tree rings and fire scars. The numbers indicate corresponding years. PHOTO Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona

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Dendrochronology, the field that began when an astronomer turned to studying tree rings, is still strongly interdisciplinary. Those roots show in a study that combined tree-ring records with shipwrecks and pirate activity to trace the frequency of Caribbean hurricanes before written records began. The project sprouted when Trouet and two other researchers, paleotempestologist Dr. Grant Harley and dendroarcheologist Dr. Marta Domínguez-Delmás, confabbed after a conference. As Harley described correlating ring patterns in slash pine trees (Pinus elliottii) on Florida’s Big Pine Key to hurricane occurrence over 350 years, and Domínguez-Delmás talked about wreck-diving in the Caribbean to retrieve preserved timbers for dating, an idea formed: Since hurricanes were the most common cause of shipwrecks in the area before steam engines were invented, modeling the frequency of shipwrecks might allow them to extend the tree-ring record and “see” earlier hurricane patterns. Their analysis included only shipwrecks that occurred during hurricane season and not those attributable to other factors: war, mechanical failure or navigation errors. Correlating that data with the tree-ring chronology yielded a model of hurricane activity stretching back to 1495 — except for a puzzling lull in both shipwrecks and hurricane activity between 1645 and 1715. Staring at that anomaly, Trouet realized the gap almost exactly overlapped the Maunder Minimum, a decades-long period known for low sunspot activity and thus less solar radiation. Which meant cooler sea-surface temperatures, fewer hurricanes and fewer shipwrecks. The connection to pirates came when a historian colleague pointed out that the gap in hurricane activity correlated with the Golden Age of Piracy, from 1650 to 1720, when pirates such as Anne Bonny and Blackbeard roamed the Caribbean. Without hurricanes, they could freely plunder treasure-laden Spanish ships returning from the Americas, an unexpected connection revealed by crossdisciplinary research.


“That’s how science works,” says geologist Dr. Claudia I. Mora, dean of the College of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “You stumble into something and sometimes it works, sometimes not. But you learn either way.” Mora specializes in detecting and analyzing the ratios of

stable isotopes — forms of an element with different atomic weights. These “chemical fingerprints” illuminate the environment in which natural matter such as shells, stalactites, soil layers or tree rings form. Mora had never worked with dendrochronology until a geographer colleague wondered over coffee if isotopes in the wood of his southern tree-core samples would reveal information about the environment when that wood formed. Intrigued, Mora decided to focus on two isotopes of oxygen, O-16 and O-18. She reasoned that the ratio of these two would reflect the origin of the water the tree was drinking. “Tropical cyclones will recirculate water over and over again [evaporating and recondensing it], and over time it becomes richer in O-16,” says Mora. “Drought has the opposite effect: As the water in the soil evaporates, the O-16 goes with the vapor, so the water in the soil becomes richer in O-18.” Because water molecules are incorporated in cellulose, the main structural component of wood, the ratio of oxygen isotopes would be recorded in tree rings. Mora used scalpels to painstakingly shave the thinnest of samples from the darker latewood of each ring, which forms when hurricanes would occur. She then

chemically stripped out all but the cellulose to look for its oxygen isotopes. The ratios of O-16 to O-18 showed where the trees obtained their water in different years and different seasons, yielding a more detailed climate story than simply reading the patterns of the rings. What other questions can dendrochronology answer? The Wildflower Center’s Schulze points to an arborist colleague who is using tree-ring dating to authenticate marker trees shaped by Comanches; validation could help document and preserve these Texas cultural resources. Schulze also wonders about fire and fire history in Central Texas, noting that tree-ring research has illuminated fire patterns and frequency in many parts of the West (see left). “Bald cypress [Taxodium distichum], some of Texas’ oldest trees, can tolerate a fire and have fire scars,” he says. “I’d be interested in what we can learn from them.” Tree rings clearly have a lot to teach us, whether about historical events, climate patterns, where plants’ drinking water comes from, fire, or what our gardens may face in years to come. As these ingenious scholars have proven, the more carefully we read the rings, the more we learn about our planet’s past and our potential future.

PHOTO John W. Clark

KEEP THE SHOW ON THE ROAD Support the Botanic Garden of Texas with our license plate. WILD FLOWE R.ORG/ D ON ATE /LICE N SE PLATE | 25


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Giving credit and remembrance to the Black women who shaped American gardens BY ABRA LEE



ne of the happier highlights from the dumpster fire of a year called 2020 came back in July, when Beyoncé released “Black Is King,” a visual album and love letter to Africa. During this 85-minute unapologetic celebration of Black joy, Queen Bey states, “To live without reflection for so long might make you wonder if you even truly exist.” Black women in ornamental horticulture have lived without reflection for so long, I wonder if garden historians believe they existed. In the few times their legacy has been acknowledged, it is usually summed up as one word: slave. To condense their life’s work into a title that was forced upon them is beyond a disservice. We can never erase the stain of slavery in the United States. As Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries so deftly wrote, it is “our country’s origin.” What we can do is add to the legacy of enslaved peoples’ lives and honor the women who established our country’s horticultural aesthetics with the professional titles they deserve; show their faces; and make sure their story is never forgotten.

OPPOSITE PAGE (left) Catherine Waiters of Mars Bluff, South Carolina, sweeps her neighbor’s yard with a broom made of dogwood (Cornus sp.). PHOTO copyright © 1993 Amelia Wallace Vernon (right) “Anniebelle Sturghill, Athens, Georgia” PHOTO Vaughn Sills, from “Places for the Spirit: Traditional African American Gardens” (Trinity University Press)

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PHOTO William Henry Jackson/Detroit Publishing Co. (Library of Congress)

PHOTOS (flame azalea, eastern sweetshrub and sweetbay magnolia) Alan Cressler, (Carolina jessamine) Stephanie Brundage, (white meadowsweet) James L. Reveal

Ms. Phoebe and the Tidy Swept Yard W HEN A NTEBELLU M HOMES W ER E burned and deserted and their gardens ruined by soldiers, they were there: expert propagators knowing just how much root or stem to take as cuttings and how to harvest seeds. In little plots of land, they bred new specimens from the parent stock, preserving rare flowers from Europe as the Civil War came to an end. In 1870, when South Carolina’s Magnolia Plantation and Gardens was no longer able to rely on agriculture as its primary income source, they were also there: formerly enslaved Black women. Serving as uncompensated “tour guides,” these original caretakers helped save landscapes they built for free, former plantations rebranded as public spaces. Who else but a bona fide plantswoman could lead you down sandy paths and swampy land along the Ashley River, pointing out native rhododendron and azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), eastern sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), jessamine (Gelsemium spp.) and spiraea (Spiraea spp.)? Who else could deftly navigate magnolias (Magnolia spp.), palms (Sabal spp.) and oaks (Quercus spp.) adorned in Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), through fields with blooms of every hue — seemingly haunted by ghosts wary of those who trouble the flowers?

She is dressed like the caricature “mammy,” a style popular with white tourists at the turn of the 20th century. Is that what makes it impossible for us to believe in her expert botanical knowledge? Still, Ms. Phoebe delivered a creative gift, the swept yard. This practical landscape feature is dirt on the surface of the ground that has been lovingly smoothed with a broom (likely made of dried straw, liana or palm). Ms. Phoebe’s African ancestors invented this garden feature, and she surely helped disseminate it. Most common from the antebellum era to the 1950s, swept yards in Black landscapes were a matter of pride. In “No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African American Yard Work,” authors Grey Gundaker and Judith McWillie describe swept yards as being “as combed and groomed as human hair.” They were a mark of beauty that showed attention to detail. Yards were even swept as a safety feature to deter intruders by making footprints conspicuous: One never knew who might come around looking for trouble. This tradition was visible in my own family. As a child, I remember my Aunt Lois meticulously sweeping the yard of our family farm in Barnesville, Georgia. Zenlike, she would walk backward

Flame azalea Rhododendron calendulaceum

Carolina jessamine Gelsemium sempervirens

Eastern sweetshrub Calycanthus floridus

“They” were people employed in the garden, such as Magnolia’s own “Aunt” Phoebe (pictured, left). She wasn’t really their aunt, but was referred to as such because older Black women during the time weren’t shown respect or allowed honorific titles such as “Mrs.” or “Madame.” (We see you, “Aunt” Jemima.) Some change is easy to enact, as simple as our choice of words. The least we can do is add some respect to her name: That’ll be Ms. Phoebe from here on out. Ms. Phoebe’s image gives clues as to why horticultural contributions such as hers — and those of people like her — were so handily dismissed. She is dark skinned, poor and a woman.

White meadowsweet Spiraea alba var. latifolia

Sweetbay magnolia Magnolia virginiana

from her porch, past the native pine, hickory, oak and eastern red cedar trees of the Piedmont (Pinus spp., Carya spp., Quercus spp. and Juniperus virginiana, respectively). Her wide, deliberate brushstrokes swept away debris and chicken tracks, exposing a stunning red dirt surface. The “Handbook of the Negro Garden Club of Virginia” is still one of the few texts to acknowledge​B ​ lack women like Aunt Lois, who used the resources at hand to achieve success in garden clubs. It states, “It is to the everlasting credit of the women … that they have done so much with so little, using not only native shrubs, flowers and trees for the improvement | 29

of planting, but also using other native resources, both human and material, to secure the results they need.” Much like xeriscaping today, which places local soil, rocks and stone prominently in landscapes, swept yards highlighted beautiful natural elements such as the color of the earth. (Somewhat similarly, the Wildflower Center

employs regionally sourced sandstone and limestone in its structures, as well as mulch made from Texas pecan shells in its gardens.) I think about Ms. Phoebe and my Aunt Lois having a wide lens of what the term “native” in the garden means — not limited to the plants around them, but using other indigenous natural materials too, whatever was at hand.

Prairie verbena Glandularia bipinnatifida

Swamp sunflower Helianthus angustifolius

Shreve’s iris Iris virginica var. shrevei

TOP A native species commonly known as coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). PHOTO Pamela Greer

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HARLEM RENAISSANCE WRITER, ARTist, naturalist and ecopoet Effie Lee Newsome was early to recognize the unacknowledged talent of the elder Black woman as a garden designer, the old-fashioned “Grandmama.” Her writing (much of which appeared in The Crisis, the W.E.B Du Bois–edited NAACP magazine) bore witness to their artistic contribution to the American landscape, providing rich and rare descriptions of these historic plantings. It was a stark contrast to how most Black gardens were perceived at the time: Rather than disdain them for being messy or too wild, she recorded their joy, exuberance and playful disorder. Newsome depicted a striking visual riot, plants deliberately mingled to create unique backgrounds: a profusion of blooms in hues of deep rosy red, candy-heart pink, bold yellow and brown, purple and white sat atop “wandlike stems” while other, complementary plants grew low. In Grandmama’s garden, all manner of flowers mixed together, pushed into a corner by a ramshackle, whitewashed fence; all seemed happy to be there. Among them were native verbenas (Glandularia and Abronia spp.), irises (Iris spp.) and sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) alongside non-native, introduced plants such as bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), dwarf nasturtiums (Tropaeolum minus), garden geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) and hollyhocks (Alcea spp.). Newsome’s observation of the thoughtfulness and variety of plant palette within these gardens was acute. It’s easy to feel reverence in the way she describes Grandmama’s vines: “morning glory [Ipomoea spp.] growing carefree — sometimes hidden, sometimes visible, meeting sweet-smelling honeysuckle [likely invasive Lonicera japonica] in a fond embrace,” the mélange transforming a “mere dilapidated fence into an archless rainbow.” Whew, chile! If this garden doesn’t excite you, none ever will. Newsome’s subject, a Black grandmother, is a self-taught designer who could’ve instructed a gardening master class. And she wasn’t alone. But because the Grandmama aesthetic comes

PHOTOS (prairie verbena) Thomas L. Muller, (swamp sunflower) Stefan Bloodworth, (Shreve’s iris) Lee Page

“Grandmama” and the Aesthetic of Freedom

from those who never went to horticulture or design school, it doesn’t count in our country’s onesided horticulture history. Yet Newsome’s rich and rare account shows a deep interest in garden design evident among these communities. Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Wildflower Center, agrees Grandmama was onto something: “These Black gardeners understood that plants themselves don’t define a space. It’s how you design and maintain the space that matters, and colloquial gardens are designed spaces.” The Center’s cultivated native beds are some-

times perceived as weedy or unkempt by guests who expect botanic gardens to be more organized. But, as in Grandmama’s garden, DeLongAmaya says, “The perceived haphazardness is intentional — mostly — and deeply thought out.” The elder Black woman gardener refused the restrained, formal European style. Geometric shapes were too stiff; such vividly green grass appeared artificial, revolting even. She rejected such control of the landscape. Her people were in bondage for hundreds of years, why would they want to follow such restrictive rules? They demanded freedom and so did their gardens.

A modern take on shabby chic gardening employs an old bed frame, metal pails and garden tools as décor. PHOTO courtesy of organizedclutter.net

Black Container Gardeners and the Birth of Shabby Chic BLACK ACADEMICS AND INTELLECTuals of the early to mid-1900s, such as Dr. H. Hamilton Williams and Zora Neale Hurston, recorded their own assessments of Black gardens. Williams observed herbs cultivated in tin cans and clumps of flowers in beds outlined by old automobile tires. Hurston similarly wrote of bottles turned neck down to form borders around flower beds and walkways. Never ones to waste, Black gardeners, typically women, were hip to reuse long before it was trendy. Lady Bird Johnson was herself witness to the garden aesthetic of Black America: “When I go into the poorest neighborhoods,” she said, “I look for the f lash of color — a

geranium in a coffee can, a window box set against the scaling side of a tenement, a border of roses struggling in a tiny patch of open ground.” She was likely referencing landscapes such as those in Anacostia, a Black neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where Mrs. Johnson spent much time working on her beautification initiative. Now we celebrate these same artifacts in design magazines, using all manner of buzzwords: “bric-a-brac,” “upcycled,” “repurposed,” “vintage,” “quirky” and “retro.” Despite Black gardens being the blueprint for such modern day descriptors, seeing a Black person’s yard associated with these elements | 31

in a major gardening publication, even today, is like seeing a unicorn. These gardens were not beyond severe critique in their time, even amongst their own people. Williams, who earned a Ph.D. in horticulture from Cornell (and was editor of the aforementioned “Handbook of the Negro Garden Club of Virginia”), described them as “sporadic,” “derelict,” “deplorable,” and “lacking in unity, uniformity and thoughtful design.” He also noted that there was hardly a Black home without containers, citing an inadequate amount of land as a key factor in their consistent presence. Considered an eyesore in giant lard cans, clothes baskets, buckets and tin basins, planted containers were criticized (by many, not just Williams) as unlovely collections of homely vessels.

Regardless of favor, Williams was correct that the “land” Black gardeners owned was kept in pots. These were, in fact, gardens on the go. They could move with one under the darkness of night sky and glow of moonlight — should trouble find its way across that swept yard. Container gardens are popular for related reasons today: They are mobile and affordable, open to renters with small balconies or windowsills. And they invite creativity, asking what plant best complements a particular reused vessel. The Center’s DeLong-Amaya draws a connection to native plants, noting that they “have historically been more accessible in terms of cost, availability and means to propagate, such as through seed.” In this way, both container gardens and native plants have been a gateway by which many have started their gardening journey.

Reflecting Back and Looking Forward WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? FIRST, we must consider the surely very complicated feelings of enslaved Black women, as well as those who were free yet living during the segregated era of Jim Crow. For some, gardening may have been a temporary way to “escape” the anguish of slavery, much like Negro spiritual songs. But of course it’s also absurd to assume most enslaved people were natural gardeners or even enjoyed it. Though dismissed as scraps, we must be clear: Black women have always been necessary to the fabric of our country. Their hands

too, am part of this rich narrative. All of our stories are worth telling. But the truth is, Black history is often oral history. For centuries it was illegal for Black Americans to read and write. At best, getting caught earned you a whipping, maybe the loss of a hand or an eye. Unlucky ones lost their lives. Who would have been willing to risk it all and chronicle the life of someone like Ms. Phoebe? Though much of this history is lost, there is still much to be unearthed. Following Beyoncé’s lead, we must research, reflect on — and remember — the impact of

Following Beyoncé’s lead, we must research, reflect on — and remember — the impact of these women; that is how we recognize their existence. and bodies have helped sow the glorious patchwork that is horticulture in the United States. From the influence of Ms. Phoebe on the centuries-old gardens of Magnolia Plantation to the representation of freedom in Grandmama’s gardening style, our country’s garden aesthetics are interwoven with its history, which includes the Black experience. Today more than ever, we must reckon with this. As a Black woman, horticulturist and self-taught scholar of Black garden history, I came to the proud realization that I, 32 | W I L DF LOW E R

these women; that is how we recognize their existence. As a nation, think about the Olympiclevel revisionist gymnastics we have done to bend, stretch and flip the truth, to ignore the impact of an entire population of gardeners with expert hands in the soil, cultivating growth. How far out of our way have Americans gone to avoid calling these women what they have always been: head gardeners, floriculturists, horticulturists and landscape designers. You can be enslaved (or formerly so) and still be all of the above. One does not negate the other.


IMAGES courtesy of Austin History Center

Austin’s first Black women’s gardening club BLACK HORTICULTUR AL TR ADITIONS made their way to Texas, as well, and are reflected in Austin’s rich garden history. In fact, a 1950s reporter for the American-Statesman (later the Austin American-Statesman) once wrote that Black people possessed “some of the greenest thumbs in the world.” This isn’t a surprising statement. Enslaved Africans were brought to this country in bondage not because they lacked talent. It was, in part, because they were exceptional cultivators of the soil. Black Americans’ ancestors were from areas such as modern day Senegal and The Gambia — agriculturally rich communities rooted in farming, as described in “Dream a World Anew,” a book on the African American experience edited by Kinshasha Holman Conwill. Maybe the reporter had heard whispers about those li’l old ladies who used to garden at the King’s Daughters Home, a facility for senior Black women in the early 1900s. Located on the 1200 block of Rosewood Avenue (across the street from where Rosewood restaurant stands today), each woman had her own small plot of ground to nourish. The garden thrived on a lot of hard work and an equal helping of love. It sometimes took the women all day to irrigate their plots; they carried water in buckets and tin cans to hydrate their vegetables, roses and other flowers. In the spring of 1954, a new generation of gardeners gathered at the home of Alice T. King (no known relation) to organize the city’s first Black women’s garden club. They were likely inspired by the rich history of Black garden clubs in the South. (The mother of them all, the Negro Garden Club of Virginia, started with seven chapters and was officially organized in 1932.) The Austin ladies’ purpose was to promote interest and concern in the community for improved yards and home beautification. Though Alice King’s home is long gone, a picture of the charter officers was taken and original member names were recorded — a small bit of credit in a sorely lacking history. | 33

CENTERED: News and Updates

The latest on our gardens and our work by Amy McCullough

IN SPRINGTIME, IT’S NOT UNCOMMON to walk near the Wildflower Center’s Wetland Pond and see a volunteer or staff member standing with a guest and pointing up. Suddenly, the guest’s face brightens, their eyes grow large, and a smile or “wow!” expression forms. This is the moment when they spot Athena and/or her babies. A beloved great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), Athena has been nesting at the Wildflower Center since 2009. Her first two years on site, she unsuccessfully attempted to rear her owlets in planted nooks along our iconic Observation Tower. By 2011, she had discovered her nursery of choice, an elevated sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri)

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planter (pictured above) in the corner opposite the pond. She has raised a brood (usually one to three owlets) at the Center ever since. Athena’s seasonal visits typically range from arrival in February through her owlets fledging in late April or early May. At press time, it was too early for us to know if Athena would grace the Center with her presence yet again. If she arrives and successfully rears more owlets this spring, it will make a decade of owl motherhood at the Wildflower Center. For more on common Texas owls, see page 16. Check wildflower.org/visit/athena-the-owl for updates and our annual owl timeline.

PHOTOS Bill J. Boyd


DIGGING INTO DATA WILDFLOWER CENTER RESEARCHERS and land managers have been burning, mowing and counting plants in the same patches of land since 2001. Sound redundant? It is, but it’s also resulted in a hugely important data set. The goal is to assess how land management strategies, such as burning or mowing in different seasons, influence the plant community. Data is collected via regular vegetation surveys across roughly 70 acres known as the Hill Country Trails area, an effort that relies heavily on volunteers. Michelle Bertelsen, an ecologist at the Center, says it’s “difficult to convey the massiveness of this data set and why it’s so valuable.” Enter Dr. Sean Griffin, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Shalene Jha in The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Integrative Biology. Griffin studies the effects of largescale restoration on the pollinator communities of grassland ecosystems; lately, he’s been analyzing the Center’s epic plant data, looking for trends. “Data sets like this — nearly 20 years of continuous observation — are extremely rare,” says Griffin, “but invaluable for studying longterm processes like climate change, management and invasion by non-native species.”

The study is trying to determine the effectiveness of various treatments at achieving key restoration goals. “We want to give land managers more nuanced insights into how whole communities and individual species respond,” says Bertelsen. Griffin adds that it’s “exciting and gratifying” that information gleaned from this study is already helping guide the decisions of land managers in the Austin area. Analyzing this data after roughly two decades of careful collection at the hands of hundreds of volunteers and many staff members feels “pretty special,” according to Bertelsen. “We have well over 200,000 observations, sampled from 14,578 quadrats, and we only had to throw away 800 data points. I’m proud of that.” These efforts — collectively known as the Hill Country Research Program — will ultimately identify techniques that are effective in restoring and sustaining native plant communities, which can then be demonstrated to landowners and guests. In other words, we’re drawing evidence-based conclusions with the intent to share that knowledge and, ultimately, improve the way people manage landscapes.

FROM LEFT Director of Land Resources Matt O’Toole, Ecologist Michelle Bertelsen, former Center Conservation Ecologist Hans Landel and Land Steward Dick Davis show off the many binders of data collected by Center staff and volunteers over nearly 20 years. PHOTO Joanna Wojtkowiak

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LIGHTS FANTASTIC FORTS SUCH AS COMMUNITY GARDEN (pictured above), from Fortlandia 2020-21, got encore treatment at our most recent Luminations, when the festive light display and celebration of winter’s natural beauty moved to the Texas Arboretum for the first time. The change facilitated more space and a one-way flow, allowing guests to safely enjoy time outdoors during

The Wildflower Center would like to acknowledge these generous gifts and their donors:

Catherine A. Corrigan: $75,000 in support of educational programs

James Truchard: $50,000 in general support

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FUEL GAUGING WE’RE EXPERTS ON NATIVE PLANTS, sure. But the Wildflower Center is known — and often employed for — other skills, as well. One of those is our knowledge of prescribed and natural fires, including how to best manage landscapes to avoid uncontrolled wildfire. To that end, Wildflower Center staff is joining forces with Texas A&M Forest Service to implement a campus wildfire protection plan at McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. The Observatory, like the Wildflower Center, is a unit of The University of Texas at Austin. According to Texas A&M Chief Regional Fire Coordinator Rich Gray, “The University of Texas

and the Texas A&M Forest Service have a long history of working together to reduce the risk of wildland fire and protect the facilities and residents at the Observatory.” Wildflower Center Director of Land Resources Matt O’Toole says, “The protection measures to the surrounding landscape are based on national standards as well as fire effects of naturally occurring and prescribed fires in the region. A core tenant of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is resilient landscapes that are managed to withstand disturbances.” The assessment and recommendation period concludes in August 2021.

PHOTO Josk Baker/AzulOx Visuals


the pandemic. Along with illuminated pathways and trees, lights decorated select forts from our third Fortlandia, a collection of creative structures by local artists, architects and designers (such as Letterpress PLAY, creators of the above fort). Art installations enhanced the experience, along with free hot chocolate for members and treats from Wildflower Café.

CENTERED: Things We Love

The books, tools and media we’re currently into by Wildflower Center Staff


EZ Digger

PHOTOS (tool) Joanna Wojtkowiak, (book) The Aldo Leopold Foundation, (sweatshirt) CPBBD Bonfire store

The EZ Digger, a riff on the traditional Korean homi, is a versatile multi-tool and my current fave. The sharp point is extremely useful for digging small trenches and weeding. In the Family Garden, we use drip irrigation hoses that occasionally need to be maintained and inevitably work their way to the surface. The EZ Digger allows me to quickly and effortlessly dig a trench under the drip tape and pry staples up so they can be reset. The prying aspect is also helpful in our rocky Central Texas soil and universally to unearth deep weed roots. Once a garden project is complete, the flat side assists in leveling out dirt or mulch to leave garden beds looking their best. Plus, the design is very ergonomic. It’s such a great tool that it’s hard to leave it at that! Amy Galloway Horticulturist amleo.com/ez-digger-garden-tool-forged-7inblade-short-handle/p/EZ1


Sand County Almanac The blurb on the back of this foundational book claims that Aldo Leopold is both a better naturalist and a better writer than Thoreau. I thought, Really? Many of my colleagues studied this book in graduate or undergraduate courses, alongside Rachel Carson’s landmark “Silent Spring,” which further piqued my interest. His language is a joy to read; here’s one example of a perfect line: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” And his words transport readers back to a time when the majority of Americans lived much more closely in collaboration with the land. You’ll want to walk in your yard, park or green space and keep a nature journal documenting what is different each month of the year. Carrie McDonald Manager of Volunteer Services aldoleopold.org


Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t Sometimes I need a dose of cussing and irreverence mixed in with my botany. When that particular cocktail is called for, I scroll to Joey Santore’s “Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t” on Instagram (but there’s also YouTube and podcasts if that fits your media flow better). It doesn’t hurt that he posts beautiful photos of fascinating plants in often stunning locales from his travels around the world and dives deep into the super nerd zone with his botanizing. Pro tip: Santore’s merch store is pretty badass too. Lee Clippard Deputy Director of Communications & Experience @crime_pays_but_botany_doesnt youtube.com/c/CrimePaysButBotanyDoesnt joeblowe.podbean.com

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CENTERED: Thank You, Donors

$25,000 and ABOVE Jeanie and Tommy Carter* Colin Corgan* Catherine A. Corrigan Estate of Gordon A. Doig Kathryn Fuller and Stephen Doyle*/ Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/ The Summit Foundation Estate of Sharon C. Graham Carolyn and Jack Long* Ann H. Moore* Marcia and James Truchard* Julia “Jill” Wilkinson

$10,000 to $24,999

Laura and John Beckworth* The Brown Foundation Inc. Carolyn and Tom Curtis* Kit and Carl Detering* Heart Sing Foundation Jeffrey Howell and William Press* Luci Baines Johnson and Ian Turpin* Mays Family Foundation Meredith Family/MFI Foundation Ellen Petersen* Lynda and Chuck Robb* Brian and Debra Jones Shivers* Nancy Taylor T.L.L. Temple Foundation Marilyn and Ben Weber* The Wells Texas Foundation The Winkler Family Foundation Melinda and Stephen Winn* The Zachry Foundation

$5,000 to $9,999

Vernanne G. Alvarez Mary Balagia Kathryn J. Dinardo Fund Trisha and James Elizondo Mary F. Forbes Regan and William Gammon* Judith L. Gober Jack Hight Irrevocable Charitable Trust Dawn and Tommy Lee Jones* Cecilia and Dale Kelley Mary and Stephen Knight Theresa and Geoffrey Lees Maxwell Locke and Ritter LLP Nancy Perot and Rod Jones* George E. Ramsey Arthur Reis* Rizo-Patrón and Nelligan Families Celina Romero and Paul Williams* Jenny and Lonny Samford

Recognizing contributions given from Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020

Jennifer and Luke Schneider* Anissa and Mark Scholes Wendy and Howard** Serrell* Alane and Doyle Simons* Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust Ellen C. Temple* Christine E. Ten Eyck and Gary Deaver Ken Wells/Chevron Corporation

$1,000 to $4,999

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EarthShare of Texas Richard Eastland Edgemon Family Foundation Catherine Elder Steven R. Farabee Inga Farshler Tyrrell Flawn and John Howe* Marilyn T. Gaddis and George Carruthers Ronnie George George Glober/Exxon Mobil Foundation Karen Goodman/ExxonMobil Foundation Catherine and Harry Graham Cassandra Grissom Margaret and Michael Hanus Karen and Warren Hayward* Sarah L. Heather Andrea Hearnsberger Paula Hern and Thomas Barbour Suzanne and Steven Hesley* Mary Hickok Anne and Thomas Hilbert Mary Hooper and Jerry A. Bell* Dede and Bradley Hull Bobby and Nancy Inman Parker and Paula Jameson Robert Johnson Melanie and Charlie Jones Sue Jones Chris and Carole Bond Jordan* Karen Kennard* Carol Walsh-Knutson and Kelly Knutson* Mary E. Kramer Sarah Westkaemper Lake* Keith Lain LBJ Family Foundation Elizabeth and Robert Lende Benjamin G. Liles Jr. David and Malia Litman Sally and Dennis Loner Diana MacArthur Julia Marsden* Tom Mays and Orlando Zayas* Martha McCabe Mary McKeown-Moak and Lynn Moak* Eryn Meyers James and Jean Murff*/ Exxon Mobil Foundation Irene and Dale Murrell Alan Muskin* Amy Myers William Nehman Elsa Nelligan Heidi Ochoa Kathy O’Leary Jean and Robert Payne Katherine and David Peake Anne Neal “Dede” Petri*

*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 3 8 | W I L DF LOW E R

Carol Ray Camille Raycraft* Jennifer Robb and Joshua Glazer* Deedie Rose Catherine and William Ruhling Jacqueline C. Russell/ ExxonMobil Foundation Florine and Edwin Schmid Page and John Schreck Frank Schubert Lauran Serafy Diane Shaktman Liz Shelton Linda and Dwight Shipp Contessa and Greg Skelton Jean and Donald Stone David B. Storey/ExxonMobil Foundation Kay and Jim Stueve Linda and John Swainson/ Visa Matching Gift Program Jan Treybig Alex Tschursin* Mary and Roger Wallace* Mary V. Watson Banford Weissmann* Donald Wertz and David Lowery Andrew White Jr. Lyn and Gene White Mollie and Bartell** Zachry

$500 to $999

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 Jo Anna Dale Richard Danforth Michael Davis Margaret Deaderick Christa DeFries C. Henry and Judith Depew 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 Elizabeth Boudreaux Gentry 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 Ferne Kyba Sue Lagerquist 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 Loma Miller George Morey Tait Moring Susan and Michael Murphy Darwina Neal Marianne and Clas Olsson Anne Palmer David Papke Elizabeth and James Patterson Ann and Robert Peck Nathan Pekar and Sarita Prajapati Jean Petrick Devier Pierson Wanda Potts Amy Starling Rampy 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 Kathryn Stein Deb Sull Steven W. Taylor Ray Toburen Richard and Jacqueline Tomhave Carolyn and Jerry Whitehead Bonnie B. Whiteis Dottie and Donald Willhouse Roger and Gayland Williams Betty J. Wright Jeannie Wright Darin and Elizabeth Wyatt David Yeomans* Jim and Jan Yost

CORPORATE GIFTS & PARTNERS $25,000 and ABOVE Tito’s Handmade Vodka

$10,000 to $24,999

Austin Event Lighting Bartlett Tree Experts H-E-B H-E-B Tournament of Champions Musco Lighting Royal Fig Catering

$5,000 to $9,999 Austin Outdoor Design Balcones Resources The Muskin Company Port Enterprises

$1,000 to $4,999

Art Seen Alliance Austin Wood Recycling Camp Mystic Inc. Emerald Lawns FactSet FastFrame & The Westlake Gallery Healthy Hive Foundation /Me & the Bees Lemonade Her Royal Hempress ILIOS Lighting KOMPAN They Might Be Monkeys! Texas Tree & Land Co. Uptown Modern Wella Organics A Wild Soap Bar

$500 to $999

Applewood Seed Company CORDA Management Hacienda Tile The North Door Third Rail Creative

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. | 39

Can Do

Tanks-giving Stock tank water gardens are oases for wildlife — and you! by Andrea DeLong-Amaya WATER IS A PRECIOUS COMMODITY for all forms of life in our hot, dry climate. Creating a simple stock tank water garden can provide enjoyment for you and a valuable, supportive ecosystem for dragonflies, birds, frogs and other wildlife. A galvanized metal stock tank is a common, simple base for such a garden. The Wildflower Center features one prominently at the entrance to the Theme Gardens, which may have something to do with their local popularity (or so we’d like to think!). Follow these tips to create your own beautiful and resilient stock tank water garden:

PARK THAT TANK A stock tank water garden featuring yellow waterlily (Nymphaea mexicana) in bloom in the Center’s Theme Gardens. PHOTO Andrea DeLong-Amaya

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First, find an ideal location for your tank, which can be set directly on the ground or partially buried. It’s possible to place it in considerable shade, but leaves falling from nearby trees are a maintenance headache. And a half day or more of sun supports a wider variety of flowers.


For aesthetic and functional reasons, include a variety of plants that stand upright, trail or float, and a few that remain submerged (which typically add oxygen). Tall vegetation, such as horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), makes excellent perches for resplendent dragonf lies, which

PERFECT PLANTS FOR TEXAS PONDS provide captivating lessons on courtship and territorial behavior. Mat-forming or floating plants, such as water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) or coastal water-hyssop (Bacopa monnieri), provide good platforms where frogs, butterflies and other insects can rest, sun and drink from the edge (see right for more plant recommendations). Ideally, vegetation should cover about 70% of the water’s surface during the summer. Providing a diversity of plant forms with staggered flowering periods will make the most interesting and ecologically balanced arrangements. Maintenance is minimal: When necessary, remove algae and leaves by hand or with a net. Trim plants that get too large and cut back dead (or frozen) foliage, which is unsightly and can create anaerobic conditions in the water as it decomposes.

mallow) Stefan Bloodworth, (pickerelweed) Harry Cliffe, (lizard’s tail) R.W. Smith, (all others) Wildflower Center

PHOTOS (coastal water-hyssop) Peggy Romfh, (American water-willow and yellow waterlily) Joseph Marcus, (Virginia saltmarsh


If your water source is from a well or city, allow it to sit for a minimum of 24 hours before adding plants or fish. This lets well water that may be low in oxygen absorb it from the air. Pro tip: You can manually jumpstart this process with a sprinkler (droplets have greater surface area, which facilitates oxygen exchange). A day or two gives chlorine from municipal sources time to evaporate. Occasional partial water changes will generally reduce the amount of built-up toxin such as chloramine (added by some cities). If you have rainwater, you may add fish and plants immediately. Make up for evaporation by keeping the water level constant. If you fill with city or well water, it is best to add only a few inches at a time, waiting a day between fillings. Note: In some conditions, overly acidic water may react with galvanized metal, elevating zinc to toxic levels (several academic sources indicate that zinc levels of 0.05 ppm or less are generally safe for aquaculture). If this is a concern, consider sealing the tank with heavyweight epoxy or a fish-safe polymer.


Fish are fun to watch and key to a successful pond; plus, a healthy population of mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) or other hardy native species means fewer mosquitos — win-win! (Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery is one local vendor.) When adding them, set their container into the water to allow the water temperatures to equalize. Slowly add small amounts of pond water to the container to acclimate fish to the new water chemistry. This process should take at least 15 minutes. It is not necessary to feed your fish and doing so may lead to water quality problems. Fish will eat mosquito larvae and other small aquatic insects as well as some algae. Provide for other fauna by adding a flat rock sloping gently into the water. This can serve as a bathing area for birds; a rescue platform for creatures that can’t swim, such as toads; or a sunning or resting place for turtles and butterflies.

Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)

Yellow waterlily (Nymphaea mexicana)

Copper iris (Iris fulva) or other native irises

Coastal waterhyssop (Bacopa monnieri)

American waterwillow (Justicia americana)

Virginia saltmarsh mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica)

Marsh obedient plant (Physostegia intermedia)

Texas spiderlily (Hymenocallis liriosme)

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus)

For more on Virginia saltmarsh mallows, see inside the front cover and page 2; for more on native wetland plants, see page 7; for more on the value of water to humans, see page 12.

Lastly, sit back and enjoy the show! | 41

When in Roam

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An Urban Getaway Discovering the unexpected joy of wandering in lockdown story and photos by Theresa DiMenno EVERY SPRING, I ROAM THE LANDSCAPE SEARCHING FOR the perfect field, the perfect bloom. In clear, crisp morning air, sun low on the horizon, my scouting eye peruses miles of highway trails, chasing peak blooms on endless Texas back roads. During early spring of 2020, my excitement dashed by the looming pandemic, I chose, like many of us, to remain at home. Feeling restless one March afternoon, I grabbed camera and keys, and cruised around my South Austin neighborhood. While driving along a thoroughfare, I caught a glimpse of blue obscured behind a woodland area. Moments later, I reveled in my good fortune, breathing in the fragrance of an immense field of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis). In reality, the field was a re-irrigation zone. But it was also a blooming meadow, with vast opportunities for photography and intimate observation. At day’s end, I cast a final glance across the field’s expanse as a ray of sunshine dipped below a cloud. Bluebonnets shimmered in golden light, and shadows fell below wing petals in the sway of a gentle breeze. With a renewed sense of wonder, I returned countless times over the next several months, photographing the field’s transformation. The untamed, thriving ecosystem was alive with bees, foraging for pollen and nectar. Carrying the weight of dewdrops on her wing cover, a ladybug labored upward on a horsemint (Monarda citriodora) stem. After bluebonnets faded in exchange for showy firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera) began to emerge around the perimeter of the meadow. Spiders wove webs among shriveled bluebonnets going to seed as grasses grew around them. Mood, tone and light informed the spirit of the meadow as it gently nudged me to slow down. I rarely encountered others and the silence was a welcome respite. Once, at daybreak, I felt a kinship with a solitary deer gazing out toward the rising sun. He and I were alone together, in the expanse of this wild urban landscape. >> | 43

In the predawn chill of an early morning in May, I walked through the moonlit meadow feeling optimistic. Searching for the best perspective for a full moonset image, I settled upon a patch of purple Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum). Camera on tripod, I kneeled down and framed the shot. In striking silhouette of the luminous moon, the thistle leaned in slightly, then rested in the quiet stillness. As I made my way from the field, Native American lore suddenly occurred to me as I realized the full moon of May is known as the Flower Moon. Thoroughly satisfied, I ambled across the road and headed home.

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Amongst the verdant grasses, prairie coneflowers displayed their showy blooms in the golden hour’s warmth as a light summer breeze lifted them in unison. An upbeat flower, they come alive when backlit, animated in their jazzy tenor.

The urban landscape was left uncut deep into summer, enabling the annual wildflowers to complete their life cycle. Documenting each stage of the bluebonnet’s evolution has been an enriching experience. Impeccable in design, intoxicating in fragrance, and a perfect fit for pollinating bees, bluebonnets earn their rank as Texas’ state flower. Pictured here is a young fruit that will eventually turn brown, twist and break open, releasing its seeds. >> For more on bluebonnets, see page 10. | 45

It was still sprinkling after a heavy downpour when the sun emerged one late afternoon, its beams streaming through an upstairs window. Instinctively, I dashed out and arrived at the field in record time. Much to my chagrin, the rainbow had faded, but the landscape was extraordinary in its brilliance. I stood in awe of the light upon the meadow. The stormy sky put on a fantastic show, its temperamental radiance rolling out in an easterly direction. In a moment, the sun dipped slightly and acres of shimmering firewheel bore witness to the closing light of day. 4 6 | W I L DF LOW E R

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Wild Life

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Alpine Inspiration A love letter to a small native plant that thrives in high, icy places

PHOTO Martin Grace

by Andrew Millham IT’S AMAZING HOW SOMETHING SO SMALL can have a powerful presence in your life. For me, that special diminutive thing is a coldloving plant: Saxifraga cernua. Colloquially known as drooping (or nodding) saxifrage, Saxifraga cernua is a common alpine species. This perennial flower is found all over the northern hemisphere, from the year-round Siberian permafrost and high slopes of New Hampshire to the basaltic northern climes of Iceland — and icy plains in between. In the U.S., its distribution is mainly restricted to northern states, although it grows as far south as the mountains of Santa Fe. It’s widely distributed across Canada and Alaska, and there are scattered populations in the Rocky Mountains. Wherever it grows, striking white petals cling to red shoots, which clash marvellously with the monotonous black and white of typical Arctic landscapes, a reminder of spring in the depths of winter. They live in isolation, sitting at high altitudes alone, watching over their stormy domain, witness to every blizzard. While we live our hectic daily lives, they are nodding quietly in a land above, peacefully listening to the whistling winds. Because of its preferred terrain, drooping saxifrage is exposed to extreme temperatures and weather. Consequently, it is mostly found sheltered behind rocky outcrops, nestled in mossy areas, along moist ledges, or in snow beds, where it is better shielded from the biting, frigid winds. The Border Lakes region of Minnesota, for instance, provides the perfect habitat, with unique glacial geology creating perfectly habitable cracks, seams and shelves. This flower, for me, symbolizes the heart of the Scottish hills. I first encountered it in a book of rare U.K. wildflowers and have seen a variety of saxifrage in the Lake District. But I have yet to find my elusive favorite plant in person. Still, it has shown me that intense beauty can be found even in the most barren landscapes. This plant also guided me in my choice to study environmental science — with the goal of eventually working in the gleaming

Arctic terrain it calls home. Without drooping saxifrage, my life may have taken a different path entirely. On Scotland’s highest mountains or Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, where short summers and long, deep winters still take place, you will find them: white and red gems, thriving amongst the ptarmigans, snow buntings and darting mountain hares. But that might not be the case for long. The small populations of Scotland, for instance, currently exist at the very limit of their southern latitudinal range. With warmer summers becoming more frequent and average temperatures rising annually, these already vulnerable plants are finding it increasingly difficult to survive. There is no doubt that anthropogenic climate change is partially responsible, with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane contributing to global warming. As the snow line creeps further up the mountain each year, drooping saxifrage is under considerable pressure to follow it. Eventually, it will cease to be a viable species. (Indeed, it became a U.K. protected species in 1975 and is listed as endangered in New Hampshire and Minnesota, the latter having only a single colony with 20 individuals.) If you are fortunate enough to encounter this special plant, pause and look. When we look closely at nature, we are inspired to protect it. Whether you are awed by the yellow glow of a springtime daffodil or enchanted by the elegance of a rose, a conscious appreciation of the floral landscape can transform the simplest of dog walks or strolls home — perhaps even inspiring us to alter our daily routines to reduce our carbon footprints. Rather than gray pavement or tarmacked driveways, take note of Echinacea in deep hues of pink; see pale lilies of the valley (Convallaria majuscula) bowing in the sun. Look beyond the built environment; train your eye on the small, unnoticed plants. If you’re at all like me, it might just change your life.

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