Wildflower Magazine 2023 | Volume 40, No. 1

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The Healing Power of Nature



WILDFLOWER 2023 | Volume 40, No. 1

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is commonly used today in teas and tinctures to boost the immune system. Native Americans are known to have used the plant to treat snakebites, burns, toothaches, colds, sore throats, headaches and more. A prairie plant native to much of the eastern United States, purple coneflowers can add pops of fuchsia to home gardens too.


FAR Afield
– L.C. PHOTO DiMenno

Purple coneflower ( Echinacea pupurea) is part of the larger plant family Asteraceae, which also includes sunflowers and daisies. The genus name is related to the ancient Greek “echinos” (or “ekhinos”) meaning “hedgehog,” an allusion to the spiny, brownish-orange central disk. Though it may look like one large flower, aster flowers are composed of an outer ring of ray florets surrounding a cluster of inner disc florets. Each floret is capable of becoming one seed. Purple coneflower is one of our top five spring nectar plants for supporting butterflies. – L.C. PHOTO Wildflower Center

LOOK Closer | 3

Getting Back to Nature

MANY OF US LIVE IN A WORLD DEFINED BY HARD ANGLES AND STRAIGHT edges. We spend a lot of our time indoors, walking in urban concrete canyons or driving along bordered roadways flanked by strip malls. Wherever we are, the stressors of life (you know the ones) constantly crash upon our psyches like waves against a seawall.

Sometimes though, those stressors motivate us to get outdoors. We may find ourselves in a city park, on an urban greenbelt, meandering down a path in the woods or strolling through a botanic garden such as the Wildflower Center. As you’ll read in this spring issue about the healing power of nature, experts say outdoor exploration and play is therapeutic, no matter our age. We tend to breathe deeper, our heart rates slow, and our eyes attune to nature’s complexity and beauty. We may even smell the scent of blooming flowers or juniper trees, strengthening a deeper connection with nature.

The Wildflower Center’s original landscape architect, Bob Anderson, says that the dense woods that flank the main entry walk between the parking lot and the rest of the gardens were left in place to act as a “veil between the profane and the sublime.” I love that, and I think of it every day as I transition from the fast motion world of my car to the Wildflower Center’s slower world and gorgeous gardens. Everyone who visits here

makes this same transition — whether consciously or not — leaving their world behind to immerse themselves in an atmosphere of birdsong and breezes.

Like all botanic gardens, the Wildflower Center is a place designed and managed for nature and people. It’s a place where we hope people can connect with themselves, with each other and perhaps a more intentional purpose. Lady Bird Johnson once said that “the nature we are concerned with ultimately is human nature.” Inherent in that statement is the idea that by transforming minds and improving lives, we will help the environment, and vice versa.

I am excited for you to read these stories about how nature heals people and how people can heal nature. These stories demostrate why I believe the Wildflower Center is such an important institution. By fostering its future success, we are enriching the lives of countless people and providing a future filled with plants, wildlife, clean water and clean air.

Stay wild,

4 | WILDFLOWER FROM THE Executive Director

The Healing Power of Nature


Nature Therapy Is Child’s Play

Experts prescribe nature play to boost kids’ mental health post-pandemic

ON THE COVER Science shows that time spent in nature can boost the immune system and lower cortisol levels.  ILLUSTRATION Maggie Chiang

ABOVE Directions, an augmented reality artwork by Mohammed Kazem, explores the significance of the number zero, one of the first important innovations by a Muslim scientist. PHOTO Joanna Wojtkowiak

| 5 7 PLANT PICKS Native plants with healing properties 10 BOTANY 101 Trees emit a powerful medicine 12 IN THEIR ELEMENT Students conduct valuable research 32 NEWS AND UPDATES The latest on our gardens and our work 35 THINGS WE LOVE Favorite things from our Gift Store 36 THANK YOU, DONORS 38 CAN DO Natural mandalas promote meditation and connection 42 PLANT PEOPLE Plants help relieve depression in student veterans 42 PLACES AND SPACES Seating areas provide rest and reflection 48 WILD LIFE Austin family uses nature to heal their grief 23
gardens play an important role in health and wellness
16 24 FEATURES TABLE of Contents 10 38

FEATURED Contributors

ous publications. Pam also organizes an annual speaker series about garden design called Garden Spark.


2023 | Volume 40, No. 1

EDITOR Catenya McHenry


Joanna Wojtkowiak


Joseph Marcus


Elizabeth Standley

Maggie Chiang is a Taiwanese-American full-time artist and part-time dreamer. Inspired by places both real and fictitious, Maggie’s illustrations evoke a longing for adventure and the pursuit of the unknown, exploring places unseen, impossible landscapes, and the relationship between humanity and nature.

publisher, editor and writer in Austin, Texas. She was the editor of Edible Austin magazine for over a decade, and her work has been featured in publications such as Mothering magazine and Salon.com, and on the air at National Public Radio. She was published in Salon’s anthology, “Life as We Know It,” and more recently, she co-wrote and edited the cookbook, “Thai Fresh: Beloved Recipes from a South Austin Icon.”

Alberta Phillips is an Austin-based, award-winning journalist who formerly worked as reporter, editorial writer and columnist for the Austin American-Statesman. She currently hosts a weekly public affairs talk show on KAZI-FM radio, Austin.


Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes


Lee Clippard


Demekia Biscoe


Andrea DeLong-Amaya


Sean Griffin


Dawn E. Hewitt


Catenya McHenry


Matt O’Toole


Cathy Tran


Leslie D. Zachary

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.

Kim Lane served as copy editor on this issue. She is an award-winning

Austin writer and photographer

Pam Penick is always on the prowl for interesting gardens to share on her website, Digging (penick. net), where for 16 years she’s been publishing “all the gardening goodness she can dig up.” She’s the author of “Lawn Gone!” and “The WaterSaving Garden,” and her articles have appeared in numer-

Jill Sell is a freelance journalist, essayist and poet, specializing in the environment and nature. She is the co-founder of Three Women in the Words, a non-profit arts collaboration; a contributing editor for Ohio Magazine and a weekly contributor to The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She was named Best Freelance Writer in Ohio by The Press Club of Cleveland five times.


CHAIR Laura Beckworth

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 © 2023 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.




@WildflowerCtr youtube.com/ WildflowerCenterAustin
PHOTOS (Maggie Chiang) author-provided, (Theresa DiMenno) self portrait, (Kim Lane ) author-provided, (Pam Penick) self portrait, (Alberta Philliips) author-provided, (Jill Sell) Jane Rogers

Plant Medicine

A variety of native plants containing healing agents once used by Native Americans.


Euphorbia antisyphilitica

WHY WE LOVE THEM: Evergreen (or evergray) stems ashen with wax reach 1-2 feet tall. Distinct form and outstanding heat tolerance make it a perfect candidate for a patio pot.

PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Full sun on dry, limestone-based, fast draining soils

USES: The species name, antisyphilitica , nods to its use, albeit with unsubstantiated success, as a therapy for the dreaded venereal disease. Candelilla, once common in the Trans-Pecos, produces high-grade wax for candles, soap, waterproofing, cosmetics and a range of other uses, making it a target for overharvesting from wild sources.

*CAUTION: The healing benefits claimed here may or may not be proven effective or safe. This information should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional treatment, or to diagnose or treat medical conditions.

BRINGS THE BLOOMS: Year-round after rains and warm temperatures.

PHOTO Tom Lebsack


Hamamelis virginiana

WHY WE LOVE THEM: This understory tree matures at 10-15 feet tall. Fragrant yellow blossoms give way to fruits favored by birds and small mammals.

PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Shade to dappled shade in dry to moist, well-draining sand, loam or clay

USES: An astringent derived from the twigs and bark of witch-hazel is commonly found in commercial health and beauty aid products. Uses range from soothing treatments for minor cuts, bruises, burns, insect bites and poison ivy rashes to general skin fresheners.


WHY WE LOVE THEM: Water hyssop hugs the ground, creating a tight carpet under other moisture-loving plants. Small pollinators regularly visit the flowers, and white peacock butterfly caterpillars dine on the foliage.

PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Moist to wet soils in full to part sun

USES: Water hyssop contains potent antioxidants and grows in all continents except Antarctica, suggesting that early people may have valued it enough to bring it along as they moved around the globe. For centuries, practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine have treasured it for alleviating anxiety, enhancing brain function and treating epilepsy.

BRINGS THE BLOOMS: April through September

PHOTOS (left) Peggy Romfh, (right) Wildflower Center


Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

WHY WE LOVE THEM: The broad, lavish clusters of scented white “elder blow” (i.e. flowers) are all abuzz with bees and small butterflies until fruits begin to form. When ripe, they entice birds and mammals.

PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Part shade to full sun on mesic to wet soils

USES: Touted as “nature’s medicine chest,” people have relied on the bark, leaves, and flowers of this small tree to lessen inflammation, remedy cold and flu symptoms, and control stress for thousands of years. It often appears in cough suppressants.

BRING THE BLOOMS: May through July


Passiflora incarnata

WHY WE LOVE THEM: Curiously ornate blossoms adorn robust, tendrilled vines. Caterpillars of passionvine butterflies feed on the foliage.

PREFERRED GARDEN ENVIRONMENT: Best in rich moist to dry soils in full to part sun

USES: Herbal teas made of passionflower blossoms and leaves claim to reduce anxiety, and aid relaxation and sleep. Fruits make lip-smacking juice and desserts.

BRING THE BLOOMS: March through November

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

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Wildflower Center

Wildflower Center Science and Conservation interns during summer 2022; (l to r), Nia Gladden, Jacob Kruel and Allison Morales. PHOTO Joanna Wojtkowiak

Scientists of the Future

Summer science and conservation interns use the Wildflower Center as a place to get their hands dirty by Jill Sell

SUMMER INTERNSHIPS ARE CRITICAL AND NECESSARY skill-building opportunities for many college students. Often, the summer stint on the job helps students figure out what they want to do, and just as importantly, what they don’t want to do with the rest of their lives. The Wildflower Center has long served as a unique place for student researchers from around the world to gain experience, and it continues to grow its undergraduate and graduate experiential programs. The summer of 2022 internship program demonstrated the benefit of the Center’s connection with broader audiences in the science and conservation community.

“Now that the Center is an official research station for the University of Texas, one of our highest priorities is bringing students of all levels and experiences here to do ecological research,” says Dr. Sean Griffin, director of science and conservation at the Wildflower Center.

The internships were part of several opportunities for college students, including the university’s Inclusive Student Training in Collections and field-based Topics (InSTinCT)

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program which increases the participation of underrepresented groups in natural sciences, and the Inclusive Student Training in Rapidly Urbanizing Climate-sensitive Terrains (INSTRUCT) program which brings together students and faculty from a number of different disciplines.

Griffin, who managed the internship program, worked one-on-one with three college students,


helping them build a customized research project specific to their major and future career pursuits.

“Our research program at the Center focuses on understanding how plant and animal communities develop in light of environmental changes, with an eye toward creating sustainable practices for land management of natural and urban spaces,” explains Griffin. “Several of the interns’ projects looked specifically at those changes.”

Allison Morales, a recent graduate from the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, applied some of her prior research experience and skills to her internship. But to take her personal interest of bee parasites to the next level, Morales needed to study with instructors, mentors, and an institution, with access to sophisticated scientific equipment and advanced lab techniques, including microscopy. She also wished to take advantage of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) extraction, a method of replicating DNA, which has revolutionized molecular biology. Morales studied bee specimens that had been collected in 2021 as part of a large agricultural experiment in squash fields in West Texas under the direction of Dr. Shalene Jha, the Center’s academic director of research.

“If you don’t do research on native pollinators and the parasites they attract, you don’t really know if something is happening to the bee population. You don’t know if harm or good is being done,” says Morales, who found only one species of mite hitchhiking on the bees she studied. She also noted that these parasites appeared in greater numbers in solitary, specialist bee groups such as squash bees, rather than social, generalist species such as bumblebees or honeybees.

“Some bees had ten or twenty mites, but others could have up to two hundred. If I were a bee, and I was carrying all that weight in mites, that might have an impact on the amount of pollen I could carry,” observes Morales, who plans to attend graduate school and continue her studies with parasites.

Griffin said Morales’ work is important not only to regional agricultural, but global food production as well. Bees pollinate most of the flowering crops the world grows to eat, including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Fewer bees mean fewer plants and without pollinators, these plants can’t reproduce.

A sophomore at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, intern Nia Gladden has a particular interest in birds, not bees. But her focus on animal behavior and foraging ecology led her to fieldwork at the Center where she investigated the effects of air pollution on pollinator foraging.

“Before I came to the Center, I was afraid of bees,” admits Gladden. “I respected them for their pollination role, but I always wanted to stay away from them. But now I have a new appreciation for bees. They don’t even know how big an impact they have on everybody else.”

Gladden monitored four onsite patches of flowers for 10 minutes each, three times a day, to observe bee foraging activity. Using a prototype portable pollution sensor developed by Dr. Eric Abelson, a University of Texas researcher in integrative biology, Gladden was able to identify ambient air pollution levels.

“I generally found that as there is more air pollution, pollination activity decreased. So, we need to try to limit our pollution because we need our pollinators’ activity to increase, not decrease,” says Gladden, whose work indicated that the bees reduced foraging activity in the morning in response to high ozone and air particulate matter.

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Intern Nia Gladden observes bee behavior on a pyramid bush (Melochia tomentosa) in the Wildflower Center’s Theme Gardens, while collecting and recording research data. PHOTO Joanna Wojtkowiak

Griffin believes Gladden’s work can potentially help researchers “know what to focus on with environmental regulation and conservation methods.”

“I want to work in conservation and I like to look at how humans impact different animal species. Looking at things like climate change normally makes me really sad. But it also makes me really fired up to do something about it,” says Gladden.

says Kruel, who is considering graduate school and then perhaps a career with a nonprofit organization that shares his values.

Kruel’s work contributes to the overall understanding of soil, which provides a support system for plants, protects us from erosion, stores water and is a source of raw materials among other benefits. Global studies are also looking at ways soil aids in carbon sequestration which can play a part in climate change

Jacob Kruel , an accomplished senior chemistry major from Binghamton University in New York, has a particular interest in applied ecology and environmental sustainability and wanted to study soil. Collaborating with Dr. Michael Young of the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology, the Center developed a soil science project that allowed Kruel to use his chemistry research skills and get his hands dirty, literally.

Kruel made use of the Center’s long-term land management study to investigate the physical and chemical properties of soil in response to seasonal prescribed burns. His research shows significant differences in soils in grasslands that had been burned in the summer and those that had been burned in the winter. Summer burned sites had soils with higher compaction, lower soil moisture and higher pH than winter burn sites.

“Soil is closely related to plant communities that arise. Everything is very interrelated,”

mitigation. Griffin also sees Kruel’s work contributing to the goal of more sustainable land management practices.

While fulfilling their Center internships, students are housed at The University of Texas where they also take courses focused on career development, mentor relationships, collaborations and other topics of interest to those pursuing careers in research. “In addition to their fieldwork at the Center, the students learn really practical skills that they will need no matter what they end up doing,” says Griffin.

“Our goal is to keep working with the students in some capacity long after they leave the Wildflower Center. We also help them present their findings to other scientists at conferences and national meetings. We hope to expand the programs in the future, because we know it is critical to support the next generation of environmentalists.”

Intern Jacob Kruel kneels in a plot of grass collecting soils to measure soil pH, density and moisture content. PHOTO Joanna Wojtkowiak

Support Living History

Texas history comes alive in the Hall of Texas Heroes, a collection of live oaks descended from historically significant trees across the state. Wildflower Center staff harvested acorns from the original living legends, grew the trees and gave them a place of honor in the Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum.

Dedicate a Hall of Texas Heroes tree today!

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Scan the QR code or visit wildflower.org/donate/memorial-tribute-giving for more information.

The Healing Power of Nature

Botanical gardens can provide a natural prescription


Those features make it a favorite spot for nature-lovers from near and far. A lesser known, but equally important benefit of the Wildflower Center, experts say, is its wellness and healing power as a natural green space in Central Texas’ increasingly urbanized region.

“Research indicates that nature plays a crucial role in our well-being,” says board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Carrie Barron, an associate professor of medical education for The University of Texas’ Dell Medical School. “Whether it involves forests, parks, rivers, seas or wildflowers, when we connect with nature, our senses awaken, our mood lifts and our imaginations ignite.

“The challenges that once seemed insurmountable can feel more manageable,” she adds, saying that, “even when we are homebound, gazing out a window, watching a film about green or blue spaces or engaging with a landscape painting can instill a healing and hopeful curiosity. Nature does much for health.”

In the past, the importance of natural spaces, such as parks, trails, gardens and bodies of water, to the mental, emotional and physical wellness of adults and children oftentimes was conveyed through anecdotes from people

who claimed to experience greater calm, peacefulness and creativity after an outing in nature. Such testimonials frequently were dismissed as “hippie nonsense.”

But a growing body of research is providing a science-based explanation about the link between wellness and nature. And what many people thought or felt intuitively to be true about improvements to their mood, mental clarity and outlook after a walk in a park or visit to a botanical garden is turning out to be backed by research supporting the link between wellness and the natural environment.

“If I go in front of a room full of people and I try to tell them about how big a difference time spent in nature makes to my mental and physical health, there are lot of people in that room who cross their arms and say, ‘That’s a bunch of hippie nonsense,’ ” says Jennifer Boley, executive director of Nature and Eclectic Outdoors (NEO) and program director of the nonprofit’s Healthy Outdoor Communities initiative.

“But if I go in that room and point to Texas A&M University School of Public Health, Methodist Hospital or this researcher or that researcher and studies they’ve done that correspond to the proven link between time spent in nature, I get a different response.”

With its acres of scenic gardens and miles of trails, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a Texas treasure that beckons visitors to explore native flowers, grasses and trees, watch wildlife, and have enriching experiences.

Barron, who in addition to being an associate professor at Dell Medical School heads the school’s Creativity for Resilience program, says she first noticed a shift regarding research on the topic of nature’s impact on mental health in 2015. Since then the field has exploded, she says, with increasing evidence showing “how a natural setting affects both our imagination and cognitive ability.”

She pointed to a 2015 study by Stanford University researchers that found walking in nature might lower risk of depression or other mental disorders.

“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said Gretchen Daily, a senior fellow and Bing Professor in Environmental Science at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment in an article for the Stanford News.

Since then, dozens of studies have been published on the topic.

A recent study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health under the title “Associations

between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence,” looked at data collected during experimental and observational studies on the effects of nature exposure on children’s health. Its conclusion states:

“We assessed the strength of evidence from experimental and observational studies and found evidence for associations between exposure to nature and improved cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity and sleep. Evidence from experimental studies suggested protective effects of exposure to natural environments on mental health outcomes and cognitive function.”

Barron and other researchers cite rapid urbanization as a key factor in limiting human contact with nature and the outdoors. Austin, with the second-largest growth rate in the nation — 21.7% between 2010 and 2020, according to Census figures — certainly is not immune to those factors. Urbanization is crowding out once abundant green spaces, and blue spaces, such as bubbling creeks, have gone dry because of the development needed to accommodate

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population growth. When the impact of technology is factored in, there’s a double whammy because children and adults are glued to their smart phones, video games and other devices rather than spending time outdoors in parks or other natural environments.

In Texas, researchers at the Center for Health and Nature, a partnership between Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texan by Nature and Houston Methodist, are exploring “ways to advance the science of the interplay between exposure to natural environments, health and healing,” according to its website. The partnership was launched in 2018.

The University of Texas at Austin Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, whose mission is to improve mental health and wellness, is shifting some of its resources in response to such trends, says Vicky Coffee, the foundation’s director of programs.

“We really shifted our work to focus on the social determinants of mental health and [we are] looking more at the causes and looking more upstream at what creates mental health challenges for people,” Coffee said.

In doing so, Coffee said the Hogg Foundation

is examining factors that impact a person’s wellness. That means looking at such things as where people live and work, their access to healthy food as opposed to food deserts, the trauma they’ve experienced, and their access or lack of access to green spaces and the outdoors. The secret sauce in reaping the natural therapeutic benefits available at the Wildflower Center or other green or blue spaces, several studies and experts say, is spending two hours a week in a natural environment. Whether that is done in a day or spread over a week makes little difference.

“What seems to be consistent is the [ideal] nature dose that researchers have found … is about 20 minutes [a day] spent in nature, or 120 minutes per week,” says Dr. Melissa Sundermann, a board-certified physician with the Canyon Ranch wellness resort in Lenox, Massachusettes. She adds that some research shows being in nature for that amount of time boosts the immune system and lowers cortisol levels, the stress hormone that works with certain parts of the brain to control mood, motivation and fear.

“We see a drop in heart rates, we see a drop


in blood pressure,” Sundermann says.

She also says that certain elements in natural environments, such as bird songs, can help lower anxiety. By contrast, traffic sounds can increase feelings of depression.

Some of the research on the therapeutic qualities of nature focuses on children, though experts say more is needed in this area. In a rapidly urbanizing world, many kids are experiencing “nature-deficit disorder,” a term coined by child advocacy expert Richard Louv. His book, “Last Child in the Woods,” brings together research indicating that exposure to nature is vital to our physical and emotional development as children.

Against that backdrop, the Wildflower Center is upping its game in promoting the health benefits of nature by providing outdoor activities, programs and instruction aimed at getting more people up to speed on the positive impact of nature on their health and well-being.

“We are being intentional about our programs so that we can help people not only understand our mission, which is inspiring the conservation of native plants, but to find their sense of place within that,” says Dr. Demekia Biscoe, director of education for the Wildflower Center.

Biscoe says the Wildflower Center offers outdoor wellness classes, including general

fitness and yoga classes done in partnership with The University of Texas’ Fitness Institute of Texas (UT-FIT), and forest bathing. Biscoe says outdoor meditation and garden design classes also are available, in addition to walking and hiking trails.

The Luci and Ian Family Garden is a great place at the Center for kids and families to receive some of the health benefits of nature, says Biscoe, adding that “outdoor play and unstructured time outdoors also helps curb behavior issues,” by giving children an opportunity to “build their own structures and understanding of each other.”

Biscoe also cites the Wildflower Center’s partnership with Outdoor Learning Environments (OLE!) Austin, an initiative that aims to expand outdoor learning environments for children in childcare centers and raise awareness of the positive benefits nature has on young children. She said the partnership is helping educators, specifically early childhood teachers, learn how to engage their students in outdoor play.

It’s a mission also embraced by Boley’s group, NEO, which this year received a grant from the Hogg Foundation for its Healthy Outdoor Communities initiative that works with the nonprofit Houston Parks Board to “promote equitable access to nature and green

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“We assessed the strength of evidence from experimental and observational studies and found evidence for associations between exposure to nature and improved cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, physical activity and sleep.”

space as an equalizer in the fight against health disparities in urban communities.” Much of the group’s work is aimed at teachers and community leaders in Houston’s underserved neighborhoods.

“We saw a need to get community members comfortable with using their local parks and resources,” Boley says.

She adds that outreach to educators, families, and childcare centers, such as OLE! Austin and children’s garden programs, is essential in familiarizing a generation of educators who grew up with technology as their main form of play or social interaction with nature play. Those educators can be less informed about the ways children benefit from outdoor play and activities. Boley says when those efforts are promoted across economic backgrounds, they help level the playing field for families struggling financially.

It’s worth noting that the Wildflower Center and its programs are affordable with low-cost or no-cost Access memberships available for qualifying individuals or families.

Barron, Coffee, Sundermann and other health experts agree that raising awareness about nature’s healing power and positive impact on the health, behavior, mood and creativity of adults and children is a challenge, given the interminable time people are spending on screens. Along with that, Sundermann points to 2022 figures from the Environmental Protection Agency that show the average American spends 93% of their time in homes, workplaces, schools, grocery stores, malls, automobiles and movie theaters — so just seven percent is spent outdoors in nature. That amounts to just one half of one day per week outside.

“We can do a lot better than that,” Sundermann says. “In a culture of ever-increasing technology, now more than ever it is crucial for everyone to get outdoors and breathe fresh air on a daily basis.”

Better yet, take a stroll through the Wildflower Center’s gardens or meander along trails of native plants, or take in the chirping of birds and rhythm of grasses blowing in the wind. Inhale. Exhale. Then let nature do the rest.


Featuring 13 (AR) works by established artists from across the globe, Seeing the Invisible creates digital experiences inside botanical gardens. By engaging with these interactive works with a smartphone or tablet, guests can explore the exhibition’s themes of nature, the environment and sustainability.


MARCH - SEPT. 2023

Download the Seeing the Invisible app.

Scan the QR code or visit wildflower.org/seeing-the-invisible for more information.


Part of the Wildflower Center’s 2020-21 Fortlandia exhibition, territories. by Mark Odom Studio with graffiti by Sloke One, has found a new home on the Ann and Roy Hike-and-Bike Trail. PHOTO Ben Porter

The COVID-19 pandemic did more to harm children and adolescents than keep them from playdates, peers and proms. It made many of them feel more anxious and isolated. Even before the pandemic, cases of anxiety and depression among teens and younger children were rising. Since 2020, the number of young people in need of treatment for mental or behavioral issues in the United States has ballooned beyond the capacity of therapists and other medical professionals to meet that need, according to a 2022 National Public Radio report. Overall, the effect of the pandemic on children’s mental health has been devastating, warned U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a 2021 announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).


“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents and young adults,” Murthy noted, “are real and widespread.” Moreover, the DHHS added that those who were vulnerable to begin with — young people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ youth, children from immigrant or low-income households, homeless youth and those in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems — suffered the greatest negative impacts from the pandemic.

Although the news that many kids aren’t alright is worrisome, there’s encouraging evidence that getting them outside to play or explore in nature provides a positive and therapeutic boost to their mental and physical health, no matter their age. Studies show that interacting with nature is a powerful healer, and the great outdoors, unlike the nation’s overburdened health care system, is free and widely accessible.

According to the Texas Children in Nature Network (TCiNN), researchers have found

that regular access to green space lowers a child’s risk of developing a psychiatric disorder in adolescence or adulthood. “ This protective association,” reports TCiNN, “remain[s] after adjusting for other known risk factors, such as urbanization, socioeconomic factors, family history of mental illness, and parental age.”

TCiNN also points to another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics journal that shows “[u]nstructured free play in the out-of-doors brings a host of benefits to children — from being smarter to more cooperative to healthier overall … Emotional benefits include stress reduction, reduced aggression and increased happiness.”

While fewer studies have been done on adolescents and young adults, growing body of research indicates that spending time outdoors in green spaces provides mental health benefits to this age group, too. Among college students in a 2021 study in the Environmental Research journal, “students who continued using parks and students who lived in counties

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Children climbing trees and using blocks to build structures in Fortlandia’s Fort Build. PHOTO Alicia Wells

and greenspace have made to public health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“I think the pandemic afforded us a setback but also a great opportunity because people got outside and saw it as a stress reliever, as another place to learn,” says Dr. Demekia Biscoe, director of education at the Wildflower Center. “We need to continue to tap into that natural curiosity.”

Appealing to that natural curiosity is a huge focus of Biscoe’s job. She and her team are intentional in their work to create educational programs, exhibitions and classes that promote learning and play. She says children need regular opportunities to physically explore the natural world, without concern about getting dirty or making a mess. Biscoe stresses, “Let them make up the rules as they go along.”

Wildflower Center Ecologist Michelle Bertelsen, who helps lead teacher workshops on outdoor play, agrees. “ There’s a lot of re-

pedagogically, stimulates movement and creativity. “It encourages imaginative play and world-building — creating your own universe with its own set of rules,” Bertelsen adds. “That type of play kicks off cognitive development in a way that’s hard to do with other things. It taps in with the natural way kids want to play and the way they’ve been learning forever.”

At the Wildflower Center, play spaces for children, like the Luci and Ian Family Garden, are designed to align with studies showing that the most elaborate playsets can’t compare with a messy pile of branches or bamboo poles to build into forts, tall grasses to crawl through or boulders on which to climb. When kids are allowed to freely interact with natural materials, without an adult directing their activity, gross motor skills improve, imaginations get fired up, social skills improve and moods are elevated.

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the Center’s director of horticulture, says the Family Garden is

Child running through the Luci and Ian Family Garden. PHOTO Dennis Fagan

intentionally “plant-heavy and not just a playground. We wanted kids to interact with plants, so we selected engaging plants. For example, we have water clover, which looks like four-leaf clover and might inspire imagination, and sensitive briar that closes up when you touch it. We want to get kids excited about exploring plants and nature and being comfortable outside.”

Fortlandia, the Center’s annual exhibition of nature-inspired forts, offers additional opportunities to get children outdoors to play, flex their imaginations and muscles, and wander and wonder. Unlike other areas in a botanical garden — like garden beds — the forts are meant to be climbed on, crawled through, balanced on and lounged on while looking up at trees and sky. “They provide an outdoor place for kids to practice their gross motor skills,” DeLong-Amaya says. “And just being outside, and not being inside in front of a screen — that is important.”

Biscoe agrees. “We set kids in front of screens,” she says, “and that screen time equates to not playing time, time not spent exploring or hanging upside down in a tree or walking on uneven surfaces. And if those

things haven’t happened for little kids at an early age, they suffer in school.”

Biscoe, who has nearly 20 years of experience serving students and families in public education, believes that schools should focus more on getting kids outdoors. The Wildflower Center welcomes school groups to come explore nature and native plants, and it offers a variety of experiences for students of all ages. In addition to spaces designed for free play, like the Family Garden and Fortlandia, the Center’s outdoor classrooms offer spots for more organized learning. “ We have an outdoor classroom by the Little House for our Little Sprouts program for preschoolers,” Biscoe says. “It offers an outdoor reading activity and a tactile-learning experience. We also have an outdoor classroom in the Family Garden that’s surrounded by trees. Kids in camps and on field trips use it.”

Since 2013, the Wildflower Center has partnered with Earth Camp, a field science program offered through the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department that provides fifth-graders from Title I schools a hands-on exploration of the watershed.

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Young girl gets her hand dirty making mud balls. PHOTO Anjoli Fry

The students get to go caving in the Center’s Wildflower Cave near the Savanna Meadow, exploring the path of water as it trickles into the aquifer. Earth Camp coordinator Susan Wall marvels over the transformations she witnesses in the students, many of whom have never adventured in the wild before. “We have kids who come scared,” she says, “but leave picking up bugs and loving nature. It is a wild cave. We have parameters, but they’re free to roam around. Most of them say it’s the most incredible experience they’ve ever had.”

Preschool children need more unstructured outdoor play, too. Advocating for that at the state level, Biscoe and Bertelsen led a highly sought-after workshop at the 2022 Texas Children in Nature Network Summit on how to give young children more autonomy in outdoor play. “The workshop highlighted Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE!) Texas,” Bertelsen says. “OLE! is a state initiative to get more outdoor learning into preschools, in part through parks play — unstructured exploration in natural settings. The state is interested in getting kids moving, running and reducing obesity.”

Learning about the natural world from an early age through hands-on play, by manipulating

natural objects, by exploring the outdoors in a more adventurous, even risky way — this is the path to better mental and physical health in children, experts say. “We’re programmed to thrive in a natural environment,” DeLong-Amaya says.

“ There’s lots of research,” she adds, “that people heal faster if they have exposure to nature or even a picture of a plant in their hospital room. Patterns in our fabrics — it’s all flowers and leaves. If you look at a calendar, it’s pictures of nature. We clearly have a need for nature. So, to expose children to that and make that connection early on — it’s critical to their health, but also to the health of the planet.”

“The future well-being of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation,” said Surgeon General Murthy. Bertelsen agrees. “Having those little magical experiences — that’s when you develop your love of nature. It’s not being told, ‘This is wonderful, and don’t you love it?’ It’s having real, small experiences with nature. And if children don’t develop it early, it’s harder with each year. Nature becomes a vague green background. So that’s our ulterior motive: to create new advocates for nature while also making them healthier, more active and smarter.”

Fifth grade students in Earth Camp strap on proctective helmets, knee pads, and headlights before entering Wildflower Cave. PHOTO Joanna Wojtkowiak

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PHOTO Theresa DiMenno

The latest on our gardens and our work

Family Roots

ONE MAY THINK THAT IF YOU’RE A descendant of former First Lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson, choosing a life as a conservationist has a high probability. After all, she has inspired scores of environmentalists to be better land stewards and proponents of wildflower landscapes all while raising important awareness about native plant conservation. If you were thinking someone in her family should carry the torch, you’ll be happy to know a branch on her family tree is rooting a new legacy.

“I was born with a passion for environmental conservation, just like my Nini [Lady Bird],” says Tatum Nugent, great-granddaughter of Lady Bird and granddaughter of Lucy Baines Johnson.

“My earliest memories of connecting with the environment were from visiting my great-grandmother at the LBJ Ranch and going on countless adventures to see the spring swaths of wildflowers. We would practice

memorizing all the Central Texas wildflowers — the Indian paintbrush, her favorite, the bluebell, and of course my favorite, the bluebonnet.”

Nugent, a marine scientist and environmental advocate, is the only one in her family to choose a career in the field, and says her path just makes sense because growing up, land and sea science lessons were embedded in everyday life.

“There was never a moment where we were spending time outside where we didn’t also point out the threats and some of the changes that have been made to ecosystems over time — whether that was learning hands-on out at the ranch, raising cattle in a pasture … how will that change the landscape of that pasture? Why you need to rotate where you’re keeping animals — to growing up, spending time scuba diving and just looking at pieces of coral and understanding the balance between the kind of algae, coral and fish relationships that exist between animals there,” she says.

CENTERED: News and Updates
LEFT Six-year old Tatum Nugent pictured with her great-grandmother, Lady Bird Johnson at the LBJ Ranch. RIGHT Now an adult who shares her great-grandmother’s passion for environmentalism, Tatum serves on the Wildflower Center’s Advisory Council. PHOTOS courtesy Tatum Nugent

Nugent is currently ushering in a younger generation of conservationists as one of the Wildflower Center’s newly appointed Advisory Council members. Her journey — starting with childhood science lessons — took her from primary age to high school and then to college. She studied marine affairs, marine biology and the use of marine resources at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School in Florida, earning a degree in marine affairs and environmental science and policy. Her concentration was on ecosystems and how they work, and how to take care of the natural environment.

“Really, just from my childhood, I’ve had a passion for looking at an ecosystem as not one component, not just one animal and not just one plant, but the entire ecosystem … how to help support that ecosystem to flourish side-by-side with humans and our urbanization and how we live in a place,” says Nugent.

But like nature, that side-by-side juxtaposition has experienced a tricky and concerning ebb and flow as Nugent and other environmental advocates witness the continued impact of climate change. In her recent keynote speech at the Center’s 40th anniversary celebration, Nugent praised younger activists but also noted the enormous future responsibility her generation faces — reinforcing the urgency for a deeper connection with nature and the urgent need for places like the Wildflower Center to continue thriving.

“My generation is more engaged with the environment than prior generations, yet we face many challenges that cannot be ignored,” Nugent said in her speech. “Land use change is the biggest threat to nature, destroying or fragmenting the natural habitats of many plant and animal species. With its focus on restoring native plant life, organizations like the Wildflower Center are essential for a more sustainable future.”

Nugent is intently focused on the future while still honoring the past of what her great-grandmother started.

“The thing that I really admired about my great-grandmother’s work was always the consistency of her messaging … of understanding that this is something that carries on way past our own lifetime. The next ten, twenty years are so important to me as an individual, but looking at the scale of time and the difference that you can make in an ecosystem in those years, you could save species … you can save species in a decade,” says Nugent.

As she continues navigating her new Advisory Council appointment, Nugent is also keenly focused on making sure Center members and broader audiences understand the importance of prioritizing a balanced and healthy relationship with nature.

“Being able to slow down and look at each little microenvironment that’s happening in one environment, whether that’s going to a botanical garden and taking time to really look at the flowers and see how certain flowers are interacting with each other, or whether it’s going for just spending time away from computers and unplugging,” says Nugent. “It’s an incredibly important balance that sometimes gets overlooked because there really is a connection between spending time in the outdoors and spending time in nature and really getting back down to your roots.”



Cultured Forest founder and owner Brooke Mellen, featured on NBC’s TODAY Show, in Vogue, and the Wall Street Journal, will offer an introduction to guided Forest Bathing, or the practice of Shinrin-yoku in the Wildflower Center gardens. Enjoy the health benefits of walking and being immersed in nature by connecting with trees, observing wildlife, wildflowers and more.


Meditation Raking is a walking meditation that engages the entire body while promoting mindfulness. Instructor and Lead Horticulturist Leslie Uppinghouse will teach participants how to use their body more efficiently and will guide them on how to slow down, listen and purposefully rake leaves, grasses and more in the gardens and along paths throughout the Wildflower Center. Garden rakes provided.


Cultivate your green thumb in this twopart class that covers the basics of planting, pruning, transplanting, trimming, integrated pest management and more. Taught by Center horticulturists, participants will also learn the best gardening tools and seeds to buy.


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“SEEING THE INVISIBLE” is an augmented reality (AR) contemporary art exhibition opening at the Wildflower Center on March 4, initiated by the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens in partnership with Outset Contemporary Art Fund and featuring 13 AR works by established artists from around the world. Addressing themes of nature, the environment and sustainability, the goal is to place these interactive digital experiences inside botanical gardens without disturbing wildlife or leaving behind a carbon footprint.



is a recipient of the St. Elmo Arts Residency Fellowship, a joint program between the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas and the Wildflower Center. She practices bringing artistic attention to how the dynamics of nature are represented in contemporary Western visual culture. Her upcoming show is a film titled, “A seed a deer a seed,” and tells the story of how wildlife and humans are impacting one another. Narrated by Wildflower Center Conservation Botanist Minnette Marr, the film reveals what happens at night at the Center — how deer, rabbits and other wildlife affect flora — and how the Center’s daytime research impacts wildlife.

“I became deeply interested in the alliances and issues that emerge from conservation efforts, such as the control of nonlocal grasses like the King Ranch bluestem (Bothriochaemum Ischaemum var. songarica) and the local deer that — due to overpopulation — are negatively affecting the plant community. I wanted to tell the story of ways that plants, animals and flora are interconnected, and there are things that escape conservation and management. I found that very beautiful,” says Hoffmeister Castro. Castro’s installation will be on view at the Center April 1 - 30.

“We wanted to be thoughtful and intentional about specific places within our gardens where visitors could be immersed in nature and experience the artwork simultaneously,” says Patrick Moran, Wildflower Center exhibitions coordinator. “Some of the artworks include nature sounds and music. For instance, in the Woodland Garden, one of the art pieces incorporates the sounds of birds, and that’s in an area that naturally attracts lots of birds, so it’s about being fully enveloped in nature and the art without the impact of physical objects.”

After downloading the app on a smartphone or tablet, a visitor will use their device as a guide to find and engage with each piece strategically placed throughout the Wildflower Center gardens. The immersive exhibition explores the boundaries and connections between art, technology and nature. “Seeing the Invisible” is open March through September 2023.


AUSTIN-BASED ARTIST ALICIA PHILLEY will lead meditative walks through her “The Seeds We Plant” installation this spring. Hanging from trees and branches throughout the Woodland Trail, Alicia’s vibrant art pieces represent wildflower seeds planted across Texas roadsides. The unique shape and color patterns of each artwork playfully engage with the Woodland Trail, drawing the eye toward tangles of branches, the curves of a riverlike opening between trees, and the rocky ground. Some stand out boldly, especially at each trail entrance, while others hide demurely.

“All of these interactions between nature and my artwork serve as a reminder that life is always changing. And the viewer who slows down to look more closely is rewarded not just with seeing my art, but also with finding a new appreciation for the calming effect of simply slowing down to look and notice this world we live in,” said Philley.


CENTERED: Things We Love

Gift Store Picks by

BATH SALT Generation Bee

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The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure by Stacy Torino and Ken Keffer

This book includes 448 things to do in nature for kids of all ages — more than one activity for every single day of the year. Each of the year’s four seasons includes 50 checklist items and 50 challenge items, three each of projects, destinations, garden recipes and outdoor games. Get this book for your next outing or trip to make it one to remember!


BOOK Healthy Garden by Kathleen N. Brenzel and Mary-Kate Mackey

Part gardening bible, part call to action, award-winning authors Kathleen Norris Brenzel and Mary-Kate Mackey present advice, tips and how-tos for gardeners seeking better health, increased happiness and stronger communities.




Locally handcrafted in Austin, this organic soap is made for sensitive skin. Philorganic was born out of two significant words: philo, meaning ‘love for’ in Greek, and organic. Each product is made with plant-based ingredients with no parabens and produced in a way that is mindful of its impact on the planet.

6 oz. Lavender + Aloe Vera Bar Soap $13.95

1 oz. Caress Hand Cream $19.95

8 oz. Embrace Restorative Body Cream $38.50

TEA CatSpring Green Yaupon

A tasty, natural, and sustainable alternative to tea & coffee.


is wild harvested in Cat Spring, TX. Enjoy it fresh or roasted, from the farm straight to your cup. Clean and refreshing, this staple green yaupon celebrates the tranquility of the Pedernales River.


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CENTERED: Thank You, Donors

$100,000 and ABOVE

Jeanie and Tommy Carter*

Carolyn and Jack Long*/ CA Foundation

Page and John Schreck*

Melinda and Stephen Winn*/ Winn Family Foundation Inc

$25,000 to $99,999

Laura and John Beckworth*/ Hobby Family Foundation

Colin Corgan*/Goldman Sachs Gives

Catherine Corrigan/ The Dallas Foundation

Kathryn Fuller*/The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Luci Johnson and Ian Turpin*/ Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund

Betty and Daniel McCreary

Ann H. Moore*

Estate of Claudia L. Parker

Lynda and Charles Robb*/ Heart Sing Foundation

Anissa and Mark Scholes

Nancy Taylor

James J. Truchard*

Muriel Jo White Trust

$10,000 to $24,999

Kit and Carl Detering*/Carl and Phyllis Detering Foundation

Kenneth E. Gray

Bill M. & Cecile Autrey Ham Charitable Foundation

Jeffrey Howell* and William Press/Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program

Edwina C. Johnson

Erin A. King

Josie E. Knight

Sandra and Stanley Lehman

Sally and Dennis Loner

Tom Mays and Orlando Zayas*

Lynn and Tom Meredith/ Meredith Family/ MFI Foundation

Nancy and DuBose Montgomery/ Vanguard Charitable

Ellen Petersen*

Emily and Joey Schonefeld*

Brian and Debra Jones Shivers*

Kathryn Stein

Ellen Temple*

Texas Society of the Children of The American Revolution

The Winkler Family Foundation

Marilyn and Ben Weber*/ Ben Mar LTD., Inc.

The Zachry Foundation

$5,000 to $9,999

Ivo Babuska

Kim Bacon*

Mary Ann and George Baker*

Joseph Batson*

Lynn and Mason Carter*

Carolyn and Tom Curtis*

Trisha and James Elizondo*/ Energy Renewal Partners, LLC

Regan and William Gammon*

Kari and Jeff Garratt

Jack Hight Irrevocable Charitable Trust

Marcia and Richard Jinkins

Bruce Leander

Theresa and Geoffrey Lees

Kathy O’Leary

Nancy Perot

Anne Petri*

Seshkumari and Nagaraj Rao

Jennifer and Lonnie Samford*/ Schwab Charitable Fund

Tejemos Foundation

Angela and Mario Ubalde*

Mary and Roger Wallace*

Judy Weidow

Marget and Mark Wincent

$1,000 to $4,999

Patricia and Michael Abkowitz/ Schwab Charitable Fund

Ramona Adams

Lori Althaus

Vernanne Alvarez

Alli Anderson

Tara Armistead

Robert Bartlett

Marie and Delbert Bassett

Ariane Beck*

Elizabeth A. Beck

Cynthia Bodie/Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund

Malla Brandenberger

Jonathan Brawn

Erica Brooks/The Arch and Stella Rowan Foundation, Inc.

The Brown Foundation, Inc.

Julia Buie/Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund

Ruthie and Gene Burrus*

Owen Carpenter/First National Bank Texas

Theresa and Daniel Carroll

Chris and William Caudill*

Center for Plant Conservation

Therese Ciolek

Scott Claver

Sally Clayton

Lee Clippard

The Helen W. Coleman Foundation/ Pitcairn Trust Company

Susan Conway and John Howell*

Amity Courtois

Elinor Crews

Susan and William Crews

Eleanor Crook

Germaine Curry*

Frieda Davidson/Schwab Charitable Fund

Linda and Russell Deason

Lynne Dobson/Austin Community Foundation

Patricia and Peter Dollive

Eric Domagalski

Gloria Dowiak

Jane Downer

Catherine Duncan

Edgemon Family Foundation

Estate of Kantilal and Nilam Desai

Steven R. Farabee/Austin Community Foundation

W. Jay Fellows

James K. Ferguson Foundation

Tyrrell Flawn and John Howe*

Jane and James Flieller

Melanie Fontaine and Michael Plonien

Mary F. Forbes

Noble Fortson

Sherrie and Robert Frachtman*

Vincent Geraci and Wanda Summers*

Jimmy Gibson

Catherine and Harry Graham

Kate Hamlin

Susan and Richard Harding

Sarah Harriman

Christopher Harte

Karen Hayward*

Paula Hern

Mary Hernandez

Suzanne and Steven Hesley*

Doug Hess

Mary J. Hickok

Chelsea Hoovestol

Dede and Bradley Hull

Nancy and Bobby Inman

Paula and Parker Jameson

Adam Johnson/Greater Houston Community Foundation

Melanie and Charlie Jones

Chris and Carole Bond Jordan

Louise Kaderlan

Robert Kerr

Nancy and William Kibler*

Linda and David Knowles

Mary Kramer

Wendy Kuhn

W. Keith Lain/Schwab Charitable Fund

Sarah Westkaemper Lake*

Ryan Lambert

Benjamin G. Liles Jr./ Morgan Stanley

Cindy Loftis

Susan Lubetkin

Karen Lundquist and James Zion

Diana T. MacArthur

Kelly and Dwayne Mann

Julia Marsden*

Martha McCabe

Donna and Frank McCamant*

Craig McCullough

Earl J. McGehee

Mary McKeown-Moak and Lynn Moak*

Mary Anne Mekosh

Virginia and Richard Mithoff

Emily Moreland

Jean and Don Murff*/ Austin Community Foundation/ ExxonMobil Foundation

Irene and Dale Murrell

Ellen and Alan Muskin*

National Instruments Foundation/ Austin Community Foundation

Celia Newhart and Jeremy Taylor*/SEI Private Trust Company

Tatum Nugent*

William O’Hara

Stephanie Owens

Betty and Ron Patterson

Lois M. Pausch

Michael Pence

Philip Pritchett

Carol Ray/Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program

Camille Raycraft*

Arthur Reis and Carol Franco*

Cathleen Riely/Schwab Charitable Fund

Jennifer Robb*/ Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund

Lucinda Robb/Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund

Celina Romero and Paul Williams*/ Vanguard Charitable

*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.

Recognizing contributions given from Sept. 1, 2021, to Aug. 31, 2022

Evelyn Rose*

Molly and John Rose

Paul R. Sackett

Susan J. Santamaria

Nancy Scanlan

Jennifer and Luke Schneider*

Frank Schubert

Robert L. Schultz

Cynthia Sechrest

Lauran Serafy*

Wendy Serrell*

Linda Shipp*

Susan and Robert Shrader/ Texas Instruments Foundation

Contessa and Greg Skelton

Charlotte Strange

Ann and Jack Swingler*/ Almaray LLC

Christine Ten Eyck and Gary Deaver*

Beverly Thames

The Estate of Juan F. Sauceda Gonzalez/ Cassandra Stokes

Douglas Thomas*

Margot and Grant Thomas/ Lester E. Kabacoff Family Foundation

Richard Tomhave

Top Ladies of Distinction - Dale City, Prince William Chapter

Susan C. Tracy

Jan Treybig/South Cooper Animal Hospital

Elaine Wagner

Nancy and Terry Wagner

Carol Walsh-Knutson and Kelley Knutson*

Serene and Christopher Warren*/ National Philanthropic Trust

Banford Weissmann*

Kathryn Weldin

Ken Wells/Chevron Corp.

Donald R. Wertz

Lyn and Gene White/IBM International Foundation

Vasilia and Laurens Wilkes*

Chelsea Woodhead

Mollie Steves Zachry

Janice and Frank Zimmerman

$500 to $999

Tyler Abell

Judy Abrahamson

Elizabeth Alford and Michael Young

Kathy Allison

Dale Amstutz

Gary Anderson

Drake Armstrong

Sara and Robert Awe/Shell Oil Company Foundation

Stuart A. Bailey

Susan Ballard

Judith and Dennis Bettison

Sudha Bidani

Stacy Bishop

Kolleen Blanton

Dayna Blazey and Harry Miller

Sharon Blazey/Texas Instruments Foundation

Elizabeth Boudreaux Gentry

Jennifer Bridges

Bart Brown

Maria Brown

Simon Brown-Valdez/The Charles Schwab Corporation Foundation

Ellen Brumder

Judy Bunch

Deborah Callanan

Joe Campolieta

Janet Carrick

Paul Chamberlain

Thecla Chomicz

Adina Christian

Gary Citron

Terry Cook

Richard Coons

Gordon Courtney

Matthew Craig

Duane and Sondra Lee Crowley

Frances and Robert Cushing

Henry Darley

Anne Darrouzet

Margaret Deaderick

Jerry Deitrich

Douglas Denham

Dawn Dickson

Kathleen Dignan

Karen Doolittle

Mary Dresser

Claudia and H.R. Dubuisson

EarthShare of Texas

Raleigh Emry

Carol Fegan

Ruth Flournoy

Marya Fowler

William Free

Marilyn Gaddis

Libby Gagne

Nancy Garrison

Allison Goldring/Fidelity

Charitable Gift Fund

Davis Gomillion

Vikki Goodwin

Ted Greenwald

Julia Gregory

Kathleen Grobe

Shelley Gustafson

David Hanna

Katharine Hannan

Dena Hanson

Margaret Hanus

Jo Harlow

Kyle Hawley

Dawn Hewitt

David Hibbs

Nicole Holt

Isabel and J. Russell Hoverman

Ana Hunt

Jennifer Ice

Suzanne and Charles Jacobs/ The American Gift Fund

Dale Jaroszewski

Mary Beth Jester

Michael King

Karen Kirmis

Mary Knight

Cynthia Kozmetsky

Margaret Kress

Barbara Kyse

Louise Lehrman

William Lewis

The Little Garden Club of Memphis

Bridget Lott and Amy Schneider

Edward Maliszewski

Barbara and Keith Martinson

Suzanne McAnna

Brooks McCorcle

Abbey McGrew

Summers McKay

Christine and Declan McManus

Tait Moring

Lindsey Moser

Gary Moss

Native Plant Society of Texas, Williamson County Chapter

Celia Neavel

William Nehman

Judith Nitsche

Heidi Ochoa

Pat O’Donnell

George Ohlendorf

Philip Olson

Katherine Peake

Nivin Pei/Pfizer Foundation

Adam Percival

Jean Petrick

Kay Planting

Kathy Pollard

Nancy Pollard

Randall Present

Susie and Calvin Puryear

Jay Roberts

Emily Robillard

Martha Rogers

Karen and Karl Rove

Linda Ruggeroli

Jacqueline Russell and Jane Miller

Paul Rutecki/Schwab

Charitable Fund

Carl Sandlin

Joyce Scafe

Eugene Schneider

Laurel Schroeder

Clinton Schulz

Jordan Scott

Gregory Senter

Thomas Sharp

Liz Shearer

Margaret and Roy Shilling

Nancy Shilling

Kathy Singer

Mary Ann Neely and Craig Smith

Daniel Stenger

Mary Stewart

Dean Alexa Stuifbergen

Lynne Swenson/Dell Technologies Inc.

Anne Symonds

Mary Thorp

United Way for Greater Austin

Pamela Ward

Debra Watkins

Lee Weatherford

Weavers and Spinners Society of Austin

Carolyn Whitehead

Sarah Whitley

Eric Williams

Gayland and Roger S. Williams

Ann Wilson

Jennie Wilson

Peter Winstead

Robert Young

John Zvonar


$25,000 and ABOVE

Bartlett Tree Experts

H. E. Butt Grocery Company

Tito’s Handmade Vodka

$10,000 to $24,999

Balcones Resources

$5,000 to $9,999

ASA Creative Services, LLC

Port Enterprises, Ltd.

$1,000 to $4,999

A Wild Soap Bar

Austin Wood Recycling

Blü Fern, Inc.

Capital Printing Company, Inc.

Cicada Lighting, LLC

Elk Electric FastFrame & The Westlake Gallery

$500 to $999

Applewood Seed Company

Meridian Hive Meadery

Moreland Properties

RoughRider, LLC

Thermo Fisher Scientific

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

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Can Do

Meditative Mindfulness of Mandalas

The meditative practice of mandala making is repeated throughout ancient history and today

“MANDALA MONDAY” HAS BECOME ONE OF THE WILDFLOWER Center’s most engaging social media moments. It features a perfectly symmetrical art wheel made of flowers, leaves, seeds, grasses, acorns and anything else nature generously gifts to artist, Larissa van der Steen Quon. She’s been producing the popular mandalas as part of a year-long artist collaboration with the Center, but says her creative journey through nature began long before she stepped onto the garden grounds.

“It started off as just walking around my neighborhood initially,” she says. “And then it became more like a walking meditation — a time of just really sharing deep presence with my environment and noticing the subtle, drastic changes of what was in bloom … what was returning to the earth.”

Once a month, van der Steen Quon walks the Savanna Meadow trail at the Center not knowing what she’ll find.

“I soak in the beauty of that place and notice what is calling to me,” she says. “I practice the ‘Honorable Harvest’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer (author and indigenous leader), which is a method of sustainable harvesting — asking for permission from the plants, communing with the plants. It’s really all about being in relationship with nature, being in relationship with the plants.”

With a quiet mind, peaceful spirit and in a state of grace — open to receiving — she introduces herself as a plant friend.

“Sometimes I’ll lay fully down on the meadow. Sometimes I’ll just sit there. There’s also a bench that I really like to go to, just to see the horizon. I’ll soften my vision a little bit just to see what is speaking to me,” she says.

Listening and accepting are important too because sometimes nature says no.

“I’ll go up to a couple blooms that I don’t want to take because there’s not an abundance, and so I’ll leave that alone. I’ll get a ‘no.’ But maybe there’s a giant patch of something which is thriving and abundant, and I’ll ask permission from that, and it’ll say, ‘yes, you can take a few here.’ That’s kind of how that works for me,” she says.

Once she’s gathered her harvest, van der Steen Quon returns home to assemble the mandalas. She says she doesn’t always know how the palette

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will come together but it seems nature automatically knows how to find the right rhythm and balance.

“I’ll immediately come home and lay everything out. I like to almost create like an artist’s palette of material, so putting the colors together, I can see all of what it is that I have. And I’ll do a little bit of a meditation at home, again, just to align myself to a state of grace and be open to the process of creativity. And I’ll just pick up one thing and see … is this the piece that needs to go first? And then I’ll just go from there.”

The mandalas, she says, are a way to heal and start approaching the world with more intention, mindfulness and deeper connection to the earth.

“It’s such a beautiful way of moving through the world … of being in reciprocity,” she says. “We sometimes have a habit of taking things for granted or moving mindlessly through the world. We can give so much back to the earth just as it gives to us, and deep presence is one of those things.”

No artistic skills are needed to create your own mandala but if you want to harvest from the wild, van der Steen Quon says it starts with graciousness and appreciating the land.*

“The first piece is developing the relationship with the place that you want to harvest from. It could be your own backyard … it could be in your neighborhood — on walks like I used to do — or a green space in Austin. But really developing that relationship and opening your awareness to what is around you. And just let yourself play, I think too. It’s not something that’s a serious thing, it’s just enjoying your communing with nature and together playing,” she says.

Still emerging from the pandemic, van der Steen Quon says creating a mandala is a meditative way to reflect, reset and reconnect.

“[The pandemic] forced a lot of people to reassess and slow down in a lot of ways. There has been this incredible explosion of growth in Austin … it’s why places like the Wildflower Center are so crucial. People can go visit and experience the rhythm of nature in such a beautiful green space versus being stuck on I-35 or wherever it is that you are.”

*van der Steen Quon had special permission to collect at the Wildflower Center. We ask that others leave flowers, seeds, leaves and other plant parts in place.


Artist Bruce Munro’s Field of Light has been extended through Spring 2023. Illuminating 16 acres in the Texas Arboretum at the Wildflower Center, Field of Light is a stunning display of 28,000 subtly lit, solar-powered spheres that showcase the intersection of art, technology and nature.

Wildflower Center members enjoy $6 off ticket prices with this special discount code: JWCMEMBERS2023

Scan the QR code for tickets or visit this link:

wildflower.org/ field-of-light


Silent Disco Nights

Date Night Packages

Student/Teacher Nights

Senior Discounts

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PHOTO Serena Munro

Plant People

Student holds a containerized hypertufa planter of succulents designed and created by research participants. PHOTO courtesy Rosalie Kelley

Propagating Happiness

Study shows positive effects on mental health for student veterans working with plants

ROSALIE KELLEY, MANAGER OF YOUTH AND FAMILY PROGRAMS AT THE Wildflower Center, is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the U.S. Army, having served 24 years before joining the Center in 2018. Although her current job is more peaceful than the battlefield, Kelley has seen firsthand the negative effects that war has on soldiers who’ve returned home. She wondered if plants, flowers and nature could help heal their trauma.

“ Many soldiers come home with PTSD or traumatic brain injury, which has an effect on their overall mental health and their ability to cope with life at home,” says Kelley. “Their experience in the military, possibly, and likely their combat experience or hostile fire or imminent danger experience, or maybe just peacetime experience had an effect on their mental health that has a ripple effect throughout our society.”

After her military retirement, Kelley pursued a master’s degree in agriculture at Texas State University, where she became interested in the question of whether interacting with plants has a positive effect on college students who are veterans. Like most inquisitive scientists, Kelley decided to conduct a study. She wanted to determine whether participation in a six-week plant-care class reduced participants’ levels of depression, anxiety and stress.


Kelley’s experiment included an experimental group and a control group. Both groups filled out a survey about their mental and emotional state at the beginning of the study and again at the end. Next, were the six-week treatment sessions where experimental group participants designed and created a containerized hypertufa planter, propagating cacti and succulents and creating a follow-up plant care plan for the garden. Additionally, the study included other activities: growing microgreens, air layering, propagating outdoor native plants, propagating indoor/outdoor ornamental plants and propagating items from the grocery store. Those in the control group did not meet to do any plant care but simply filled out the survey twice.

Published in American Society for Horticulture Science in December 2017, Kelley’s co-authored paper titled, “The Effects of Greenhouse Activities on Psychological Stress, Depression, and Anxiety among University Students Who Served in the

U.S. Armed Forces,” confirmed her theory. Student veterans who took the class, doing hands-on work with plants, reported decreased levels of depression and stress compared with the control group. This suggested that working with plants can be a beneficial supplementary experiential intervention for veterans and students experiencing stress in a university setting.

The study has also informed Kelley’s work at the Wildflower Center where she’s now incorporating programs that inspire wellness and self-reflection among the native plants, which will include various spring classes like forest bathing, mindfulness walks and more.

The Center is putting together a map of its most tranquil nooks and crannies to help people find places to reflect. In these spaces, a person can look around and notice things that will help them become more mindful and centered — become connected more to nature.

“If you feel better, you go through life differently,” says Kelley.

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Various plants used as part of the student veteran research study. PHOTO courtesy Rosalie Kelley

Places and Spaces

Meditative Spaces

A collection of places and spaces at the Wildflower Center, intentionally groomed for quiet reflection by Catenya

DECORATED BY NATURE AND NATURAL LANDSCAPES, the Wildflower Center is populated with seating areas and walking paths that encourage visitors to take a break, slow down, stroll or sit, listen and watch wildlife. Benches, chairs and seating stones designed and crafted from Earth’s materials are thoughtfully and intentionally placed throughout our gorgeous grounds and gardens in hopes of sparking an immersive and meditative experience. These are some of our favorite spaces in which to reconnect with nature.

The Texas Mixed Border Home Inspiration Garden is a secluded space in an intimate corner adjacent to the Theme Gardens that demonstrates the elegance and beauty of Texas native plants. Accented by pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa), the wooden arm bench offers a place to breathe and absorb the splendid spring display of wildflowers and their attractive color, like

butterfly gaura (Oenothera lindheimeri ), mealy blue sage ( Salvia farinacea) and purple coneflower ( Echinacea purpurea). The inviting conversation seating area on the other end of the garden is a peaceful place ready to host a solo lunch hour or provide a safe spot to talk it out with a confidant. Stay awhile to quietly listen to the universe while pondering your future.


Meander through the woody trails of the 16-acre Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum

Its peaceful paths wind through meadows of native grasses and wildflowers, connecting visitors with myriad tree groupings, from bigtooth maples ( Acer grandidentatum) and Texas madrones ( Arbutus xalapensis) to pecans (Carya illnoinensis) and live oaks (Quercus fusiformis). There’s no age restriction on feeling the wind in your face while swaying back and forth on wooden swings of all sizes in Elisabeth Maxine’s Cathedral of Oaks . From taking a walk around the Hall of Texas Heroes or enjoying a picnic in any of the shaded tree areas, the Texas Arboretum offers a multitude of meditation options.

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Wrapped around a escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis), the semicircular wooden seating in the Woodland Garden creates an almost 360-degree outdoor Zen experience. It’s a place to settle your mind and soul while being entertained by a full a cappella concert of singing birds and water trickling across the stream’s rocks as dancing butterflies and zippy dragonflies play catch with one another on the overhanging branches of the Emory sedge (Carex emoryi). The Woodland Garden features Hill Country woody plants, many arranged based on plant communities in nature. The garden is not only a relaxing resting spot but a great classroom for gardeners and homeowners to learn about shade gardening or planting for low-light situations within a landscape. Toward the back of the garden, a chalky limestone area supports sumacs, snowbells (Styrax platanifolius) and the rare Texas madrone ( Arbutus xalapensis). This garden is not only great for gardeners but an impeccable place to let your imagination run free.

Located on the perimeter of the Luci and Ian Family Garden and flanked by twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola), cedar sage ( Salvia roemeriana), zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis  var. hispida) and Engelmann daisy ( Engelmannia peristenia), this meditative spot gives a full view of the play lawn, encouraging families to better connect with the natural world. The Family Garden is not only a space in which to meditate but a great place for play and education.

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Wild Life

Nature Heals Grief

An Austin mother reflects upon the peace and solace her family found in nature after the loss of her daughter

AS I GRIEVE MY DAUGHTER , I’ve begun to realize that time — as platitudes promise — isn’t healing me. Instead, it is nature that is my familiar, patient caregiver while time merely passes by.

Our youngest child and only daughter, Elisabeth Maxine, was prenatally diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a rare, life span-limiting condition. We didn’t know which of its symptoms would prove fatal, but we understood her life would be brief and different from that of her three brothers. My husband Mark and I have always hiked Austin’s greenbelt trails when we need to discuss life or just have family time. After our baby’s difficult diagnosis, we sought refuge there more often. In the open air, we found the space to breathe, pray and prepare for our family’s new realities, while our boys — then ages 10, 8 and 6 — could explore and play. We each needed the beauty and informal bound aries nature offers. The nearby Wildflower Center drew us in because it is vast but also manageable for young explorers.

Beautiful Elisabeth was born in wildflower season. We’d prepared for a NICU stay, but her birth was uncomplicated, so we were able to bring her home to enjoy springtime. The only medical equipment she initially required was a nasogastric feeding tube because bottle feeding was too difficult for her. Elisabeth’s extreme pulmonary hypertension made her complex heart defect irreparable. The two combined would eventually wear down her heart and take her life. This was painful knowledge, but our family committed to love and fully share life with our precious Elisabeth as long as she could be with us.

Our girl was exuberant, chirpy and intensely interested in each of us and anything outside. She was a nature lover! We delighted in being outdoors together while the boys ran wild, with intermittent fly-by kisses for Elisabeth.

Because she couldn’t sit up on her own, we bought a pram instead of a seated stroller so Elisabeth could lie down to gaze at the clouds and trees overhead. Her eyes danced to watch the leaves’ shifting flickers of light. We would try to follow her eyeline to see what exactly was making her smile: the sky, always!

When Elisabeth was two months old, our youngest son discovered tree swings in the Wildflower Center’s Arboretum.

He was excited to show us this shady, breezy cove called the Cathedral of Oaks. That spot became “ours”! We thought it was perfectly named because it felt set apart and special.

Over and over, our family returned to the swings with Elisabeth. She lounged with us on her big porch-style swing and watched the glinting light in the trees while her rowdy brothers flew on their rope swings or crunched down the gravel path. The boys schemed how we could “live” there in our comfy, outdoor home. In 2018, the Wildflower Center honored our daughter and our family’s commitment to care for that space by renaming it Elisabeth Maxine’s Cathedral of Oaks.

In the wee hours after Elisabeth passed away, I walked outside. I remember staring at that silent, black 4 a.m. sky with only stars flickering little SOS signals back to me. Where precisely is my daughter now? I felt so desperate to reverse time. The chasm now between my body and my baby, whom I’d held only hours before and every day of her year on earth, felt impossibly wide. I was gasping through tears and nothing made sense. Every part of my body and soul felt raw, like it was peeling away and unwinding. I had the urge to stay under this sky and walk; I would have walked to the horizon if it were possible. In that first year without Elisabeth, being indoors made me feel trapped or just empty.

Patterns of daily life and defined, finite spaces we’d shared as a family of six were indoors. Rooms in our home, our favorite restaurants, even our church building all contained the muscle memory of life with Elisabeth and now felt painful for me to enter. The outdoors is where I found comfort and calm. Being under the expansive sky with the natural world was easier on me.

Nature’s patterns are familiar, but organic and never precisely the same. In the fluidity of natural spaces, I could feel memories of Elisabeth without the painful, defined shards of her absence, which seemed so evident indoors. Elisabeth’s swing was the first place I could pray peacefully without anguish. I needed nature’s sanctuary and the same breezes Elisabeth had felt.

In this grief, I’ve found nature’s healing touch is accessible and innately recognizable, because we are already part of nature. Its rhythms are predictable and beautiful, but imperfect, just like us. Time passes; nature heals.

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”
— “The Yosemite” by John Muir, naturalist
PHOTO (opposite page) Allie Goodspeed, (this page) Scholes Family

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