2019 | Volume 36, No. 1
Danger Lurks BEASTS HIDE AMONG THE BEAUTY PAGE 16
LOVE LETTERS TO NATIVE PLANTS
RESCUING A MORNING-GLORY
BRING NATURE PLAY HOME
This sunrise scene along Highway 71 between Llano and Valley Spring gives new meaning to the phrase “blanketed with flowers.” It’s jam-packed with Indian blankets, aka firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella). The natural layers of sky, horizon and foreground fittingly mimic the color scheme of a tequila sunrise: the deep reddish tone of grenadine pinwheels lying heavy below a just-stirred citrus sky (the Hill Country recipe apparently calls for grapefruit rather than orange juice). These heat- and droughttolerant annuals reseed easily and colonize open areas with fervor, creating swaths of warm color across Texas landscapes. – A.M. PHOTO Theresa DiMenno |1
As lovely as it is to gaze upon a field of flowers, there is value in closing in on a single bloom. Take this stunning firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) in its most classic presentation: brick red with a band of yellow along the outer edge. Such focus brings texture and transparency to the fore; note, for instance, the subtle grain and branching veins of each petal. Like a sunburst-finish guitar ready to play a tune, the fiery ray flowers of this common roadside plant pluck sunny, bright notes anchored by the disc flowers’ deeper bass tones. The central hearth is where stamens and pistils reside, eager to create next year’s flowers — to sing an ongoing song of spring breezes and summer warmth. – A.M. PHOTO Theresa DiMenno 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
FROM THE Executive Director
The Force of Nature LADY BIRD JOHNSON SAID MANY SMART, INSPIRING THINGS — about people, about the environment, and about how they interact. This is one of her most resounding statements: “The environment is where we all meet, where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become.” Though she initially said this while speaking at Yale University in 1967, it holds true today. As supporters of the Wildflower Center, we all know Mrs. Johnson was ahead of her time. She saw the importance of connecting people to — and through — the environment early on, and she left a living legacy in support of native plants. It is an unfortunate truth that we live in divisive times. But, as Mrs. Johnson knew, nature is a force that can drive us together, something that unifies people. That force may take different forms; that is, we may value the natural world for different reasons. A father may envision a future with clean air and water for his daughter; a child at Camp Wildflower might cherish the first seedling they helped cultivate; an angler might want to catch fish that are safe to eat — and admire the beauty of a healthy landscape while doing so. Whatever our reasons, the environment is where we all meet. It is inclusive. It can act as a setting for joyous celebrations or offer solitude and a space in which to reflect during our
most difficult times. The environment truly is everyone’s — everyone’s responsibility, everyone’s provider, everyone’s classroom. It offers a communal place to explore, learn and grow at every age. That notion is reflected in the feature “Love Letters” (page 26), which highlights a website and group dedicated to telling “plant love stories.” In it, environmental researcher Dr. Mallika Nocco says, “Plants unify people from all walks of life. You can love plants and have any sort of political identity. You can love plants … from anywhere in the world. [It’s] as inclusive as possible.” We couldn’t agree with her and Mrs. Johnson more. As always, we hope you enjoy and learn from this issue of Wildflower magazine. We also hope you come away feeling closer to the natural world, inspired to appreciate our environment, and aware of all the ways in which nature allows you to connect with others. Thank you for your support and for making native plants a part of your life.
Patrick Newman Executive Director 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
TABLE of Contents
26 FE ATU R E S
Here There Be Dangers How flowers hide voracious insect predators by Chris Helzer
A website grows a plant-love storytelling movement by Amy McCullough and Plant Love Stories contributors
7 PERSONAL FAVES A famed pitcher appreciates local color
8 BOTANY 101 Demystifying the life cycles of plants 10 PLANTS IN PRACTICE Staying on trend at Desert Botanical Garden 11 PULL IT OR PLANT IT A friendly (but opinionated!) debate
13 FIELD NOTES A citizen-driven plant rescue in Blanco, Texas 38 PLANT PEOPLE Celebrating the life of an intrepid early botanist
40 CAN DO Bring nature play to your own space 44 THINGS WE LOVE A few of our favorite things 46 WHEN IN ROAM Connecting over plants and place in NYC 48 WILD LIFE Learning to listen (and respond) to nature
ON THE COVER A crab spider lies in wait for prey on a black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). PHOTO Chris Helzer ABOVE Cheryl Moorhead Stone, a Plant Love Stories contributor, teaches her wary daughter Caitlin about beekeeping; Cheryl initially learned about nature (and harvesting from it) from her grandmother. PHOTO Ben Sollee
and gardens in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, an hour-and-a-half train ride to New York City, where she enjoys photographing gardens, flowers, people and food. A former landscape designer, she specializes in nature and real estate photography and blogs about food and gardening. Her work can be found at laurabrandt.zenfolio.com and on Instagram at @laurabrandtphoto.
and Management of Prairies in the Central United States.” He is grateful to live in Aurora, Nebraska, a small town right on the edge of tallgrass and mixedgrass prairie.
Daniel Murphy is
Dr. Karen H. Clary’s
career spans two decades in plant conservation. With a strong commitment to education and public outreach, she regularly gives lectures about botany and native plants and teaches various Wildflower Center educational programs. Karen is former director of the plant conservation program at the Wildflower Center. She retired in 2017.
Chris Helzer is di-
rector of science for
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a writer, collections curator at Idaho Botanical Garden, and founder of Awkward Botany, a weekly science blog. He has a master’s from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he researched green roofs. Daniel specializes in native and waterwise plants. Always one to root for the underdog, he is working on a book about the world’s most hated plant group: weeds.
Sheryl SmithRodgers is a writer,
photographer and Texas Master Naturalist whose work has been published in numerous publications. At her Blanco, Texas, home, Sheryl and her
2019 | Volume 36, No. 1 EDITOR
Amy McCullough DESIGNER
Joanna Wojtkowiak PLANT INFORMATION EDITOR
husband tend a native plant habitat, which she documents via the blog Window on a Texas Wildscape. Using iNaturalist, she has documented over 550 plant and animal species so far in their one-acre yard.
Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS
Hallie Rose Taylor’s
work focuses on themes of wilderness and the human spirit. Used as a lens through which to explore the world around her, Taylor strives to translate what she learns through both her outward and inward explorations onto paper. While her work is centered on the natural world, she’s also influenced by traditional symbolism and personal dreams.
Susan J. Tweit is a
plant biologist who began her career studying wildfires, grizzly bear habitat and sagebrush communities before turning to writing. She has written twelve books, including the memoir “Walking Nature Home.” Tweit was featured in “Hometown Habitat,” a film about restoring nature nearby, and is a columnist for Rocky Mountain Gardening magazine and Houzz.com.
DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
Shannon C. Harris
DIRECTOR OF ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH AND DESIGN
DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS
DIRECTOR OF GUEST EXPERIENCE
DIRECTOR OF HORTICULTURE
DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMS
ADVISORY COUNCIL CHAIR Brian Shivers
VICE CHAIR Jeanie Carter
SECRETARY Celina Romero Wildflower (ISSN 1936-9646) is published biannually by The University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin, TX 78739-1702. Copyright © 2019 by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Members of the Wildflower Center receive a subscription as a benefit of membership. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the written consent of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The opinions expressed herein may not necessarily reflect those held by the Wildflower Center. Please direct any inquiries or letters to 512.232.0100 or email@example.com. Materials are chosen for the printing and distribution of Wildflower magazine with respect for the environment. Wildflower is printed in the United States by Times Printing, Random Lake, WI.
WILDFLOWER.ORG facebook.com/wildflowercenter instagram.com/wildflowercenter @WildflowerCtr
PHOTOS (Laura Brandt) Carolyn Brandt, (Karen Clary) James Clary, (Chris Helzer) self-portrait, (Sheryl Smith-Rodgers) Earl Nottingham
Laura Brandt lives
The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska, where he evaluates land management and restoration work. Chris is a frequent contributor to NEBRASKAland magazine, founder of The Prairie Ecologist blog, and author of “The Ecology
PHOTOS (main) Wildflower Center, (inset) Ernie Gill
Legendary pitcher and National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Member of the Board of Directors, Nolan Ryan Foundation Principal owner, Round Rock Express Minor League Baseball team FAVORITE NATIVE PLANT:
Lantana (Lantana spp.)
“A favorite plant of mine is the lantana. Its flower clusters come in bright single colors or with blooms of varying colors, giving us a nice variety to choose from. I like that it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. It’s a hardy plant, which makes it ideal for our Texas climate. With the wet winter we experienced in 2018-19, the lantana will be in full bloom in South Texas — bringing a vibrant addition to our landscape.”
You Only Bloom Once … or Twice … or More The lives and times of annual and perennial plants by Daniel Murphy H IGH I N TH E W H ITE MOU N TA I NS OF CA L I FOR N I A L I V E S A V ERY OL D TR EE . Now over 5,000 years old, this Great Basin bristlecone pine has a long story to tell. Meanwhile, Eurasian thale cress goes by the nickname “fruit fly of the plant world” for its ability to complete its entire life cycle in a few short weeks. Disparate life histories such as these are just one of the many things that make plants so fascinating. Avid gardeners are well aware of the various life cycles of certain plant species. In planning our gardens, we know that the annual plants we place in our beds are temporary, while some of our perennial plants could easily outlive us. In some instances, plants that would otherwise be perennial in their native range are treated as annuals, succumbing each year to the freezing temperatures of winter. In the wild, plants have a variety of strategies for enduring diverse environmental conditions. How long they take to complete a life cycle is just one of these strategies. Plants that complete their cycle within a year’s time are considered annuals. They are also monocarpic, meaning they flower once and then die. Winter annuals germinate in the fall, then flower and set seed the following spring; stiff greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium) is one example. Summer annuals, such as common sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), sprout 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
during warm months and have matured by the time cool weather returns. Annual plants are commonly found in areas that experience regular disturbance (such is the case with bluebonnets and Hill Country pastures) or where environmental conditions are unpredictable. A significant portion of our common weeds are annuals, as are numerous desert wildflowers. The extensive seed bank they maintain in the soil allows them to persist long term. By staggering the years in which their seeds sprout, annuals ensure the survival of their species — a strategy ecologists call “bet hedging.” Most plants are perennials, going on to live year after year and — in most cases — producing seeds numerous times throughout their lives. During times of the year when conditions are not conducive to growth, such as the frigid months of winter or the hot, dry days of summer, perennial plants can go dormant. Their foliage may die back while they wait things out as roots
PHOTOS Wildflower Center
or modified stem structures underground. The return of favorable conditions signals them to resume growth. Some plant species are oddballs. Biennial plants, such as standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra), spend their first year as a rosette of leaves, gathering nutrients in their roots. The following year they send up a towering flower stalk, set seed, and then die. Agave americana is known as the century plant because it was once thought to take 100 years to flower; 10 to 20 years is actually typical (though one plant in a Michigan botanic garden bloomed at age 80). It is considered a monocarpic perennial, because it only flowers once; however, it also reproduces vegetatively, sending out “pups” via underground shoots. Upon the death of the original plant, these offshoots go on living and are clonal copies of their mother. Many perennial plant species have ways to persist long term without having to rely on seeds. Just like the agave mentioned above, such plants produce offspring asexually through structures like rhizomes, stolons, tubers or bulbs. Life spans vary among perennial species, but part of their strategy for surviving through unpredictability is to live for many years, hunkering down when conditions get rough. Their seed production varies from year to year. If conditions aren’t great one year, they have the following year to try again. Certain species defy description. Depending on where you find them within their range they can be annual, biennial or perennial. Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is one such plant. In fact, throughout evolutionary history numerous annual species have evolved from perennials, while other annuals diverged into perennials, adapting to the environment in which they found themselves. We can take a note from nature when we choose plants for our garden. A diverse selection of annuals mixed with a wide variety of shortand long-lived perennials will ensure that, like the plant species themselves, our garden will evolve with time, displaying for us the wide array of features that plants have to offer.
Gardening by Life Span Choose what to plant with longevity in mind
ANNUALS Common sunflower, Helianthus annuus (above) Indian blanket, Gaillardia pulchella Partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata Plains coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria Texas bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis
PERENNIALS Frostweed, Verbesina virginica Gayfeather, Liatris punctata var. mucronata Giant spiderwort, Tradescantia gigantea Mealy blue sage, Salvia farinacea Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera (opposite page) Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata Prairie beardtongue, Penstemon cobaea Prairie parsley, Polytaenia nuttallii Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata
TIME BANDITS Prairie fleabane, Erigeron modestus
Often perennial, sometimes annual or biennial
Prairie verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida Often perennial, sometimes annual or biennial
Scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea Can be either annual or perennial
PLANTS IN Practice
LIKE A DRESSMAKER’S DUMMY COVERED IN FABRIC AND PINS, this textured scene at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is full of intent. Garden designers think in shapes, layers, angles and curves, just as an artist or fashion designer does. Here, patches of prickly pear create a living composition that beckons the eye — if not the hand. The plentiful spines of Opuntia polyacantha var. erinacea easily catch the region’s bright sunlight, creating a soft fuzz of white-green in the foreground, while the paddles of Mexican native Opuntia microdasys stud the space with dainty, cream-colored dots. Offering sparser points yet, Opuntia rufida creates a cool, minty layer, setting the stage for a single glowing teddybear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii). Meanwhile, a crowd of columnar cacti (Pachycereus schottii and Stenocereus thurberi) gathers en masse, blurry in the heat of the backdrop; you can almost hear the applause. – A.M. 10 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTO Jake DeBruyckere
PULL IT or Plant It
LT I V
I R SM LAX B O
DIRECTOR OF HORTICULTURE I’m rooting for the underdog here — big time! It’s not that I’m suggesting anyone run out to their local garden center asking for a flat of greenbriar to plant around their mailbox. You can’t buy them anyway. But don’t knock Smilax bona-nox! This vicious vine has a few merits. The species name bona-nox translates as “goodnight” (charming, right?). I imagine the light blotches on its bright green leaves to be stars and galaxies in the evening sky. Spanish speakers know it as cortamecate, or “cut rope,” presumably referring to its handy ability to slice through things (admittedly including skin).
MANAGER OF VOLUNTEER SERVICES
When teaching volunteers and guests about smilax, I usually say, “Smilax does not make you smile” to help them remember the name. If you run into this thorny vine in the woods or your shaded backyard, your first reaction might be “Ow!” or perhaps something more colorful. It’s like a rose that’s all branch and thorn but no flower (technically not true … but bear with me). It will catch your sleeves or tear your skin when you reach in to extract a plastic bag it’s snagged from the air, and it often forms spiky thickets of vertical, pencil-thick vines covered in serious thorns. I haven’t yet found a pair of gloves with enough protection.
WI LD LI F E VA LU E Songbirds, turkeys, ducks and various small animals relish greenbriar’s small, fleshy, dark berries. And dense, thorny tangles offer choice refuge for nurturing nestlings. Plus, domestic chickens race to it faster than any other kitchen scrap, suggesting its superior nutritional value.
I can say that Wildflower Center land steward Dick Davis likes to nibble on its new growth when he’s out in the woods foraging, so I guess this plant is feeding someone. But even he describes his snacking as “an ongoing but ineffective control measure.”
M A I NTE N A N C E Since its will to live is notably strong, perhaps you can search your heart to find acceptance, which may eventually lead to appreciation. Face it: Attempts to remove it are futile anyway. In fact, cutting old canes to the ground will only encourage them to resprout. In this way, you can “cultivate” hearty, asparaguslike shoots. Eat these! Leaves, stems and tendrils are quite tasty if you get them before the thorny prickles harden. You can browse them right off the vine — Bambi style — or cook them into a stir fry.
Smilax versus a line trimmer? A tangled mess. This plant will also wrap itself around mower blades. You’ll cut it back to the ground, season after season, year after year. Then you still have a second battle wrestling it into bags — and finding bags it won’t tear through. One day you’ll get serious and start to dig, only to find super-tough, lumpy tubers, formidable enough to outlast even the most determined efforts.
PHOTOS Joanna Wojtkowiak
O N TH E OTH E R H A N D . . . Seriously, most folks won’t want to deal with this feisty plant. But if you have it … you might as well make the best of it.
If you want to keep someone out of a tree, this tough vine would surely deter their approach and ascent (it often grows into tree tops). So, as a security measure, it does have something to offer.
Native Plants of North America All the native plant knowledge you can handle â€” right at your fingertips
WILDFLOWER.ORG/ PL ANTS -M AIN 1 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
New Plant on the Block The saga of an uncommon morning-glory by Sheryl Smith-Rodgers AS A TEX AS MASTER NATUR ALIST, I HAVE A KEEN EYE FOR NATIVE PLANTS. So when a tiny flower caught my attention last November, I stooped down for a closer look. Little did I know that my curiosity would set a botanic ball into motion and ultimately help to preserve a little-known native plant. Flowers bloom every spring in a vacant lot adjacent to Trinity Lutheran Church in Blanco, Texas, where I live. When I heard the lot was targeted to be paved over, I asked Pastor Dayna Leggett if we could dig up plants, specifically non-native grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides). I knew they grew there because Iâ€™d seen their blue bunch-flowers the previous spring. Before we met up, I scouted the lot for any native plants we might rescue too. My survey turned up prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), littleleaf sensitive briar (Mimosa microphylla), buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum) and a mystery vine with pea-sized white blooms.
Flowers and seed capsules of Edwards Plateau crestrib morning-glory (Ipomoea costellata var. edwardsensis) PHOTOS Minnette Marr
FROM TOP Dayna Leggett and Minnette Marr collect specimens in Blanco, Texas. Marr and volunteer Charlene Farris select and remove mature capsules in the Wildflower Center Herbarium. Rescued plants are stored overnight for processing the next day. PHOTOS Sheryl Smith-Rodgers (top and opposite page), Tyler Thompson (middle), Minnette Marr (bottom)
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Intrigued, I snapped photos of the vine and emailed the images to two fellow naturalists I consider to be plant-ID experts. “Sorry,” they wrote back, “this one’s unfamiliar.” That night, I mulled over the photos. The seed capsule reminded me of a morning-glory while the narrowly lobed leaf shape rang a bell … but I couldn’t pinpoint why. I couldn’t give up either. For the next hour, I skimmed through observations of morningglory species found in Texas on iNaturalist. Finally, I hit the jackpot: My vine was a crestrib morning-glory (Ipomoea costellata). It had to be. As a cross reference, I brought up crestrib morning-glory on the Wildflower Center’s online database, Native Plants of North America, and found only three images. I decided I’d submit photos since I’m a registered contributor. The next day, I returned to the vacant lot and took high-resolution photographs, which I emailed to Joe Marcus, the Native Plants of North America program coordinator (and this magazine’s plant information editor). That’s when things took an unexpected turn. “When I looked at Sheryl’s photos, I knew she’d found an uncommon species that I’d never even seen before,” says Marcus. “Right away, I checked our database but found little information.” Marcus asked me if I could collect seeds or plants. Thankfully, I had the church’s permission to do so, but I also knew I’d need help. Enter Minnette Marr, the Center’s conservation program manager. After Marr got on board, my discovery grew even more interesting. “As part of my job, I work with landowners and organizations to collect seeds of uncommon wildflowers so we can bank them for future research,” explains Marr. Like Marcus, she was struck by my photos. “Through the years, I’ve botanized quite a bit in Hays and Blanco counties,” says Marr, “and I’d never seen that wildflower before.” Marr looked at Ipomoea costellata’s distribution and saw noncontiguous populations. A bit more research, and she felt certain that “my” vine was a botanical variety called Edwards Plateau crestrib morning-glory (Ipomoea costellata var. edwardsensis). This distinct plant with white flowers was described in 2002 by researchers Robert O’Kennon and Guy Nesom in the journal SIDA, Contributions to Botany (published by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas). Marr checked the Center’s seed bank and found that no seeds had been collected for this species. As soon as she could, she scheduled a trip to Blanco.
The next week, Marr met me, Leggett and my husband at the church property. Under cloudy and cold conditions, we staked vines with surveyor’s flags, focusing on those with mature seed capsules. In two hours, we pulled and bagged 47 plants, which are annuals. Marr also collected voucher specimens (those meant to be preserved), which have been submitted under my name to herbaria at the Wildflower Center and The University of Texas at Austin. How cool is that? Back at the Wildflower Center, the more intensive, patience-requiring work began. For several weeks, Marr and conservation program volunteers processed vines and seeds. She details their efforts to maximize the harvest: “We placed plants with immature capsules in water to allow them to grow two weeks more; we air-dried vines with mature capsules on screens; we harvested seeds from mature capsules and placed them in separate mesh bags.” Marr says the seeds will be stored for future research and distributed to landowners in the wildflower’s native range. In the meantime, Marcus obtained a unique code for the Edwards Plateau crestrib morningglory from the folks at USDA PLANTS (in botanic shorthand, it is now “IPCOE”). This allowed him to enter a new record in the Center’s plant database. Wow, I thought, I helped make that online page — exactly the type of resource I use so often — happen. (USDA PLANTS will eventually add the taxon to its database too.) Throughout our rescue efforts, I observed how passionate Marr and Marcus are about their work to protect native plants. “I have a tender spot for little known plants, and these vines don’t turn up in many places,” Marcus told me. “They deserve to be appreciated where found, protected where possible, and rescued where necessary so they can have a fighting chance to survive.” Though I’m no expert, I share their passion. After all, it’s what piqued my interest in a little white flower in the first place. Together, we three demonstrated how citizen scientists can partner with professionals to further the Center’s mission to conserve native plant species. Without similar collaborative efforts, overlooked native plants like the Edwards Plateau crestrib morning-glory could be lost. And that’s one story I never want to tell. Visit wildflower.org/plants-main/contributeimages to learn more about contributing photos to Native Plants of North America.
AT A GLANCE Edwards Plateau crestrib morning-glory
Ipomoea costellata var. edwardsensis • Clambering annual vine with one to five stems • Trails up to 2 feet in length • White flowers bloom August through November • Endemic to the Edwards Plateau • Grows in shallow soil on limestone and granite substrate, particularly in areas protected from grazing animals • Occurs in Bexar, Blanco, Burnet, Gillespie, Llano, Travis and Uvalde counties
An unsuspecting ant roves the back of a plains sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris) while a crab spider lurks just beyond the petals.
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e r e H t e r s e r H ange d E B b le a t e th t e s rs res e u t w a o re fl How certain c tos by ho for and p story is Helzer Chr
TODAY’ S H U MAN - IN DUCE D TH REATS TO B E E S AN D OTH E R pollinators are grave conservation concerns. Those recent threats, however, only add to the risks flower visitors have always faced: An array of voracious predators lies in ambush wherever flowers bloom, ready to exploit a consistent and predictable supply of prey. Like crocodiles in shrinking African watering holes, those predators know their prey has to come to them eventually. Bees and other pollinators need to feed at numerous flowers each day to survive, but each blossom they approach could be their last. If you’re a bee or butterfly, there’s clearly nothing good about having predators hanging around flowers. However, if you’re a plant, the story is much more complex. Predators such as crab spiders, ambush bugs and praying mantids can scare away or kill off important pollinators, but they may also capture and feed on insects that damage flowers. It can be tempting to think of predators as mean or evil, but they play crucial roles in ecosystems. Countless studies have shown the chaotic and negative impacts that occur when predator populations are artificially removed or reduced in size. Predators, even those who eat pretty butterflies, are essential components of a healthy natural world. Furthermore, those predators live intriguing lives and can be exquisitely beautiful. | 17
b a cr ers d i p s
ABOVE A crab spider capturing a fly on common yarrow (Achillea millefolium). RIGHT A captured sulphur butterfly meets its demise by crab spider on hoary verbena (Verbena stricta).
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IN MANY WILDFLOWER PATCHES, the most abundant predator hanging around blossoms is the crab spider or, more specifically, the flower crab spider (Misumena spp.). Crab spiders are so named because they resemble crabs in several ways: They have wide, flattened bodies; their front two sets of legs are extra long; and they often scuttle quickly backwards or sideways when threatened. The hunting strategy of flower crab spiders is to find a likely spot, spread their front legs wide, and sit perfectly still until unwary prey comes within range. When a fly, bee, butterfly or other likely meal gets too close, the crab spiderâ€™s legs snap shut on it. The spider then bites its prey, injecting venom that both paralyzes the creature and begins liquefying its insides. Once its prey stops struggling, the crab spider typically carries it beneath the flower or to some other sheltered location. There, it sucks out the liquefied insides and discards the empty carcass. Flower-based crab spiders can be very colorful, in contrast to the drab browns and greys of most other spiders. Many crab spiders are white or bright yellow, and some can change between those two colors over the course of a few days. Coloration that matches many flowers hides them from their prey, but may also help conceal them from birds and other predators. Thatâ€™s particularly important for a creature that often sits in the open as it hunts. Research has shown that crab spiders can find flowers by following the same scents that attract bees. In addition, flowers under attack by florivores (insects and other small creatures that feed on flowers) may produce extra strong scents as an attempt to attract crab spiders to defend them. Sure, the presence of crab spiders cuts down on the number of visiting pollinators, which might seem like a bad thing offhand, but limiting damage from beetles and other creatures feeding on flower parts might make up for that. Crab spiders are not the only spiders that catch prey on or near flowers, though they are usually the most abundant. Others, including jumping spiders, will also take advantage of the plentiful prey found on blossoms. But for most of those spiders, flowers are just one of many potential hunting spots.
n i s s a ass bush m a & gs bu
TRUE BUGS (THOSE IN THE ORDER HEMIPTERA) ARE different than beetles and other insects in a few ways. They have long piercing and sucking mouthparts as well as wings that are transparent at the tips and hardened at the base. Within the true bugs, however, there is tremendous variation in form and function. Some of the stranger-looking Hemiptera are assassin bugs — predatory insects that have raptorial front legs (like a praying mantis) and use their long beaks to inject prey with paralyzing poison. Assassin bugs tend to be long and slender with lengthy legs and antennae. They can be found hunting on all parts of plants, though some species tend toward flowers. Most are earth-toned: brown, grey, black or some combination thereof. Their long front legs have sticky hairs that help hold prey while they insert their sharp beaks and inject a paralyzing toxin that also liquefies the entrails of their captured food. Aptly named assassin bugs are very effective predators and can kill animals twice their size. Ambush bugs are a subgroup of assassin bugs with a few distinct characteristics. Imagine a short, stout assassin bug — like a champion weightlifter — and you’re in the ballpark. Besides having more compact bodies, their raptorial front legs are also enormously thickened, adding to their menacing appearance. Ambush bugs tend to be brighter colored and
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more strongly textured than assassin bugs, which provides excellent camouflage for hunting on flowers. While assassin bugs hunt in a variety of locations, ambush bugs specialize in waylaying other insects on flowers, but both attack and kill prey with the same tactics. Like mantids and spiders, assassin and ambush bugs will kill pollinating insects if they get the chance, but they’re just as likely to capture and eat other tiny creatures that come within range. Most assassin bugs are harmless to people, but some can inflict a painful bite when
grabbed or handled roughly. For the most part, those bites just cause temporary pain, but a small group of assassin bugs called “kissing bugs” can cause bigger problems. Kissing bugs, or triatomines, are nocturnal insects that feed on the blood of mammals (including humans). They use their sharp beaks to puncture skin and suck small amounts of blood, which can cause pain and sometimes an allergic reaction. Kissing bugs can also carry a parasite that causes Chagas’ disease, which may be transferred to people and cause significant health issues.
OPPOSITE PAGE An ambush bug waits for prey on a false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides). BELOW The fluffy seeds of dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata) make a perfect perch for an assassin bug.
s d i t n Ma ABOVE AND RIGHT A Chinese mantis feeds on a fly and a sphinx moth, respectively.
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THE PRAYING MANTIS RANKS AS ONE of the largest and most impressive predators among invertebrates, some measuring over 4 inches in length. Yet it still manages to blend in with surrounding vegetation well enough to seize a large number of flower visitors. Mantids (insects in the Mantidae family) donâ€™t hunt exclusively on flowers, but itâ€™s common to find them lurking just below the blossom, waiting for a butterfly, moth or other large insect to pay a visit. While spiders and predatory bugs use toxic injections to paralyze and kill their prey, mantids rely on their long legs to catch and hold prey while they start eating it alive â€” often starting with the head. Those front legs can extend outward and snap shut more quickly than the human eye can register, and the formidable spikes extending from them help prevent prey from escaping. The head of a praying mantis can swivel nearly
180 degrees, so it can scan for prey while its body remains completely still. Once it spots a potential meal, the mantis will either move slowly closer or simply wait for the unlucky creature to stray within range. Often, a mantis will sway slowly back and forth, which, combined with its stereo vision, helps it precisely locate its prey before striking. The Chinese mantis and European mantis are two of the biggest and most common praying mantis species; both are often sold as pest control agents. While they certainly do catch and kill insect pests, their benefits are likely outweighed by the number of pollinators and other beneficial insects they take. Scientists are also concerned that those introduced species are outcompeting native species such as the Carolina mantis. Regardless, mantids are imposing predators of insects on flowers and elsewhere.
R E H T O rkable a m re edators pr
TOP A bumblebee-mimicking robberfly with a captured beetle. BOTTOM An adult oil beetle feeds on the petal of an eastern pasqueflower (Pulsatilla patens).
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CRAB SPIDERS, MANTIDS AND ASSASSIN bugs make up a large percentage of the creatures lying in wait for pollinating insects to visit flowers, but they arenâ€™t the only ones. Two other fascinating examples include robber flies and blister beetle larvae. Both are less common than the species discussed prior, but theyâ€™re definitely worth mentioning. Flies are the most diverse group of insects in North America with over 61,000 species, and they play a variety of roles as decomposers, predators and pollinators. Robber flies are a relatively small group of predatory flies that rely on speed to capture prey. They often perch on a plant and wait for an unwary insect to coast through the air nearby. When a robber fly spots movement, it takes off like a (much more agile) guided missile and knocks its prey from the air. Like some of the other predators mentioned, it then injects its prey with a paralyzing toxin before sucking out the liquefied innards. It may be hard to imagine how robber flies could become even more menacing, but some have found a way to improve on that already-sinister template: A few species have evolved an appearance that bears an uncanny resemblance to a bee. This allows the fly to spend time on or around flowers they know insects will visit, as opposed to sitting on a random perch and hoping something will happen along. While humans might be apprehensive about approaching a flower with a big bee-looking creature on it, pollinators may interpret the presence of a bee as an indication of safety. That assumption could prove fatal and has probably been the last thought of many pollinators. Blister beetles are also common visitors to flowers, where they feed on parts of blossoms. A particular group called oil beetles has a truly incredible strategy for attacking bees. Oil beetles have unique kind of larvae called triungulin, which are very mobile immediately upon hatching. They form themselves into large clusters and emit a chemical that mimics the pheromone of a female bee. Male bees find themselves irresistibly attracted to the scent and land on the cluster, expecting to mate with a female bee. Instead, the triungulin quickly clamber aboard the male bee, which flies off frustrated. When that male bee later meets an actual female, the triungulin hop onto the female while the bees are mating; they then hitchhike back to her nest. Once at the nest, the
oil beetle larvae attack and consume the bee’s eggs and larvae, along with the pollen and nectar she had collected for her offspring. As a result, instead of producing a batch of bees,
the female’s nest becomes a nursery for oil beetles. Even the most creative Hollywood screenwriter might struggle to imagine such an ironic twist.
A jumping spider hides among the flower buds of a milkweed (Asclepias sp.) with a captured fly.
A Scary World for Pollinators FOR BEES, BUTTERFLIES AND OTHER pollinating insects, life is harrowing. Pesticides and habitat degradation can severely reduce population sizes, but individual insects don’t recognize those threats. Instead, any anxiety dwelling in their tiny brains likely comes from the possibility of predation: Research shows that flowers with predators on them are visited less frequently than those without, so pollinators must be at least somewhat aware of the enemies that might await them at each flower. However, they’re also desperate for food, and it takes a lot of flowers to meet the energy needs of a moth or butterfly — or to supply sufficient pollen for a female bee to feed her brood.
Given the number and effectiveness of predators lying in wait for pollinators, it might seem surprising that we still have any bees or butterflies left. As with all predator-prey relationships, though, each side of the equation is regulated by the other. There are still enough flowers that aren’t harboring a crab spider or ambush bug to furnish most pollinators’ needs. Predators are a necessary part of any ecosystem. As such, we should admire and be grateful for them. They certainly employ a variety of fascinating strategies worthy of our respect. At the same time, it’s appropriate to feel some sympathy for the creatures who spend their lives trying to avoid the danger that lurks among the flowers.
e v Lo s r e tt Le ts s i g o l o n bi o i t a v nser e o c f o up ov l o r t g n a a s l ibutor r How ding the p t n o c ies a e ve Stor r o L p t s n a is and Pl Cullou c M y by Am
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unify people from all walks of life,” says Dr. Mallika Nocco, a conservation biologist and co-founder of Plant Love Stories. “You can love plants and have any sort of political identity. You can love plants … from anywhere in the world.” It’s true: Plants — and plant love — are universal and inclusive. And Plant Love Stories is on a mission to cultivate that love online, at science conferences and live storytelling events, and via social media. The brainchild of eight David H. Smith Conservation Fellows — postdoctoral researchers who specialize in topics from tallgrass prairie restoration to community fishery programs — Plant Love Stories grew out of a conversation in a hotel conference room when the founders “were maybe a little bit burnt out from discussing how to impact policy,” according to Dr. Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie. As the PLS team recalls, ecologist Dr. Rebecca Barak said, “Can’t we just do something fun?” That something took the shape of an online forum devoted to recognizing that plants are, intrinsically, part of each of our personal histories. “We do get to have fun,” says Barak of the resulting project, “but we’re also connecting with people on an emotional level. We’re really thankful that people are willing to share those stories with us.” The founders of PLS believe everyone has a plant love story, even if they don’t think they do. And their submissions so far reveal a wide variety of voices, endless reasons for loving plants, and a hodgepodge of beloved subjects. Let’s read a few that highlight native plants. After all, it’s not every day that you get to sneak a peek at someone else’s love letters.* *All stories have been shortened and/or slightly altered. | 27
A Family & Food Story From: “Pokeberry Sprouts for Dinner” by Cheryl Moorhead Stone
Featured native plant: American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana)
THIS PAGE (top) Developing pokeberry fruit, which, like mature pokeberry greens, is poisonous. (inset) The author with Grammy, circa 1955. PHOTOS Rebecca Tonietto, courtesy of author OPPOSITE PAGE (top) Terry’s memorial sugar maple. (right) Charles and Terry making syrup. PHOTOS Charles W. Bier, Chester Tanski
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MY GRANDMOTHER, GRAMMY, WAS A back-to-the-earth hippie decades before the actual movement started in the 1960s. Diminutive in stature, Grammy embodied grace, determination and intellect. Her laugh was a melody. She loved nature and was happiest on a walk where she would be observing and commenting on things she saw. These excursions began when I was six years old and continued throughout my childhood. When we headed out in search of particular plants or mushrooms, we did so with the intent of serving them at dinner. Fiddlehead ferns, teaberries, wild strawberries, mushrooms, watercress and poke are some that come to mind. My lessons on pokeweed spanned the growing season. Early on, she took me to a clearing at the bottom of a pine-covered hill where the pokeweed grew in plenty, explaining that the plants came back every year in the same place. They were perennial. She said that we needed to wait to pick them until the sprouts formed leaves but before the plants grew tall, when the leaves would become increasingly bitter and ultimately poisonous.
When the sprouts were maybe 10 inches high, we harvested them. Grammy said it took a lot of leaves because they would cook down. Our brown paper sack full, we hiked back to “camp.” We washed the greens and placed them into a big pot of boiling water heated on the wood-burning stove. After cooking them for a bit, the hot water was poured off, greens set aside, and new spring water heated. Grammy said it was best to follow this procedure. When the water was boiling, we added the much-reduced volume of greens to cook once more, but not for long. Drained once more, Grammy put the greens into her cast iron frying pan, where some of the morning’s bacon grease remained, and tossed them around until they were “just right.” She added a sprinkle of salt and pepper and served the plates. None of the other kids knew all the secrets I’d learned about fixing poke. Grammy provided a wonderful dinner and an empowered granddaughter who, at 65, now gets to teach her own grandchildren lessons about nature, cooking and love.
A Love & Loss Story
From: “A Triad Romance” by Charles W. Bier
Featured native plant: Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) I DON’T KNOW WHEN I FIRST BEGAN TO really know trees. As a youngster, I was literally a snake-in-my-pocket sort of kid. I was blooming as a broader young naturalist in my later elementary years. By the time I was a high school freshman, it was clear that I was falling in love. My new love was especially beautiful in spring and fall; a member of rich, moist, climax forests and just rare enough in my life that I would often be scanning the landscape for her whenever I was out. And my love was the sweetest. That is
probably what really clinched our relationship, for my love was the sugar maple (Acer saccharum). I consummated our relationship late in the winter of my 15th year when I taught myself how to make maple syrup. Meanwhile, a biology teacher took me to a special place, a place where my love would profoundly blossom. It was Todd Sanctuary, land protected by the Audubon Society. My first love was there, tucked away in cool and not-too-acidic soils. Then, dumbstruck, I was hired to conduct research and lead nature walks in this forest sanctuary while I was in college. There was a crude cabin there where I lived. For me, it was heaven on Earth. On an early June day, I went to meet a group for a scheduled nature hike. I remember immediately being drawn to a young woman with a strikingly sincere face and a long braid of hair down her back. Terry and I met that day, and she seemed genuinely interested in what I had to share about the forest. She was a farm girl at heart but interested in what was all around, and I could again sense some sweetness in her. Some months later I traveled to the valley where she was living, a tributary of Buffalo Creek. I reintroduced myself and wondered aloud if she had ever considered tapping the sugar maple trees in her valley and making maple syrup. In what is now a classic family quote, she said: “I would tap those trees and make syrup, if I only knew how to identify a sugar maple.” But my god, that was one of my specialties, and we joined forces to produce maple syrup, a garden, and take lots of nature hikes. She taught me how to milk her cows, and we continued to be in awe of the sugar maple whenever it was in bloom, in golden autumn splendor and certainly when the sap was running. It was a courtship triad of sorts. Terry and I were married in January 1981 and continued mapling together for many years to come as we started a family and established a homestead on nearby land where maples also grow. Terry passed away in the winter of 2009. The following spring a sugar maple tree was planted in Terry’s memory at her church. | 29
A Scientist Origin Story From: â€œThe Defender of Plantsâ€? by Matt Candeias (of In Defense of Plants) Featured native plant: Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)
THE FIRST TIME I SAW LUPINE BLOOMing in the wild, a blanket of purplish-blue flowers swaying softly, covering an Indiana dune, I had to sit down. We had just come through a clearing in the trees, following a trail down to the lakefront that allowed us to hike through 10,000 years of dune succession in a single afternoon. I saw the blue spikes off in the distance, but until I came to them I didn’t realize what I had been seeing. The view was stunning. Wild lupine and I have a past. Lupines were the in-between step that led me from being an excited, science-loving undergrad without a real plan to a botany graduate student today, and helped inspire my development of In Defense of Plants, a blog, podcast and social media presence spreading plant love. My final semester of college, I took a restoration ecology course where everything began to fall into place. I realized that people can actually get jobs repairing ecosystems. That realization changed my trajectory. Soon after, I was hired by a mining company to help with a pit mine restoration project in western New York. In a typical mine reclamation, a retired strip mine is covered with topsoil
and grass seed. But this company wanted to do better — they had decided to focus on butterfly restoration through trying to restore the butterfly’s host plant, wild lupine. We started planting lupine seedlings into the ground that was dotted with grasses. Most of the lupines we planted did not establish, but some did! We were trying to figure out how to get more lupines to thrive. In a leap of faith, I reached out to a scientist who studied plants. We figured out that some of the existing grasses were helping the lupines by creating microclimates that support their growth. We finally had the missing pieces of the puzzle to make this a successful restoration project. Years later, in a totally different habitat, I saw them again. In the Indiana Dunes, wild lupine has been part of a major conservation effort for years. In the Great Lakes region, lupine restoration and conservation is linked to the federally listed Karner blue butterfly. But as I have discovered over and over again, no matter what aspect of the community we are trying to conserve, it can always be traced back to the plants.
OPPOSITE PAGE (top) A hillside covered in wild lupine along the shore of Lake Michigan. (inset) Wild lupine flowers in bloom. PHOTOS Matt Candeias, Alan Cressler THIS PAGE Young wild lupine plants grow at an abandoned sand and gravel quarry in western New York. PHOTO Matt Candeias
A LoveHate Story
From: “The Allergy Tree” by Mark Brunson Featured native plant: American linden (Tilia americana) I LOVE TREES, BUT TREES DON’T ALWAYS LOVE ME. THE trouble is: I’m susceptible to pollen allergies, and those allergies are always worst in springtime when trees are the primary culprits. Being only moderately allergenic, I’m not entirely sure why the American linden has elicited my greatest ire over the years. Maybe it’s because by the time the linden blooms, I’ve endured three months of sneezing and am at the height of my allergy frustration. One tree in particular has drawn my antipathy over the years: a large and robust specimen in the courtyard of the Utah State University campus building next to mine. I called it the allergy tree. Not only did it make me sneeze, but also it was my pollen barometer. I knew that when its blossoms began to fade, I could gleefully put away my Claritin for the season. Last week I heard chainsaws outside my building. I looked out to see men cutting down the allergy tree to make room for a renovation. And I’m surprised to find that it makes me very sad. It wasn’t the tree’s fault that its pollen made me sneeze, and it wasn’t the tree’s fault that it grew so big and healthy that it got in the way of construction crews. I’ll surely find another linden to use as my barometer, but it won’t do the job as well. I guess that just means love of trees is as complicated as love of people.
THIS PAGE (top) An American linden tree. (right) The remains of “the allergy tree.” PHOTOS Wikimedia Commons, Mark Brunson OPPOSITE PAGE (top) Cloudberries in the wild. (inset) Cloudberries turn “dreamsicle” orange when ripe. PHOTOS Wikimedia Commons, Briana Jasinski
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A Climate Change & Culture Story From: “Tundra Cloud(berrie)s” by Briana Jasinski Featured native plant: Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) I WAS FIRST INTRODUCED TO CLOUDBERRIES VIA the name of a man-made structure: a (now-closed) bed-andbreakfast called The Cloudberry in Fairbanks, Alaska. Its wooden turrets rose up like an enchanted castle above the stunted boreal black spruce forest. It was used as field housing [on] my first botany technician job. Little did I know, the cloudberry would recur in my life, over and over — in the form of a small plant. The cloudberry (aka bakeapple or salmonberry) is widespread across the arctic. It is a sweet, soft, dreamsicle berry, with a muted taste reminiscent of oranges, cream, tart fruit and a hint of salmon. When ripe, it fades from a bright pink to a translucent, creamy orange that smears apart on your taste buds. My first cloudberry was eaten while sitting on the pink styrofoam seat of The Cloudberry’s outhouse toilet in midsummer. After watching a small berry ripen in front of my face for a week, I selfishly plucked it and popped it in my mouth. A few years later, I tasted akutaq for the first time, or “Eskimo ice cream,” a chilled mixture of Kuskokwim sheefish (white-
fish), Crisco (originally seal fat) and vitamin C-rich cloudberry. [It’s] cold, sweet, savory, slightly fishy and chock full of calories — the perfect traveling food for exhausted subsistence hunters. Now, as a graduate student studying arctic ecology, the cloudberry has come full circle to haunt my thesis. I study how individual plant species are reacting to deepening permafrost thaw resulting from climate change. Specifically, whether that newly thawed soil horizon is providing plants with a new, rich source of nutrients that hasn’t been available since the beginning of the last ice age — and whether or not their little rootlets are getting those nutrients. I [have] experienced the cloudberry in the way that only a plant ecologist can: over the course of 136 hours of hand-plucking their roots with tweezers from chunks of soil. The connection of this beautiful, delicious plant to the changing arctic landscape and the humans that inhabit it is fascinating. As thaw boundaries continue to deepen and arctic roots stretch into newly revealed soils, I’m fascinated to see what the arctic has in store for this deliciously creamy berry. Maybe more pies. | 33
A Native Plant Gardening Story
From: â€œOh Where, Oh Where, Has My Monkeyflower Gone?â€? by Kathy Kuebbing Featured native plant: Bush monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus)
THIS PAGE A bush monkeyflower in bloom. PHOTO Kathy Kuebbing OPPOSITE PAGE (top) The author walking across Carson Slough in the Mojave Desert. (inset) A rare Amargosa niterwort. PHOTOS Daniel Brock, Naomi Fraga
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AT THE YOUNG AGE OF 60 Y EA RS OLD, I decided to take on a monster gardening project. After retiring to the beautiful Oregon coast and having more time to spend in the yard, I decided to transform a very weedy and ugly hillside into a native garden. Eight years later, I am amazed at how much change has occurred and how much fun I had along the way. I first learned that the hillside had three different growing zones! I started with the sunny side, and selected three Nootka roses (Rosa nutkana) to plant in my first plot. Next, I decided only the native Salal berry bush (Gaultheria shallon) would be able to hold onto the steep hillside. The wetland gave me the most challenge. My first attempt at adding color was with the addition of a yellow monkeyflower (Diplacus aurantiacus) during the rainy season in late November. Unfortunately, I did not mark the place where I planted my lovely monkeyflower, and for the next two years I searched relentlessly to find the yellow in my wetland. It was not to be. I had lost my monkeyflower. That was not my last attempt at adding color, but I failed many more times before I realized that green is a beautiful color. Today, lovely green mosses and ferns adorn the wetland.
When I began this project, I had no theory of what would happen. I just [hoped] I would not need to hire a professional landscaper to clean up any disaster I might create. But I did discover something unexpected halfway through the project. Once the hillside filled with more native plants than weedy plants, I would find native plants choosing the hillside garden as their home. One year thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) showed up and then a gooseberry (Ribes sp.) moved in next door to the thimbleberry. Brackens (Pteridium aquilinum) decided the wetland needed a slightly softer color of green than the dark green swordferns (Polystichum munitum) I planted in the area. Native flowers populated the slope from time to time, my favorite being the fringe cup (Tellima grandiflora). Now my hillside project is done, but years into the future I will enjoy visiting it to find what new native plant or flower has decided to join the community. Best of all, I purchased two more yellow monkeyflowers after my hillside project was complete. I upgraded these plants to the formal gardens in my backyard and put signs around them to remind me of where my lovely monkeyflowers would forever grow.
An Endangered Plant Story
From: “With Love, From the Mojave Desert. Meet the Amargosa Niterwort” by Naomi Fraga Featured native plant: Amargosa niterwort (Nitrophila mohavensis) W H E N I F I R ST H E A R D A B OU T PL A N T L OV E Stories, I had one thought. Must follow! I wanted to contribute, but I had a huge dilemma. Which plant love story do I tell?! So I narrowed it down to my current love affair with the one, the only, Amargosa niterwort (Nitrophila mohavensis). The Amargosa niterwort is a rare plant in the goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae), and it has a lot of special requirements. It lives on salt flats near Death Valley, in one of the hottest, driest places on earth, but the niterwort is a water-loving plant. It lives in an area with a high groundwater table that is relatively salty, but the niterwort doesn’t like it too salty. If the available water in its habitat is reduced, then that makes it more salty, and that is not good for the niterwort. My relationship with the niterwort runs deep. I visit it every month to monitor its growth, and that means I have
a fairly good understanding of the extreme environment it lives in. From 50 mph winds to over 120-degree heat, this plant rolls with the punches. It is also federally listed as endangered, which means it needs our help. I’ve made it my life’s mission to save the niterwort from the threats it faces. It is an incredibly unique plant. There are only two species of Nitrophila in the world, and this one lives in a tiny corner of the Mojave Desert. It is a relict from a wetter time, but it is still holding on because this part of the desert has water, and that is a special thing. I have intimate relationships with many plants, but the niterwort holds a very special place in my heart. With each plant relationship I develop, my commitment to them grows deeper. I do my best to say it loud and proud, but plants matter, and I live my life by that motto. They are a gift to be treasured and cared for by everyone. | 35
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With Botany and Two Burros An intrepid, early botanist still inspires today by Dr. Karen Husum Clary PIONEER PLANT COLLECTOR DR. MARY SOPHIE YOUNG is best known as the botanist who ventured out to the wilds of West Texas to systematically study and collect native plants in the early 1900s. And collect she did — in a skirt. Young mounted four trips to the mountains, deserts and rivers of the Trans-Pecos, collecting a whopping 1,700 plant specimens with the help of an assistant, an open buggy and two burros. Many of the plants were previously unknown from the Trans-Pecos and some of them later described as new species. Even by today’s standards, the pace of field work required to make such collections in this rugged country is monumental. Equally amazing is Young’s logistical prowess and sheer force of will to plan and execute these expeditions. She kept detailed field journals of her collections and travels, and it is through them that we know about her work. This year we commemorate the 100th anniversary of her passing.
ABOVE (left) Young and her collecting assistant, UT student Carey Tharp. (right) Young in West Texas with her $10 buggy and two slow, difficult donkeys. PHOTOS courtesy of the Texas State Historical Association/Southwestern Historical Quarterly
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A BOTANIST’S BOTANIST In 1912, Young — who earned a doctorate in botany from the University of Chicago — became the first curator of the nascent University of Texas at Austin herbarium. During her tenure (through 1919), she grew the herbarium from 2,500 specimens to 16,000, up to 10,000 of them from her own collections. Today the herbarium is the largest in the Southwest, housing over 1 million specimens, and boasts the most holdings of Texas plants in the world. When Young wasn’t working at the herbarium
or as a botany instructor, she explored the plant life of the Austin area. Though the Ohio native’s life was cut short by cancer, to which she unexpectedly succumbed at the age of 46, her dear friend and fellow botanist Dr. B.C. Tharp published the manuscript for her ongoing project, “The Seed Plants, Ferns and Fern Allies of the Austin Region” (about 720 taxa) the following year. We would know much less about Young if Tharp hadn’t taken it upon himself to share her work. In the preface, he writes: “It represents six
years of as intensive collection as was possible for an enthusiastic, energetic, and thoroughly capable person who was doing at the same time a full share of teaching work. With exceptional skill Dr. Young has in it not only blazed a trail; she has actually builded [sic] a highway.” INTO THE WILD It is through her personal journals — also published posthumously with Tharp’s help — that we learn of her adventures out west. On her first trip in 1914, Young was accompanied by Carey Tharp, the younger brother of B. C. In the early 1900s, the Trans-Pecos was hard to reach. They traveled by rail from Katy to Marfa, then took the unmaintained, uncharted wagon roads connecting the few towns and ranches that existed. In Marfa, they bought a used horse buggy for $10 and two obstinate, delinquent burros they named Nebuchadnezzar and Balaam. She wrote of the former, “If our Lord rode as lazy a beast as this one, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem must have taken a long time.” Over the next six weeks, while mastering the art of burro and buggy livery, Young and Tharp worked their way northwest to the Davis Mountains, where they collected in foothills, canyons and mountains, including Mount Livermore. Of Tharp’s willingness to wade up to his hips in a stream (to deal with some donkey and wagon chaos), she wrote: “My respect for 17-year-old boys brought up on farms grew considerably.” The second leg of their trip took them west to Valentine, through the pass at Capote Peak to the Rio Grande, where they collected plants in the vicinity of the Chinati Hot Springs. Young noted with humor that the burrows weren’t the best fit for a buggy made for horses, but it was good enough and served them the whole season. It carried their collecting supplies, camping equipment and basic food rations: bacon, beans, cornmeal, sugar, coffee, rice and butter. Windmill tanks and mountain springs supplied fresh water. They supplemented their diet with what game they shot along the way, largely jack rabbits and cottontails, and once foraged peaches from an orchard. At the end of the season, the buggy and burros were traded to a photographer from El Paso who met them in Ruidosa. He had no money, so the rig was traded for his shotgun, cartridge belt and all the pictures Young wanted. The youngest of eight children and the only girl, Young’s fearlessness is clear in her writings; she relished the challenge and adventure that fieldwork brought.
A LASTING LEGACY The best way to get to know Young is through her journals. Her own words reveal someone independent, bold, funny, adventurous, a devoted scientist, resolute and, yes, a woman totally alone in her pursuit. Hers is a timeless story of grit, determination and scientific achievement against the odds. B.C. Tharp described Young as having “a healthy coat of tan that gave unmistakable evidence of much outdoor life.” Though seemingly less obvious, he also said even a casual observer would note her “preoccupied air.” It’s this attribute that kindred botanists can relate to most. Once you recognize that you are obsessed with the plant world and all it can reveal about the order of life on Earth, you become preoccupied in a most gratifying way. With Young’s innate curiosity as our guide, we follow in her footsteps to this day — and delight when they lead us off the beaten track.
Young’s journals reside at The University of Texas at Austin Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
ABOVE This snowbell specimen was collected by Young in Limpia Canyon in May 1914. Her original label can be seen in the bottom left corner and reads “Limpia.” The plant — which is very rare and known only from Young’s original collection — was named Styrax youngiae in her honor in 1943 but later reclassified as Styrax platanifolius ssp. youngiae (both known by common name Young’s snowbell). IMAGE courtesy of Tropicos.org/Missouri Botanical Garden
Grounds for Play
How parents can (and should) just chill and let kids lead by K. Angel Horne
THIS PAGE Large tree trunks invite climbing and sitting and can also provide places of refuge. PHOTO Alysha Rainwaters OPPOSITE PAGE (top) Invasive bamboo poles make good loose play material. (bottom) Nature play can reduce stress, increase physical activity, and help children develop such skills as reasoning, problem solving and cooperation. PHOTOS Joanna Wojtkowiak, John W. Clark
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WHEN IT COMES TO DETERMINING WHAT’S BEST FOR KIDS, it’s great to have resources — especially natural resources. Rocks, sticks, shrubby hiding spots and all the other elements that make up nature’s playgrounds are the fodder of many a happy childhood memory. If you’ve been to the Wildflower Center and visited one of our nature play areas, most notably the Family Garden and the Fort Build in the Texas Arboretum, you’ve witnessed the power of childhood creativity unbound. These areas feature big stumps to crawl on or through, simple tarp tents, and many moving parts: rocks, sticks, bamboo and “tree cookies” (cut rounds of tree trunks and branches). They aren’t designed with directive elements such as seesaws, slides and monkey bars, yet children jump right in and begin playing and creating as though it’s the most
natural thing in the world — because it is. According to a 2014 study in Frontiers in Psychology (among others), this type of play notably reduces stress, increases physical activity, and encourages the development of vital skills such as reasoning, planning, exercising self-control, problem solving and cooperation. And the truly fantastic thing is that it’s affordable and scalable to fit within any budget or space. From apartment patios to full-scale gardens, anyone can create an area for nature play and offer these benefits to the children in their life.
“The goal of these spaces is that play is open-ended and child led,” says Michelle Bertelsen, Wildflower Center ecologist and co-leader of Austin’s OLE! (Outdoor Learning Environments) coalition. She says natural environments are great at promoting a particular type of exploration: the kind you get when kids “have freedom and the pieces in front of them are not defined — they can do or be anything.” Nature play is healthy for any child, but research suggests the cognitive benefits are strongest and most lasting for children who are given such opportunities from about 18 months old to kindergarten age. “If they get past age six and have never had any freedom outside, it’s harder for them to get started,” notes Bertelsen, who is, in addition to being an ecologist, a mom. “My children are ages 4, 9 and 12, and there is no formal playground that can accommodate them all.” Nature, on the other hand, can. Once you’re in a conducive place, Bertelsen says it mostly just takes you, the adult, “chilling out and letting them lead.” Here’s how to get started. LOOSE PARTS This is the most basic and vital element of nature play. While a prefab playground at Home Depot will cost you upwards of $600 (and provide fewer cognitive benefits), you can purchase a bag of river rocks at your local garden store for about $5 or hunt for your own (fun and free!). Sticks, straw and stumps can be scavenged on brush collection days in your neighborhood, or check with your local park or nature preserve to see if they offer opportunities to collect natural materials that have been removed during maintenance. SENSORY ELEMENTS Consider a ring of rocks for sitting or climbing, an ever-changing array of potted plants, and larger stumps. Native plants can be selected to add color, texture and fragrance, to attract butterflies and more (see suggested plants, next page). “You have to be comfortable with | 41
Most native plants provide a variety of these benefits, but our recommendations highlight particular senses or traits. COLOR Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), 1 firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), 2 goldenrods (Solidago spp.), 3 redbuds (Cercis spp.), gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
FEEL 4 Purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea), 5 woolly rosemallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpos), 6 Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima)
FRAGRANCE 7 Autumn sage (Salvia greggii), 8 Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana), 9 agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata)
WILDLIFE DRAW 10 Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), 11 pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa), 12 Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii), wax mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii)
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REFUGE NOOKS Whether you’re planting permanently or in containers, there are a lot of small shrubs and trees that can be positioned to make refuge nooks. Bertelsen suggests Texas persimmon trees (Diospyros texana) for interesting branch structure and low climbing opportunities (bonus: fragrance and fruit), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) for canopied shelter (bonus: color) and any grasses with an arching habit, “so you get that little hiding space underneath.” “A couple of shrubs planted a foot and a half away from a fence becomes a secret place,” she says, “and it also becomes a pathway; or a few grasses in a circle, or stumps in a row — whatever you can do to create more interesting ways to move through a space.” She advises taking your cell phone, putting it at thigh level, and recording a video as you walk around the area to experience it from a child’s-eye view. You’ll be amazed at how differently you see things. ONE EASY STRUCTURE If space allows, having a simple structure (think a small fort) can be helpful as a meeting place or jumping-off point for play. “This can be a really rudimentary structure,” says Bertelsen. She notes that bamboo is a great option for building this “landing spot” and also as a loose material for play: “Bamboo is plentiful and invasive, so we don’t mind cutting it down.” WHAT ABOUT SAFETY? Think about being there more as a facilitator, advises Bertelsen, to prevent serious injury but not direct activities. Children can sense the fears of adults, and if parents are anxious, children are going to feel inhibited. Make a habit of doing a safety check with children before starting free play, and review basics such as lifting objects from the top rather than reaching under, not sticking hands into holes you can’t see into, and not leaving piles. Remember, the most important part is the play: “If they want to stack coconut shells up and you know it’s going to fall over, that’s fine!” says Bertelsen. Her approach is to let kids follow their whims and tell adults what they need help with.
PHOTOS (purple threeawn) Steven Schwartzman, (woolly rose-mallow) Peggy Romfh, (Mexican feathergrass) Sally and Andy Wasowski, (all others) Wildflower Center
your plants looking a little less than perfect,” says Bertelsen, “but the more you can resolve yourself to [that] to allow kids to have this active, creative place, the better.”
NATURE IS THE BEST TEACHER From birding adventures and writing workshops to classes on edible plants and butterfly gardening, we have programs for every age, skill level and schedule.
FREE FA M ILY FUN
Nature Nights explore native plants, animals and Central Texas ecology. From hawks to rocks, thereâ€™s a new theme each week.
JUN E 13, 2 6, 0 & 27
WILDFLOWER.ORG/NATURE- NIGHTS | 43
Things We Love The drinks, films and more we’re currently into by Wildflower Center Staff
Local Leaf Yaupon Matcha Editor Amy McCullough says she’s “always happy to see people doing new and interesting things to embrace native plants.” Humans have been making tea from yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) for ages, but Austinites Eric Knight and Stacy Coplin — the creative and crafty foragers behind beverage company Local Leaf — have taken the practice further by making yaupon matcha. The couple traveled to Japan to steep themselves in the ways of traditional matcha making with the ultimate goal of fusing yaupon, the only native North American plant that contains caffeine, “with other tea traditions around the world,” says Knight. “One thing we were kind of blown away by was how similar the look and feel of a true tea leaf (Camellia sinensis) is compared to a yaupon leaf. For us, it’s really fun and satisfying to marry yaupon with a time-honored tradition to make something completely unique.”
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The result is an ultrafine yaupon powder that can be whisked into hot or cold water to create a soothing, earthy beverage — and it can also be used in baking, much like green tea matcha. In fact, Knight says many local vendors are already making “some really awesome stuff” from it, including yaupon flan (Bento Picnic), yaupon matcha cream puffs (Jester King Brewery), yaupon matcha chocolate chip ice cream (Lick Honest Ice Creams) and more. “We’re excited to combine the simplicity of Japanese matcha culture with our hardy native Texas yaupon,” says Knight, who occasionally leads foraging walks at the Wildflower Center. “It’s a true East-meets-West experience.” McCullough adds that this matcha is particularly green because it originates from where it’s consumed — a nice sustainability perk to go with your caffeine buzz.
IMAGES (opposite page) Whitney Arostegui, (book) Chronicle Books, (garden rocker) Vertex, (film) IMDb
A Seed Is Sleepy Youth and Family Programs Coordinator Rosalie Kelley said this book’s cover grabbed her attention immediately. She likes that it illustrates the seed pods of well-known Texas natives — such as mountain laurels — as well as the seed-bearing parts of lesser-known devil’s claw and Texas barberry. Written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long, it also includes intriguing facts and bits of history. “This is truly not just a picture book,” says Kelley. “It’s an informative glimpse at the elaborate, multifaceted and remarkable evolution of seeds for children and adults.”
Garden Rocker Horticulturist Leslie Uppinghouse says she finds herself using one of these little barbell-shaped chairs more and more as she tends to plants in Wildflower Center gardens. “It helps me keep my back straight,” she says, “and it also has a smaller footprint than the kneelers” — meaning it leaves less of a mark than a foam pad (Uppinghouse calls the rocker’s remnant more of a “butt print”). Another plus is that the rocking motion helps gardeners lean (and therefore reach) farther without having to move their base.
Can You Dig This “He was arrested for planting a carrot!” That’s how Director of Programs Tanya Zastrow begins talking about Ron Finley, the self-proclaimed “Gangsta Gardener.” Finley has described his neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles as “home of the drive-thru and the drive-by,” but his inventive parkway gardens and community leadership have shifted the landscape from a concrete urban food desert to one filled with healthy, available produce grown locally. The film “Can You Dig This” documents Finley’s work and the ways in which he’s inspired others to improve their lives through gardening. Zastrow says she was struck by Finley’s passion and determination to make a difference, not only in his own life but for those around him.
When in Roam
Walking the Rails
Connecting over plants and photography on the High Line story and photos by Laura Brandt IN HER TEENAGE YEARS, MY DAUGHTER USED TO CALL ME A “PLANT FREAK.” Now, I’m waiting for her to meet me on the Diller – von Furstenberg Sundeck, part of New York City’s High Line, where we will explore and delight in an urban garden together.
Carolyn focuses her camera on Black Lace elderberry in the Chelsea Thicket section of New York City’s High Line.
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It’s a warm, early June day, and I can hear robins chirping and bees buzzing amid the swaying tall grasses. The sunshine warms my face, butterflies float by, and the smell of spring blossoms fills the air; hard to believe this botanic dream is a reality in Manhattan’s Lower West Side. Created on a former New York Central Railroad spur, the area lay dormant for nearly three decades before becoming the beautiful elevated walkway and garden it is today. While Carolyn
has walked the High Line before, I have not. A graphic designer, she works a few blocks away and appreciates the inspiration it provides while sheltering her from the busy world below. As a nature photographer and former landscape designer visiting from Pennsylvania, I’m excited to explore this railroad-turned-publicpark for the first time. We are perhaps even more intrigued because of a family connection: My father and grandfather both worked for New York Central Railroad Company.
We set out with our cameras to admire the plantings along the roughly mile-and-a-half pathway 30 feet above street level, which is maintained and programmed by Friends of the High Line in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. A COMMUNAL STAGE As we turn the corner around the 14th Street Passage, we see an intriguing field of pure white floating discs suspended on flexible metal — like lily pads swaying in a gentle wind. This temporary digital installation, “The Meadow,” is a collaboration between Google and Refinery29, the New York City media and entertainment giant. It projects photos taken on Pixel phones onto the white discs. Each year, High Line Art commissions artists to create provocative installations on and around the High Line. As such, this is a place to see and be seen. We observe “costumed” people walking down the High Line as if on an elevated fashion runway. Like many urban greenways, the High Line is a micro melting pot, and we hear languages from all over the world. But we are somewhat surprised to meet several New York natives as well. An older couple who had lived in New York, moved away, and returned tells us they came back because they love the energy of the city — including the High Line. They often walk its length to see what’s in bloom. Somehow it seems easier to start conversations up here, high above the street on this communal stage, rather than down below. MORE NATIVES Although the High Line feels a bit crowded at times, our experience is mostly peaceful. Carolyn and I wander together, appreciating the gardens’ textures and shapes. The colorful blossoms and beautifully designed plantings mesmerize us and beg to be photographed — especially set against the urban backdrop of tall buildings and steel rails. Piet Oudolf, the influential Dutch garden designer, strategically laid out the original naturalistic design, which is carefully curated by talented gardeners. Of the over 500 plant species on the High Line, roughly half of the biodiverse plantings are native to the U.S. (a full plant list is available online). They bring beauty, pollinators and heat relief to the city, as well as filtering pollutants from air and rainwater. We (and our cameras) are particularly drawn to native Whitespire gray birch (Betula populifolia), Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier
laevis), Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana), white wild indigo (Baptisia alba), Black Lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Eva’) and purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea). As we enter the area called the Flyover, we walk through a sort of a magnolia alley. This section lies between two buildings where trees grow upward to catch the light. Although the Flyover forest includes shadbushes (Amelanchier spp.), redbuds (Cercis canadensis), sumacs (Rhus spp.) and sassafras (Sassafras albidum), the real drama comes from the use of bigleaf magnolias (Magnolia macrophylla). Other magnolias artfully blend into the canopy, including Ashe’s magnolia (M. ashei), umbrella magnolia (M. tripetala), and Green Shadow sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana var. australis). When they’re in bloom, it’s impossible to pass by without snapping an image.
Exposed rails can still be seen peeking through green foliage; their stark lines contrast the curving plant life yet echo the hard architectural angles of the cityscape beyond.
A ZAHA MOMENT Walking towards the north end in West Chelsea, we are confronted by the recently constructed Zaha Hadid luxury apartment building with fabled $50 million penthouses. We’re both intrigued with this futuristiclooking building — even more so because Carolyn had studied Hadid, the award-winning female architect, in art school. We imagine what the view must be like, looking out at the High Line from this modern, curvaceous masterpiece. At the end of the day, we find an outdoor eatery with a beautiful view of the Hudson River and share our images. Sitting there, enjoying gentle river breezes and Carolyn’s good company, I know I’ll be back — to visit my daughter, of course, but also to visit the High Line. With ever-changing seasons and art installations, it has the power to captivate year-round. | 47
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Walking Nearby Waters Restoring watersheds and, in the process, people by Susan J. Tweit | illustration by Hallie Rose Taylor DAWN IS JUST BLUING THE SKY when I slip outside to walk the arroyo that runs through my new neighborhood. Venus shines bright in the East; dark shadows still pool under bushy junipers. Since moving to New Mexico a few months ago, I’ve walked this waterway every morning, listening for birds, reading tracks and greeting familiar high-desert plants: Rocky Mountain juniper, rubber rabbitbrush, big sagebrush, blue grama grass and others. I began walking nearby waters years ago as a new stepmom homesick for the West’s open spaces. My husband, Richard, his small daughter, Molly, and I had moved from Wyoming to West Virginia for Richard’s first teaching job. By the time Molly reached college, we had moved ten more times, to seven different states. And I had worn out many pairs of walking shoes. In each new place, I searched out a waterway as my route to finding home. I’ve walked the banks of wooded swamps and bare-dirt irrigation ditches, creeks of every sort, and now this arroyo, where water normally hides below the red-sand surface, revealed in sinuous etchings after snowmelt or summer rain. If rivers are Earth’s terrestrial arteries, these small waterways are capillaries, vital threads in keeping the land healthy. They channel runoff and serve as habitat and travel corridors for a diverse array of wildlife from yellow warblers to hunting cougars. Although such nearby waters are often overlooked and degraded, they are paths to intimate connection with nature, as we discovered with a block of urban creek in southern Colorado. “The Ditch,” which ran between our former industrial property and downtown, had long ago been channelized and dredged for flood control; it still served as an informal dump. I walked its weedy banks every day, carrying gloves to pick up trash, from waterlogged plastic bags to soda bottles. I even hauled out shopping carts. Then I began pulling invasive weeds. On weekends, Richard and Molly helped me pull kochia, tumbleweed and cheatgrass plants by the trailer-load. Clearing one dense weed patch, I unearthed treasure: sprouts of native streambank willow. I envisioned those shrubby willows as pioneers in restoring the creek, their stems growing tall and arching to shade the water and drop leaves into the slender flow, adding nutrients that would nurture aquatic insects and microbes.
Inspired, I bought and planted more native shrub sprouts in other weed-free areas: golden currant and red-twig dogwood for close to the creek; Indian plum, big sagebrush and rubber rabbitbrush for higher on the banks. Richard pried planting holes in the hard-packed soil; I hauled water to each sprout. Over the next few years, we celebrated as the willows spread their shade along the creek; our shrub sprouts grew taller than the weeds; and other native plants began to return on their own, attracting butterflies, native bees and songbirds we hadn’t seen before in our neighborhood. The summer after I spotted the first felty leaves of common milkweeds, for instance, our first-ever monarch butterfly appeared, fluttering around its host plant. Passers-by admired the wildflowers; kids waded the creek, searching for crawdads and
“If rivers are Earth’s terrestrial arteries, these small waterways are capillaries, vital threads in keeping the land healthy.” tiny fish. A conservation nonprofit began using the waterway as an ecology lab for school classes. The block of creek we tended with occasional help from friends and neighbors eventually inspired a cooperative effort to restore the whole drainage. Fifteen years after we adopted the creek, Richard died of brain cancer. I didn’t walk its banks for a long time. The New Mexican arroyo I walk now has no name, but I can see that it is known by coyotes, desert cottontails, ravens, roadrunners, and other humans and their four-legged companions. As I traverse its sandy bottom each morning, I wonder what this waterway will ask of me. I don’t yet know it well enough to hear its voice. But I will. Each morning, I walk and listen. Come spring, I’ll start pulling weeds too.
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Flower-dwelling predators, love letters to native plants, how to bring nature play home, discovering a rare morning-glory, remembering an in...
Published on May 15, 2019
Flower-dwelling predators, love letters to native plants, how to bring nature play home, discovering a rare morning-glory, remembering an in...