2018 | Volume 35, No. 2
Perfect Pairings FIVE FASCINATING FLORAFAUNA MATCHUPS PAGE 18
INSPIRING YOUNG BLOODS
CANOEING THE BRAZOS
Like being transported to a fragile, crystalline world, waking up to a landscape that’s been coated in a sheath of ice is sheer magic. It’s as if nature taps us on the shoulder and points out every subtle shape or charming detail of branch and bract that we may have missed with a big, clear highlighter made of frozen water. Lucky for stiff sunflowers (Helianthus pauciflorus) and the other dormant plants in this Nebraska prairie, an ice seal is relatively harmless. Next year’s buds are safely underground and not too concerned with what’s going on topside. Meanwhile, fully encompassed stems and seedheads literally chill and wait for the oncoming sun to liberate them. PHOTO Chris Helzer
The ice-encased head of this stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) is certainly ready for its close-up — but it will be a while before its seeds land starring roles as full-blown flowering plants. This perennial wildflower, which is native to much of the U.S., usually drops its seeds in fall (if they’re not eaten first), and they can lie dormant for over a year before germinating in spring. While freezing can do cosmetic damage to the exposed parts of prairie plants, fallen seeds may actually get a hand from such weather; that’s what stratification — layering seeds in growing medium and cooling them to promote germination — is meant to simulate. In other words: freezing temperatures might eventually help this winter lollipop’s seeds pop. PHOTO Chris Helzer 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
FROM THE Executive Director
Sowing Seeds I CREDIT MY GRANDMOTHER FOR SPARKING MY LIFELONG INTEREST IN PLANTS. If it weren’t for her, I’d possibly be blind to the greenery around me like far too many of this world’s inhabitants. But she introduced me to fennel when I was eight years old. We were on a walk at the Utah Botanic Center when she invited me to sample a small piece and tell her what the flavor reminded me of. Thankfully, I like the taste of licorice or this would be a very different story. I’ll never forget that moment — and the impact it has had on the trajectory of my life. Many of you reading this can probably point to at least one — if not a few — experiences that you had as a child that inspired you to love this earth and all of its riches. (I make this assumption because most readers of this magazine are members of the Wildflower Center, and that alone proves commitment to the environment.) Perhaps there was a thicket of woods behind your house where you ran free and learned the smells of composting leaves and sounds of forest birds. Maybe there was a garden or park in your hometown or city that burst forth in a brash and unforgettable display of color every spring or where you watched bumblebees dusted with pollen move among flowers. Or the catalyst was a teacher, a biology class, a summer camp, a parent, a botanic garden, a zoo, a public figure like Lady Bird Johnson. Whatever or whomever it was, that experience engendered in you a passion for the environment, and we are all better for it. Conservation is happening all around us today. At the Wildflower Center and elsewhere, people are working hard to protect and
promote our lands and oceans. Conservation will need to happen tomorrow too, and the next day and the next. As long as people are on this planet, they will need to promote conservation if we — and all parts of this beautiful world — are to survive together. One of the most significant ways that we can impact future conservation is to inspire the rising generation — to plant within young people a seed that grows into a love for all things green, furry, scaly or feathered. It’s a long-term investment, and the return is absolutely worth it. Sometimes, those youngsters return the favor and inspire us to reach further (read about a few of these heroes on page 28). Whether it’s a youth program focused on creating bracelets with natural materials or an adult program about native plants that feed our dwindling songbirds, the Wildflower Center seeks to ignite a connection to plants in people of every age so that those plants have a voice in the future. Thank you for supporting our efforts.
Patrick Newman Executive Director 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
TABLE of Contents
48 FE ATU R E S
An in-depth look at five pairs of ecological associates by Susan J. Tweit
Meet the next generation of environmentalists by Eva Frederick, K. Angel Horne and Amy McCullough
7 PERSONAL FAVES A local chef waxes fondly about a native berry
8 BOTANY 101 The science behind fall color 10 PLANTS IN PRACTICE Looking at and through nature at Mt. Cuba 12 COMMUNITY GARDEN Fort Hood enlists native plants 14 PULL IT OR PLANT IT A hilarious debate about mustang grape 16 URBAN GROWTH Native gardens are the new street toughs 40 THINGS WE LOVE A roundup of reads to relish 42 WHEN IN ROAM An uninformed canoe trip down the Brazos 46 CAN DO Pruning away at your fear of … pruning 48 WILD LIFE Loving and losing the Prairie Project
ON THE COVER A Mexican long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris nivalis) finds a blooming Havard’s century plant (Agave havardiana) in the night. ILLUSTRATION Samantha N. Peters ABOVE A girl discovers the magic of seeds at the Prairie Project. PHOTO courtesy of Native American Seed
2018 | Volume 35, No. 2
He spends his free time hiking, reading beneath shade trees and imbibing craft beer.
Amy McCullough DESIGNER
Joanna Wojtkowiak PLANT INFORMATION EDITOR
Eva Frederick is a
Lisa Spangler is a
Lisa Gerber is a tex-
tile artist who enjoys teaching and sharing her passion for crafts. Her background in science and environmental education influences much of her work. She lives in Austin, Texas, where she also works for UT’s Charles A. Dana Center helping to advance equity and access in mathematics education.
software engineer turned artist and lifelong plant nerd living in Austin, Texas. She became a Wildflower Center member 20 years ago and has volunteered for vegetation monitoring and led plant walks. She served two terms as president of the Native Plant Society of Texas’ Austin Chapter. Lisa can be found roaming through nature doing field studies and considers herself a watercolor wanderer — make that a wonder-er, because watercolors never fail to fill her with joy and wonder, even when they’re misbehaving!
Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS
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
Susan J. Tweit is a
Samantha N. Peters
Keaton Daniel is a
recent graduate from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he received a bachelor’s in human ecology with a creative writing emphasis. As a native Texan, Keaton is excited to continue traveling within and writing about his home state.
6 | W I L DF LOW E R
is a science illustrator based in Dallas. She received her bachelor’s in neurobiology from UT Austin and a graduate certificate in science illustration from California State University, Monterey Bay. Though her first love remains botanical art, Samantha is delighted to spend most days drawing animals in the graphics department at the Dallas Zoo.
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’s work has appeared in Audubon, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times and many more. She is a columnist for Rocky Mountain Gardening and Houzz.com and a co-founder of the Habitat Hero project.
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 © 2018 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
IMAGES (Eva Frederick) Evelyn Moreno, (Lisa Gerber) Stephanie Friedman, (Keaton Daniel, Samantha N. Peters and Lisa Spangler) self-portraits
science journalist and former Wildflower Center intern who recently moved to Boston to attend MIT’s graduate program in science writing. Her work can be seen in Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine; Texas Shores magazine; her hometown newspaper, The Dublin Citizen; and elsewhere. Eva spent her childhood pressing wildflowers in her parents’ encyclopedias. Now, when she has free time, she enjoys making bad puns and trying to grow six-foot tall tomato plants in her windowsill hydroponic garden.
Chef and Restaurateur Co-owner of Eden East and Hillside Farmacy in Austin, Texas, as well as Sinclair in Clifton, Texas FAVORITE NATIVE PLANT:
Dewberry (Rubus trivialis)
PHOTOS (main) Wildflower Center, (inset) Travis Hoggard
“I have many favorite native plants … it was very hard to pick the one. Turkscap, prickly pear (blossoms, paddles and fruit), American beautyberry … but I would have to say dewberries. I love hiking in the cool woods of early spring and running across those bright white flowers that will soon turn into fresh, juicy berries. In my travels outside of the state, I have never encountered such sweetness; this, to me, is Texas. It is the start of the most beautiful spring weather, which is fleeting like this berry. You can eat them fresh on ice cream or with grilled quail, made into jam, or in bubbly sweet sodas and pancakes.”
Fetching Foliage The science behind autumnal beauty
by Daniel Murphy | illustrations by Lisa Spangler FOR A LEAF, BEING GREEN MEANS BEING AT WORK. Beginning in spring, when it first pushes out from a bud on a branch, a leaf is engaged in food production. The work is done within its cells where carbon dioxide from the air and water sent up from roots are turned into sugars in a sun-powered process called photosynthesis. For many of us, this was one of the first things we learned about plants in elementary school. Recall those illustrations of a plant in the sun, taking in carbon dioxide, giving off oxygen, and feeding itself in the process. Key players in photosynthesis are plant pigments called chlorophyll. They collect photons — also known as light energy — which are then used to power the production of food. Chlorophyll is unable to absorb green light, so the color green is reflected back, giving foliage its familiar color. Throughout the growing season, these pigments take a beating from the sun. Spent chlorophyll is regularly refreshed in order to keep photosynthesis going. At summer’s end, when temperatures cool and day lengths shorten, production of chlorophyll trails off. The lack of chlorophyll reveals a set of pigments that have been helping out with photosynthesis all along. Yet, being fewer in number, they have gone unseen. Some are carotenoids, pigments that give autumn leaves their orange and yellow colors. (If 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
you’re picking up on the similarity to “carrot,” that is no coincidence; beta carotene is a type of carotenoid, as well.) Shorter and cooler days signal additional changes in deciduous trees. Sugars are directed towards the roots, and the cells that make up sugar-transporting channels start to die. This process can trap sugars inside the leaf, which, in some species, synthesize into anthocyanins, pigments that are seen as shades of red and purple. The death of conducting cells where the leaf meets the branch eventually leads to leaf drop. During the life of a leaf, waste products stored within cells are made up of compounds called tannins — the same that exists in grape skins (and stems and seeds), giving certain wines a more dry, astringent character than others.
Carotenoids oranges or yellows Anthocyanins reds or purples Tannins browns Chlorophyll greens
They show up as a brown color when chlorophyll and other pigments fade away. The fading of chlorophyll and the presence of carotenoids, anthocyanins and tannins explains the wide array of colors that can be seen in the autumn foliage of deciduous trees. Just how colorful this display is greatly depends on the species of plant. Compare the vibrant yellows of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) with the deep reds of Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi). Genetics clearly play a role in fall color. However, environmental conditions such as temperature and rainfall influence fall color as well. Since annual conditions can vary so much, the autumn show of deciduous plants is not always the same â€” nor is it guaranteed to happen at all. Red colors seem to be particularly fussy. Warm, sunny days and cool nights are key to their appearance. The production of chlorophyll tapers off quickly during cloudy or rainy days, making fewer sugars available for the production of anthocyanins (the red or purple pigments). And freezing temperatures damage plant cells,
quickly putting an end to whatever brilliantly colored pigments the leaves had in them. The timing of leaf drop in deciduous trees has long been a subject of scientific study. Tracking such things is especially important as the worldâ€™s climate is changing. When trees lose their leaves earlier or later than normal, a number of ecosystem functions can be affected, including carbon sequestration cycles and the composition of plant species growing in the understory. Researchers at Boston University analyzed the findings of 64 different autumn leaf drop studies and found that, in response to increased temperatures, trees in the Northern Hemisphere are now losing their leaves later in the year. This is especially noticeable on trees in lower latitudes. Whenever it occurs, the changing color of a leaf signals its death. Its work is finally done. The sugars it sent down to the roots will be used to build new leaves. A bud forms on the branch near the spot where the leaf once was. In this way, autumn colors are a celebration of what has passed and a sign of more to come. |9
PLANTS IN Practice
WINDOWS AREN’T ALWAYS MADE OF GLASS. At Mt. Cuba Center, a native plant botanic garden on the northern edge of Delaware, gardeners have edited and refined plant communities over the years to create inspiring natural “windows” that look from one landscape to another, building anticipation as guests move through the gardens. This view of Mt. Cuba Center’s Meadow from a nearby path shows attention given to texture, color and layering. Note the foliage fringe of flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) to the right, its red fruits and slightly blushing leaves hinting at the time of year (October). Meanwhile, common eastern coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) splashes sunny yellow through the center of the scene, and towering Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) beckons viewers from afar with its soft-focus golden-brown seed heads. Such design subtly entices guests to look not just at but through — to engage with natural windows and delight in details both near and far. 10 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTO Mt. Cuba Center
Through the Looking Grass
T E R C E S R S T I YO U A W A T U O E HID Come explore a collection of unique forts by local designers in our Texas Arboretum.
Through February 2019 Free with admission â€” always free for members!
Fort Hood’s Native Plant Brigade
A tale of people (and pollinators) connecting over plants by Melissa Gaskill
ABOVE Native plants flourish to the delight of humans and pollinators at Fort Hood. PHOTO Jackelyn Ferrer-Perez OPPOSITE A female black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) demonstrates the allure of standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra). PHOTO Bill Parker
1 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
AT MORE THAN 200,000 ACRES, FORT Hood near Belton, Texas, is one of the largest U.S. military installations in the world. Yet, amid its rolling, semiarid terrain, near a sprawling maze of streets and buildings, lies an oasis of native plants called the Bird, Bee, Butterfly and Bat Garden. It represents part of the base’s efforts to strike a balance between its natural environment and the military training and testing it exists to provide. Fort Hood launched its Adaptive and Integrative Management program in 2015 to educate soldiers, contractors and residents about wildlife protection laws and best land management practices; facilitate conservation efforts and partnerships; and identify and proactively manage areas of highest conservation concern. Program
Manager Jackelyn Ferrer-Perez, Agronomist Carla Picinich, and Wildlife Management Team Supervisor Amber Preston Dankert serve as boots on the ground (pun intended) for the program. Picinich came to Fort Hood in 2005 as a biologist for The Nature Conservancy. In 2011, she began working for the Department of Defense as the agronomist for Fort Hood’s Natural Resources Management Branch. “I fell in love with native plants after working summers on The Nature Conservancy’s Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Oklahoma during my college years,” she says, adding that the original idea for the garden at Fort Hood came from a conversation with a coworker about having a place to showcase native plants and educate people about how easy they are to maintain.
“We started the garden with a [DOD] Legacy Program grant, on what used to be a parking area,” Picinich adds. “We wanted to show people who live on Fort Hood how to use native plants in their landscaping rather than the typical plants you buy at big box stores. The more we showcase the garden, the more things change here.” Bill Parker, a communications employee whose office is near the garden, says he usually stops by on his way to work to photograph flowers and hummingbirds. “This time spent in the garden is very peaceful for me,” he says, adding, “I am very glad this place exists.” A co-worker of Parker’s was similarly inspired; he saw evergreen sumac (Rhus virens) in the garden and later planted it on his own property. More than 30 species of native plants now grow in the garden, all of them purchased at Wildflower Center plant sales. Wildflower species include flame acanthus (Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii), black and Gregg dalea (Dalea frutescens and D. greggii, respectively), Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) and Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), along with trees such as desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), a variety of oaks and sumacs (Quercus and Rhus spp., respectively), and Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora). Other species include catclaw mimosa (Mimosa aculeaticarpa), agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata), possumhaw (Ilex decidua) and several species of sage (Salvia spp). “We have added some plants that we grew from seeds, but all the original ones came from the Wildflower Center,” Picinich says. She became a Wildflower Center member many years ago and initially attended plant sales to buy plants for her own native garden. Another AIM project, the Pollinator Research and Outreach Garden (aka the Pollinator Sanctuary), is currently undergoing expansion with the help of volunteers and a grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation. “It was an old, abandoned weather station,” says FerrerPerez, who works on a variety of projects at Fort Hood under contract from the University of Illinois at UrbanaChampaign’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. “We plan to use it to teach the community more about the connection between landscapes and pollinators. In the 2-acre area around it, we’re restoring native prairie.” A Central Texas native, Ferrer-Perez grew up around the military, which fueled her passion for wildlife management on DOD lands. To select the best plants to lure pollinators, the team scoured the Xerces Society webpage, explored the Wildflower Center, and looked around the natural areas on the military installation for plants frequented by pollinators. “We planned it so we would have something available most times of the year,” Ferrer-Perez adds. “We also put in milkweed,
and we’ve collected a lot of milkweed seeds that we’re propagating in a greenhouse.” She, too, cites Wildflower Center plant sales as an important source for their efforts, calling them “the most reliable place to get good quality native plants” — adding a special shoutout to our staff and volunteers: “The people there are a huge resource as well. They always help us make good decisions about what will work best in our location.” AIM team members say their goal moving forward is to produce all plants for the gardens through propagation — which will provide additional opportunities for education, a key component of their efforts (which also include monarch tagging and tours). But they’ll still use Wildflower Center plant sales to fill in and replenish. Ultimately, they hope the native plants they’ve brought to Fort Hood spread beyond the gardens — naturally infiltrating other parts of the installation and beyond. The Bird, Bee, Butterfly and Bat Garden is always open at 1944 Rod and Gun Club Loop, Fort Hood, Texas; visit facebook.com/Bird.Bee.Butterfly.Bat.Garden for more info. The Pollinator Sanctuary has periodic public events; stay informed via facebook.com/Fort.Hood.AIM.Team. | 13
E VITIS M US T
PULL IT or Plant It
Call me an optimist, a Pollyanna, or just a dope who’s cup is so full it’s spilling onto my shoes: I love plants that grow anywhere without fuss or permission. We gardeners take pride in our power to manipulate the natural habits of plants, but mustang grape reminds me often that I am the weakling in the relationship. It grows in any kind of soil and can handle really wet areas yet is pretty darn drought hardy. Did I mention it grows really fast?
! Leslie Uppinghouse
LT I V A CU
Mustang grapes are a mess. They grow tenaciously and can engulf (and shade and sometimes kill) entire trees. Pay attention along Texas highways, and you’ll see what I mean. If you’re planting one on purpose to cover a trellis or arbor, that structure better be built like a brick (ahem) outhouse — not to mention that the ground underneath will be covered in dark smears when fallen grapes stain concrete and look rather like animal poop.
Mustang grapes have leathery, astringent skins that irritate the inside of your mouth. Once peeled, the fruit is, at best, tart and, at worst, bitter. I admit they are delicious when harvested green and prepared in spicy brine (like olives). And I imagine that after the addition of a generous amount of sugar and a long fermentation period, the flavor must be improved.
WI LD LI F E VA LU E Vitis mustangensis will feed all the birds, bees and mammals that can reach it; it provides wonderful shelter for critters to nest in; and it won’t be taken down by deer or hungry caterpillars. People complain about messy smooshed grapes, but you know who isn’t bothered? Bugs. Butterflies and moths, in particular, love grape juice! Even bats sip that sweet nectar in the night. Bring the jungle to your own backyard!
I know, I know — everything loves grapes: songbirds, game birds, and small mammals like raccoons and possums. You see grape seed in the scat of many wild animals when grapes are in season (there we go again with the poop). These animals will be spreading the grape seed all over your property, which will solve the problem of having too much time on your hands. Now you can pull grape seedlings … endlessly.
O N TH E OTH E R H A N D . . . It will swallow your kids whole if they stand still for too long (but what kid stays that still anyway?). And you may have to invest in a chainsaw to trim it. Mustang grape is a personality test in a way: If you take the grape challenge, your neighbors will never speak to you again, but family and friends will know you can tackle anything life throws at you. Just don’t slip on the juice and fall to the ground; you might be buried by your own ambition.
14 | W I L DF LOW E R
Maybe mustang grape will see us through the zombie apocalypse. It would do a better job than some of our other native edibles (peppergrass, anyone?). It can also be beautiful grown on a stout, sturdy arbor and pruned rather aggressively. And only the female plants bear fruit (mustang grapes are “dioecious,” or have separate male and female plants). If you don’t want the mess, seek out a male by observing a plant’s fruiting or nonfruiting tendencies.
PHOTOS (mustang grape) Joseph Marcus, (portraits) Joanna Wojtkowiak
VA LU E ( TO H U M A N S) A S A N E D I B LE N ATI V E P L A NT I love green grape pie and delicious pickled grapes, and maybe I could swallow a very small glass of mustang wine. (Disclaimer: As an Oregonian by birth and raised on more delicious grape varieties and wines, I might be fudging a bit on that last claim.) I like the grapes raw when they are dark and ripe, and for some reason the slight itchy burn on my tongue and in my mouth doesn’t bother me a bit.
MEET OUR MEMBERS
Rob, Ruby, Amy and Bonnie Cartwright • Members since 2016 • Camp Wildflower attendees since 2017
“My grandmother gave me a book about native plants many years ago, with an introduction by Lady Bird Johnson. When we moved to Austin, we came to visit the Center — I see it as a unique place for kids to observe the seasons and learn why there are bugs. We started bringing the children when they were quite young. Our older daughter built a fort at Camp Wildflower, and now she’s created a permanent fort in her room. The Center was one of the last places I brought my mom ... I have good memories here and lots of family photos taken in front of plants everywhere.” – Amy Cartwright “I have really enjoyed taking inspiration from the Wildflower Center and bringing more native plants and wildflowers into our
PHOTO Jen Reel
yard at home. We now host a diverse ecosystem of plants supporting wild insects, small mammals and birds.” – Rob Cartwright
Liven up urban verges with tough-as-nails native plants by Pam Penick IF YOU HAVE A YARD TO TAKE CARE OF, you’ve probably dealt with it: that sun-baked strip of lawn along the curb or in the no man’s land between street and sidewalk. Known colorfully as the “hellstrip” or prosaically as the “median” or “verge,” it’s a public space where neighbors pass by and visitors arrive. You want it to look good, yet conditions are challenging: compacted soil, reflected heat pulsing from surrounding pavement, Sahara-like aridity that hoses and sprinklers can’t quite reach. Indeed, maintaining your verge can leave you feeling a bit on the verge yourself. In her book “Hellstrip Gardening,” author Evelyn J. Hadden describes hellstrips as pieces of property that are part of the public landscape. “These tough environments don’t often support healthy lawns,” she writes, “but they can host thriving gardens that dramatically improve their surroundings” — adding curb appeal, beautifying the neighborhood, saving water, and giving wildlife an urban stopover for shelter and food. After taking a sustainable landscapes class at the Wildflower Center, Gary Citron felt inspired to makeover his own curbside strip of lawn. “Redoing the hellstrip seemed manageable,” he said, “and at 94 square feet would not be too costly to transform from St. Augustine lawn to a collection of native and adapted plants.” Living near the Wildflower Center in Austin’s Shady Hollow neighborhood, Gary and his wife, Linda, visited the Center’s gardens at different times of the year and made note of plants they liked. (They are both members, and Linda volunteers at the Wildflower Center Gift Store.) “We tried to use tough native plants,” Gary says. “We have big muhly grasses [Muhlenbergia lindheimeri], autumn sage [Salvia greggii], calylophus [Calylophus sp.], skullcap [Scutellaria sp.] and non-native bulbine [Bulbine sp.], as well as native groundcovers like creeping 16 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTOS (opposite page) Pam Penick, (this page) Joanna Wojtkowiak
germander [Teucrium canadense], woolly stemodia [Stemodia lanata] and annual bluebonnets [Lupinus texensis]. The idea was to put in plants that would look good most of the year and not present any hazardous conditions to pedestrians.” Indeed, choosing plants that get too big or spiky is the biggest mistake people make in creating a curbside garden, says Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Wildflower Center. “If there’s no irrigation and it’s sunny and hot, people want to use succulents,” she says, “which tend to be pointy and prickly.” She advises researching each plant’s ultimate size and choosing smaller, less spiny species. And don’t overlook native grasses like gramas (Bouteloua spp.), curly mesquite (Hilaria belangeri), buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides) and inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), or soft-textured perennials, none of which will stab anyone in the ankle. “I’ve seen a hellstrip of native gayfeather,” DeLong-Amaya says, “and it was perfect. People usually give gayfeathers too much water or not enough sun. But a hellstrip generally has exactly the brutal conditions that Texas gayfeather [Liatris punctata var. mucronata], in particular, thrives in.” Other considerations include cost, HOA or city rules, and potential damage done by people or pets. Colleen Jamison — whose home in Austin’s Highland Park neighborhood faces a long, narrow median (opposite page) — decided a few years ago to makeover the derelict space, which at the time was primarily filled with bleached, invasive Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) and weeds. “I took on a relatively small section at first to see what would happen,” she said. “Was there any response from the city or neighbors? Was there any vandalism or theft? I just didn’t have anything negative, so the next year I did another section, and the next year another section. And so on.” By planting inexpensive and pass-along plants, Jamison avoided spending a lot of money, which made it feel less risky to invest in a public space. She planted two rows of retama trees (Parkinsonia aculeata) to shade a gravel path she laid in the center, with masses of wispy, self-seeding Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) along either side. Thrift shop benches placed along the path invite neighbors to stop and enjoy the garden on their walks. The response has overwhelmed Jamison. “When people tell me they enjoy it,” she says, “it makes me so happy.” The Citrons’ neighborhood is governed by an HOA, so they presented a detailed plan for their hellstrip garden to the landscaping board. “We thought they’d think we were freaks,” says Gary, “but they were pretty receptive.” Their neighbors’ excitement during bluebonnet season and their own view from inside have also been rewarding: “Instead of asphalt, now we see pretty f lowers,” says Linda. Best of all, the new garden doesn’t require a lot of watering. “We use about one-third as much water as the average household in Texas,” Gary says. “People think, ‘Well, water’s cheap, so who cares?’” But he’s looking ahead, imagining ever-drier aquifers. “The hellstrip looks good and is interesting,” he explains, “and doesn’t require the water going all the time to maintain it.”
Curbside Design Tips PLAN FOR PARKING Leave room for people to open their car doors and step out. Use stepping stones or mulch to create some spaces that aren’t planted. KEEP IT SHORT Plant low-growing plants that won’t overwhelm the narrow space. DeLongAmaya recommends native groundcovers like frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora), Gregg dalea (Dalea greggii), snake herb (Dyschoriste linearis) and woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata). CONTAIN THE SITUATION Where space is especially tight, or if you’re concerned about damage from pedestrians or pets, use containers to elevate plants out of harm’s way. REMEMBER TO WATER New plants, even drought-tolerant or native plants, need water to get established. Make sure your hose can reach, advises Gary, or have alternate plans. Jamison repurposed wine bottles by upending them on terra cotta watering stakes (above) to keep her median-strip garden hydrated. “People loved it. All those upside-down wine bottles in the garden made people laugh.”
Natural Partners Texas native plants and their animal compadres by Susan J. Tweit | illustrations by Samantha N. Peters
1 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
T TAKES A VILLAGE, WE SAY. Thatâ€™s certainly true for plants. The lives of these green, rooted beings are profoundly interwoven with those of other species in surprising ways. Consider these five Texas native plants and the animals that shape their lives.
Tequila and the Big Bang: Agaves and Bats IMAGINE YOU’RE A HAVARD’S CENTURY PLANT (AGAVE
havardiana), your body a spiky rosette of wide, succulent leaves edged with wicked spines. You grow slowly in the dry, rocky mountains of West Texas, storing sugary food you make with the sun’s energy, plus water from infrequent rains. After several decades, you begin feeling the urge to procreate. There’s only one problem: You’re rooted in place and lacking digits, so you can’t cruise Main Street or head to a bar, much less swipe right on Tinder. What’s a willing agave to do? Enlist a go-between, a partner who can carry your pollen (male sex cells) to the ovaries of others of your kind. Not just any partner, one who can tote pollen long distances and who will be choosy, gravitating toward other Havard’s century plants. That perfect partner is a nectar-feeding bat. Mexican long-nosed bats (Leptonycteris nivalis), in particular, are capable of winging long distances between banquets. They head north with their young in late winter or early spring, timing their migration to feed from night-blooming desert plants with towering flower stalks and high-octane nectar — including Havard’s century plants. Agaves attract bats by practicing “big bang” reproduction: they spend their entire supply of sugars and water producing a months-long burst of blooms. In spring, a shoot that looks like a super-sized asparagus stalk spurts up from the center of the plant, branching into flower clusters. The tightly packed, upward-facing yellow blooms are easily visible in low light and emit a musky odor appealing to bats. These night-flying mammals dive headfirst into each flower, wings flapping, and use their long tongues to swab nectar, fallen pollen and trapped insects for a full meal. As the bat pushes its snout into the flower, the blossom’s sticky stigma picks up pollen clinging to the bat’s fur from previous flowers it has fed from; as the bat pulls away, the anthers dust the mammal with pollen to carry onward. Once the agave has exhausted its stores on a frenzy of blooming and pollination, the plant dies, leaving behind fruits to seed the next generation. Mexican long-nosed bats pollinate other agave species besides Havard’s, including blue agaves (Agave tequilana), the agave that tequila is made from and which are native to Mexico. Sadly, Mexican long-nosed bat populations are plummeting, perhaps due to vampire-bat control in Mexico and habitat destruction throughout the region. Bat Conservation International also credits this to increased consumption of tequila and mezcal in the U.S. — for liquor production, agaves are harvested before they’ve flowered. Fewer pollinating bats means fewer agave plants, and a fraying of the relationships that sustain desert landscapes and humans alike. 2 0 | W I L DF LOW E R
Pitcher Plant Seeks Meat (Insect Meat, That Is)
WHAT CAUSES A PLANT TO TURN FROM PRODUCING
its own vegetarian food to becoming a meat-trapping carnivore? For yellow pitcher plants (Sarracenia alata), which consume flies and other small insects, it’s the lack of nitrogen in boggy East Texas soils. Plants require nitrogen to make chlorophyll, the compound that converts sunlight into sugary food. Without soil nitrogen, plants turn to other sources — in this case, bugs. But it’s a bit of a trick for a nonmobile plant to capture insects. Yellow pitcher plants rely on food lures and physics. Their leaves are modified into vertical green tubes with ends folded over into hoods. Flies, ants and other insects are attracted by red and green veins on the leaves that, to insects, appear as directional markers “pointing” into the opening under the hood. They wander inside, nibbling on the nectar droplets the plant exudes. Then physics takes over. The tube is lined with sharp, downward-pointing hairs that draw the insect in but prevent it from climbing back out; light streaming through the translucent walls confuses prey so it can’t discern the opening. Exhausted, the insects eventually fall to the base of the tube and drown in a pool of liquid there. Bacteria and other microbes living in the liquid digest the
insects, releasing their nitrogen for the plants, much the way our intestinal microbes help digest human meals. And the plants are voracious: Researchers tracking a lovebug (Plecia nearctica) emergence in 1996 found that a bog with about 7,700 Sarracenia plants captured some 2 million lovebugs. That’s 260 lovebugs per pitcher plant — quite a feast! Yet, some insects have figured out how to use yellow pitcher plant’s deadly tubes as habitat. A few species of mosquitoes lay their eggs in the aforementioned pools. Their larvae feed on the nutrient-rich fluid until they grow large enough to metamorphose, emerging as winged adults able to escape by flying upward, out of the tube. The pitcher plant mining moth (Exyra semicrocea) takes up residence inside Sarracenia’s tubes. Adult females lay pinhead-sized eggs inside the upper part; after hatching, larvae eat a narrow channel around the inside of the tube so it collapses, forming a protective cap. Larvae then feed on the still-living tissue of the lower portion until they turn into winged moths. Even though the moths can fly away, they don’t readily leave the shelter of the tubes. How the moths find mates and why pitcher plants tolerate moth larvae consuming their insect-trapping tubes are unsolved mysteries. | 21
Why Buffalograss Needs Prairie Dogs THE SHORTGRASS PRAIRIE OF THE WEST-
ern Great Plains is sometimes described as forest turned upside down: above ground, perennial grasses and wildflowers grow knee-high; below, these plants’ roots stretch many feet deep and branch into networks so dense that one square yard of prairie soil may contain 20 miles of roots and root hairs! Take buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides), an iconic shortgrass prairie species: Its curling leaves normally top out at 5 inches, yet its roots stretch as deep as 6 feet. Storing biomass underground in the clement “root cellar” of the soil makes sense for a plant surviving the constant wind and intense sun of North America’s prairies, plus extreme heat in summer and bitter cold in winter. It is also an adaptation to the kind of catastrophic and episodic disturbances that shaped the continent’s seas of grass, says Senior Environmental Designer John Hart Asher of the Wildflower Center. “Prairies are disturbance-driven ecologies,” Asher explains. “They were shaped by natural fire — presettlement, 14 million acres would burn in Texas alone — and by high-intensity, low frequency grazing. Huge herds of plains bison would flood in; munch on grasses and wildflowers; break up the sod with their hooves; poop everywhere, fertilizing the soil; and then move on, not to return for perhaps many years.” Buffalograss adapted by evolving the ability to resprout from buds buried just below the soil
surface, by growing tillers (horizontal stems that form sodlike colonies), and by moving the bulk of the plant underground. Taking to the soil brings roots in contact with root-munching prairie-dwellers, particularly black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), once the most common mammal on the Great Plains. During the late 1800s, one colony in Texas stretched 250 miles long by about 100 miles wide and contained an estimated 400 million of these vocal rodents! These formerly superabundant mammals have been eliminated in many places due to bubonic plague brought from Asia and poisoning campaigns based on the erroneous perception that livestock and prairie dogs are incompatible. Wouldn’t prairie dog elimination benefit buffalograss? On the contrary, says Asher. The tunneling munchers are critical to the entire prairie community: Their burrows shelter more than 150 species of prairie animals and insects, from burrowing owls to endangered black-footed ferrets. And the rodents’ feeding directly aids buffalograss by girdling the roots and stems of mesquites and other woody trees and shrubs that would otherwise shade out prairie grasses and wildflowers. Prairie dog tunnels also aerate and fertilize the soil and channel water underground to recharge groundwater, all a boon to the short grass with deep roots. | 23
Paintbrush Eats Poison, Lures Hummingbirds WHEN SEAS OF BLUEBONNETS (LUPINUS
texensis) bloom in March and April, they are often accompanied by swaths of coral-red Texas Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), an annual wildflower whose short life involves relationships with both plants and birds. Texas Indian paintbrush’s story begins with a black seed so small that it takes 4 million to make a pound. That seed sprouts an entire life — growing, producing its neon-bright flower spike, attracting pollinators and maturing seeds — packed into the few short weeks or months before summer’s heat shuts it down. Texas Indian paintbrush relies on a boost from neighboring plants: When the seed germinates, the baby plant grows lateral roots tipped with “haustoria” as well as ordinary, downwardaiming roots. Haustoria are sensitive tips that sniff out and tap into the roots of paintbrush’s preferred partners, including sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) — essentially stealing food and water from the neighbors. According to new research, alkaloids are also part of the loot; these poisonous compounds deter grazers from consuming paintbrush, especially its candy-sweet flower spike. Paintbrush plants containing alkaloids, researchers found, produced more seeds both because more flowers survived to maturity and also because more flowers equaled increased pollination. 2 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
The plant’s most effective pollinators are ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), tiny hoverers who migrate hundreds of miles north from Central America and Mexico just as Texas Indian paintbrush colors the landscape. Hummingbirds cue in on red, tubular flowers that, to them, shout “Food here!” To attract these long-distance pollinators, paintbrush covers its simple green flowers with signal flags in the form of scarlet bracts. Crowded on dense flower spikes, the bracts blaze brightly, enticing hovering hummers to thrust their brush-tipped tongues behind the bracts and swab up sugary liquid from nectaries at the bases of the flowers. As the birds feed, they leave behind pollen acquired from other paintbrush blossoms. If ruby-throated hummingbirds’ pollination ensures the survival of new generations of Texas Indian paintbrush, the food the plant provides is just as critical to the fluttering pollinators. “A hummingbird is very expensive to fly,” notes Robert Colwell, evolutionary biologist at University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. If humans had similar energy needs, we’d have to consume a staggering 155,000 calories a day. The nectar’s high water content also helps hummingbirds cool themselves by evaporation.
2 6 | W I L DF LOW E R
It Takes a Village: Live Oaks and Oak Gall Wasps TEXAS’ MOST BELOVED LIVE OAK TREE MAY
be escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis), with its glossy evergreen leaves and octopus-arm branches shaping trees sometimes wider than they are tall. It’s certainly the most widely planted live oak in Central Texas, where it grows wild in clusters throughout Hill Country. Escarpment live oaks are notorious for their galls, bumpy growths dotting the dark green leaves and grayish twigs, sometimes so densely that trees look diseased. But galls are actually plant self-defense, nodules that form when something — usually an insect egg, but sometimes fungi, bacteria, nematodes or mites — irritates the plant’s tissues; the plant responds by isolating the irritant within a cushionlike growth. Some of the most common galls on escarpment live oak form in response to the larvae of mealy oak gall wasps (Disholcaspis cinerosa). The complex life cycles of these tiny wasps are tied to their hosts’ growth: Two different wasp generations hatch from two types of galls, one on live oak twigs, the other on leaf bases. The longer-lived wasp generation hatches from eggs laid on growing live oak twigs in spring. These larvae secrete chemicals that
cause the twigs to grow pinkish, spherical galls up to an inch in diameter. Inside, a Disholcaspis larva dines on the sugary tissue until pupating in late fall. By winter, the adult wasp has chewed out and flown away, and the galls are dry and grey, marked by a neat exit hole. This twig-gall generation of wasps — all asexual females — lays eggs at the base of leaf buds. The grublike larvae irritate the tree into forming a small, kernel-shaped gall and mature rapidly within it. In only a few weeks, female and male wasps about a third the size of the first generation emerge from these galls and fly off in search of mates. Males die soon after mating while females go on to lay eggs on live oak twigs, starting the cycle again. Escarpment live oak galls are coveted real estate, feeding and housing a whole community, including wasps that parasitize Disholcaspis larvae, sugar-feeding and scavenger ants, spiders, small flies, bees, butterflies, and larger predatory wasps. The abundance attracts nesting songbirds, which feed their young insects — lots of insects. According to entomologist Douglas W. Tallamy, a single pair of chickadees needs between six and nine thousand insects to raise one brood of young.
AS THIS HANDFUL OF EXAMPLES POINTS OUT, NATURE IS RARELY — if ever — simple. Plants
rely on animals and vice versa, and those relationships and networks are complex, nuanced, adaptable and endlessly fascinating. Life on earth does take a village or, in other words, an ecosystem; in fact, it takes many of them. | 27
THE GO-GETTER This clutch of inspirational young people is thinking — and acting — with the future in mind by Eva Frederick, K. Angel Horne and Amy McCullough embroidery by Lisa Gerber
HERE ARE SUPPOSEDLY TWO KINDS OF people in this world: those who do and those who don’t. You’re about to meet a third variety: those who do and get started early. The amazing young people in the profiles to follow are ambitious, intelligent and compassionate, and they’ve translated those winning attributes into action. They also know there’s no time to waste. Their work in the name of the environment has already helped the landscapes and communities they live in, and their efforts continue to change the world for the better. Lucky world. Lucky us. >>
2 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
AVIAN ADVOCATE Sebastian Casarez IMAGINE THIS SCENARIO: YOU’RE 12 YEARS OLD; YOU’RE standing in front of a crowd of your peers; and you’re making bird calls. What’s more: You’re hoping that, in a moment, those peers will try making a blue jay call back at you. These are the types of situations Sebastian Casarez finds himself in. But any inhibitions the Texas native might have about public speaking fly right out the window when he’s talking about birds. “He doesn’t care if he’s in front of 200 or 300 kids,” says Sandra Casarez, Sebastian’s mom. She recounts the above event: “I was like, ‘Oh, lord, please make the call back,’ and they were doing it! I was so glad.” This is nothing new for Sebastian. He’s been sharing birding knowledge across Texas since he was 9 years old, leading birding walks with Travis Audubon’s Young Birders Club and speaking and presenting at birding festivals, libraries, schools and events like the Wildflower Center’s Nature Nights. But his interest in birds developed even earlier, when he set eyes on the book “Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide” at the age of 7. His mother splurged and bought it, and a self-taught birding wunderkind was born. “He’s opened our world,” says Sandra of Sebastian’s effect on her and her husband. “We weren’t officially outdoorsy; now we’re in tall grass up to here [motions to her midthigh] looking for owls,” she explains with a laugh. His parents aren’t his only encouragers. Dr. Keith Arnold, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University and author (with Gregory Kennedy) of “Birds of Texas,” has taken Sebastian under his (ahem) wing as a mentee. Not surprisingly, Sebastian wants to pursue a career as an ornithologist, but his current goal is to share his love of birding. “Not only are [birds] graceful creatures,” he says, “they eat annoying mosquitoes and help with insect control and plant trees by the seeds they eat.” Without birds, he says we’d be living in a “treeless, bug-filled area.” But he finds the lack of young birders discouraging: “There could be a nice male painted bunting on a tree and nobody would notice because they’re busy texting or just playing soccer,” he explains, adding in complete earnest, “You know how kids are.” In 2017, he created the Texas Blue Jay Project (named after his favorite bird) “to encourage Texans to go out and explore birds in their back yards, city and state parks.” The website (and blog) asks people to take a pledge to begin birding; so far, about 1,000 people have done so. 3 0 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTO (this and previous spread) Sandra Casarez
Sebastian also gathers and distributes donated field guides to low income kids; organizations such as Marbridge, a community of adults with intellectual disabilities south of Austin; and to schools without nature programs. In 2015, he received a community collaboration award from CiNCA (Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin) in honor of his efforts. “I believe if we start educating kids about birds early and about how important their habitats are we can not only build awareness for bird habitats but create future bird conservationists,” says Sebastian. “It’s what we need.” That need includes native habitat preservation, which he is sure to touch on: “I talk about what native plants to plant in your yard to attract birds,” he says, noting that “hummingbirds like Turkscap and trumpet creepers.” He’s also observed that
the purple sage (Leucophyllum frutescens), oak trees (Quercus spp.) and Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) at his family’s home in Hutto, Texas, “get all the birds in our yard.” Birding has its personal benefits, too: “It helps when you’re stressing out,” he says. “You can just go out and look at birds. It’s peaceful.” He feels this is crucial for young people. “Most kids just want to stay home and look at their phones and the internet and play video games,” he says. But he likens birding to a real-life video game, describing it as a gratifying seek-and-find activity. As if on cue, he spots a cardinal couple in the Wildflower Center’s Courtyard. “I think they want to be a part of our conversation,” he remarks. Thanks to Sebastian, they are — and they’ll be part of many conversations to come. – A.M.
WEB EXTRAS Take the pledge @ thetexasbluejayproject. blogspot.com/2017/06/ the-texas-blue-jayproject-launch-by.html Watch a video about Sebastian’s 2015 E. Lee Walker Award @ vimeo. com/146201165 See him interviewed (and hear him do a Wilson’s snipe call) @ kxan.com/2017/09/18/ bird-is-the-word-withthis-outdoor-hobby
32 | W I L DF LOW E R
PAIGE JOHNSON SEES PLANTS — SPECIFICALLY FLOWERS — as a metaphor for life. And the most important part of that life process is blossoming. The San Antonio native, currently a junior at Clark Atlanta University, adopted the phrase “blossom effect” as her personal platform because she’s all about growth: figurative and literal. And the way she sees things, you can’t grow personally without green space on your radar. That’s why she was determined to bring a garden to her college campus. “I’m a big fan of meditation, yoga, greenery, hiking,” she explains. “Those are some of my safest places — where I can really breathe, where my mind is open.” She wasn’t seeing enough opportunity for that at CAU, so she helped plan and plant a garden outside of the student center last spring (opposite page). It’s her way of saying to fellow students, “Here, try this. Maybe it’ll help you destress and breathe and just relax.” Johnson developed the garden initiative during her tenure as Miss Sophomore 2017-18 (part of Miss Clark Atlanta’s “Royal Court”). It took a semester and a half to plan and secure funding for the plot, and she wasn’t able to choose the plants (that fell under the purview of the university
PHOTOS (this page) Tré Hazelwood/Trillex Photography, (opposite page) courtesy of Paige Johnson
GREEN GURU Paige Johnson
grounds maintenance crew she coordinated with). “It wasn’t the garden that I wanted,” she admits. “It didn’t have any … wildflowers, but I’ll take what can get.” Johnson, a mass media arts major, did get to pick out and dedicate a bench and work on the garden design. (She also volunteers with her school’s Living Green Club, a nonprofit that participates in climate change activism as well as community cleanup and sustainable living efforts.) The exuberant 19-year-old credits her affection for the natural world to family. Her dad’s green thumb and her grandmother’s love and cultivation of hibiscus trees (Hibiscus spp.) got her started, but it was the few years she lived in Ohio when the versatility of nature and its potential for increasing wellness “really clicked for me,” she says. “There were so many hiking trails and nature preserves. It was different every single time I went out. That’s when I realized I can really take advantage of these places: I can come here and journal, do yoga, meditate; I can come here and have fun with friends.” She’s interested in passing that legacy on. As a summer intern with the Greening Youth Foundation — which seeks to create pathways to conservation careers for diverse, underserved and underrepresented youth — she helped kids ages 2 to 15 learn to value the environment. Johnson helped plant a community garden at W. W. Woolfolk Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta’s West End last summer, but her main job was leading educational activities. Project Manager
Christine Louis-Jacques says Paige “connected really well and was great at getting kids engaged,” especially a group of seventh-grade girls: “Seeing another young woman who’s really into the environment got them to open up and actually get into the games and activities,” says Louis-Jacques. Johnson describes her work with GYF as “very purposeful.” “I think all kids are interested in learning about the environment,” she says. “At that age, they’re thinking about themselves, [asking] ‘What can I do to help nature, to preserve this, to make the world a greater place?’ They see the importance and are willing to help.” Johnson believes fostering that interest is key to a healthy future, but she sees real-world challenges, including a preoccupation with technology. “We had to collect phones from students,” she says of her summer internship. She’s concerned about her own cohort, as well: “We’re so back to back to back doing stuff [as college students] that we don’t get that time to be outdoors.” Which all leads back to what Johnson calls the “blossom effect.” For her, “blossom” means “to mature or develop in a promising or healthy way.” It encompasses her belief that healthy internal development allows us to reach outward with positivity and wellness — to bloom eventually — and that requires time in nature. “We have to go out. We have to be outside,” she urges. It’s her personal mantra, one she’s eager to share with the children she teaches, her peers and you. – A.M.
WEB EXTRAS Read an interview with Paige @ hercampus.com/ school/cau/blossomeffect-miss-sophomore Learn more about the Greening Youth Foundation @ gyfoundation.org
POLLINATOR-PLANT POWERHOUSE Kedar Narayan TRY TO THINK OF AN ADULT WHO HAS DONE MORE THAN ONE OF THE following: developed an app, delivered a TED Talk, started their own motivational YouTube channel, made a stop-motion film, become CEO of their own environmentally minded company. Tough, right? Well, the seemingly unstoppable Kedar Narayan accomplished all of the above and more before aging into double digits. Did we mention that he’s also transformed a good chunk of his family’s yard in Pennsylvania into a native plant garden/pollinator paradise and is an activist encouraging others to follow suit? Everything about this kiddo is extra. So how does one go from playing video games to making them — from coloring butterflies with crayons to researching and cultivating a garden that attracts monarchs, all at such a tender age? “When I was five years old, I liked to play video games. One day my mom said, ‘Why don’t you learn to code and make your own video games?’” explains Kedar. So, he did. Then he traveled to nearly a dozen fairs 3 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTOS Anita Narayan
teaching others about making video games. But Kedar is not the kind of kid who ever really calls it “a day.” So he took his coding superpowers and — with encouragement from his computer scientist mom, Anita Narayan, and crafting help from his grandfather — created a 3-D board game so his blind friends could learn to code through tangible shapes. But don’t take our word for it: You can get the full, hyperanimated story direct from a 7-year-old Kedar by watching his TED Talk, “Create Games to Solve Problems.” And honestly, you should. He is an inspiring and delightful speaker. After making an impact in the coding community, Kedar turned his wide, sparkling eyes to native plant gardening. “I was trying to see what I could do for fun, and I thought about gardening ... I just love that it attracts so many pollinators so it feels like you’re in a mini forest. It just feels enchanted,” says Kedar. His mom feels the magic, too: “He was watering the plants today and got so excited following a monarch to the wild columbine where he spotted a caterpillar and a beautiful blue cocoon. This is why we need more kids in the garden.” Of course, this little gardening/coding ninja did not stop with merely tending some native plants. With help from his area master naturalists and a partnership with National Wildlife Federation, Kedar researched and created an app called “Pollinator for a Pet” (screenshot
above left) that helps anyone of any age learn how to plant a native garden that will attract and support pollinators. He thinks it’s important for adults and parents to learn all they can about conservation and share it with kids so they know why it’s important. Kedar would like to see everyone replace part (or all!) of their yard space with native plant gardens. To that end, he researches and posts fun, educational videos on his YouTube channel. In addition to learning about white giant hyssop (Agastache micrantha), you can watch the stop-motion short film he made featuring origami critters from his online crafting business, Heart for Wildlife. Kedar uses the site to sell kits so anyone can make pollinator keepsakes out of sustainable paper (above right) — and 10 percent of his profits support NWF. His mother says, jokingly, “He is just a little boy with a big emotional heart that makes him pay too much attention to detail and sometimes gets him in trouble.” So what kind of trouble does Kedar plan to get into next? This year he is working with the local zoo to develop an app that will help volunteers record penguin feedings. After that, “I’d like to cure lung cancer,” he says with a genuine smile. Feel free to smile along with him, take a deep breath, and feel hopeful about a cleaner, greener future forged by the Kedars of the world. – K.A.H.
WEB EXTRAS Watch Kedar’s TEDx Talk @ youtube.com/ watch?v=uNoqhlWqrv0 Check out DIY crafts and watch Kedar spiffed out in a tuxedo delivering a spirited speech about orchard mason bees (his favorite) @ heartforwildlife.com Download his app on Google Play @ play. google.com/store/ apps/developer ?id=Buzz+Buddy Visit Kedar’s YouTube channel @ youtube. com/channel/UCkus AxPldUpYPRTs38CpylA
PRAIRIE PROTECTOR Trevor Burke WHEN TREVOR BURKE WAS 12 YEARS OLD, HE ASKED HIS MOM A QUESTION no mother is ever ready for: “Mom, can I raise 300 bobwhite quail in your living room?” More surprising than his question, was her answer: yes. Nearly six years later, Burke has raised and released thousands of quail — and completed many other conservation projects — in order to help save the Texas Blackland Prairies, the most endangered ecosystem in America. Burke, a passionate and outspoken Texas native, fell in love with blackland prairies when he was searching for an Eagle Scout project in seventh grade. The landscape’s tall, vibrant grasses and stunning diversity of wildflowers and native animals amazed him. When he found out how endangered the prairie was, Burke knew he had to do something. Texas Blackland Prairies once covered 12 million acres in a sea of grasses. Since the mid-1800s, 3 6 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTOS Nancy Burke
urban and agricultural development have taken out swaths of prairie each year, and invasive grasses ravage the 5,000 or so remaining acres. That area is shrinking fast. “That sort of devastation over the past more than 100 years just really hits home to my heart,” says Burke, “and I want to do everything I can to help it.” Burke got his chance when he started his Eagle Scout project at the Connemara Conservancy in North Texas. Under the guidance of Bob Mione, manager of the conservancy’s Meadow Nature Preserve, Burke developed a plan to restore the prairie there. First, he would remove invasive species, such as Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) and Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon), and replace them with native species like Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) and big and little bluestem (Andropogon gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium, respectively). Finally, Burke planned to reintroduce native animal species to the restored habitat — that’s where the quail came in. Burke obtained a Texas Game Bird Breeder’s License and set to work. The first clutch of 300 quail, all named Bob, entered the world in an industrial-sized incubator, funded by a grant from Disney’s Friends for Change.
“It’s been a journey,” says Trevor’s mother, Nancy Burke, a litigation attorney. “We had quails in our living room, in our dining room, in our garage, in our backyard.” Despite the excess of feathered houseguests, she says she enjoyed seeing the impact of Burke’s blackland prairie restoration on his personality and leadership skills. “As a mom, it’s been very rewarding to watch Trevor grow and mature through this.” Mione agrees. “When I first met Trevor it was 2012, and six years later he has matured into a pretty dynamic young man,” says Mione. “He knows what he is doing and has command of the situation, and he is a real pleasure to work with.” Burke will head to college next year, but for now he’s still working on his blackland prairie plan. And with help from the conservancy, the project will continue into the future. He leaves readers with this challenge: “The average human lifespan is about 75 years, which calculates out to about 2.3 billion seconds — that’s lot of seconds,” says Burke. “Somewhere along all of those seconds each of us has the capability, power, passion and responsibility to protect our world — not only for our generation, but for generations to come. How are you going to spend those seconds?” – E.F.
WEB EXTRAS Watch Trevor’s TEDx Talk @ youtube.com/ watch?v=nFqXYdfLWPU Learn more about the Connemara Conservancy @ connemara conservancy.org
WILDFLOWER WONDER Zylia Kleinfeldt ZYLIA KLEINFELDT’S FIRST NAME MEANS “OF THE FOREST” — a fitting description for a girl who has worked hard to raise awareness for the wildflowers of her home state, Wisconsin. At age 11, Kleinfeldt has not only created a petition to change Wisconsin’s state flower in order to protect and publicize a threatened species, but she has also written and illustrated her own book. Wisconsin’s state flower is the wood violet, a small purple resident of the state’s wet woodland areas. The wood violet is beautiful, but Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island also claim violets as their state flower. When she learned this, Kleinfeldt wanted Wisconsin to have its own special flower, and she knew about another native bloom, the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), that could use a little publicity. “Lots of bees and butterflies like purple coneflowers, and because they are 3 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
PHOTOS Karyn Kleinfeldt
[threatened] I want people to become more aware of them,” says Zylia. Zylia is shy and soft-spoken, but with the help of her parents, Karyn and Steve Kleinfeldt, she stepped out of her comfort zone and contacted her two state senators last summer. Inspired by her enthusiasm, they created a memo to present to the Wisconsin senate; no moves have been made to change the state flower yet, but Zylia is not giving up and plans to find more support for her idea. And Zylia shows her passion for wildflowers in another way: Three years ago, she wrote and illustrated “Wildflower Girl,” which won first prize in the second-grade category of the 2015 PBS Kids Writers Contest. Her book tells the story of a lovely, flower-haired child who tends fields of magical blossoms. Wildflower Girl warns others not to pick the flowers, because “there is a field of flowers in every bloom” — a nod to the amazing reproductive properties of plants. When an old professor, struck by the beauty of the blooms, ignores her warnings and plucks a zinnia, all the flowers in the field die, and he grows a flower
bed out of the top of his head. Wildflower Girl helps him solve his problem, and the professor learns his lesson. The inspiration for Kleinfeldt’s book came partially from her experience gardening with her mother. “Me and my mom always plant wildflowers together, and I think they are really pretty and I really like them,” she says. Kleinfeldt uses mixed media in her floral illustrations, including paint, glitter and real seeds. Kleinfeldt’s mother, an artist, is glad to encourage and support her daughter, whether by helping her reach out to government officials or providing art supplies for her books. “She really enjoys making stories and writing, so I make sure I encourage her to read and write and also illustrate stories,” says Karyn. Zylia says Lady Bird Johnson is an inspiration in her work with wildflowers. “In second grade, we had to do a project on an important person in history and I chose her,” she explains. “I had to dress up as her and write a report on her, and I read a book of hers. [I liked] how she wanted wildflowers on the side of highways … I love Lady Bird Johnson!” – E.F.
WEB EXTRA Read a news story about “Wildflower Girl” (and see some of Zylia’s illustrations) @ htrnews. com/story/news/local/ 2015/07/19/writingcontest/30389655/
PHOTO Terry Kahler
Join us for Austin’s most magical winter tradition. Thursday - Sunday, Dec. 6 - 9 6 - 9 p.m. nightly $10 for members, $15 for non-members
WILDFLOWER.ORG/LUMINATIONS | 39
Things We Love Consider this your winter reading list, a handy gift guide, or just a lineup of really great books by Wildflower Center Staff
The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States by Chris Helzer
In 1785, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our grasses are Lucerne, St. Foin, Burnet, Timothy, ray and orchard grass; red, white, and yellow clover; greensward, blue grass, and crab grass.” Not one of those is native to the United States. As soon as we set foot on this continent, we began changing our environment through the introduction of invasive species, exploitative agricultural practices and more. Now, if we want to improve our environment, we must understand how to manage landscapes from the perspective of ecosystem function. This text by Chris Helzer (also known for his fantastic blog, The Prairie Ecologist) breaks a complex subject into accessible components. Read it and go plant a pocket prairie! John Hart Asher Senior Environmental Designer NOTE: Chris Helzer is a contributor to this magazine; see his photography on our two opening spreads.
4 0 | W I L DF LOW E R
The Triumph of Seeds
To slowly become aware of the branching lives of this book’s characters overlapping and influencing one another is like standing deep in a forest and seeing all of its intricately interconnected parts for the first time. It is pure joy and filtered light. In these pages, Powers explores the American immigrant experience, the psychology of passionate environmentalism, love, heartbreak and death. But the stars of the book aren’t necessarily the people. It’s the stories about trees that dig into the roots of your soul and leave you feeling connected to the life vibrating all around you. Lee Clippard Director of Communications
According to Thor Hanson, plants that produce seeds have transformed our planet because seeds nourish, unite, endure, defend and travel. By breeding plants with desired traits over millennia, people have increased their options for food, stimulants, fiber and chemicals. Most of the examples in the book (such as chocolate, coffee, cotton, guar) will be familiar to consumers around the world. As Hanson was finishing this book, twelve federal agencies collaborated to publish the “National Seed Strategy for Restoration and Rehabilitation 2015-2020.” While we wait for the strategy to be funded, I recommend reading “The Triumph of Seeds” for inspiration and sharing an Almond Joy — what Hanson calls “an entirely seed-based experience” — with your favorite gardener. Minnette Marr Conservation Program Manager
by Richard Powers
by Thor Hanson
The Cabaret of Plants
“The Cabaret of Plants” is a captivating work of botanical history. Through a series of essays, Richard Mabey explores a host of plant species that for generations have piqued our curiosity, fueled our imaginations, and challenged what we know about history, plants, beauty and culture. Using cotton, ginseng, sequoias, orchids and other species as examples, Mabey deftly illustrates how the botanical world is central to the human experience, and not simply as a source of food and medicine. In his words, “It’s a story about plants as authors of their own lives and an argument that ignoring their vitality impoverishes our imagination and our well-being.” It’s also a really good read — but don’t take my word for it! Patrick Newman Executive Director
Picture books aren’t just for kids, but Julia Rothman’s “Nature Anatomy” will make you feel like one again. Her charming depictions and descriptions of everything from sunsets and sphagnum bogs to metamorphosis and mycelium will leave you intrigued and eager to explore all the “curious parts and pieces” of your own natural world — even (perhaps especially) if you’re a city dweller like the book’s New Yorker author. This book doesn’t stop at amazing illustrations and surprisingly in-depth science; it invites you to dig in with recipes for stuffed flower buds and seaweed and take on art projects such as “loose landscape painting.” It’s a perfect pilot for those seeking to connect with nature, as Rothman puts it, “in a conscientious way.” Amy McCullough Editor & Communications Manager
by Richard Mabey
by Julia Rothman
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
This is a great pair of books for budding naturalists. I loved the main character: a spunky, 11-yearold growing up at the turn of the century in a little town in Central Texas called Fentress. Calpurnia is fascinated with learning anything related to nature. I found myself cheering her on as she made curiosity-fueled discoveries, including discovering a new plant species. This should be required reading to learn about what life was like at a different time — much better than reading history from a textbook! Julie Graham Education Coordinator
When in Roam
Naked and Nameless
A trip down the Brazos River under some good advice by Amy McCullough
Moments after embarkation, Jimmie dips a paddle into the Brazos. PHOTO Amy McCullough
4 2 | W I L DF LOW E R
I WALKED AWAY FROM MY CAR, LEAVING the ignition key and $50 cash under the driver’s side floor mat. It’s the kind of arrangement that makes you wonder if you’re making a mistake. But so far so good. The drive up toward Possum Kingdom Lake and the prep for our trip down the Brazos had all gone well: Everything we wanted to bring fit in the canoe easily. I had successfully planned a menu that was both exciting and efficient, requiring few utensils and only a pan and plates. And we had enough garbage bags to wrap everything should the weather (or paddling) take a turn for the wetter. I’d even gotten a snake bite kit — the
one “next level” safety measure I’d never before thought necessary on our outdoor exploits. (I’ll admit “Lonesome Dove” had something to do with that — I joked when buying it that Larry McMurtry should be their spokesperson.) The key and cash were for Buddy Rochelle of Rochelle’s Canoe Rental; he was supposed to come to our put-in spot southeast of the lake a few hours later and drive my car, an old Honda nicknamed “B. Nubs,” back to his property. We carried everything down the steep dirt boat ramp and put in around 1 p.m., our fingers crossed that we’d see B. Nubs again when we took out two days later and 20 miles downriver.
HUNKERING DOWN The scariest thing we saw was an alligator gar. I might as well get that out up front, since the first thing people want to hear about an adventure — even a small one — is whatever you found scariest. Prehistoric-looking alligator gar aren’t really threatening, but their long, crocodilian heads and thick, leathery scales are a little shocking if you’re not expecting to see one scooting past your vessel a few feet away, barely submerged. The other startling thing we encountered was the sound of armadillos huffing through dirt around our first campsite in the middle of the night — a sound reminiscent of pressure breaks on a semi-truck. We weren’t sure what to make of it until we saw armadillo-face-shaped burrows and clawed-up ground the next morning. This trip was taken in celebration of my partner’s 40th birthday (in early April), and I very much wanted it to go well. Jimmie and I have talked about going on a canoe-camping trip since we moved to Texas in 2009, and here we finally were, paddling gently toward Flint Bend, the first curve in this stretch of the Brazos River. “Let’s take it easy at first,” said Jimmie, “since we don’t really know what we’re doing.” Not knowing what we were doing turned out to be just fine. When we approached our first section of fast-moving water, its burble a pleasant addition of busy noise on a quiet day, we navigated it handily and were spat back into deeper water without issue. In fact, the pickup in speed and need for strategic paddling were more fun and exciting than stressful. Campsites were a concern: Would there be nice places to set up camp? Is it legal? I posed the second question pretty far in advance, when I initially called Buddy back in January. I don’t believe I used the word “legal”; I probably said, “Is it cool to just camp on the shore?” To which he replied affirmative, as long as we didn’t jump any fences onto nearby ranchers’ land. A few bloggers who took the same journey corroborated this notion, so we decided not to worry about it. The sites we ended up claiming — one about 5 miles in on the northwest bank and another about 13 miles in on an island near Eagle Creek — were both exceedingly ideal. In fact, one of the best parts about the trip was ending up in campsites that were right along the water; perfectly picturesque; rife with plentiful fire wood, parched and eager to burn; soft with sand under our tent; and — best of all — completely ours.
GOOD ADVICE We saw scores of wildlife, and of course I geeked out a bit about plants — but not too much. You see, I had some excellent guidance on this trip — no, not from author John Graves, not from Buddy Rochelle, not from field guides or other people who have done this popular 20-mile leg of the Brazos (though I did use all of those resources in some way or another). The guidance I refer
to came from a Wildflower Center guest who, to my knowledge, has nothing at all to do with the Brazos River. Let’s call her Lady Liberty. Lady Liberty was visiting the Center from the still-frigid Northeast last spring. She told me she was doing her darnedest to not identify plants on her current travels. She said she can become too consumed in her field guides, taking hours to walk short distances and — oftentimes — feeling like she’s actually missed out on some of the experience because her nose was in a book. I could relate. So I followed her lead. It was hard, but on our trip down the river, I didn’t take my musty, worn copy of Graves’ “Goodbye to a River.” I didn’t take my Audubon guides, the books that helped ignite my interest in birding in the first place. Instead, I simply watched the pairs of great blue herons swoop from trees; I wondered if the little blue herons and snowy egrets we often saw palling around together were BFFs or
Wildflower magazine editor Amy McCullough shows off her sandbarisland campsite, a wooden staff inherited from a previous camper, and a handcrafted fire ring. PHOTO Jimmie Buchanan Jr.
just casual acquaintances. I wondered at the sound of cerulean warblers in the trees and followed one around with my binoculars, but I didn’t ID that cute little singer until I was back in Austin, at home among my books. I saw belted kingfishers but only knew them as “kingfishers” and nothing more until later. I thought about how snowy egrets don’t know that we use their yellow feet to tell them from other types of white, long-legged waders. They don’t even think about their yellow feet; they just have them.
FROM TOP A mysterious phlox (Phlox sp.), tasajillo (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) and prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida). PHOTOS Amy McCullough, David J. Ringer, Lee Page
4 4 | W I L DF LOW E R
NO NAME’S LAND Our second day on the river, under a thin (and short-lived) veil of clouds and before a strong headwind stirred up, we saw feral hogs — a spotted mother and several brown youngsters — on the shore. The day before, longhorn cows walked along the western shore, reminding us of our orange-and-white spotted hound dog. I thought about how none of these creatures (well, except our domesticated dog) has a name it knows of. We give them names because research and observations are more easily shared with an agreed-upon taxonomy. I am better with the common names than the scientific, though two and a half years at the Wildflower Center has significantly changed that (I still recall the first time I saw a blackeyed Susan and had “Rudbeckia hirta” spring instantly to my mind with pride). On our trip, I recognized the brutal spines of tasajillo (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) blazing in the sun on a hillside where we stopped to eat cold apples, cheese and salami. In the grassy areas dotted with cow pies were purple phlox with whitish centers. I knew the elms and thanked them for shading our campsites with strong, horizontal branches (though I needed the help of our arborist to later narrow them to Ulmus americana). I knew the dark green expanses of “cedar”
(Juniperus ashei) and delighted in how their color offset the bright lime green of new spring leaves. On the sandy shore, I saw the spotted leaves of Smilax sp., a plant I actually know better by its genus name (than its common ones) thanks to participating in vegetation surveys on the Center’s research plots. Later, some small orange flower on a sand bar stumped me, appearing as a stranger. It might have been hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens), though our native plant database says this particular Lithospermum species isn’t usually found in sandy areas. I didn’t take its picture; I only had my memory to reference, so I may never know, and that’s okay. HOME FREE The only plants and animals I could name on the Brazos are the ones I already knew. But I saw them all. And while that limited number is an inspiration to me to learn more, it’s also a reminder that, sometimes, it is valuable to just be, to step back and behold the natural world without any reference but eyes and ears and hands, to see plants and animals as they were — and are — without human involvement: that is, naked and nameless. When we arrived at the sandbar island that would be home for the second night, in between Chick Bend and Eagle Creek, it was warm and sunny, in the upper 80s, and the south side of the island had a clear, deep pool that beckoned, begged to be swam in. I turned to go back to the canoe, where I would access my bag and put on my swimsuit. Then I realized there was no point. I stripped down on the beach, where the familiar face of prairie verbena decorated a sandy ridge with purple pompoms, and ran full force into the crisp, cold water. (Oh, and the next day, B. Nubs was waiting for us at the take-out point.)
MEET OUR DONORS
• Member and donor since 1993 • Volunteer since 1992 — has a total of 1,693 hours and says she “might as well try for 2,000.” • Recently became a member of the Lady Bird Society
“I donate because I want the Center to be here forever and ever. It is very satisfying when I’ve given a tour and realize our guests are seeing the Center differently than when they arrived. They expect to see wildflowers and are surprised to learn about the Arboretum (trees!), or the Family Garden, or to learn about plants they can grow in their own gardens if they wish to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. My greatest joy is watching kids play on the lawn in the Family Garden, experiencing and learning about nature in a way many children cannot. I am spiritually fed by the experience of helping people understand why the Center is here and why it is important to take care of the land. They leave inspired and eager to see their own gardens in a new and more
PHOTO Jen Reel
Taming the Wild
The why and how of cutting back perennial plants by Andrea DeLong-Amaya ARE YOU TERRIFIED OF TRIMMING TURKSCAP? Shaky about shearing switchgrass? Worried that the Garden Police will slap you a ticket for deadheading your purple coneflowers before the goldfinches finish their seedy feast? We hear you. That’s why we’ve gathered some tips to hoist your horticultural confidence when tending herbaceous ornamentals. Every garden needs direction to read as a “garden” and not some wayward patch of weeds. Aside from removing damaged or diseased plants (or parts of plants) to sustain a healthy garden, it may be comforting to know there is no one right way to manage plant growth. Untrimmed wild plants survive just fine without a gardener’s hand, thank you, but may not support a garden aesthetic. What looks good to you and how much patience you have are important factors to consider before brandishing your clippers. “Deadheading” is a good place to start. This describes the removal of spent flowers and stems before seeds form. It cleans things up and encourages more blossoms to please your eyes and nourish pollinators. But you may wish to refrain with purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida) and other producers until wildlife polish off the seed — or until seeds meet soil if you’re aiming to bolster the next generation. Gardeners often opt to let giant coneflower and the like stand for their striking stalks even after blossoms peak. Gayfeathers (Liatris spp.), goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and purple coneflower each lend their distinct character and are excellent candidates for winter interest. When stems fall akimbo or otherwise become pitiful, deploy the shears. This task typically lands in late winter for summer and
4 6 | W I L DF LOW E R
fall bloomers, and during summer for spring performers such as winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) or cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana). Preferences drive shaping. Sometimes intermingling plants demonstrate a clever design or happy accident, but most often trimming plants away from one another avoids unintentional scruffiness. Gardeners control and redirect growth by understanding “apical dominance,” a phenomenon in which hormones in the terminal bud (or apex) of a branch inhibit side-branching. Pruning off leading tips removes these hormones and encourages lateral growth, creating a bushier overall form. Shearing and tipping represent the most common techniques based on this tendency. Light, frequent attention results in tighter, denser foliage and a more formal style. If you prefer a relaxed feel, shear less often. Periodic trims help plants from looking like a second-grader after a play session of “hair salon.” A couple of situations are not solved by cutting: If mature plants wax too large, replace them with more appropriate smaller species. And shearing, unfortunately, cannot correct habitual legginess caused when plants stretch towards more sunlight. Find alternatives better suited for shade. However, if conditions change for the better, say, a fallen elm lets more light reach a lantana, rehabilitate the lantana by lopping it to nubs and allowing it to resprout.
It sounds extreme, but it works! After the sharp tongue of a hard freeze licks your deciduous perennials, such as river fern (Thelypteris kunthii) and tropical sage (Salvia coccinea), trim them to the ground. For Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), shrubby boneset (Ageratina havanensis), Texas lantana (Lantana urticoides) and other woody or semi-woody plants, leave 2 to 6 inches of stem. Or wait until leaves emerge in spring, then nip off dead tips, which will result in larger plants. Mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea), giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) and Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia) push out evergreen winter rosettes that are best left intact, but rough-looking aerial parts can feed the compost pile. Cherry or autumn sage (Salvia greggii) requires more detailed upkeep. Sometime around Valentine’s Day, clip out the thickest woody stems, then shape the remaining greenery. After each bloom cycle, lightly shear finished flower stems to the foliage and continue to shape them periodically throughout the growing season. This keeps plants fresh and maximizes blooming. What about ornamental grasses? Manage them according to two categories. Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and most other clump grasses die completely to the ground in winter. Leave them standing as long as they appeal. Then, before fresh spring blades emerge, clip last year’s tired growth to a few inches above the ground. Muhlys, including Lindheimer’s muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri) and Gulf muhly (M. capillaris), comprise the second group. Since they maintain some evergreen foliage during winter, thus continuing photosynthesis, a hard military cut may overly stress plants (and the ghostly silhouette looks weird). Yet old, decadent grasses are weakened by years of accumulated dead material. Ideally, burn them! Built for fire, they respond quickly and vigorously to such treatment. The next best option — assuming you do not have staff professionally trained in fire management — involves breaking off brittle stems low in the plant with a gloved hand, followed by combing loose foliage with a leaf rake, taking care to groom “under the skirt.” Native plants often endure a reputation of looking unkempt. We admire their need for fewer resources to thrive, but they still need care to look good. This, friends, is gardening.
FROM TOP Wildflower Center Director of Horticulture Andrea DeLong-Amaya demonstrates the before, during and after of pruning a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). See, folks, nothing to be afraid of — except a handsome, tidy garden. PHOTOS Joanna Wojtkowiak
In the Doing of It
What we can learn from the love and loss of a landscape by Keaton Daniel
4 8 | W I L DF LOW E R
I WAS RAISED ON THE PRAIRIE, or at least what was left of it. In the early 2000s, just northwest of Fort Worth, little remained of the great blackland prairie that once stretched over 12 million acres. Just a fraction of a percent of that habitat has survived the sprawl of cities and railways and farms, and I am fortunate to have spent my childhood on a precious piece of it. When I was in grade school, my mother signed me up for a day camp at the Prairie Project, a 28-acre parcel of restored blackland prairie. The restoration effort was led by Jane Weaver, a local teacher at Gililland Elementary School in Blue Mound, Texas, who brought students outdoors to teach them about ecological conservation. My memory of her is one of shiny, black, Texas-big hair and a kind voice. She would walk me and other students through the grasses, stopping every few feet to point out a species of wildflower or listen to the sounds of the birds. She taught us how to look at the land, how to notice the life it holds, and how to call each thing by its proper name. Her knowledge of the landscape seemed fantastical to me then, as though she had some ancient magic, and through her teaching, my own relationship with the landscape was changed. I learned to rub crushed horsemint on my arms when the mosquitoes got bad, to wash my muddied clothes in creek water using soapberries picked that morning, to paint with dyes made from firewheels and huisache daisies. We didnâ€™t take from the landscape but a sliver of what we gave to it. Most of our days were filled with hard work monitoring soil and water quality, indexing plant species, and restoring a rookery for egrets and herons. For the first time, I was not just on the land, but a part of it. As a child, of course, it is impossible to know what an experience with a place will mean to you later. Many years after my last summer
at the Prairie Project, I decided to return one afternoon, feeling nostalgic. When I drove up to the gate, I was dismayed at what I found. It was all gone. One of the last small pockets of blackland prairie in Texas had been sold and
final year of the project. While searching, I also found a short video of the Prairie Project from 2001. In it, I was stunned to see Jane Goodall — yes, the Jane Goodall — standing in the wildflowers alongside
Children learning about nature at the Praire Project (before the author’s time). PHOTOS courtesy of Native American Seed
“ In the doing of it, it’s taught them the power that they have as individuals to make a difference in the world.” returned to what it was before Mrs. Weaver’s project: an industrial waste dump. The flowers we had planted were buried beneath piles of garbage and rubble. In disbelief, I searched the internet for some kind of explanation. It’s simple: Mrs. Weaver was and is a hero to me, but she is just one person. Over time, community interest in the project waned and eventually so did the support Mrs. Weaver needed to sustain her work — a reality that was compounded by the loss of Composite Technology Inc. as a partner. The former owner of the Prairie Project site (which happened to employ many Gililland students’ parents) moved to a new location in 2008, the
Mrs. Weaver and her students. She had come to visit, as did Lady Bird Johnson on a separate occasion. As a child, I had no idea how important this place was. More than a decade later, I can see now what a treasure those 28 acres were to my community. I am thankful for Mrs. Weaver’s generosity and for all I learned from her. She empowered hundreds of young people to care for the world around them. As Jane Goodall once said while standing in the soil of my little lost patch of prairie: “In the doing of it, it’s taught them the power that they have as individuals to make a difference in the world.” Yes, that and so much more.
WEB EXTRA Watch the video here: youtube.com/ watch?v=enmGg2957rQ
BRING BEAUTY TO THEIR WORLD
A gift membership provides one whole year of natural wonder. WILDFLOWER .ORG/JO IN Makes a great holiday gift! Order by Dec. 15 to ensure delivery by Dec. 25.
Five fascinating flora-fauna matchups, a canoe trip down the Brazos River, inspiring young environmentalists, pollinator plants at Fort Hood...
Published on Nov 9, 2018
Five fascinating flora-fauna matchups, a canoe trip down the Brazos River, inspiring young environmentalists, pollinator plants at Fort Hood...