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Athena, the Wildflower Center’s sometime-resident great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), often sits in this sunlit escarpment oak (Quercus fusiformis) across from her nest while keeping an eye on her newborn owlets; after hatching in mid-March, they spend 6–7 weeks in our entryway’s sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) planter before taking their first flight!

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12 Some Like It Hot

From dead spines and accordion folds to silvery leaves and indigestible fibers, plants that can take the heat show it in their natural adaptations. By Karen Bussolini

20 Wildflower Uprisings


How weather events, grazing and land management make room for insurgent wildflowers. By Chris Helzer


On the Cover

A giant saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) soaks up the sun in the Sonoran Desert.




2 3 4 5



From the Editor Letters From the Executive Director Field Notes The latest notes and news from the Wildflower Center 5 IN DEPTH • The Wildflower Center and National Park Service team up against invasive species. 7 FROM THE FIELD • Wildflower Center news 9 COMMUNAL GARDEN • Ask Mr. Smarty Plants hits major milestone 10 FOR THE PICKING • Wildflower supporters shine at our annual gala 11 FIELD SAMPLER • Products from the Store In Bloom News about native plants in your world 26 FEATURED NATIVE PLANTS • Gardening after hours 28 ROOT OF THE MATTER • Tips for watering wisely this summer 30 NATIVE PANTRY • Chef Jesse Griffiths and Dai Due restaurant 31 FOR EVERY SEASON • Native vines provide beauty and shade Wild Life Daniel López sees nature as an essential part of the human experience WILDFLOWER • SUMMER 2016


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Deep In the Heat { from the editor


Lee Clippard

managing editorS

Amy McCullough Barbra A. Rodriguez

horticulture editorS

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta)

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Julie Marcus Science editor


photo editor

ACROSS THE U.S., SUMMERTIME is now in full swing. Wherever you find yourself, it is probably hot or just about to be. Of course, “hot” is all relative. Minnesotans may break a sweat when the mercury reaches 80 degrees, but that’s sweater weather in South Texas. Here in Austin, I’ve seen Texans happily wear blue jeans on a 99-degree day and barely break a sweat. We all have our summer adaptations. Some of us can’t live without air conditioning, while others just need a big shady porch, an iced tea and a fan. I try to get into the cool waters of Barton Springs as much as possible. It’s my elixir. You might make a big batch of fresh lemonade or eat more cooling salads. Summer cooking often moves outside, because nothing means summer more than getting friends and family together to bite into grilled burgers and juicy watermelons from the farmer stand down the road. Plants, animals and ecosystems have adapted to hot summers and other tough conditions in a number of amazing ways, too. Karen Bussolini dives into that Darwinian pool of spines, pads and fuzzy leaves in our “Some Like It Hot” feature on page 12. Wildflower blooms not only ebb and flow across the seasons but across the years, too. Prairie manager Chris Helzer paints a picture of those changes on a Nebraska prairie in his feature “Wildflower Uprisings” on page 20. When the garden is too hot, try sitting outside at night and enjoying native plants in the evening time (page 26), or pull up a chair under a vine-laden pergola (page 31). Whatever your vibe this summer, stay cool and enjoy the season. Happy planting. a — LEE CLIPPARD, EDITOR

Joanna Wojtkowiak


Yo!Media Inc. contriButing writerS

Karen Bussolini, Tom Gerrow, Chris Helzer, Daniel López, Pam Penick, Jill Sell contriButing photographerS

Aimee Benoit, Brian Birzer, Karen Bussolini, Chris Helzer, Jody Horton, Pam Penick


Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes ADvISORY COUNCIL

Jeffrey Howell Jeanie Wyatt SECRETARY Alexandra Prentice Saenz CHAIR ELECT Chris Caudill CHAIR


executive director

Patrick Newman

director oF communicationS

Lee Clippard

director oF development

Robin Murphy

interim director, ecoSyStem deSign group

Matt O’Toole

director oF Finance and operationS

Mike Abkowitz

director oF gueSt ServiceS

Mark Johnson

Materials are chosen for the printing and distribution of Wildflower magazine with respect for the environ-

ment. Wildflower is printed in the United States by Times Printing, Random Lake, WI.

The Wildflower Center is a member of EarthShare of Texas.



director oF programS

Tanya Zastrow

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{ reader mail We had a great visit today. After 33 years of bringing students on field trips, I appreciated how organized your learning stations are and how informative your volunteers are. It was amazing for students to see firsthand everything they have been learning about plant growth and adaptations. The appearance of the ribbon snake in the lily pad pond as we left for lunch will be remembered by students for years! LEANN BOURQUE, Fourth Grade Teacher, Caraway Elementary School, Round Rock, Texas I’m amazed by how involved the volunteers are with every aspect of the place, like the vases of cut flowers to show what’s in bloom. Details like that show how dedicated people are in furthering the mission while doing something they love. LUCY DINSMORE, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa. A Facebook post on our Hall of Texas Heroes project (see Page 7) for National Arbor Day elicited some positive feedback: Wonderful project. A weird person (like me) might call it a project to carry on the sap line. Great idea. DEAUN BELCHER What a great idea! It’ll be great coming to see how they’ve grown every year. PRISCILLA BOSTON Happy to see this project coming to fruition. GAIL LEWIS

I visited recently and was so impressed by the project. What a wonderful idea. KAREN DILLON Speaking of heroes…a Facebook user recently asked the Wildflower Center to come to the rescue regarding some bluebonnets that met an early demise due to ill-planned mowing. Addie R. Campaigne wrote: Hi there. I was wondering if you knew who we could call in Montgomery County to protest the mowing of the wildflowers along Highway 75 just outside Willis, Texas. Many of us are quite dismayed to see them mowing down bluebonnets and other wildflowers that have yet to bloom. … Our poor pollinators! This is just sickening! The Wildflower Center suggested she contact her regional TxDOT manager, as TxDOT has an extensive program to promote wildflowers. Addie reported back to let us know that TxDOT instructed the crew to stop mowing in the area. She followed the update with this note: Wasn’t that nice? Hope their contractor has learned his lesson: You don’t mess with the bluebonnets!!! ADDIE R. CAMPAIGNE

FOLLOW US: @WildflowerCtr

Wildflower (ISSN 1936-9646) is published quarterly by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, Texas 78739. Telephone: 512.232.0100;; E-mail: Copyright ©2016 by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. No part of this periodical may be reproduced without the written consent of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and requests to reprint material appearing in Wildflower must be made in writing. Members of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center receive a subscription to Wildflower as a benefit of membership. If you are interested in becoming a member, or have a question about an existing membership, please contact the membership office Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Central) at 512.232.0137 or 512.232.0163. You may also e-mail Single issues may be ordered for $5 (U.S. residents). Change of Address: Postmaster: Please send address changes to: Wildflower, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, TX 78739-1702. 512.232.0100. Members: Please notify us of your address in advance of your move (the post office does not ordinarily forward magazines) and include your old address. The opinions expressed herein may not necessarily reflect those held by the Wildflower Center. Wildflower is printed by Times Printing, Random Lake, WI. Please direct any inquiries or letters to



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{ from the executive director



Applause for Helping Hands S THE WILDFLOWER CENTER CATCHES its collective breath and reflects upon the many successes of this past spring, it becomes abundantly clear

that in no way could we have accomplished so much were it not for the dedication and commitment of our many volunteers.

lending a hand in the heat of the sun or in the midst of a downpour — never complaining and always smiling. They are teachers, doctors, retired business professionals, parents and grandparents, nature lovers and plant enthusiasts alike. Many are native Texans, while others hail from as far away as Malaysia and Scotland. And though some have only been with us for a few months, others have been volunteering for more than 25 years. While it’s easy to list the many tasks they perform and count the number of hours they donate, their most significant contributions are far more difficult to quantify and extend far beyond what any number or list could ever accurately convey. They share with the Wildflower Center their knowledge, passion, commitment and enthusiasm for the work; in doing so, they amplify our message through their own communities and bring an enerVolunteer Barbara Cooper guides students through one of five gy and vitality that sustains the learning stations set up for school field trips to the Wildflower staff and feeds our souls. Center. This one, called The Perfect Fit, teaches kids how the Perhaps most importantly, their shapes of flowers and their pollinators work together. This team hosts school groups twice a week during our busy springtime choosing to volunteer at the field-trip season — and is always looking for new volunteers. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower PHOTO BY WILDFLOWER CENTER

More than 850 members strong, this remarkable group of individuals contributed more than 32,000 hours of service last year while completing tasks that range from gardening, leading school groups and assisting customers in the store to cleaning seeds, preparing herbarium specimens, and folding and stuffing our membership mailings. They volunteer in all types of weather and have been seen



Because we can’t put a sign on everything that is flowering in our gardens at any given time, teams of volunteers come in three times a week to gather what’s in bloom and label and display it in our visitor’s gallery. (They also record that information at This is the team who can tell you when the Texas madrones (Arbutus xalapensis) first came into bloom last year and when to expect the return of our white water-lily (Nymphaea odorata). Pictured are volunteers Louise Hasty (left) and Mauri Rex (right).

Center — when so many organizations are equally deserving of their time — is a collective validation of our mission, our purpose and our very existence. We could never accomplish what we have set out to do without our volunteers’ continued and generous support. They are much more than hired muscle. They are the very heart of our organization. It is with this in mind that we say to this amazing group of volunteers: Thank you! a — PATRICK NEWMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

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Participants from the Wildflower Center and the National Park Service paddle to Lake Bayou in Big Thicket National Preserve; they’re searching for water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and giant and common salvinia (Salvinia spp.) — all invasive species.

Parks and Resuscitation A joint effort to tackle invasive plant species


HE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE’S battle against invasive plant species is going mobile and high-tech, and the staff at the Wildflower Center is helping to lead the charge. Invasive plant species threaten one of the United States’ greatest treasures — our shared natural heritage, preserved in our National Parks. “Invasive plant species are one of the biggest threats to native plants,” said Dr. Karen Clary, senior program manager of plant conservation. “Native plants underpin our ecosystem. Once native plants are gone, this foundation begins to erode. It can cause a cascade of extinction.” The National Park Service (NPS) is adopting the National Invasive Species Information Management System (NISIMS), originally developed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and turned to the Wildflower Center to help implement the


system. “At the Wildflower Center, we have the botanical expertise to do the actual work of finding invasive species in Texas and elsewhere,” Clary said. Clary and Dr. Hans Landel, invasive species coordinator, are guiding the Wildflower Center’s work under a contract with NPS to map invasive plant species in six parks across three states. “We are developing a protocol to do mobile mapping using touchscreen tablets,” Landel said. “These tablets have built-in GIS software that already has the NISIMS database structure. This makes it easy to upload our data to the NISIMS database once we get back from the field.” The data includes invasive species’ locations, density of coverage, type of habitat and other variables that will help the NPS determine the extent of the problem and develop mitigation strategies. WILDFLOWER • SUMMER 2016


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field notes }

“Invasive species are a really big problem,” Landel said. “For this survey we are focusing on just plants, but insects, fish and other types of organisms, including diseases, are continually coming in.” The work began in February at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and will continue through the spring at Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in Louisiana, and three Mississippi parks: Gulf Islands National

Seashore, Vicksburg National Military Park and the Natchez Trace Parkway. During the Big Thicket expedition in March, the team was looking for three aquatic plants — water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) and giant and common salvinia (Salvinia spp.) — as well as two terrestrial plants — golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) and trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata). The team found no evidence of water hyacinth or salvinia. Recent flooding had apparently cleansed the park, at least temporarily, of these two floating plants. Landel noted, however, that they would likely be back, washed into the park from upstream. These same floods may have helped spread one of the terrestrial plants, trifoliate orange, by carrying its fruit to new locations in the park. “It had clearly been washed downstream in the past, and it was forming thickets,” Landel said. The invader was covering areas up to a half

acre in places, with nothing growing underneath. After the mapping is complete, the NPS will send in teams to remove these invasive species where they can. It’s an ongoing process that’s pursued with limited resources and rarely completed. But locating invasive species is the first step. Speaking of steps, Landel took one in Big Thicket he won’t soon forget: An NPS employee calmly said, “Hans, take a step back.” Landel looked down to see an indigenous venomous copperhead snake (Agkistrodon contortrix) at his feet — completely unfazed by the crowd. Landel followed directions, and both humans and snake went about their business. Even though we champion native species at the Wildflower Center, that’s one Landel was happy to avoid. a Learn more about invasive species in Texas at, which is maintained by the Wildflower Center.

ABOVE Landel displays the imposing thorns of trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) along the Woodlands Trail in Big Thicket National Preserve. • BELOW Tara LeBlanc, a GIS assistant at the Wildflower Center, enters the location and image of a glossy privet (Ligustrum lucidum) on a tablet near the southern end of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.



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{ field notes

Hall of Heroes

wildflower center staff and volunteers planted the inner ring of trees in the Texas Arboretum’s Hall of Texas Heroes this past winter, culminating several years of collecting acorns from famous texas oak trees and growing the saplings. the 15 skinny young upstarts are descendants of arboreal icons such as the century oak in college Station and the Sam Houston Kissing oak in San Marcos. thirteen more trees for the outer ring are currently being grown for a future planting.

Riverside Recovery the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s restoration ecologists recently provided landscape guidance to Hays county residents whose properties were flooded last spring and fall along the Blanco River. for much of the free daylong workshop in March (which was hosted by multiple organizations), two of the center’s restoration experts and its authority on invasive species provided tips on how to restore landscapes where thousands of trees and other vegetation had been destroyed. the focus of the talks — and an accompanying guidebook developed by wildflower center staff with Texas Parks & Wildlife funding — was how to take advantage of native plantings so that landowners can create beautiful landscape designs that support wildlife, prevent erosion, retain stormwater runoff and mitigate future flooding.






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terrific twos

this spring the center’s Luci and Ian Family Garden turned 2. the native playscape has already received several awards and become quite the family gathering space through weekly programming for pre-schoolers and other educational activities at its creek, caves and various features. Some families even have begun to picnic on the Play lawn — while bringing spare clothes for kiddos who engage in Dirt Dig, Nature Build and other fun hands-on explorations.

wIlDflowER • SUMMER 2016


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hAt CouLD brING toGether avid gardeners; retired faculty in genetics, botany and biology; an It expert; and engineers? A shared interest in native plants has led Dr. Nan hampton, barbra Medford, Dr. Jimmy Mills and 23 other volunteers to help work behind the online curtain since 2005 to maintain the Wildflower Center’s question-and-answer service, Ask Mr. Smarty Plants. though they mostly work off-site, the Smarty Pants scribes gathered recently for local barbeque in Austin to celebrate completing the 10,000th response to questions posed from across North America. “Mr. Smarty Plants has helped countless people better understand our natural environment and create sustainable gardens and landscapes,” Patrick Newman, executive director of the Wildflower Center, said. the volunteers — which have included two Canadians — cover topics such as how to grow certain toxic native plants or what might work well as a privacy hedge. Among the unusual requests: what plants would occur in an old Indiana cemetery; what native shrub would fit into a line of a song referencing coastal Maine; or what natives help reduce rattlesnakes in a yard. occasionally students try foisting homework on Mr. Smarty Plants but are redirected to enjoy the same learning experience as volunteers. “I wanted to be a research librarian,” admits hampton, who taught genetics at the university of texas at Austin for 11 years and has provided 3,000-plus responses. “It’s just fun to find the answers — and the education part.” retired in 2002, hampton travels the globe and has responded to queries while in Alaska, Scotland and on trains heading cross-country. “It may take two or three hours [to respond], or in some cases 30 minutes to an hour. It [partly] depends on the Internet speed [where I am].” Mike tomme, a retired engineer, was a vegetable gardener for years and prefers answering questions at the break of dawn, though he sometimes visits the Wildflower Center to query horticulturists first. “the ones I like best debunk common misconceptions, such as the old myth that cedar trees kill other plants.”

LEFT TO RIGHT Wildflower Center Native Plant Database Coordinator Joe Marcus and Ask Mr. Smarty Plants volunteers Guy thompson, Mike tomme, brigid Larson and Lawrence Larson.



Volunteer plant advisors hit response milestone

{ field notes

For Dr. Lawrence Larson, an electrical engineering professor at texas State university, the available time comes after dusk. A favorite aspect for him was receiving follow-up queries for years after he explained how he eradicated oak root shoots from a lawn. the volunteers also treasure showcasing Mr. Smarty Plants’ attitude, a playful-yet-informative voice of authority on all things native plant. they credit that approach to the service’s doyenne, barbara Medford, who racked up 4,063 answers before retiring in 2014. “I’m in awe of what these volunteers have done, answering more than 9,000 of the questions we’ve received,” says Joe Marcus, who manages the service as program coordinator for the Wildflower Center’s native plant databases.a WILDFLoWer • SuMMer 2016


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field notes }

Gorgeous Setting, Great Cause THE TRANSITION FROM SPRING to summer doesn’t just mean a shift from cobalt Texas bluebonnets to the deep scarlet rust of Mexican hats in our fields. For the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, it’s also a very important time for wildflower supporters to bloom at our Wildflower Gala. An elegant, lively event, the Wildflower Gala not only showcases our important education, research and conservation work, it’s also a major source of revenue for the Center. Nearly 500 people attended this year’s event, which featured a live auction and honored founding board member Maline Gilbert McCalla. And because the Wildflower Center promotes healthy landscapes beyond its own borders, proceeds support wildflowers everywhere.

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT (left to right) Wildflower Center Director of Development Robin Murphy, Director of Product Marketing Joe Hammer, founding member Maline Gilbert McCalla and her son Joe McCalla • (left to right) Catherine, Lynda and Jennifer Robb • (left to right) Orlando Zayas, Eric Hail, Natalee Hail and Tom Mays • Bidders raise their “paddles” high during the Wildflower Gala’s live auction. PHOTOS BY BIRZER PHOTO




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@ The WildfloWer CenTer

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT (all paperback) Gardening Lab for Kids $24.99 (Members $22.49) This fun and creative book features 52 plant-related activities set into weekly lessons that teach children appreciation of their natural surroundings. • Learning Outdoors with the Meek Family $21.99 (Members $19.79) family time is just as important as school time, and these 52 “ed-ventures” provide parents with a fantastic bank of ideas to support and enhance children’s formal schooling. • Kids Camp! Activities for the Backyard or Wilderness $16.99 (Members $15.29) More than 100 hands-on activities and games that teach kids the basics for safe, fun camping while helping them explore the tiny things in nature. • Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening $14.95 (Members $13.45) Budding gardeners learn what it takes to make things grow, where living things come from and how all the parts come together like an amazing puzzle. • How to Raise a Wild Child $25.00 (Members $22.50) An easy-to-use guide for parents, teachers and others looking to foster a strong connection between children and nature. To order these products or others from the Center’s Store, call toll-free 877-WILDFLR (877.945.3357) or shop online at

WildfloWer • SUMMer 2016



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Desert plants and their landscapes seem like a match made in heaven, but all relationships take work. Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantean), for instance, need space to flourish, while ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) — which means “little pine” in a combination of Aztec and Spanish — take quick advantage of rainfall, sprouting leaves only after storms.


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e k i L e m o S I t Hot Plant adaptations provide clues about climate and other conditions WRITTEN BY KAREN BUSSOLINI



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LANT LOVERS ARE USUALLY GAME to try something new. But how do you know a plant won’t need constant weeding and feeding, be deer candy or wimp out in the heat? Many experts claim that you don’t really know how to grow a plant until you’ve killed it at least three times. With a little understanding of evolution, though, you can beat those odds by a long shot. There’s more to survival of the fittest than meets the eye, but you can tell a lot just by looking at plants and observing their role in native habitats. As Charles Darwin wrote in his 1859 “Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection,” plants and animals “are bound together by a web of complex relations.” Plants coevolved with insects, microorganisms and wildlife, each one competing for limited resources, each struggling to be nourished and avoid being eaten long enough to reproduce. Random changes happen in the genes of plants all the time. A genetic trait that consistently gives a plant survival and reproductive advantages can lead to genetically distinct subpopulations and, potentially, new species. What does this process of natural selection have to do with choosing the best redbud tree for that hot, sunny spot in your Southwestern yard or an understory tree for your East Coast hideaway? When you learn to read wild landscapes, you begin to see features and patterns of adaptation in the vegetation that can help guide landscape design decisions. The presence of particular plants indicates where the water is; where soil is deeper, richer or rockier; or where shade moderates light. The more you can emulate the structure, patterns and plant composition of local natural plant communities, the more successful and sustainable your plantings will be. RIGHT FEATURES, RIGHT PLACE

Consider the Sonoran Desert. Rainstorms are short, intense and infrequent; water runs off fast. The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea), with wide-reaching, hair-covered shallow root systems able to slurp up to 200 gallons of water during a storm, anchors this landscape. A water-filled saguaro can weigh tons. Wide spacing between saguaros limits their direct competition, but mesquite (Prosopis spp.), desert ironwood (Olneya tesota) and paloverde (Parkinsonia spp.) — small trees whose roots reach deeper into underground reserves — grow in close association. These feathery-leafed thorny legumes are nurse plants: Their canopies form a protective microhabitat essential for germination and growth of saguaros and other plants. They moderate temperatures, add structural diversity, provide leaf lit-



ter that improves soil fertility and water retention, and promote untold wildlife interactions. Mesquite plays a unique role by both drawing nitrogen from soil (via some extraordinarily deep roots) and by making atmospheric nitrogen useable, aided by nitrogen-fixing bacteria colonizing its roots. Fallen nitrogen-packed leaves and pods of mesquite and other legumes decompose, creating nutrient-rich oases. In the words of Arizona ethnobotanist Dr. Gary Paul Nabhan in his book “Gathering the Desert,” “Mesquite islands are essentially self-fertilizing.” “Nitrogen is an essential element in proteins,” writes Mark A. Dimmitt in “A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert,” “so nitrogen-fixing plants can make large crops of seeds with high protein contents.” Abundant large, nutritious seeds of desert legumes, especially mesquites, are important wildlife food. Animals such as coyotes, packrats and certain birds that stop by for a meal of seed or a shaded nap leave behind seeds of other plants that have passed through their digestive systems or dropped from fur. The seeds germinate and grow in the favorable mesquite island soil — far from the parent plant, reducing competition. Between these hospitable islands, succulents, grasses, and tough, resinous small-leafed shrubs and forbs thin out to reveal patches of seemingly barren soil. Ephemeral plants emerge from those bare places after winter rains. Many are annuals, which germinate, bloom, set seed and die before sufficient rains return. The Sonoran ecosystem is a good model for sustainable landscaping in dry places. From observing it, you can see that desert succulents — ocotillo, yuccas, dasylirions, agaves and cacti — benefit from wide spacing and association with woody desert legumes such as acacias, paloverde and mesquite. These shrubs or small trees may be thorny, but their delicate leaves, light shade and profuse, beautiful flowers bring a note of grace — as well as pollinators and other wildlife — to gardens in hot climates. Having a lush look requires water and soil high in organic mat-



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ABOVE Growing up to 50 feet in height, there’s a reason saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) are called giants. Besides adding striking vertical lines to the desert landscape, saguaros give new meaning to the phrase “Big Gulp,” drinking up to 200 gallons of water during storms and weighing literal tons when saturated. LEFT  They may look spindly, but the nitrogen-packed leaves of mesquite (Prosopis spp.) enrich soil after falling and, along with decomposing pods, act as a self-fertilizing agent; this tree’s nutritious seeds also provide food for hungry desert wildlife such as coyotes, packrats and birds.



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ter. In a hot, dry climate, it’s better to landscape with compelling plants that evolved to prefer lean soil and little water. LOOKING AT LEAVES

SHaDy Characters

Central texans live in a gentler climate than the sonoran Desert, one that supports some larger trees. But these trees still have protective features: Consider, for instance, the small, leathery leaves of escarpment live oak (Quercus fusiformis), the darkgreen glossy compound leaves of texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), or the tight, scaly foliage and pungent volatile oils of ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei, pictured above). With heat, drought and shade to contend with, how do plants survive in the understory? “there’s not a lot of lush vegetation in dry shade,” says Wildflower Center Horticulture Director andrea Delong-amaya, “the ground layer will be sparse, with more open space and a mulch of leaves.” she recommends evergreen sumac (Rhus virens), aromatic sumac (R. trilobata) and prickly thicket-forming agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) as understory shrubs. For evergreen structural plants on the ground layer, consider twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) and nolinas. “nolinas draping over limestone boulders have a fluidity that i adore. Nolina texana has smooth, long narrow leaves, like angel hair pasta. it’s friendlier than devil’s shoestring (N. lindheimeri), with finely serrated edges.” softer recommendations include grassy-looking texas sedge (Carex texensis) and cedar sage (Salvia roemeriana), which prefers the rich, well-drained organic layer under ashe juniper and often consorts with smokebush (Cotinus obovatus), a pungent shrub with resinous sap.


sUMMer 2016 • WilDFlOWer

Leaves reveal secrets for success in challenging climates. They need to collect (sunlight, for photosynthesis) and protect (from sunscald, moisture loss, insects and other herbivores). Many dryland plants have silvery or leathery leaves and thick waterproof cuticles that keep water inside. Most have small leaves, limiting surface area exposed to sun and drying winds. Delicate compound-leafed pea-family plants, including Acacia, Lespedeza, Dalea and Lupinus species, abound. Relatives from more temperate climes (Baptisia australis, false indigo, for instance) can afford larger, darker, more sun-absorbing leaves. Compare pine-leaf milkweed (Asclepias linaria) or slim milkweed (Asclepias linearis) to the larger-leafed swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) and it’s easy to tell which are desert plants and which inhabits wetlands. Narrow-leafed mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium), a perennial found in dryish upland soils from Texas to Maine, works for a low-water garden; wider-leafed P. muticum, a meadow-dweller, prefers a moist, fertile spot. Water-rich landscapes turn green in summer, but dry places display a muted palette for a reason. In extreme environments — deserts, windswept plains and rocky cliffs, salt-sprayed coastlines and frigid mountaintops — plants’ protective adaptations often appear silvery. In some cases, their green surfaces are covered with fine, light-colored hairs, which reflect sunlight to shade the leaf and cool by trapping moisture. Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), a tender perennial, is an incandescent groundcover in warmer parts of Texas to New Mexico. Feathery-looking sand sage (Artemisia filifolia) withstands the sandy soil and extreme heat, cold and wind of dunes, yet tolerates decent garden soil. Other silvery plants have a waxy or mealy coating. Rub leaves of rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), a prairie plant, or desert-dwelling Agave americana and the coating comes right off. The stems of candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) even resemble frosted candlesticks. Silvery blues blend into dry landscapes and add pizzazz to greener gardens. For intensely blue grass selections, try little bluestem cultivars (Schizachyrium scoparium ‘The Blues’ or ‘Standing Ovation’) and switchgrass cultivars (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’ or ‘Prairie Sky’). CHEMICAL DEFENSE

Plants produce an array of potent protective chemicals. The pungent, evocative scents of sagebrush, sun-warmed junipers or pines, and creosote bush stem from volatile chemicals or resins that limit water loss, reduce ultraviolet light penetration, and deter animals and insects. Many plants respond to insect feeding by releasing chemicals we can’t smell that attract insect predators or signal nearby plants to make protective compounds. Some chemical defenses can be downright deadly, such as the cardiac glycosides in the white sap of milkweed, which deter all but the monarch caterpillar from munching. Consider any plant that

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Silvery desert plants are often covered in fine hairs or a waxy coating. The stems of candelilla even resemble frosted candlesticks. Barrel cactus, saguaro and other accordion-pleated species expand as they absorb water and contract as it’s consumed. “Spines are more productive when dead.” They don’t lose water, attract hungry herbivores or require internal plant resources. TOP ROW Silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea) and candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) MIDDLE ROW Candy barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizeni) and Harvard’s century plant (Agave havardiana) BOTTOM ROW Santa Rita prickly pear (Opuntia santa-rita) and rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium). PHOTOS BY KAREN BUSSOLINI EXCEPT TOP MIDDLE AND BOTTOM RIGHT BY RAY MATHEWS, MIDDLE CENTER BY SALLY AND ANDY WASOWSKI




ABOVE Dry places tend to display a muted palette, but there is variety in shape as well as color. Deserts succeed in part due to the complementary strengths of shrubs, succulents, small trees and cacti — all of which strike different poses on the landscape. BELOW In a clear strike of natural ingenuity, the bright green bark of stunning paloverde (Parkinsonia spp.) carries on photosynthesis when leaves can’t keep it up.


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Not From The Wild Desert habitats are wiDely threatened by development, overgrazing, destructive harvesting practices and outright poaching. it’s tempting for instant-gratification gardeners, collectors or designers with clients willing to pay the price for big or rare specimens of cacti, agaves and yuccas to not question where the plants came from, or to dig from the wild themselves. aggressive harvesting of mesquite — upon which 200 or more plant and ani-

mal species depend — has severely threatened some areas of the sonoran Desert in Mexico. wise buyers steer clear of the truck by the side of the road with cheap plants, which are unlikely to survive their improper uprooting. and they ask questions. Designer and writer scott Calhoun in tucson specifies only seedgrown nursery plants for his jobs. he says that saguaros easily grow 6-12 inches a year in cultivation. his own

leaks milky white sap guilty until proven innocent. Gloveless gardeners have suffered contact dermatitis worse than poison ivy from many Euphorbia members. Blue star (Amsonia spp.) sap is relatively benign by comparison, though deer and insects stay away. Plants that are allelopathic release compounds that hinder most neighbors. Juglone, the chemical released by black walnut trees (Juglans nigra), is toxic or detrimental to many plants and some animals, notably horses. Oaks, junipers, sassafras, elderberries and sumacs are all somewhat allelopathic. These plants can be useful if you prefer a minimalist understory. Sunflower seeds have hulls that exude chemicals that stifle other seeds’ germination, something you may have noticed with hulls beneath your bird feeder. SUCCULENT SURVIVAL

All plants hold water in their cells, but succulents have evolved to excel at this. Dr. James Mauseth, botany professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at The University of Texas at Austin, says, “Some succulents are close to 99 percent water; when they die there’s almost nothing left.” Hoarding water in tissues allows for photosynthesis during drought. With cacti such as prickly pear (Opuntia spp.), their flat, succulent pads are actually stems that function like leaves. Barrel cactus, saguaro and other ribbed or accordion-pleated species expand as they absorb water and contract as it’s consumed. Their ridges shade portions of the plant during sunny hours. As is true of being succulent, protective spines, prickles and thorns evolved many times over. These dead, sharp projections protect cacti, roses, brambles, euphorbias and countless other plants. Mauseth says, “Spines are more productive when dead,” noting that they don’t lose water, attract hungry herbivores or require internal plant resources. In addition to discouraging animals from eating water-filled stems, spines insulate the plant, act as windbreakers and direct rainwater to roots. “Cacti can’t afford to

community is studded with saguaro cacti and shaded by 100-year-old mesquite trees dug from the site by the Civano Nursery and replanted after construction was complete. Organizations such as the wildflower Center, the tucson Cactus and succulent society, and the Chihuahuan Desert research institute near alpine, texas, also help rescue plants in the way of highways or development, enabling gardeners to give them a new home.

squander water through transpiration, so they make a thick layer of spines. [Mexican native] Mammilaria plumosa, for instance, is so covered in featherlike spines you can’t see the greenness beneath. It’s growing in full sun, but the plant itself is completely in shade.” Agaves, yuccas and red false yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) hoard water in large leaves covered with waxy secretions and reinforced with fibers that add strength and flexibility. Plus, they’re indigestible. Among succulents’ other leaf defenses are sharp, dead points, usually found at the ends of leaves but sometimes forming toothed leaf margins as well. DORMANCY — TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The old saying, “Everything in the desert stings, sticks or stinks” suggests how the balance tips between investing energy in growth or protection in resource-poor environments. Some plants just give up and go dormant during times of drought or excessive heat or cold. Plants with bulbs, corms, rhizomes or tubers store their resources underground. Deciduous plants usually drop their leaves in fall but also may defoliate during extended drought. Paloverde’s green bark carries on photosynthesis when leaves can’t keep it up. Evolution didn’t only happen eons ago to help weather the weather. Super-weeds that have become unaffected by herbicides are among the indications that evolution continues all around us. Last year was the hottest ever recorded globally, and climate change models predict that much of the U.S. will become hotter and drier. If plants can adapt to changing circumstances, surely gardeners can too. Let’s look to nature to learn how to create water-saving landscapes full of diverse native plants already programmed for survival. a Karen Bussolini is a garden photographer, writer and speaker, an ecofriendly garden coach and coauthor of “Elegant Silvers: Striking Plants for Every Garden” (2005, Timber Press).

wilDFlOwer • sUMMer 2016


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How prairie managers (and natural processes) WRITING AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS HELZER




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Weakened prairie grasses often make way for insurgent wildflowers. This sand prairie full of biennial fourpoint evening primroses (Oenothera rhombipetala), for instance, took hold two years after the site was burned and grazed during a drought. The primroses germinated and grew rosettes the year following the grazing and bloomed prolifically the year after that.

r Uprisings


help root

for the underdog



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N NEBRASKA PRAIRIES, GRASSES such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and non-natives smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) are like occupying armies. Most wildflower species shrink

away from the dominance of those grasses, and without intervention, many of those wildflowers can be driven out of prairies altogether. One of a land manager’s biggest jobs is to foster diverse plant communities by periodically suppressing the vigor of dominant grasses, giving less competitive plants a chance to reclaim a little territory. When grasses are only slightly debilitated, the response from wildflowers can be muted and difficult to see. However, when the army of grasses is severely weakened, wildflowers often respond with flamboyant riots of color (see examples on the next three pages). Sometimes, flowers that take advantage of weak competition are celebrated by locals, as in the case of Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis). Other times, the show features less universally popular species like annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) or broomweed (Amphiachyris spp.). Floral explosions can be caused by droughts or other weather events, but are often the result of management practices. Prescribed fire, mowing and grazing can all help regulate the dominance of grasses. When grasses are burned up, mowed down or munched off during the growing season, they lose clout both above and below ground. Above ground, leaf canopies that otherwise monopolize access to the sun are depleted. Below ground, massive root systems that rely on energy captured by those leaves follow suit. In short, the loss of leaves results in a comparable loss of roots. Within a day or two of a grass plant being chewed off by a cow or burned up by fire, it abandons large portions of its root mass,



opening that space for the colonizing roots of neighboring plants. A weakened grass community benefits most wildflower species, but some are better suited for quick colonization than others. Annuals, biennials and many shortlived perennials are built for this exact opportunity. They can germinate, bloom and produce copious amounts of seed very quickly. As grasses regain strength and dominance, they are literally surrounded by the seeds of the next insurrection. Prairie managers (including those at the Wildflower Center) facilitate this kind of competition among the plant community. We don’t want to debilitate the army of grasses altogether or lawlessness ensues. At the same time, we want to ensure the survival of all the wildflowers and other species that can’t compete with those dominant grasses when they are at full strength. We foster periodic rebellions by weakening dominant grasses but then allow those grasses to recover between uprisings. Often, nature joins in the fun via droughts or floods and we just try not to let any side in the battle gain too much advantage over the others. Prairie plant communities are incredibly strong and resilient. Wildflower riots can be dramatic and beautiful, but they are more than just spectacles. The ability of those wildflowers to rapidly fill the gaps left when the rest of the community is weakened is critically important. Among other things, it helps prevent encroachment by invasive species and provides a

relatively constant supply of food and cover for prairie insects and wildlife during tough times. For thousands of years, prairies have survived fires, droughts, bison herds and grasshopper plagues. The coming years will provide even more challenges for prairies, but with careful management they will respond just as they always have — beautifully. a

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ABOVE Shell leaf penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus) is almost never grazed by cattle, allowing the relatively weak competitor to flourish under heavy grazing. LEFT Daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) often thrives in sites of low soil productivity where few other plants can compete strongly. It’s also able to fill in gaps left by a weakened grass community after intensive grazing.



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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT One of Mrs. Johnson’s favorite flowers, showy prairie gentian (Eustoma exaltatum) grows well in relatively wet prairie sites. A year of high groundwater flooded out much of the competition in this prairie slough, allowing the annual species to roar to visual dominance. • The summer of 2012 was the driest on record in the Nebraska Sandhills. A weakened grass community, combined with already sparse vegetation, opened the door for an explosion of prairie sunflowers (Helianthus petiolaris) across millions of acres the following summer. • Many thistle species expand quickly when land management keeps perennial plants at bay. Despite their unfavorable reputation with many landowners, thistles like this Cirsium altissimum (tall thistle) are extremely valuable for pollinators, including some of great conservation concern like monarch butterflies.

Chris Helzer is the Nature Conservancy’s director of science in Nebraska; he is also the author of “The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States” (2009, University of Iowa Press).



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Night Shift

Escape to the night garden when the days are too hot WRITTEN BY JILL SELL

Datura (Datura wrightii) shines like a spotlight in the dark. This evening bloomer may look innocent in ivory, but it’s highly toxic if ingested — best experienced with eyes only!



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N AREAS AND SEASONS where the heat of the day can be uncomfortable, a night garden is more than a luxury — it’s a smart and soothing option. And datura (Datura wrightii) may just be the queen of these gardens. look alien in moonlight. As with toxic datura, it’s best to plant it away from kids and pets, in this case because of tough, spiny blue-green leaves. Woodfin also likes the common buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a shrub with long-lasting white or palepink flowers. Another option is fall obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), a pink or purple late-bloomer that lasts into fall. Gently twist the flower into the position you want and gain fixed miniature “flashlights” in your night-lit garden. (Plus, this perennial is a daytime favorite for drawing butterflies.) Evening primroses (Oenothera spp.) bloom in the silvery hours of twilight and remain open through the night; despite this

trait, they prefer full sun during the day. And many primroses are quite fragrant, another key to a successful night garden. Scent becomes a beacon not just for pollinators but also for humans who follow the pleasant waft along a garden path. During Moonlight Hikes at the Wildflower Center or the Night Walk offered by the ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden, visitors can see desert willow (Chilopsis linearis), a relative of the catalpa tree, which features flowers that are more fragrant in the evening. No moonlight the evening you want to enjoy your garden? Complement your night garden with subtle outdoor illumination, from flickering candles in glass jars to outdoor rope lighting. Either way, you don’t want to miss your garden’s night shift. a PHOTO BY LYNN SEEDEN/ISTOCK

Datura is a beautiful but deadly native. All parts of this perennial (also called sacred datura or jimsonweed) are highly toxic if ingested, and its narcotic properties have been known for centuries. But like an evil queen in a fairy tale, it offers seductive, white trumpet-shaped flowers (hence another common name: angel trumpet). Good or evil, datura earns a royal place in moonlit gardens by blooming from evening until morning, when it begins to wilt. “My most favorite plant for night interest in a garden is datura,” says Catherine Hubbard, manager at ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “While it is poisonous, it has a large, stunning flower that attracts an important pollinator, the sphinx moth. The two never fail to provide drama and interest in an evening garden. I love that it is native to our Chihuahuan Desert and has connections to the native people.” Datura grows easily and generally tolerates sandy to clay soils and moderate water needs. It is just one of many native night bloomers that has light-colored flowers or foliage that shine under the moon and stars. Bill Woodfin, a board member and volunteer for the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas, identifies several other plants on their site that brighten a garden at night. Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), which can reach 6 feet in height, has greenish-white florets that cluster to form globular heads that almost

The man in the moon needs a break, too. On darker evenings, light up the night with softly flickering garden candles. WILDFLOWER • SUMMER 2016


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Enduring the Dog Days Watering wisely helps overheated greenery



LANTS COOL OFF JUST like we do, by shedding water from surface areas. When temperatures soar, however, evapotranspiration might not be enough. Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Wildflower Center horticulture director, offers these tips for meeting plants’ watering needs all summer. •


mer. A deeper watering will encourage roots to grow deeper, making plants more drought-resistant. Deeper soils also dry out slower. One inch of water applied during each watering usually works and can be confirmed with a rain gauge.


ONCE ESTABLISHED, YOU CAN WATER MANY NATIVE AND ADAPTED PLANTS once or twice (or less) a week during the peak of sum-



or soaker hoses

installed, so water gets right to roots.

LEARN THE SOIL MOISTURE NEEDS OF PLANTS and take that into consideration when buying new ones and watering. To explore U.S. native plant preferences, visit their plant pages at Also pay attention to which plants in your yard dry out quicker because of being on a hill, in full sun, in a windy corridor or for other reasons. Soaker hoses save water by delivering it straight to roots.

IF YOU WATER FROM A HOSE OR OVERHEAD SPRINKLER, try the mornings to avoid heat-related evaporation and so leaves have the day to dry off. Leaves (or the base of plants) that stay wet too long become susceptible to fungal and other diseases. When you do aboveground watering, cover the same area several times with a sweep of water if your soil tends to absorb it poorly. “Water lightly once and then go back over the plants again several times until the soil is fully saturated,” DeLongAmaya says. INSPECT PLANTS REGULARLY FOR SIGNS OF STRESS from sun and heat. Leaves that droop during the day but perk up by the next morning are probably fine without watering unless the soil is dry below an inch. (Overwatering is a common mistake.) Consider providing shade to these plants and new plantings.



from the sun’s direct rays. If brown, yellow or white areas appear on plant leaves, that can mean overexposure. A sure sign of sunburn is when leaves change colors only on the sections in direct sunlight. Avoid pruning or trimming plants in the dead of summer to reduce sunburn. If an established plant suffers from overexposure, consider relocating it.

concerned if wilting lingers overnight or plants lose color and vigor. It is best to feel the soil to ensure dryness before watering wilted plants. •

WATER POTTED PLANTS MORE OFTEN since they have less soil for temperature regulation and to hold moisture. Also confirm they’re not “root bound,” with little soil left to retain water. You can help them out by using lighter-colored pots and nonporous options such as glazed terra cotta that hold moisture longer. Using saucers under potted plants also can extend the watering interval; however, DeLong-Amaya advises ensuring that saucers don’t hold water too long, which can encourage fungal diseases. As with so many choices, beneficial watering is all about balance. a

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For every SeASon

{ in bloom

Making the Shade

American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) is another good choice for native gardens. This highclimbing vine is less aggressive than similar Asian species, and its lavender blooms add color and fragrance along with much-welcome shade.

Native vines climb and cover in beautiful, useful ways

INES ADD A CERTAIN ROMANCE to the spring or summer garden, but they’re practical workhorses too. Planted on a pergola or arbor, they offer cooling shade while bringing the garden up to eye level. But vines can be intimidating, conjuring images of overgrown jungle that even Tarzan would shun. Indeed, many nonnative vines, like English ivy and Japanese honeysuckle, grow rampantly enough to gobble up pergola, house and all — and perhaps spread invasively into neighboring greenbelts. Instead of such thuggish exotics, choose one of these native vines to clothe your shade structure, and save the Tarzan loincloth for Halloween. Trumpeting spring’s arrival with a full brass section of golden-yellow flowers, evergreen Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) perfumes the air with sweet fragrance. All parts are poisonous, so keep away from indiscriminate toddlers and pets, but enjoy its graceful twining, which can be aided on large posts by attaching wire for the vine to climb. Blooming from spring to frost, coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) blushes with fanlike clusters of tubular, coral-red flowers that hummingbirds can’t resist. Another hummingbird magnet, crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) erupts in spring with large, two-tone flowers of brick red and yellow. “When it blooms, it’s just, ‘Wow!’” enthuses Wildflower Center Senior Horticulturist Julie Marcus. The popular cultivar ‘Tangerine Beauty’ offers crossvine in a pinkish orange, as well. Either will adhere to wood and stucco with grasping tendrils, so they’re best planted well away from the siding of your home.


Autumn brings out the beauty of other native vines, like old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii), whose creamy flowers go to seed in fluffy whorls of white. Unlike many vines that prefer deeper soil and regular moisture, this one can handle dry, rocky conditions, making it a good choice for Southwestern gardeners. Frost kills it to the ground, but it returns in spring. Rebecca Sweet, a garden designer in northern California and co-author of “Garden Up!,” names grapevine Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red’ as her top choice for cloaking a large arbor. “It tolerates light shade and has to-die-for garnet-red foliage in the fall,” she says. Tiny, sweet grapes dangling among the leaves are a bonus. For something more unusual, consider Alamo vine (Merremia dissecta), whose large white flowers have a drop of wine-red in the center. The vine dies back in winter but quickly returns in spring to cover a large arbor. Like all morning glories, it seeds out aggressively, so remove unwanted seedlings in spring. California Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia californica), with mauve flowers resembling old-fashioned tobacco pipes, is another interesting choice and grows well in light shade. Pipevine swallowtails lay their eggs on it, so if you see caterpillars, just remind yourself that chewed leaves mean you’re supporting a healthy population of butterflies. Whatever climber you choose, know that mature vines prefer plenty of sun, and — like sunbathers at the beach, with faces tipped up to the sky and toes tunneled in cool sand — their roots do best buried deep in moist soil. Give them these conditions in your garden and they’ll grow well. a


WriTTen by PAM PenicK

Tips for Success:

• PlAnT on The eAST or norTh Side of your arbor so that your vine can grow up into the sun while its roots chill in the shade. If you must plant on the west or south side, spread a couple of inches of mulch (try shredded hardwood, pine straw or pecan shells) around the base of the vine to preserve moisture in the soil. Stone is also a good insulator. • nATive vineS require ATTenTion at first to train them up a pergola or arbor, but once established they need only occasional pruning to remove dead wood or keep them neat. • FerTilizing iS unneceSSAry, and if you’ve chosen appropriately for your conditions, vines don’t need much supplemental water once they’re established.



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Edible Kingdom Austin-area chef uses native plants to create place-based food




sUMMeR 2016 • WIlDFlOWeR

native plant — wild onion (probably Allium canadense) vinaigrette on a mixed green salad — but Griffiths estimates they use at least 30 different species of native plants throughout the year. You’ll find Texas persimmons (Diospyros texana), black walnuts (Juglans nigra), chile pequin (Capsicum annuum), pecans (Carya illinoinensis), dewberries (Rubus spp.) and American beautyberry on the list. “We serve a lot of nopal [Opuntia spp.],” he says. “Our sourdough starter is made from wild grapes [Vitis spp.]. The pastry chef uses a lot of wild persimmons in the fall. You can have persimmon [which is notoriously messy] in its pure form as a sorbet, without getting your hands stained black. You really get the flavor and essence of it.” Griffiths says that native plants help anchor food to a region. “Anything that we can eat from here has to be good for us in supporting our bodies to live in a region like this. For instance, peppers thrive here, and they are very good for people in hot climates to eat.” All of this may make the cuisine sound more experimental than it is in practice. Dai Due isn’t a place of intricately arranged plates, nor is it a crunchy hippie restaurant. True to Chef Jesse Griffiths in the name “supper club,” the food is his own kingdom, the hearty and thoughtfully inspired by kitchen at Dai Due. what your grandparents might have eaten. It is a place where a bigbuckled Texan can sidle up next to a young hipster to devour a tasty local steak and some damned fine fried chicken. “It’s all just comfort food, only made with very good ingredients,” explains Griffiths. a


N A GRAY RAINY DAY in early spring, Chef Jesse Griffiths and I sat down over grilled toast and an assortment of jams at his hyper-local east Austin restaurant Dai Due. But we weren’t having just any jams; these were made from unexpected native ingredients, such as redbud blossoms (Cercis canadensis), agarita berries (Mahonia trifoliolata) and American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). Griffiths, the red-bearded founder of Dai Due Butcher Shop and Supper Club, sourced the jams from forager and Houstonite Susan Ebert*. The jams are like everything he gets for the restaurant: foraged, hunted, fished, produced and grown as nearby as possible. The menu does not lie when it says that “everything is from around here.” Diners won’t find chocolate (it comes from too far away), but they will find native mesquite bean (Prosopis glandulosa), which is ground into flour and used to sweeten desserts. The only tea the restaurant serves is made from yaupon (Ilex vomitoria). “I really want to keep it as strict as possible and use only what we have locally,” says Griffiths. “We don’t even buy onions out of season. When we don’t have carrots, they are gone [off the menu]. We don’t have lemons for our iced tea out of season. It’s a real experiment in using what our region supports.” Griffiths makes an exception for a few things, like coffee, but largely the menu remains true to his overall philosophy, and foraged natives are clearly part of that picture. Even the name of the restaurant reflects his reverence for food sources: “Dai due” begins an Italian proverb meaning, “From the two kingdoms of nature, choose food with care.” The morning I was there, the Day Menu featured only one


*Ebert just released a book, “The Field to Table Cookbook: Gardening, Foraging, Fishing, & Hunting” (2016, Welcome Books), with a foreword by Griffiths.

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Nature Speaks Universally How childhood memories fuel a grounded life



English when I was a young child, or that I catch myself thinking in “Spanglish” often nowadays. I have become a bicultural mishmash. My journey has not affected how I, the human, feel when I’m surrounded by nature. As a child, I called the breeze brisa, and I would take small jumps to get onto a swing. But the tender touch of the spring blooms and the earthy scent of rain rejuvenating the broken ground still affect me today. They chase away the tension of urban life; they make travel through time possible; they fill me with understanding; and they change, for the better, my perception of life. It does not matter whether I call myself American or Mexican, Muslim or Christian. We are a product of nature, and being in touch with this notion makes us better inhabitants of this Earth. I strive to share this with my children, to expose them to the sounds and smells of nature so they can get on a swing 30 years from now and have something to smile about. Here in Austin we are fortunate. We don’t have to travel far to find a patch of nature where we can get back in touch with our roots and where we can find the inspiration to provide a legacy for others. a PHOTO BY JOANNA WOJKOWIAK

I WAS BORN IN MEXICO CITY to parents who migrated from a small town in Tlaxcala in search of better opportunities. The majority of my family stayed there, for which I’m very thankful. Every summer we went back to visit them, providing memories I treasure as some of the happiest from my childhood. I still remember the views, the sweet-smelling breeze and the peaceful silence particular to the small town in Tlaxcala. I felt unrestricted, safe and carefree; no schoolwork, no concrete sidewalks. The horrendous rush hour roar was replaced by a peaceful hum, only broken by the occasional squealing of farm animals or ringing church bells. Fast-forward 30 years and almost 1,000 miles away; I am in Austin, Texas. No longer a child, I have children of my own. This past fall I was fortunate to intern at the Wildflower Center as part of my degree program at The University of Texas at Austin. It was during this time that it hit me: Nature speaks universally. I was working on a story that took me on a walk to the Texas Arboretum trail for the first time. I found the swings under the shade of the “Cathedral,” a group of stately oaks convening majestically along the path. I couldn’t resist the urge to get on and swing like a child. My mind flew me back to the small village where I used to run free. My body was swinging here at the Center in Austin, but I was transported far away. Being in tune with nature makes the human experience complete. It does not matter that I did not speak a word of


Daniel López — pictured among the swings in the Cathedral Oaks portion of our Texas Arboretum with his daughters, 8-year-old Viviana (left) and 13-year-old Frida (right) — interned at the Wildflower Center in fall 2014 and says it was “a transformative experience.”

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Wildflower Magazine - Summer 2016  

Plants adapt in wacky ways to hot, dry places; wildflowers can help us read the land; and Dai Due's Chef Jesse Griffiths goes native.

Wildflower Magazine - Summer 2016  

Plants adapt in wacky ways to hot, dry places; wildflowers can help us read the land; and Dai Due's Chef Jesse Griffiths goes native.