Nature’s Colorful Canvas
Ah, Spring is in the air. In Texas that means that Mother Nature begins to unfurl her canvas of rich color.
Wildflowers. Along the roads and blanketing open fields, or even cultivated in lawns, the spectacular color range from the pale to the vivid.
Former First Lady Bird Johnson and Golden Hollywood star Helen Hayes founded the National Wildflower Center in 1982 in conjunction with the University of Texas. Officially renamed the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in 1995, the center boasts a 284-acre native plant botanic garden in Austin, Texas, dedicated to conserving, restoring and creating healthy landscapes.
It operates North America’s largest online resource about native plants, and has set aside millions of seeds of Texas native plants for future generations and restoration activities.
Information about the center can be found on the operation’s website, http://www.wildflower.org. A few of the center’s facts are as follows:
- 279 acres of gardens, woodlands and savannas
- 100 species of native Texas trees displayed in the 16-acre Texas Arboretum
- The only 100% native plant family garden in Texas
- More than 800 species of Texas native plants growing in the gardens, the most diverse collection of Texas native plants in North America
- 68,500 gallon rain storage system
- 100,000 plants grown annually in the nursery
- 1,800 insect species on site, including 93 types of butterflies
- More than 148 bird species and 15 mammals recorded
- Sustainable features include green roofs, solar panels and rainwater harvesting
Texans appreciation for the wild flowering plants is evident in the amount of literature and photographs spawned every blooming season.
Texas Highways magazine, in their March 2014 issue, compiled a list of subscribers’ perennial favorites.
The top five include:
1. Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)—Begins blooming early spring (but Big Bend bluebonnet can bloom as early as January). All six species of bluebonnet that grow in the state have been designated the State Flower by the Texas Legis-lature. A member of the large lupine genus.
2. Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) Blooms early spring throughout the state. Several species, whose colors vary from scarlet to orange, cream, yellow, and occasionally purple. The bright tips of the petal-like bracts look like they’ve been dipped in paint. The genus name honors Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793).
3. Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)—Blooms April to June across much of the state. When viewed in a mass, the brilliant combination of red, orange, and yellow resembles brightly woven fabric. Also called firewheel.
4. Drummond phlox (Phlox drummondii)—Blooms early spring. Occurs most frequently in spectacular masses of color among sandy post-oak woods and along roadsides in south Central Texas. Named for Scottish botanist Thomas Drummond, who collected the plants on a visit to Texas in 1834. Most common color is red, but shades of pink, blue, and purple are also seen. Also called wild phlox.
5. Verbena (Verbena spp.)—Blooms most profusely in spring, but may flower at other times of the year depending on rainfall. Found throughout the state; among Texas’ most abundant wildflowers.
Native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do much more than add beauty to the landscape. They help conserve water, reduce mowing costs, provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife, protect the soil, and save money on fertilizer and pesticides. As Lady Bird Johnson said, native plants also “give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.” (from the Wildflower Center website)
Featured photo credit: “Wildflower Fiesta” Guadalupe County, Texas – photograph by Gary Regner
photo credit: Featured Photo: “Wildflower Fiesta” Guadalupe County, Texas – photograph by Gary Regner