Monday, April 26, 2010

Wildflowers



With the recent rains the wildflowers have begun a spectacular show this year and a drive along I-40 will provide a glimpse into the beauty of our naturalized countryside. By the early 1980's many recognized the need to preserve naturalized heirloom wild flowers. The Oklahoma Native Plant Society, established in 1986, is a group dedicated to preserving our unique collection of botanical specimens and donations to their efforts may be made through the state. The lovely red and yellow Indian Blanket, seen all along the countryside, is our state wildflower.

Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 80 to 90 million years ago and today they are the most abundant and diverse plants on the earth. Originally plants were generated from spore not seed so they were able to reproduce without the aid of pollination. With the emergence of seeds, the plants needed either wind, or birds, or bees to achieve fertilization. From this necessity arose the lovely and showy flower forms we see today; the flowers needed to allure the pollinators.

Egypt was involved very early in botanical exploration. Excavations of the Nile Valley have shown remains of 25 different plants including cattails dating over 17,000 years ago. Chemical analysis on ancient Egyptian fabrics indicates dyes extracted from plants were used as long ago as 1300 BC. Flower gardens are depicted in murals painted on the bedroom walls of the chambers of Amenhotop in 1380 BC while Ramses III reported importation of hundreds of plant specimens from the travels of his soldiers.

By 300 BC the Greeks were actively involved in describing and naming species of plants. The long and difficult botanical names come directly from them and the naming process continues today in respect for their efforts. By Medieval times, monks were largely in charge of botanical discovery but little progress was made in the Western world until the 1700's. European discoverers made their way across the planet and returned with specimens to present in court. By the 1800's there was a global excitement over the enormity of plant species and advancements were made to classify and learn the uses of them. Lewis and Clark carefully noted the wild flora while Charles Darwin collected plants which are included in his 'Origin of Species' published in 1859. Gregor Mendel introduced the science of genetics in 1866 and with it began the tracing of DNA.

Royal gardens were strictly formal and the interest in wildflowers was not great until the early 19th century when American and English gardeners began to note the appeal of 'natural' gardens growing freely. Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) created over 400 gardens in Europe and America and her influence on wild flower gardening is to be commended. It is through her efforts in preserving 'flowering incidents' in woodland settings that we today recognize the importance and beauty of flowers growing in the wilderness. Take a drive and enjoy the beauty of the roadside!