Monday, May 21, 2012

Wild About Wildflowers

Last year at this time we felt as though we lived in a desert but without the cool evenings. This year feels like New England… one has to love Oklahoma weather! With the recent rains the wildflowers have continued their spectacular show and any drive will offer the sight of our beautiful naturalized countryside. Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 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. However with the emergence of seeds plants needed either wind, birds, or bees to propagate. From this necessity arose the showy flower forms we see today as they sought to allure pollinators with their color, scent, and beauty. As gardens evolved, flowers were genetically modified and became altogether different from their wild ancestors who grew freely, unattended and yet thrived. However after several centuries of excitement over the ability to alter flowers, gardeners became concerned the original native plants might be completely lost. In the early 1900’s garden designer Gertrude Jeckyll (1843-1932) began a campaign to preserve the beautiful ‘flowering incidents’ occurring in woodland settings. In the 1970’s Lady Bird Johnson (1912-2007) recognized that urban expansion could possibly cause extinction of many wildflowers and placed their preservation on the national agenda. In 1982 Mrs. Johnson and actress Helen Hayes created the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin Texas to collect, identify, and preserve native plants of America. In her honor the center was renamed the Lady Bird Johnson Texas Wildflower Center and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of her birth this year.
Following the former first lady’s lead, Wildflower Societies sprang up in every state and the status of wildflowers was finally changed from noxious weed to treasured gem. Stretches of hiway are now adopted by dedicated volunteers and across the nation their beautification efforts are evident. Oklahoma’s Native Plant Society, formed in 1986, states their purpose is ‘to encourage the study, protection, propagation, appreciation and use of Oklahoma's native plants‘. With the society’s encouragement the Indian Blanket Flower was chosen as our state wildflower that year. A darling red flower with bright yellow on the tips of the petals, it has an evolving center that changes from green to deep red as it matures. It may be seen on every hillside, in every bar ditch, beside every Oklahoma road... beautifully blooming to brighten our day.