Monday, June 3, 2013

Wildflowers

Oklahoma's state wildflower is the Indian Painted Blanket~




The wildflowers have begun a spectacular show and a drive along any road will provide a glimpse into the beauty of our naturalized countryside. Fossil records indicate that flowers appeared quite suddenly about 80 to 90 million years ago; today they are the most abundant plants on the earth. Originally plants were generated from spore, however with the emergence of seeds plants needed birds and insects to achieve fertilization. Flowers needed pollinators and the showy forms we see today emerged as a way to seduce them with scent and beauty.

Egypt was involved early in botanical exploration. Excavations of the Nile Valley have shown remains of 25 plants, including cattails, all of which date over 17,000 years ago. Chemical analysis on ancient Egyptian fabrics indicates dyes from plants were used as long ago as 1300 BC. Flower gardens are depicted in murals painted on the bedroom walls 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 their 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. As European discoverers made their way across the planet, they 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 there was no interest in common wildflowers. However in the early 19th century American and English gardeners began to note the appeal of ‘natural’ gardens growing in woodland seclusion. Gertrude Jeckyll, (1843-1932) created over 400 gardens in Europe and America and her influence on wildflower gardening is to be commended. It is through her efforts in preserving ‘flowering incidents’ in woodland settings that we recognize the importance of flowers growing in the wilderness. Take a drive and enjoy the beauty of Oklahoma in the spring!