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Saving wildflowers and native plants, one yard at a time

A butterfly fills up on the nectar of a blue mist flower in Central Texas

A queen butterfly fills up on the nectar of a Gregg's mistflower in Central Texas. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

When it comes to planting wildflowers and native plants, Minnette Marr believes large-scale plantings are not always the way to go, as most people don’t own a big swath of land or even a few acres.

Marr, the conservation program manager for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, spoke at a recent Highland Lakes Birding and Wildflower Society meeting. She talked about how homeowners and communities can help spread wildflowers and native plants on a small scale.

“I truly believe each one of us — with our potted plants or small backyards — we can be an island to getting our native plants back out there,” Marr said during her presentation.

In the state of Texas, where wildflowers rule, people love seeing the roadways awash in color each spring. Keeping those blooms popping takes a lot of planning and care. The Texas Department of Transportation and counties delay summer mowing until after the plants have gone to seed to help promote future growth. Individuals can help, too.

One thing Marr pointed out was that wildflowers and native plants of the same species occur in different parts of the state, but each individual population might have characteristics unique to local conditions. She described this as an “ecotype.”

Plants, or their seeds, appear to do better when planted or seeded in the area it grew in.

That’s where local property owners can give those plants a boost. They can use seeds or plants collected locally in their own yards. Marr pointed out that even cities and schools can use these locally collected seeds and plants for their green spaces.

By also taking a more localized approach, Marr said people who live or frequent an area — whether it’s a neighborhood, local park, or community — will notice changes and be able to respond. She told of a Blanco resident who noticed one of the local churches getting ready to add to its parking lot. As the woman was walking near the area that would soon be dug up, she saw a native morning glory species, a tiny one.

Realizing this species wasn’t all that common, she contacted the wildflower center and inquired if they were interested in them. Several wildflower center crew members, the church pastor, the woman who spotted the flower, and a few volunteers gathered at the future parking lot one cold, gray day and collected the plants.

About 47 of them were replanted at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Some were also given to people living in the area where the morning glory was found. Marr said many of those plants ended up in yards, gardens, and even pots, ensuring the population continues in the Blanco area.

Other places from which people have collected seeds or plants include property for sale. Marr has often reached out to real estate agents when she sees a sign go up on property to inquire if she can collect seeds or plants from the land.

“It’s always the local person, walking and noticing things,” Marr said. “It takes a team.”

The whole idea revolves around showing people how they can make a difference, even if it’s planting locally found seeds in their garden or backyard. Those seeds become habitat and food sources for pollinators or local wildlife.

A big challenge facing migrating pollinators such as monarch butterflies is that much of their habitat is being destroyed. Marr said individuals can make a difference by cultivating plants they need, even on a smaller scale. Those smaller plots can become islands for wildlife, birds, and pollinators. And with enough “islands,” they can provide usable and viable habitat.

Collecting seeds or plants is easy, she added. It’s just a matter of connecting with people involved in organizations such as the wildflower center, the birding and wildflower society, or Master Naturalists.

“If you can share seeds with your neighbor, your science teacher, your local Girl Scout, well, you can do a lot that way,” Marr said.

For more information on collecting and sharing wildflower seeds, check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website or attend one of the Highland Lakes Birding and Wildflower Society meetings to connect with knowledgeable people. The organization meets the first Thursday of the month at the Burnet County AgriLife Extension Service Office, 607 N. Vandeveer St. in Burnet. The meetings start at 9:30 a.m. The public is welcome.