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Biodiversity & Conservation

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Wildflower Center) takes a multipronged approach to conserving native plants. Through partnerships, information sharing, seed collection and banking, rare plant monitoring and research, botanical expertise, and citizen science, they have become a recognized leader in plant conservation in the state of Texas.

Photo by Lee Page

The Wildflower Center is a cornerstone of plant conservation activities in Texas. The Center’s conservation staff works with partners and stakeholders to address some of the most pressing plant conservation needs in Texas. Over the last decade, these needs have included:

•    Educating and inspiring landowners and the public about the importance of conserving Texas’ natural heritage and biodiversity
•    Dissemination of information
•    Collaborating with private landowners and public land stewards to bank well-documented seed collections of native plants adapted to local conditions
•    Providing land stewards and university-level researchers germplasm for projects
•    Developing a network of citizen scientists to scout for and report on the presence of invasive species 
•    Surveying vegetation for the National Park Service from Big Bend to the Big Thicket as partners in the Inventory and Monitoring Network
•    Administering a competitive award program in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to benefit four endangered species

Ex Situ (off-site) Conservation 

Garden works to protect species of greatest conservation need

Texas is home to well over 1,300 plant and animal species known as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN). These include federal- and state-listed species as well as those that have not been listed due to lack of information. As a recipient of one of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Conservation License Plate Grants, the Wildflower Center helped update conservation ranks for a few of these species—which helps prioritize and improve conservation efforts moving forward. Plant Conservationist Minnette Marr began reviewing ranks for 15 of these plant species during the winter of 2017–2018, updating information about their known occurrences and considering such factors as species range, abundance, and threats. Field trips were taken to scout for populations of SGCN; in cases where imminent threats from construction or non-native pests exist, efforts were made to collect seeds from SGCN for the Center’s seed bank. 

The Wildflower Center has an appendix to its Living Collection Policy that specifically addresses SGCN. With rare possible exceptions, the Center will not sell species with a state conservation ranking of S1, S2 or S3. Any exceptions to this policy must be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Conservation Program Manager. 

Garden developed and managed an important invasive species resource

The Center developed and managed an important invasive species resource, Texasinvasives.org, beginning in 2005. Created in partnership with the Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and many others, Texasinvasives.org is a multifaceted program, including a website and database, that acts as a hub for government agencies, nonprofits, academia, and conservation organizations to share best practices and disseminate information directly to the Texas public. In 2020, the entire program transferred to the Texas Invasive Species Institute at Sam Houston State University, which will be responsible for the statewide mapping effort, management of the website, and all other aspects of the program.

Garden trained citizen scientists to identify, report and map invasive species

The Center trained citizen scientists to identify and report invasive species and recruited their help in conserving vulnerable plant species. The Texasinvasives.org program included two citizen science efforts (see here and here), which trained Texans to identify and report invasive species. Since 2005, the Invaders of Texas Program has conducted over 120 workshops, established more than 75 satellite groups, trained over 2,800 citizens and recorded more than 21,000 observations.

The Center also partnered with the National Park Service to assist with invasive species management by mapping invasive plant species in six parks across three states: San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve in Louisiana, and three Mississippi parks: Gulf Islands National Seashore, Vicksburg National Military Park, and the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Garden volunteers collected seeds to help protect against an invasive species

In addition, almost 200 citizen scientist volunteers participated in the Center’s ash tree conservation project, saving 125,000 seeds primarily from one species, Fraxinus albicans, in counties within the Edwards Plateau and Cross Timbers ecoregions of Texas. This species is threatened by the presence of emerald ash borers. Creating a collection of ash seeds will be helpful to reestablish the trees if necessary.

Garden staff and volunteers contributed to plant surveys at national parks

Center staff and volunteers contributed to plant surveys at Big Bend National Park, Padre Island National Seashore, Big Thicket National Preserve, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Lake Amistad National Recreation Area. They were hired by the National Park Service to collect data used to create detailed vegetation maps that are vital for park planning, vegetation management, and resource protection—including of rare and endangered species.

Photo by Hans Landel

Garden prioritizes threatened species for ex situ preservation

The Center partners with the Center for Plant Conservation, other conservation organizations, academia, private landowners, and state and federal agencies to bank seeds to share with university botanists studying the life history of and threats to SGCN in Texas. The Wildflower Center is tasked with securing funds related to the conservation of 14 species

Garden collaborates to protect pollinators and the native pollinator plants

Native pollinators need native plants and natural landscapes to survive. The Wildflower Center helps by creating pollinator habitats in urban planned landscapes such as at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas and the Mission Reach on the San Antonio River.

Photo by John W. Clark

The Center also helps gardeners nationwide to select from thousands of plants that sustain bees and butterflies via its Native Plants of North America database and features many at plant sales. Wildflower Center programs and events educate school groups, adults, and children about native pollinators and the plants that they need. Conservation staff collects and conserves seeds of important pollinator plants for future use and research. 

Project Milkweed, in particular, increased the abundance of native milkweeds by collecting and distributing seeds of native Texas milkweeds to local growers. Project Milkweed accomplishments include collecting seeds of locally adapted ecotypes of milkweed (Asclepias spp.) within the Texas/Oklahoma monarch migration corridor, growing milkweeds and developing growing protocols and best practices for seedling propagation and distribution, safeguarding seeds of local ecotypes in national and Wildflower Center seed banks, and training citizen scientists to collect seed, grow plants, and increase milkweed populations in their communities. After research indicated that the decline in the number of monarchs overwintering in Mexico was due in part to a lack of nectar species during the southbound migration, Project Milkweed became the model for a similar program to increase the diversity and quantity of nectar species available to volunteer growers.


Photo by Val Bugh

Garden maintains, shares, and backs up genetically unique 

germplasm

The Wildflower Center’s seed bank includes accessions for horticultural use, restoration purposes, and ex situ conservation. The restoration and ex situ conservation collections follow Seeds of Success and Millennium Seed Bank protocols that serve to maximize accession genetic diversity. Conservation accessions are backed up at Mercer Botanic Garden.

Photo by Christina Murrey

In Situ (on-site) Conservation 

Garden supports use and recovery of native North American species

Through its demonstration gardens/living collections and outreach and education efforts, the Wildflower Center promotes the use of native plants and conservation of wild populations. The Center’s on-site gardens promote the conservation of species where they naturally occur by showcasing native species that can (and should) be used in place of common invasives such as Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese tallow, and Brazilian peppertree. The gardens exhibit, highlight, and inspire an appreciation of the floral diversity of Texas; further, they provide the opportunity for guests to take that inspiration home via plant sales, which offer nearly 300 species of Texas native plants to members and the general public.

Photo by Sean Watson

Relatedly, the Center grew 700,000 Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) saplings from a unique local genetic source to replenish the Lost Pines area of Bastrop County, which was devastated by wildfires in 2011. The Center helped regenerate public and private lands in the Lost Pines area as a participant in the Bastrop County Community Reforestation Program, a five-year effort funded by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Garden prioritizes threatened species with on-site care and propagation

Not only does the Center work toward conserving species through seed collection and research, its greenhouses also provide temporary refuge for SGCN in imminent danger. Roughly 60 endangered Tobusch fishhook cacti (Ancistrocactus tobuschii), for instance, were salvaged from construction sites in 2012 for eventual repatriation into suitable wild habitat. During such plants’ stay at the Center, important information on flowering and growing habits was collected. These research findings help inform future management and recovery efforts for these particular species. Several years earlier, the same was done for Texas poppy mallow (Callirhoe scabriuscula). Working in collaboration with a landowner, Angelo State University, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Center collected nearly 2,000 seeds for reintroduction at the rescue site after construction, established over 50 plantings in its tree yard, and collected nearly 5,000 seeds for research, reintroductions, and long-term storage.

Garden has taxa in living collection that are of conservation concern

The Wildflower Center’s on-site gardens include a curated ex situ conservation collection. Exceptional species include big red sage (Salvia pentstemonoides), Hinckley oaks (Quercus hinckleyi), Texabama croton (Croton alabamensis var. texensis), Longspur columbine (Aquilegia longissima), Anacacho orchid trees (Bauhinia lunarioides), Texas barberry (Mahonia swaseyi), and several other taxa considered SGCN.

 Photo by Lee Page

Garden uses appropriately sourced plants in its natural areas

Taxa selected for addition to the Center’s natural areas would most likely have occurred historically in the area, on sites similar to the property or have been sourced from as close to the Center’s site as possible.  

Garden supports recovery of native North American species

As a native plant garden, the Wildflower Center’s practices focus on the recovery and use of native North American species. The Center also supports native plant recovery for other organizations and individuals by offering plants for their restoration projects (see Loblolly pine restoration project above), as well as by selling locally adapted native plants to home gardeners at plant sales—an important step toward converting the cultivated landscape in urban areas and making long-term change one yard at a time.  

Staff Expertise

Garden staff makes field-wide contributions and collaborates with other research communities to build capacity and provide maximum benefit for plant conservation 

The Center has strong connections with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Texan by Nature, National Wildlife Federation, National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, the Native Plant Society of Texas, and the Texas Master Naturalist program. 

Photo by Ray Mathews

The Center has hosted interns from The University of Texas at Austin’s seed conservation program and is currently hosting a postdoctoral researcher who is examining 20 years of data from the on-site prescribed fire research. The Center also assist with other university research projects when possible. One example is the current effort to conserve native species by sending seeds from Mexican ash trees (Fraxinus berlandieriana) to colleagues at the University of Georgia.

Garden staff contribute plant conservation expertise in the following areas:

•    Seed collection and seed banking of Texas plants 
•    Reintroduction of native species in large landscapes damaged by catastrophic events (fire and floods) and modified by development (agriculture and urban development)
•    Conservation and propagation of threatened and endangered plants in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
•    Training of citizen scientists in invasive species identification and control efforts
•    Administration of vegetation surveys for the National Park Service and other entities
•    Development of propagation protocols for Asclepias spp. and other native plants.
•    Participation in educational programs 

Contact Information

Address: 4801 La Crosse Ave, Austin, TX 78739 

Phone: (512) 232-0100

No. of species:  900

Land area: 284 acres

Website: https://www.wildflower.org/