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Wildflower central, near Austin, Texas.

TEXAS-BORN SONGBIRD NANCI Griffith sings a ballad, "Gulf Coast Highway," about a homestead that is "the only place bluebonnets grow." Well, with all due respect to Ms. Griffith, that's not so. This month, Texas is so daubed with bluebonets and Indian paintbrush that every other county road seems equal to Monet's garden at Giverny.

It's fitting, then, that the Lone Star State possesses the only center in the United States devoted solely to investigating wildflowers and other native plants of North America: the National Wildflower Research Center, 10 miles east of Austin. The NWRC can also direct you to wildflower drives--at peak bloom this month--and help your home garden go native.


"If you care about rain forests," says NWRC public information coordinator Elizabeth Carmack, "it's just as important to care about the plants native to your own backyard."

Throughout the United States, these native wildflowers and grasses are quite literally losing ground--pushed aside by introduced species, by agriculture, by urban development. The center estimates that of North America's 20,000 species of flowering plants, some 3,000 stand at risk of extinction.

It was to give this floral home team a boost that Lady Bird Johnson founded the NWRC in 1982, on a former hay farm.

Carmack explains that while native wildflowers tend to need less in the way of water, fertilizer, and pesticides than introduced species, home gardeners and commercial growers shy away from planting them, in part because gaps exist in our knowledge of how these flowers best thrive.

You'll see how botanists work to fill these gaps, as you view the wildflower meadows, pollination garden (planted with hummingbird bush and gay-feather to attract hummingbirds and butterflies), and native clump grass plantings. There's also a good book and gift store.


To reach the center from Austin, go east on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which turns into Webberville Road at U.S. 183; continue 4 miles until you reach FM 973; turn south and drive 1 mile to the center, at 2600 FM 973 North.

Hours are 9 to 4 weekdays; from April 4 through May 10, the center is also open 10 to 4 weekends. Admission is free, but a donation of $2 per vehicle is encouraged. A wildflower festival is scheduled for the weekend of April 11 and 12. For details, call (512) 929-3600.

From March 23 through May 31, the center's wildflower hotline offers updated listings of Texas wildflower drives. Call (512) 370-0000, then punch 9500.

Finally, the center offers 250 native plant fact sheets. An introductory packet, tailored to your state or region, includes recommended species and sources; it's free with $25 membership, $2 for nonmembers. Send a self-addressed 9- by 12-inch envelope to Clearinghouse, National Wildflower Research Center, 2600 FM 973 N., Austin 78725.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:National Wildflower Research Center
Author:Fish, Peter
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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