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NATIONAL WILDFLOWER RESEARCH CENTER

NATIONAL WILDFLOWER RESEARCH CENTER. The National Wildflower Research Center, a nonprofit organization based in Austin, was established to increase public awareness and appreciation of North American flora and to facilitate research on native wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and grasses for their preservation and reestablishment. The idea of a national center to study wildflowers and native plants was formulated by Lady Bird Johnson in response to her lifelong interest in the natural world and her concern, especially during the 1960s, about the rapid disappearance of natural areas. In her words, "the founding of the National Wildflower Research Center was my way of repaying some of the debt for the delight and sustenance Nature has given me all my life." Coupled with this concern was her frustration at the lack of information available on how to grow native species. Mrs. Johnson envisioned the Wildflower Center as a nationwide clearinghouse for information about wildflowers and native plants. The inaugural gift establishing the center came from Mrs. Johnson in the form of sixty acres of land east of Austin and $125,000 for initial funding. The Wildflower Center's formal charter was signed on October 21, 1982, and on December 22 the center opened in celebration of Mrs. Johnson's seventieth birthday. In addition to interested citizens and other friends of Mrs. Johnson's, early supporters of the Wildflower Center included cochairman Helen Hayes MacArthur and Board of Trustees Executive Committee members: Nash Castro, President; Mrs. Marshall T. Steves, Robert F. Lederer, Donald S. Thomas, and Carolyn Curtis, Vice Presidents; and John M. Barr, Secretary-Treasurer. The first Executive Director of the Wildflower Center (still serving in 1995) was Dr. David K. Northington.

The center operates through an executive committee of the board of trustees, with additional input from the board of trustees and an advisory council. The executive committee meets three times a year, and the full board meets biannually. The staff is organized by programs including research, education, membership, development, and administration. Financial support is provided by individual, foundation, and corporate grants and donations, membership dues, product sales, special events, and royalty agreements. The center's membership program, which began in 1984, is open to all interested individuals. Membership has grown from 1,211 in 1984 to 15,396 in 1990 and 20,000 in 1995. Members come from every state. Membership benefits include subscriptions to the center's bimonthly newsletter and semiannual journal, free information from the clearinghouse, advance notice of seminars and special events, and discounts on center products.

Through research and education, the Wildflower Center strives to bring about a fuller understanding of the ecological, economic, and aesthetic benefits of native plants. Research at the center includes studies on the propagation, cultivation, management, and reestablishment of native plants and their relationships and dependence upon other species in natural systems. A primary research objective is to provide appropriate information about native, indigenous plants so that every individual can participate in the conservation and reestablishment of our native flora at all levels-from home gardens to large natural areas. The center's research work aids professionals and amateurs with diverse interests, including highway and park managers, home gardeners, landscape designers, restoration ecologists, seed producers, nursery growers, and teachers. Cooperative research projects have been coordinated with other institutions and organizations across the country. Research results are published in the center's Wildflower Journal and other appropriate publications. The center's clearinghouse serves as a national network to link individuals, organizations, and agencies that work with native plants. The clearinghouse includes a reference library, slide collection, archives, vertical file system, and a database of information on native plant nurseries, seed companies, and related organizations. Information from the database is compiled in fact sheets for people requesting information about native plants for their region. To spread the word about the value of wildflowers and native plants, the education department conducts tours of the center grounds, visits classrooms, and develops and distributes educational materials. Educational outreach to larger audiences includes sponsorship of local and regional seminars, workshops, and conferences; participation in the programs of related organizations; and the publication of popular and technical articles in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, and journals.

The Wildflower Center facilities include a main building that houses the administrative offices, gift shop, reference library and slide collection, herbarium, and laboratory. Research areas include two greenhouses, a shade house, and a propagation house. Demonstration plantings and educational displays around the grounds allow visitors to see native plants of Central Texas in various settings. As part of the center's long-range plans to establish regional offices in several locations in North America, the center opened a Midwest Regional Office near Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1990. The office's mission is to educate Midwest residents about the importance of their regional ecosystems and serve as a resource for information on native plants of that region. In 1995 the center moved to a new forty-two-acre facility in southwest Austin.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Lady Bird Johnson and Carlton B. Lees, Wildflowers Across America (New York: Abbeville Press, 1988). National Wildflower Research Center Archives, Austin. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Elizabeth S. Anderson

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Elizabeth S. Anderson, "NATIONAL WILDFLOWER RESEARCH CENTER," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/txn01), accessed September 19, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.