This Bud’s for You, America

by Bill Chameides | May 7th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | Comments Off on This Bud’s for You, America

It’s Wildflower Week! Do you know your flower species? Show off your knowledge and appreciation of wildflowers in our quiz. Then go out and smell the roses — you know, the wild ones. (Marielle Anzelone

Wildflowers. For many, they are at best a mere backdrop to our hectic, stressed-out lives. But let’s take a moment today to smell the flowers. Why? This is National Wildflower Week.

Next time you’re driving down an Interstate, take a moment (without too much eye-time off the road, of course) to soak in the scenery. If it’s during the spring, summer, or fall, chances are you’ll see one of Lady Bird Johnson’s legacies — wildflowers blossoming along the medians and off the shoulders of our highways and byways.

A Walk on the Wild Side

A Texas native, Mrs. Johnson, nee Claudia Alta Taylor, grew up surrounded by the Southwest’s natural riches where, in her own words, “[her] heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.” But as Lady Bird traveled around the country she was struck by the growing commercialization and blandness of our landscape, the plethora of billboards, and the loss of natural color along our highways. And so thanks to her tireless efforts, we got the Beautification Act of 1965, aka “Lady Bird’s Bill.” The bill cleaned up many of the nation’s roadways by outlawing ugly signs, screening junkyards from view, and encouraging scenic enhancements like the planting of wildflowers.

While the bill sounds innocuous enough today, the account provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation suggests that its passage was very contentious. One interesting tidbit was the attempt by then-Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) to add a “poison-pill” amendment making Lady Bird, instead of the Secretary of Commerce, in charge of the program. The attempt failed (by voice vote) and the bill was signed into law by President Johnson with Lady Bird present on October 22, 1965.

Mark Your Calendar: National Wildflower Week

Another of Lady Bird’s legacies is National Wildflower Week, established to put the spotlight on these natural gems that pop up on their own and wash the landscape with bright and varied colors.

Some might ask if we really need a Wildflower Week. If you are one of those, consider this: as much as 30 percent of the world’s native flora is at risk of extinction.

You may also be interested to know that wildflowers — native flowering plants that grow without cultivation — help provide medicine, clothing, paper and cardboard, spearmint for toothpaste and gum, and, along with the rest of the local ecosystem, improve air quality and water quality, and even help moderate temperatures. (See here for more details.)

In 1970 Joni Mitchell, inspired by the spectacular natural beauty she saw on her first trip to Hawaii, remarked in song: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone?” The ‘it’ that may soon be gone may very well be our nation’s natural flora.

According to the National Park Service, there are 660 threatened and endangered U.S. plants and another 4,500 U.S. plant species at risk of extinction.

So, in honor of National Wildflower Week, you might want to make a point of literally going out and smelling the flowers, specifically the wildflowers. But before you do, take our Wildflower ID Quiz and help spread the seeds of knowledge.

What Am I? Or … Who Among You Readers Knows Their Flower Species?

IMAGE 1. This rarity is endangered in seven of its 20 native states: Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee. (Marielle Anzelone)

IMAGE 2. The seeds of this woodland wildflower, whose drooping buds are shaped like bells, were reportedly used by Native Americans as a love charm. (Marielle Anzelone)

IMAGE 3. Found in deciduous woods, fields and roadsides throughout the eastern U.S., these plants flower to heights of three inches in late spring. (Marielle Anzelone)

IMAGE 4. Yep. Some wildflowers have edible, delicious fruit. (Marielle Anzelone)

IMAGE 5. The seemingly ubiquitous fruit of this plant is colloquially referred to as “space bug”, “monkey ball”, “bommyknocker,” “gumball,” or “sticky ball.” (Marielle Anzelone)

IMAGE 6. Sprouting up to three feet tall in the eastern U.S., this wildflower, sometimes called bitter bloom, can be spotted in moist fields, woods, meadows, and along roadsides. (Marielle Anzelone)


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