With Valentines Day around the corner, millions of people are flocking to grocery stores and floral shops to buy flowers for that special someone. The National Retail Federation estimates that 37.8% of Americans will purchase flowers this Valentines Day and spend more than $2 billion. Many people will enjoy roses and carnations on February 14th but very few pay attention to all the wildflowers around them.
I help run and coordinate the UT Tree Nursery for the Campus Environmental Center at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in south Austin. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was founded by Lady Bird Johnson, our former first lady, and actress Helen Hayes in 1982 to protect and preserve North America’s native plants and natural landscapes as well as to introduce people to the beauty and diversity of wildflowers and other native plants. Since 2006 the Center has also served as an Organized Research Unit of the University of Texas at Austin housing projects ranging from landscape ecology to switchgrass biofuel research.
The importance of wildflowers goes much further than physical beauty or even the preservation of biodiversity. Wildflowers across the country are important resources for pollinators, especially migratory species that are rapidly declining, in part, due to habitat loss. The White House reports that pollinators contribute more than $24 billion to the US economy and the declining populations of essential wildflowers inhibit the extent that pollinators can provide their valuable ecosystem service.
This Valentines Day, keep in mind that the symbols of love and beauty we so often exchange are all around us.