Spring Wildflowers a Seasonal Draw to Parks
Editor’s Note: Nature’s beauty in spring brings out many tourists to wildlife preserves and to camp at nearby campgrounds. That season is just around the corner.
Get ready for spring’s magic act – the carpeting of the landscape in vibrant color. Look for some of the most ooh- and ahh-inducing spring wildflower displays on national wildlife refuges across the country, according to a bulletin from the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Their abundance there is no accident. Many refuges encourage these natural beauties by harvesting their seeds and replanting them for wildlife’s benefit. Once you learn how local blooms help native bees and butterflies, and withstand stresses that kill other plants, you may want to plant some in your home garden. Some refuges offer help, through wildflower walks, demonstration gardens and web pages that showcase easy-to-grow varieties and where to find them.
- At Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Iowa, prairie violets help open nature’s spring show in April. Wild geraniums and sweet william follow. Weather has a say in how bright a show you see. “It depends how much snowpack we get in the winter or rainfall in the spring,” says refuge manager Christy Smith. Last year’s drought dimmed some flower displays, but heightened others. “The wonderful thing about native plants is that they are able to adapt to temporal changes,” says Smith. Neal Smith Refuge has a butterfly garden and a tallgrass trail, where native prairie plants attract butterflies in great numbers.
- At Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, refuge manager Cindy Beemiller is anticipating a “great” spring bloom, starting in April. The refuge’s Bayscape Garden, maintained by volunteers, holds more than 40 species of native wildflowers that draw butterflies and moths. Favorites include goldenrod (solidago), columbine, rudbeckia, coreopsis, phlox and gaillardia. The garden is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to sunset. Ask to receive a new booklet on native wildflowers that you can plant at home.
- Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma is preparing for an influx of spring wildflower enthusiasts. Wildfires and drought like those recently seen in the region promote wildflower growth, says supervisory biologist Walter Munsterman, “so we should have a good year.” The Friends of the Wichitas, a refuge support group, will host three spring wildflower walks (May 11, May 18 and May 25).
“Usually, wildlife photographers are out here getting photos of Indian blanket, coreopsis tinctoria and wild blue indigo,” says visitor services staffer Quinton Smith (no relation to Christy or Neal). “Prickly pear is starting to bloom then. Barrel cactus has beautiful pink flowers on it.”
Other regional favorites are Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) and several species of coneflowers, says Munsterman. All are hearty and can be cultivated.
Some refuges and refuge Friends groups have standout wildflower photos online. For detailed information specific to a region, contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service offices.