It does my heart good to see a room filled with this many people and think that I might well be the least nerdy one in it. Keynote Speaker PlatoThe name of that guy at the podium is Plato Touliatos from Memphis, and he was the keynote speaker at this year's Arkansas Wildflower Convention. The thing to note about this photo is that for every person in this hall, there was an applicant who didn't get in. This is a popular event, and space is assigned on a first-come-first-serve basis.

I'm not exactly sure who sponsored the thing. Judging from the literature I got, it looks like the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is the main organinzer. The Cooperative Extension Service is a sort of go-between agency that connects other agencies and distributes information and servies between and among the public and those agencies. For example, if you're a county official and you want some roadsides and medians in your county planted with wildflowers, the Cooperative Extension Service would introduce you to appropriate guys from the Highway Department, possibly a U. of A. botanist or two, a rep from the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Foundation and maybe someone from the Dept. of Agriculture. You've still got to come up with the cash for the project yourself.

Don the Fern ManI missed most of the keynote address because I was out in the woods with this man. His name is Don and he's a fern expert. I'll bet my last gametophyte you weren't aware that Arkansas is a hothouse of fern activity. (And with fronds like this, who needs anemones?) Don became interested in ferns when he was out hunting one day and found an unusual specimen. He took a bushel of it to James Peck (one of the world's foremost fern wranglers) of the U. of A. at Little Rock for identification. The plant turned out to be Lousewort, not a fern at all; but Don was hooked. He's since given up hunting animals altogether and hunts plants exclusively.

And if you hunt plants in Arkansas, you'll eventually become aware of this man.The Man Who Wrote the BookThat's Carl G. Hunter... "THE" Carl G. Hunter, the man who wrote "Wildflowers of Arkansas." In my section there were some twenty-five people, about two thirds of which cradled his book in their arms as he guided us through the woods.

Here's one of the things he found for us. Fairly rare in these parts. Large Yellow Lady's-SlipperA large yellow lady's-slipper. It's a kind of orchid that grows in the boggy loam of low, damp, tick-infested areas between forested hills. These were the first I've ever seen in the wild, and I wouldn't have seen these, had not the guides pictured above found them in preparation for these nature walk seminars.

Your twenty buck fee buys a full day's activities, including a plate lunch and a coffee/doughnut breakfast. In addition to the keynote speech and Q&A by a respected professional gardener/nurseryman, I got to pick three individual seminars from the list below:

Granted it ain't Star Wars, but that's a lot of doings for twenty bucks. In addition to the Wildflower Walk, I took the Community Plantings and Medicinal Plants seminar. In Community Plantings I learned that a lot of the weeds and wildflower meadows along the roadsides and medians of the state have been planted there on purpose and that the communities that sponsor these plantings have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense and that I shouldn't dig them up and plant them in my own garden (any more). I also learned that these things should be left alone even after they've gone to seed because the seeds of these plantings are important food sources for wildlife.

I finished out the day with the Native Medicinals seminar, about half of which was disclaimer. I guess there are legal problems with nonmedical professionals making medical recommendations while under the auspices of these various agencies. So there was a lot of this: "I'm not recommending that anybody do this, but here's what was done historically...."

Spreading the Good News of Native PlantsDon't think you'll get out of there spending only twenty bucks, though. Lining the entryway to the 4H center is a gauntlet of native plant merchants from around the state who look forward to this one annual event when all their best customers are gathered in one place. If you've been looking for that hard-to-find trumpet honeysuckle or the odd button snakeroot, this annual botannical Turkish bazaar is your best bet.

Stray facts: Arkansas has about 2000 species of native wildflowers, twice as many as neighbor Louisianna, due to greater variation in habitats.

Link to: U. of A. Dept of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service


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