Location: 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, Texas 78739
Size: 279 acres
Established in 1982 as the National Wildflower Research Center and later renamed in 1998 as The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the center is one of the country’s most credible research institutions and effective advocates for native plants. The center was founded by Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady of the U.S. during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, and actress Helen Hayes as a resource to protect and preserve North America’s native plants and natural landscapes.
Their mission statement:
The mission of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes.
In 2005, the center partnered with the American Society of Landscape Architects to create the Sustainable Sites Initiative as a way to promote and develop sustainability standards for landscapes nationwide, a pioneering effort in a time when green building and construction standards for landscapes are limited at best. Today, the center also functions as an Organizational Research Unit of The University of Texas at Austin.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center spans over 270 acres and is home to a great diversity of plant life in the Central Texas Hill Country, South and West Texas. A colorful showcase of Texas’ ecological heritage, landscapes range from woodlands to rolling meadows to fields of wildflowers and other native plants.
Though the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is an important cultural and research resource for the region, the center is actually inaccessible by public transportation. Located southwest of downtown Austin within Texas hill country, it takes over an over and a half hours on public transit followed by a two to three mile bike ride to reach the final destination. Though I was disappointed that public transit didn’t reach the center, I’m still glad I made the long commitment to navigate my way (with some questionable bicycling directions) to the center.
In the springtime, the center is awash with the colors of blooming wildflowers. Winter is an understandably low point for scenic vistas–the center waives the admission fee in January to boost visitation in the quieter months. Though there wasn’t much to see in the plant realm, their environmentally friendly and award-winning architecture are beautiful additions to visit, such as the aqueduct, one of several water features that harvests water for the 70,000-gallon rainwater collection system.
As an internationally renowned research institution, the center also hosts an online database of more than 7,200 native species known as the Native Plant Information Network. Educational programs and exhibits on native plant life and ecology are also held for both children and adults. A rotating exhibit of art and photography, walking trails, and a cafe are also on site. A photographer’s dream in the spring, I look forward to revisiting the center in the future.