The Native Plant Society of Texas was started in the Fall of 1980 by Carroll Abbott of Kerrville and sponsored by several members of the faculty of Texas Woman’s University (TWU) in Denton along with other learned and interested individuals.
The Society owes a great debt of gratitude to those who worked so devotedly to help guide and develop our organization. Their efforts helped awaken the citizens of Texas both to the urgent need to preserve our native plants and to the wisdom of conserving and utilizing them in our landscapes. Here are some past presidents.
The Organizing Committee served as a Committee of the Whole, to receive charter membership dues, disburse monies, establish a permanent office and other necessary business. There were over 420 charter members signed up by April 25, 1981.
The Organizing Committee members were Dr. Mary Evelyn Blagg Huey, then president of Texas Woman’s University; Dr. Robert Collier (Dean), Dr. Kenneth Fry, and Dr. William Beale, faculty members of TWU; Gertrude Gibson and Audrey Tittle [Silvername], staff members from TWU; Benny Simpson, Texas A&M research scientist; Carroll Abbott, Wildflower Seedsman and publisher; and Kay Warmerdam and Leita Davis, Texas Garden Clubs, Inc. representatives. Although not a committee member, mention should be made of the late Billie C. Thompson, Dr. Robert Collier’s secretary at TWU. Her loyalty and assistance were tremendous during the early days of the Society and were greatly appreciated.
With the help of Dr. Huey and some of her students, Carroll was able to successfully lobby Texas legislators to have the fourth Saturday in April designated as Texas Wildflower Day.
For a number of years, TWU hosted Society meetings on their campus in conjunction with Wildflower Day. Outstanding speakers from all over Texas gave programs, and an awards luncheon was held. Among recipients of these awards were Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, District 15 80th-83rd (1947-1955).
Books, plants and artwork were sold, especially the beautiful wildflower watercolors of the late Mary Jo Laughlin of McKinney. Mary Jo’s painting of the bluebonnet was donated to the Society and is the official logo of the Society.
A plant-in was also held at the Wildflower Garden on campus with the help of enthusiastic volunteers. One of the highlights of the meeting was the exhibit of wildflower specimens for identification. Noteworthy, too, was the exhibit of drawings and paintings of wildflowers by area school children. Prizes were given in various age categories and hundreds of children took part in this. Both parents and children learned a great deal about wildflowers and the need to preserve and appreciate them. As the Society grew and membership expanded throughout the state, the annual meeting location was moved from year to year to accommodate the members in the various regions. Our roots, however, will always be at TWU.
The first President of the Society was Kay Warmerdam of Lewisville, an expert on wildflowers who was given special permission by the Texas Highway Department to dig and relocate wildflowers that were in danger of being destroyed. Many of the plants she saved were taken to the Wildflower Garden at TWU. Some plants were taken to her own beautiful garden, which she frequently opened for tours, to show how native plants can be blended in with more traditional plantings. She served two terms as president, guiding the fledgling organization most ably.
Carroll Abbott, the founder of the Native Plant Society of Texas, would be very pleased with the strides made in the Native Plant movement today. Years ago, Carroll gave up a career as an $80,000 a year political advisor to such folks as Lyndon Johnson, John Connally, Ben Barnes and others, to devote himself to the cause of the disappearing wildflowers. As he traveled the state, he noticed the many areas of once-plentiful flowers that were disappearing to bulldozing and development. He started collecting seeds and getting plants from bar ditches and railroad rights-of-way, started “Green Horizons” and selling native plants and seeds. He did landscaping jobs and gave lectures on growing wildflowers. Later, he published the national award-winning “Texas Wildflower Newsletter,” with excellent articles, many by his friend and advisor, Benny Simpson.
Carroll also wrote How To Know And Grow Texas Wildflowers, the forerunner of propagating natives, with much useful information. After many difficult years, Carroll and his ideas received the attention they deserved.
His devoted wife Pat and his children helped unflaggingly with the business. The sacrifices they all made were many, and we who have so vastly benefitted from that dedication are eternally grateful. Today it is a simple matter to go to a nursery and purchase countless varieties of natives that 20 years ago were never available. Carroll’s idea of scarifying bluebonnet seeds made them easier to grow and today they are sold in pots all over the state. He was dubbed “Mr. Texas Wildflower” for his work.
In 1984, on July 5, Carroll Abbott died of cancer. A Memorial Garden was dedicated to him in Kerrville.
His aim to keep attention focused on the preserving, conservation and utilization of Texas wildflowers lives on in each of us. It is truly a testament to his devotion to see the many landscapes at housing developments, offices and public buildings all comprised of Texas native plants. In his writings, his sign-off was “Grow Good — Always and All Ways!” With his legacy as an inspiration, I’m sure we of the Native Plant Society of Texas will continue to do just that.