. . . starring
your local flora is now appearing on the public lands near you!
The national forests, national parks, national
wildlife refuges, grasslands, and millions of acres of public lands are
truly America's wildflower gardens. Celebrating Wildflowers' National
Wildflower Week in late spring is an annual event. It launches a
year long campaign that promotes the many programs featuring the important
role that the Nation's public lands, over 630 million acres, play in providing
diverse habitats for much of America's flora.
Celebrating Wildflowers, a collaborative
commemoration between the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish
and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service, emphasizes the importance
of conservation and management of native plants and plant habitats and
highlights the aesthetic, recreational, biological, medicinal, and economic
values of wildflowers.
Importance of Plants
and Plant Communities
Plants and plant communities are critically
important to humans and their environment. Usually taken for granted,
the role they play in our lives ranges from subtle to obvious.
Plants have great aesthetic value.
How many of us would be willing to live without the plants beautifying
the world around us? From the forests, woodlands, and grasslands
surrounding our towns and cities to the wildflower gardens and natural
landscaping in backyards, native plants provide a spiritual link between
nature and our Nation's diverse cultural history. Many of the plants
grown by gardeners are domesticated versions of wild plants. Many
other gorgeous looking native plants have yet to be chosen for use in horticultural
Throughout history, plants have been of
paramount importance to medicine. You may not know it, but 80 percent
of all medicinal drugs originate from wild plants. In fact, 25 percent
of all prescriptions written annually in the United States contain chemicals
from plants! In spite of the technological and medical advances in
recent years, only 2 percent of the world's plant species have been analyzed
for even one group of plant chemicals, the alkaloids. Any one of
those plant chemicals could be useful. Take for example the pink
flower, Madagascar periwinkle, from which vincristine is derived.
Vincristine has increased the survival rate of children with leukemia from
20 percent to 80 percent. Another extremely promising drug is taxol,
derived from the Pacific Yew, which has worked against a broad range of
cancers, including ovarian cancer. As most plants remain untested
for medicinal potential, many more such drugs remain to be found.
Although some 3,000 species of plants
have been used by humans for food, 90 percent of the world's food comes
from only 20 plant species. Three grass species in particular, rice,
wheat, and corn, are by far the most important food plants in the world.
If a new unmanageable disease or pest were to suddenly attack one of those
species, an agricultural disaster could take place as a major food crop
is destroyed. Luckily, the basis for stopping that kind of a disaster
exists in the form of a genetic gold mine found in wild plants.
Native plants have great untapped potential
as sources of improved genetic traits such as disease resistance, drought
tolerance, and improved nutritional value. Have you ever admired
the bright yellow or orange head of a sunflower? Breeding with wild
species of sunflowers has produced the disease-resistant and highly productive
hybrids used as the basis of the sunflower industry which provides seeds,
oil and other products. So be sure to look with appreciation because
the wild flower before you may have been one of the founding species of
the $400 million sunflower industry.
Because they are food for animals, plants
are the real source of animal products we consume - beef, chicken, and
fish. Even dairy products such as milk and ice cream would not exist
if dairy cows did not have grass and other plants to eat.
Plants are immensely important for the
consumer goods they provide. Look around you. Fibers from plants
provide clothing. The paper for documents, the cardboard in boxes,
and the wood used to build our homes and offices depends on plants as well.
From the spearamint in your toothpaste to the jojoba oil in your shampoo
to floral perfume, plants have contributed to the things you find in your
bathroom. Beyond the more obvious plant derived products surrounding
you, it might surprise you that even future fuel needs may also be met
by plants. Possible fuel sources include hydrocarbons derived from
species like gopher plant or alcohols derived from corn and sugar cane.
While many of the most important industrial products come from relatively
common plants, rare and uncommon plants have provided exotic substances
ranging from insect repellent to lubricants. Use as industrial products
is yet another barely examined potential of plants.
Plant communities form the basis for many
important recreational activities, including hiking, fishing, hunting,
photography, and nature observation. Could you imagine fishing in
a pool surrounded by concrete or photographing animals and birds in an
asphalt parking lot? Without the plants creating the habitat as the
backdrop for those activities, recreation simply would not be as enjoyable
and aesthetically pleasing.
The oxygen in the air we breathe produced
by the photosynthesis of plants. Not only is the air produced by
plants, but the quality of the air can be greatly influenced by plants
as well. Vegetation can restrict the movement of dust and pollutants,
and plants, through their intake of carbon dioxide, can moderate the greenhouse
effect resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.
Plants are extremely important to the
quality of the water we use. A diverse cover of plants aids in maintaining
healthy watersheds, streams, and lakes by holding soil in place on the
banks, regulating stream flows, and filtering sediments from water by slowing
The delicate wildflowers and other plants
that dot the hillsides through spring, summer, and fall protect the soil
from rampaging rains as they have done for thousands of years. Without
adequate plant cover and root systems holding it in place, wind or water
will carry away the thin mantle of soil upon which our existence depends.
Regional climates are influenced by plant
cover. Forests and marshes, for example, can greatly moderate local
climates. Natural disasters, such as drought, have been attributed
to the destruction of forests and other critically important plant communities.
Fish and Wildlife
Plants and plant communities provide the
habitat necessary to sustain wildlife and fish populations. Plant
communities are the basis for virtually all terrestrial animal life because
they provide the vital compnents of survival, food and shelter. The
wildflowers you gaze upon aren't only beautiful, but useful as well, serving
as animals' meals and homes. Without the appropriate habitat to support
them, birds and animals of all kinds are in danger of extinction.
As described above, diverse plant communities
are extremely important for sustaining healthy ecosystems. When considering
the complex interactions, such as the food web, that are found in ecosystems,
you realize that every species counts! Plant habitats must be protected
before species become critically endangered. With your support, we
can conserve the more than 660 threatened and endangered U.S. plants and
the 4,500 other U.S. plant species which are at risk of extinction.
Going Wild Over
Over 15,000 different species of native
plants are recognized from the United States and Canada. Several
areas of the country are particularly rich in plant species, including
California, Florida, Hawaii, and the Southwest. Many new species
are discovered each year. Just recently, the Shasta snow wreath,
an attractive shrub, was discovered in the hills of northern California.
The first step in appreciating wildflowers
is to explore the public lands. Wildflowers are easy to spot and
nearly all natural areas have guidebooks for beginners. You can also
call local botanical gardens and arboreta. Educational materials
include plant identification books, coloring books, and trail guides to
highlight the best ways to learn about and enjoy the wonders of our native
wildflowers. Numerous guided walks, displays, and presentations are
available from federal agencies and private organizations in order to aid
you in your appreciation and understanding of the values of the wildflowers
right under your nose! Please, don't pick the wildflowers.
Etiquette - The Dos and Don'ts of Wildflower Appreciation
Wildflowers are the jewels of the public
lands. Like any treasure, they must be protected for all to enjoy.
You can join the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife
Service, and the National Park Service in the stewardship of these priceless
Volunteer Opportunities - Make
Take a hike and stop to smell the fragrant
Take only photographs and memories when you
Please, don't pick the flowers.
Tread lightly and stay on the trail.
Don't be afraid to ask for information on
Get involved! Explore volunteer opportunities
on your public lands.
If you are interested in learning more
about native flora or would like to share your appreciation with others,
the Nation's public lands - over 630 million acres - offer many volunteer
opportunities. You can help by:
For more information, contact:
Surveying lands to discover new plant species
Monitoring known plant populations to determine
Building fences to protect plant populations.
Removing weedy alien plants to restore plant
populations and their habitats.
Visiting a local school to share your knowledge
and appreciation of wildflowers with students.
Becoming a host at a local visitor center,
park, or forest.
Serving as a guide or gardener at local arboreta
or public gardens.
Bureau of Land Management
Division of Public Affairs
1849 C St. NW, Suite 5600
Washington, DC 20240
USDA Forest Service
Office of Communications
P.O. Box 96090
Washington, DC 20090-6090
National Park Service
Public Affairs Office
1849 C St. NW, Rm 3424
Washington, DC 20240
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Office of Public Affairs
1849 C St. NW, Rm 3012
Washington, DC 20240
Or contact your local botanical
garden, arboreta or other natural area!
suggestions, and questions about the website should be directed to the
Last updated: 3/8/00
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