Wildflowers and other native plants dot the highways and byways of our state, from the Panhandle out west down to Beaver’s Bend in far southeastern Oklahoma. Many of them live and thrive without any help from people, but there are some folks who get really excited about said native wildlife – those would be the members of the Oklahoma Native Plant Society.
Sue Amstutz and Constance Murray are both charter members of the organization, started in 1986 with the stated purpose of encouraging the study, protection, propagation, appreciation and use of Oklahoma’s native plants.
Amstutz, a retired music teacher with Tulsa Public Schools, has been a wildflower enthusiast since she took a trip to Colorado in the ’70s and enjoyed identifying mountain flowers. She brought the hobby home and started growing Oklahoma wildflowers in her backyard.
Murray, on the other hand, is a retired botany professor from Tulsa Community College, where she taught for 40 years. She approaches native plants with a scientific eye.
Both women understand the importance of studying and teaching about these plants. If we lose native plant life, many other things will follow.
“Not very many plants leads to not very many insects leads to not very many birds,” says Murray.
Thus began the Oklahoma Native Plant Society, with its important mission to spread the word about local wildlife.
The group has regular meetings and takes field trips to look at and learn about the currently blooming wildflowers in specific regions. They bring in speakers on wildlife-related topics and provide seed sharing, plant sharing, and vendors selling native plants, as the average greenhouse doesn’t offer native options, according to Murray.
“People who are interested in native plants are interested in native plants partly for ecological reasons and partly because they are a whole lot easier to grow,” she says.
Native plants can make gardening easy as they don’t need fertilizer, excessive watering or anything added to their soil. They just “get” the local conditions.
“Once you get them established, if anything they’ll take over,” says Amstutz. “There are literally thousands of varieties of native plants in our state. And we want people to be able to … start learning how to grow them, and to be able to identify them, and most of all to be able to appreciate them.”
The state of Oklahoma, due to a wide variety of ecosystems, is graced with a vast number of native plants.
“In Oklahoma, eastern flora from the eastern deciduous forest, meets the grassland flora coming down from the north, meets the gulf coastal plain flora coming up from the south, meets the Rocky Mountain flora coming over from the west, and the desert flora coming from New Mexico,” explains Murray.
The state has more than 2,600 kinds of plants, which means a wide diversity of wildlife.
“We have more diversity than all of New England, we have more diversity per unit square area than any state in the continental United States,” says Murray.