Recently I combed the Web for plants that I might add to our front lawn, which only a few months ago was a traditional Houston lawn but is now becoming an orchard with native flowers and grasses. In my search I hit a gold mine: Garden4Butterflies, an Internet store for wildflower seeds, most of which are native to Texas.
Meet Tommy and Judy Guynes of Garden4Butterflies
The owners are Tommy and Judy Guynes, two teachers who live fifty miles north of Dallas in the Blackland Prairies. In their spare time and during summer break they rear plants that offer habitat to caterpillars and butterflies. The seeds on their site reflect that mission: Garden4Butterflies offers all the flowers Texas butterflies need to survive, thrive, and procreate, among others the greatest variety of milkweed species I have seen on the web.
You’d think it takes Tommy and Judy a vast farm to produce the seeds they sell. In reality, they grow them in a quarter-acre garden that wraps around their house.
While the Guyneses have a special affection for butterflies, they welcome all insects and even the animals that feed on them. When I visited their garden last week, Judy mentioned a panther that had recently prowled through their yard in hopes of catching a chicken. As Judy tells the story, Tommy’s eyes light up. “That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “Getting to see such an animal is an awesome reward for living here.”
Appreciating large cats does not mean that you let them steal your fowl. That’s why Tommy and Judy have built a sturdy chicken coop from wood and a fortified run from cat-proof wire. They believe in artisanship.
Their belief in craft may explain why the shipment I received from them contained not only the seed packets I had ordered but also instructions on how and when to plant them. To put this in perspective, the most prominent supplier of Texas native seeds, Native American Seed, sent me high-quality seed packets but no instructions. I wish they followed the example of the Guyneses.
How you can tell if a plant is native to your county
So let’s say you visit Garden4Butterflies and are interested in purchasing a plant (in seed form). How can you tell if it is native to your county? My friend Nancy Hannan, a member of the Houston chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, taught me an easy trick:
- Locate the Latin (botanical) name of the plant you are interested in and copy it to the computer’s clipboard.
- Open the Plants Database of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture).
- Find the “search” field on the left side of the page, and paste the botanical name into that field. Ensure that the search is set to “scientific name”, then press “Go.” This will produce a U.S. map, with the states to which the plant is native highlighted in dark green.
- Drag Texas to the center of the map window, then zoom in until the individual counties become visible.
- Find your home county. If it is dark green, the plant of your choice is native to it.