Bill names UT’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as the state’s botanical garden, arboretum

Claire Allbright

The Texas House of Representatives tentatively approved a bill that would designate UT Austin affiliate Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center as the state botanical garden and arboretum. 

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said House Bill 394 would expand the Center’s educational programs, research projects and conservation work. Founded in 1982 by former first lady Lady Bird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes, the Center is the largest of its kind in the state to showcase only flowers and plants native to Texas. 

“This is a simple but — I would call it — momentous bill honoring the contributions to Texas of Lady Bird Johnson and the wildflower center which bears her name,” Howard said last month during the bill’s committee hearing. “It is a wonderful jewel that we have here in our state.” 

Patrick Newman, the executive director of the Center, said the designation would help the Center spread its message of conservation and shed light on the important role of arboreta and botanic gardens across the state in conserving Texas’ floristic heritage.

“The designation will help to elevate the Center’s critical mission of native plant conservation across Texas,” Newman said. “It clearly would enable us to recruit and retain talented staff and volunteers … and marketing the Center as the state’s botanic garden and arboretum will increase visitation to our physical location.” 

The 279 acre wildflower center has been affiliated with UT Austin since 2006 and is currently a part of the School of Architecture. The Center supports a graduate studio for landscape architecture students who are working on master planning for the McDonald Observatory. Newman said the Center is also home to integrated biology faculty research projects, including switchgrass and bees. 

“What we gain from our association with UT are a lot of really beneficial intangibles,” Newman said. “The ability to combine academic and applied research … and the opportunity that we have to engage with our student body.” 

Stacey Kaleh, chief communications officer for the School of Architecture, said in a statement that the Center provides students with experimental research opportunities. The Center has also been a foundation for innovative and exciting projects, such as the Living Wall which opened last year, Kaleh said. 

“As a research unit of the School of Architecture, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a vital resource for our students and faculty,” Kaleh said in a statement. 

A final vote in the House on the bill could come as early as today.