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Ellen Schulz, Wildflower Enthusiast

April 22, 2011

The area around San Antonio is justly famous for its wildflowers. Clumps of pink primroses, waves of Indian paintbrush and, and fields of bluebonnets are a yearly spring-time delight. Nearby Austin is home of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, founded by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes in 1982 to preserve and restore the natural beauty and biological richness of native plants to the landscape.

On this Earth Day, though, let’s look a little further back in time to an earlier wildflower advocate. Ellen Dorothy Schulz Quillin, best known for her role in establishing San Antonio’s Witte Museum, was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1892, but moved to Texas in 1916 to become the head of the science department at Main Avenue High School. She would eventually become the director of nature study and science for San Antonio Public Schools. Enchanted by both the beauty and biology of Texas’ wildflowers, she published 500 Wild Flowers of San Antonio and Vicinity in 1922.

Her book was one of the first works to provide a “brief account of the Flora of San Antonio and its relation to the invironment (sic) growing out of an effort to aid beginners in the High Schools of San Antonio in identifying and learning the habits and economic value of the flowering plants of this vicinity…Innocent plants wrongfully accused of being poisonous or being a nuisance will have their titles cleared…all, that is herein written, is offered as a generous tribute to the wealth, beauty, and splendor of Texas flowers and to San Antonio, the royal residence in court of the Southwestern floral kingdom”(preface).

A few years later, Schulz published a broader survey entitled Texas Wild Flowers (1928). UTSA Special Collections’ copy evidently fell into the hands of a budding San Antonio naturalist as a Christmas present in 1944.

Slips of paper tucked into an envelope attached to the inside front cover relate the reader’s wildflower sightings around San Antonio and reference the relevant pages for further information, like this sighting of Puccoon (Lithospermum linearifolium) on Babcock Road.

which is depicted on page 331.

According to Schulz, “the puccoon in the early days was probably the most popular source of color among the Indians, as the thick red roots yield especially rich red dye. The settlers, on learning of this use, called it Alkanet, doubtlessly from the well-known Old World plant which yielded a dye of the same color. The perfume of the puccoon is delicate and has earned it the folk-name of wild honeysuckle. An easy identification of this puccoon is the delicately frilled corolla”(332).

Mary Motz Wills’ paintings give us a view of the puccoon in color in Roadside Flowers of Texas (1961):

This member of the borage family blooms from April through June, so on this April 22nd, we end with an Earth Day Challenge: has anyone seen the puccoon’s yellow flowers along Babcock Road this year? If not, perhaps it’s time for a walk.

Irwin, Howard S. and Mary Motz Wills. Roadside Flowers of Texas. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1961 [QK188 .W48 c.2].

“Lithospermum incisum Lehm.” Native Plant Database ( Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Accessed April 22, 2011.

Schulz, Ellen D. 500 Wild Flowers of San Antonio and Vicinity. San Antonio, TX: Published by the Author, 1922 [QK 188 .S383 1922].

Schulz, Ellen D. Texas Wild Flowers: A Popular Account of the Common Wild Flowers of Texas. Chicago: Laidlaw Brothers, 1928 [QK 188 .S384 1928].

Steinfeldt, Cecilia. “Quillin, Ellen Dorothy Schulz” Handbook of Texas Online ( Texas State Historical Association. Accessed April 22, 2011.

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