Lessons Learned in a Wildflower Meadow

Graduate intern, Dan Cooke, by his truck bed filled with native plants


The LSU Hilltop Arboretum’s wildflower meadow will soon be on full display with its annual May bloom. Like a school classroom, this 3.7-acre meadow has much to teach us as we take in the sights and sounds of so many blooms in one location. Someone who is especially passionate about the meadow is LSU graduate intern Dan Cooke. Cooke is happy to discuss the meadow that he and his classmates helped establish. “My passion is the plants and the growing of the plants,” he says while pointing out the different species as they start emerging.

A Lesson in Bloom

close up of spotted beebalm bloomAs Cooke relays the scientific names of the flowers, one realizes that there is much to learn in a meadow. One of Cooke’s favorites among the crowd is Monarda punctata or the Spotted Beebalm. While working in the timber industry near Alexandria, Cooke spotted the wildflower. He remembers thinking – “what is that?” Closer examination revealed the Mondara punctata. The tubular purple and yellow flowers were enough to draw attention in the midst of the forest, and they are sure to be striking in the meadow once blooming season begins.

In addition to the Spotted Beebalm, the meadow has been seeded with thousands of other wildflowers. Cooke points out Monarda citriodora or Lemon Beebalm and Purple Ironweed. There is even a Swamp Sunflower that promises bright yellow flowers with dark centers. Some may be surprised to know that within the meadow there are also native orchids. Cooke, who considers himself a fan of native orchids, is eager to see Spiranthes brevilabris make its annual showing.

Learning to Slow Down

A strategically placed bench provides Hilltop visitors an ideal location to observe the native orchids and the rest of the wildflower blooms. The meadow is a place where you can learn to stop and smell the flowers. Cooke, who has spent two and a half years working at Hilltop, hopes that is something people take away from their visit. “I want families to see the beauty of nature and how it’s all connected,” he says. He points out that the flowers and plant structures are connected to the insects who depend on them for life. Cooke adds that even the thistle, which some consider unattractive, has a purpose as it’s one of the first flowers to grow each year providing a critical insect infrastructure until the others appear.

Learning to Adapt and Adjust

The meadow is also a place to learn about nature’s resilience. “The world is dynamic,” says Cooke. “Change happens and we have to adapt to it.” Cooke and the team of volunteers known as the Meadow Keepers had to adapt when a small patch of growth was damaged. Cooke says they simply replanted additional seeds and now the little sprouts are growing. He says tree frogs and cattails are thriving in the area. Such a lesson encourages new gardeners who may experience challenges that force them to adapt and adjust as well.

girl in meadow studying flower with magnifying glassWhile a flourishing wildflower field may be intimidating for a novice, Cooke says, “Anyone can do this. Everything you see has happened at least a trillion times before.” It’s a confidence booster for those new to wildflowers to know that the plants have been growing for countless years without the assistance of humans. Wildflowers are sustainable and they have adapted to Louisiana landscapes, making them low maintenance additions to the yard.

Whether you come to enjoy the display or to get tips on starting your own wildflower field, there are numerous lessons to be learned in the meadow. Cooke hopes families take the time to make great memories while visiting the display. A visit could provide family members the opportunity to catch up with each other while reconnecting in nature. It’s also a great place for children to develop an appreciation for the natural world.

The big May bloom is almost here! Don’t miss this opportunity to enjoy time in Mother Nature’s classroom.

Wildflower Gifts

If you can’t get enough of the wildflower meadow, Hilltop has seeds available for purchase. Grab a bag and give them as a gift or perhaps try establishing your own little meadow at home.