For Wendy Leonard, spring in Texas brings the chance to complete her research.
Leonard, a park naturalist for the City of San Antonio and UTSA biology grad student, is studying the bracted twist-flower, a rare wildflower that only grows in Central Texas.
She has spent the past few years studying the flowers, both in their natural environment and in a greenhouse, trying to uncover the mysteries of the little plant with purple blooms. The bracted twist-flower is an annual that germinates late in the fall and blooms in April and May. It starts in a basal rosette, where its leaves are grouped from a central point in a circular shape. A tall bloom stalk rises from the center of the rosette and carries a number of buds that develop into purple flowers.
The bracted twist-flower is listed as very rare by the Nature Conservancy.
As part of her research, Leonard has performed numerous experiments on greenhouse flowers. And each week, she spends hours taking measurements on hundreds of plants in San Antonio’s Eisenhower Park. She notes their locations, habitat, soil depth and soil moisture, number of flowers and number of seeds, all of which relate to plant size. Leonard measures the diameter of the rosette and length of the stalk to determine the health of the individual plants. Paired with the data on habitat and soil, these measurements provide information about the health of the overall population.
Leonard was recently awarded a graduate student research award from the Texas Academy of Science. Her proposal tied for a first place award of $2,000, which will fund research for her master’s thesis. Adviser Bill Van Auken, professor of biology, believes Leonard’s research can have a major impact on local conservation efforts.
“Not only is her research important to her personal development as a scientist and conservation ecologist, but it shows UTSA’s connection to the city of San Antonio and our commitment and connection to conservation biology, ecology and natural resources. It should also allow us better understanding of a relatively rare species of our area,” said Van Auken.
Data she gathers will help determine the best plan to help local populations thrive. Leonard’s ultimate goal for this research is to develop guidelines that parks can follow to maintain and increase the population of their plants.