Texas Wild Rice

Share in my adventurous journey of finding the plants that are rare and endangered and creating their portraits. The biggest challenge is not only locating their natural or protected habitat and co-ordinating with people that can lead you to their sites, but to time your visit to capture the plant’s bloom. If possible, I return many times so that I can record the cycle of growth through to its seed production as well. It is illegal to remove the plants or any parts, so all documentation must be done on site and there is careful monitoring! Meet these people who take time out of their busy schedule to lead an artist to a solo plant; I hope my art measures up to their dedication to conservation!
Zizania texana Hitchcock, Family: Grass FamilyGlobal/State Ranks:G1S1, Federal/State Status: Endangered, Global/State Range: Endemic to the upper San Marcos River in Hays County

This aquatic grass that has been on the Endangered list since 1978 grows only in a small stretch of the upper San Marcos River and nowhere else in the world. It lives in the Old Aquarena Springs, which is now owned by Texas State University. Its habitat is quite a contrast to the remote regions of other endangered plants! One of my ongoing projects is to illustrate the Rare and Endangered Plants of the Texas Hill Country, initially inspired by a grant awarded at the end of 2005 by the American Society of Botanical Artists. The two main aspects of this project are educating the public about the existence and conservation of these plants and collaboration with concerned organizations by doing fundraising with sales and exhibits of the artwork. Initially I needed a lot of help identifying the endangered plants and where to find them. I first remember first sitting down over lunch with Flo Oxley, a conservationist and biologist at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in 2005, when my main objective was simply to establish a relationship with a botanist so I could ID any endangered plants correctly.  When I explained my grant/project she became so excited that she recommended “her babies”, the Texas Wild Rice as one of the plants I “had to paint”.  She had been studying this endangered plant for years and even later completed her PhD in Aquatic Research.  She was so supportive and instrumental in my progress with the “Endangered Series” and I’m very grateful.

The Texas Wild Rice is a beautiful aquatic perennial with 3-7 foot long thin leaves that wave below the surface of the river .  This grass needs clear, cool, swift water mostly less than 1 m deep, which makes the San Marcos River ideal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStanding on the bridge looking down into the river you see the long flowing plant with sunlight glistening off of it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASee the path of human traffic!  As you can see there is quite a path due to the recreational pressure here. Much of the habitat is in the river next to the college where there is swimming and tubing.

As a stock in safety they have a refuge at the San Marcus National Fish Hatchery & Technology Center where botanist Mara Alexander showed us around.



OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMara took me to the greenhouse where she was able to show me the growth pattern as it emerges from the soil.

Photo Dec 10, 11 23 28 AM
Texas Wild Rice Study of Leaves   Graphite by Lotus McElfish

Here was my closest observation where I actually measured the lengths and drew the detail of the leaf; for example, how it joins, the veins, and the color that I wouldn’t have seen in the water of the river.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe let me draw for hours at this concrete trough which is supplied with slow clear spring-fed water directly from the Edwards aquifer, same as the San Marcos River headwaters. This was the specimen for my painting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAComing back on March 15th, I was able to catch the bloom in the spring.   Here I could see the inflorescence and could closely observe the tight female branches above and the spreading male branches below.

Photo Dec 09, 3 04 34 PM
Texas Wild Rice- Graphite Study by Lotus McElfish

The female (see top right in drawing) is ever so slightly longer with a rough tip that is as long as the spikelet and some have tiny white fluff at the base. The male floret is below (see bottom right in drawing) and opens to a very light yellow flower once the almost transparent covering opens to reveal a very light yellow flower with —petals. It is wind pollinated. The seed forms in the female part. At the hatchery they reproduce it through the tillers at the roots. Flo Oxley (PHD in Aquatic Resources) studied the reproduction of the plant found that the pollen is short-lived (only 10 minutes) and that the stigmas receive in the first 3 days and by the 4th day the stigmas lose receptivity. Grasses like to grow in close full colonies and these grasses in the river are getting farther apart, making them harder to pollinate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIts peak blooming time is March-June but in the early fall it blooms again.
Here it is in its natural habitat blooming in the fall.
Zizania texana Hitchcock painted specimen bloomed 3/15/06 Endangered

WldRice213.5x10.5PTO best
Texas Wild Rice    Watercolor by Lotus McElfish

  Endangered exhibit in DC

I entered the painting in a juried exhibition called Endangered Species: Flora & Fauna in Peril and it got into this traveling show which first showed at the Wilding Art Museum in CA ( 2008) and then to U.S. Department of the Interior Museum, Washington, D.C.

In 2009 after watching President Obama give a prime time speech to Congress, I sent him an email urging him to maintain funding for the arts in his new budget and also sent his family a catalog of the Endangered exhibit, which was in their “backyard”. Two days later, the president gave a speech at the Department of the Interior about the Endangered Species Act, and later that week I received an invitation to travel to D.C. to present a slide show of my field work and give a workshop on graphite pencil technique, so I got to see my two paintings hanging in the Endangered Species exhibit. Fortuitous and serendipitous!


   Learn, Give Thought, Be Inspired, Take Action……Bring Back Balance

Lotus McElfish                                                                              LotusMcElfish.com

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