Cemetery Wildflowers are Texas' Best Kept Secret
Historic Cemeteries Across Texas Are Scattering Wildflower Seed
Cemeteries were once ecologically dynamic spaces, cultivated as wilderness destinations for the public before public parks became the norm in the U.S. Today, the practice of scattering wildflower seed in historic cemeteries is part of a movement to reduce the cost of lawn maintenance and restore the biodiversity to these once rich landscapes.
And now I lie with them upon this hill
Mingling with Texas earth as seasons come and go.
Chilling northers bend grasses almost to the ground;
Low-hung clouds are misty blankets
Dropping days of rain upon the earth.
Then wild flowers make sweet the air in spring
”Old Cemetery on the Hill---Epitaph
by Susanna O'Docharty
Written sometime before 1874, this poem, composed by early female pioneer, Susanna O’Docharty of San Patricio, Texas, reveals a forgotten truth about cemeteries of the past: hardly the monotonous, neatly mowed lawns we’ve come to associate with modern perpetual-care graveyards, many cemeteries in Texas were once wild prairie landscapes populated with wildflowers.
In other parts of the U.S., cemeteries were ecologically dynamic spaces, cultivated as wilderness destinations for the public before public parks became the norm in the U.S. Excursions to cemeteries were commonplace in the mid-19th century, especially among city-dwellers who sought out green spaces to escape from the crowded and often unsanitary conditions of cities. This, of course, was a departure from the typical conditions of graveyards prior to that time, which were often places to avoid, built beside churches and crammed full with shallow graves.
Over time, as alternative recreational and green spaces were created for the public, and cemeteries adopted a solemnity that shifted the norm away from, say, spending the afternoon strolling among headstones, cemeteries ceased to be the tourist attractions they once were. But thanks to doting caretakers and a renewed interest in native plant life, these spaces are experiencing a revitalization that makes them excellent destinations for wildflower seekers.
A Wildflower Movement
The practice of scattering wildflower seed in historic cemeteries is part of a movement to reduce maintenance costs and restore the biodiversity for which cemeteries were once known. Lending to this effort, the Texas Historical Commission’s Cemetery Preservation Program has begun to work closely with community groups and local naturalists to reintroduce native plants to historic cemeteries.
“The challenges of fundraising and maintenance costs for cemeteries are problematic across the state -- and nation,” their website reads. “Traditionally, many cemeteries were maintained by family and community members who met annually to maintain the cemetery by hand. They asked family members for donations for repairs. As populations moved away from the community, and children and grandchildren lived farther away, family and community care diminished. The task often was passed on to local mowing crews.”
Our friends in the Cemetery Preservation Program do not advise the public to freely scatter wildflower seed in cemeteries without permission. The process of restoring prairie landscapes is a careful one that should be conducted with proper guidance.
To diminish these costs, caretakers have been encouraged to scatter wildflower seeds and other lower-growing grass seeds, and while today these approaches are considered innovative, they’re simply a return to the way of things centuries ago.
The results are a visual feast worth painting. Among the weathered headstones grow Bluebonnets, Phlox, Scarlet Paintbrush, and Mexican Hat, among others. Banish all shyness if you happen to pass a cheery meadow ablaze with calliopsis and firewheel and realize it’s hallowed ground, for the flowers are there to be admired and the inhabitants surely don’t mind the visitors.
Where to Find Cemetery Wildflowers
Though conditions vary from year to year, wildflower displays have been spotted at the following historic cemeteries in Texas:
- Warren Angus Ferris Cemetery in Dallas
- Old City Cemetery in Galveston
- Rockport Cemetery
- Sutherland Springs Cemetery
- Garza-Valadez Cemetery in Floresville (wildflowers have also been spotted nearby at the Floresville City Cemetery #2)