We were saddened to learn of the loss of Shirley Lusk on Saturday, April 29.
Shirley was a founding member of the Native Plant Society of Texas, attending the first meeting during a Wildflower Days celebration at Texas Woman’s University in April 1981. She received the Charles Leonard Weddle Award in 2012 for lifetime achievement in the field of Texas native plants for her work volunteering, identifying, collecting and teaching about the native plants of the North Texas region. The following remarks were written by Kathy Saucier in her nomination for that award.
“Shirley’s dedication to native plants goes back much further. As a small girl growing up on a dairy farm in north Dallas, she would explore the “hay meadow” and collect wildflowers to decorate the dinner table. After raising five children in Gainesville, Texas in Cooke County, she had time to begin studying the native plants and wildflowers of the area. She began learning the taxonomy of native plants by attending workshops at Greenhills Sanctuary in Dallas and at Carroll Abbott’s session at TWU in Denton. From attending Elderhostel classes in the 1990s, she learned how to use a binomial key to identify new plants herself with a dissecting microscope. Armed with this knowledge and numerous reference manuals, Shirley set out on her journey to identify all the native plants in Cooke and Montague counties. She became a walking encyclopedia of native plant information for the North Texas area, providing scientific as well as common names for any specimen she came across.A self-educated plant botanist, Shirley dedicated herself to the study and promotion of Texas native plants for over 35 years.
“A great-great niece of botanist Julien Reverchon, Shirley followed in his footsteps working for the identification and preservation of Texas native plants. Shirley possessed a true heart and dedication for this task, all performed as a volunteer.
“Shirley’s collections work began at the herbarium “Collection in Systemic Botany” at Southern Methodist University of Dallas and she followed this herbarium to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) when they acquired it in 1997. She collected and documented numerous specimens from Denton, Wise, Cooke, Montague and other North Texas counties for BRIT to provide scientific study of native plant species. Several of the plants she found in North Texas were not previously known to grow there, and she was part of the process of getting new discoveries identified for several species including Liatris aestivalis on properties in Montague and Cooke counties. She also monitored many species on both public and private lands, even working with Texas State Parks and Texas Department of Transportation to preserve special plants that would most likely be lost due to untimely mowing.
“Shirley was a contributor to the first fully-illustrated flora for a region of Texas with the Shinner’s and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas as well as the Illustrated Flora of East Texas. (For example see she is cited with discovery of Liatris pycnostachya in several locations). She also helped raise funds for the Illustrated Texas Flora project. She was a long-time Master Naturalist who kept up regular education to continue her campaign for native plants. Many people in North Texas looked up to Shirley as their guide to learning about and identifying native plants.”
Shirley Lusk was a very influential plant authority in North Central Texas. She was known as the “wildflower lady” and freely shared her knowledge with others. Over the last several years when she could no longer drive and monitor plants, she was taken on weekly excursions by Mary Curry to pass on her knowledge, preserving it in North Central Texas Wildflowers, published in 2015. Through this book we can continue taking part in Shirley’s knowledge and passion for native plants.