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Iryna Andrenko, Thayne Montague, Cynthia McKenney, and Russell Plowman

Water quality and quantity are critical issues in the Southwest United States and many other locations in the world. Use of reclaimed water for landscape irrigation can conserve potable water significantly and possibly reduce fertilizer application. A potential concern of using alternative water sources is elevated salt levels, which can have adverse effects on plant growth and aesthetic appearance. Most Texas native wildflowers are known to be hardy and easy to maintain, and are drought tolerant after establishment. In addition, native wildflowers provide wildlife habitat and support native pollinators. However, little information is available on salinity tolerance of many Texas native wildflower species. In this study, two separate hydroponic experiments were conducted to determine salt tolerance of three Texas native wildflower species: Gaura villosa Torr. (wooly gaura), Xanthisma texanum DC. (Texas sleepy daisy), and Ipomopsis rubra (L.) Wherry (standing cypress). Species were suspended in a hydroponic setting using a randomized complete block design with a control [municipal reverse-osmosis (RO) water with a nutrition solution at an electrical conductivity (EC) of 3.0 dS·m–1] and three salinity treatments: 5.0, 7.0, and 11.0 dS·m–1 EC. Sixty days after salinity treatments were initiated, percent survival, visual rating, fresh weight, and length measurements were recorded on root and shoot tissue. To determine tissue percentage sodium (Na+), calcium (Ca2+), and chloride (Cl), shoot and root tissues were dried and ground for tissue analysis. At the end of each experiment, total percent survival for X. texanum, G. villosa, and I. rubra were 100%, 94%, and 76%, respectively, with the greatest mortality rate at the highest salinity treatment. Shoot dry weight and plant growth index (PGI) decreased in all three species as salinity of irrigation water increased. Visual qualities of all species were mainly compromised at the highest salinity level. Ion concentrations in root and shoot tissues were affected by salinity levels and varied among species. Different mechanisms of salt tolerance (ion exclusion, salt excretion, and tissue tolerance to high concentrations of Na+ or Cl) have been observed among wildflower species, and results indicate different salt tolerance mechanisms were exhibited by each trial species. In addition, results indicate I. rubra can be identified as moderately salt tolerant (EC up to 7.0 dS·m–1), whereas, X. texanum and G. villosa can be classified as salt tolerant (EC up to 11.0 dS·m–1). Results from this study suggest great potential of these native Texas wildflowers in landscapes using limited-quality irrigation water or landscapes with soil salinity concerns.