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R. C. Mauldin shows off spring growth from his “weed patch.” By Donald Williams Waco What some of R. C. Mauldin’s neighbors call his “weed patch” is to Mauldin a testimonial that an often-plowed Texas field can be made to look like a virgin meadow again. His “weeds” are the plants that covered much of the state before plowing and overgrazing drove them into scattered fence corners and a few fortunate pastures. Nearly everywhere, the native plants have yielded to lush grasses introduced from foreign parts. Or opportunistic plants that Mauldin scorns as “invading species” have taken over the depleted land. A conversation with Mauldin makes it plain that his re-established indiangrass and switchgrass, his quail pea and purpletop, represent to him the fulfillment of a lofty purpose for the land. They are climax species, plants “of a higher order,” he says, fine-tuned to the climate and soil by thousands of years of Nature’s dial-tWisting. Preaching quality and hardiness over yield per acre, the health of the soil over the interests of “the money lenders,” Mauldin has been promoting native Texas grasses and herbs for 44 years. 8 AUGUST 10, 1979 His own 50-acre field in the Waco suburb of Robinson has been the headquarters of his research and the forum for his proselytizing. It has supplied seeds and inspiration to Texas farmers and ranchers who have shared his zeal. Mauldin is 74, a product of an Ellis County cotton farm and a 1928 agronomy graduate of Texas A&Mwhere, he says, he learned scarcely anything about native plants. He prefers, by the way, to call his curriculum at A&M “crops and soils,” since he says agronomy covers only crop production. And reverence for the soil is an article of the Mauldin faith. “Fertilitythat’s a base capital,” he says. On a day early in the growing season, Mauldin sat in a straight-backed chair in the parlor of his farmhouse and answered questions. His look was direct and intense when turned on the visitor, but most of the time he turned his face aside and answered to the windows like a visionary. Mauldin’s home has no air conditioningjust thick walls, breezechanneling windows and doors, and, in the kitchen, a ceiling fan. It is as if he, too, were a native, dedicated to thriving under whatever conditions Nature provides. Mauldin expects the same of his plants; he has no greenhouse. “If it can’t take it in the fields,” he says, “I don’t want it.” Mauldin first got the chance to read up on native plants while convalescing from a serious operation in 1935. Then he was with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in San Antonio for four years, experimenting with plants native to all parts of the Southwest. During that period he met Mildred Pladeck, a U.S. Department. of Agriculture employee sent to San Antonio from Washington, D.C. to open a laboratory and study the germination of native seeds. They were married in 1940. The couple soon moved to the Waco area and opened a seed-testing lab in their home. It was mostly his wife’s business, Mauldin says, and it has remained so, though now it is in a separate building, full of the pungent smells of dried flower-heads. His wife has a BS in taxonomy and systematic botany and an MS in economic botany, both from Cornell. She identifies and tests all kinds of seeds, not specializing in those of native plants. Mauldin, meanwhile, has patiently reestablished in his “weed patch” such native plants as rescuegrass, a winter and