Texas expecting bountiful array of wildflowers

February 25, 2010 3:43:24 PM PST
Texas should have a colorful spring, with recent rains bringing an abundance of wildflowers and blooms already popping up, experts say. By the end of March, Texas should be awash in the reds, yellows, whites and blues of wildflowers, with the season peaking in mid-April, said Damon Waitt, senior botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

With rains throughout the fall and winter bringing an end to drought conditions that have persisted in the state since late 2007, Waitt expects exceptional early and late spring wildflowers in many parts of the state.

"That really favors our Texas wildflowers, especially our early spring bloomers," said Waitt, who added that flowers making an early appearance include Indian paintbrush, Drummond phlox and Texas' state flower: the bluebonnet.

While different species thrive in different conditions, the last two years overall have been less-than-spectacular for wildflowers in Texas due to the drought, said Joe Marcus, collections manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

"They were all there," he said, "just not to the extent or showiness that we're used to seeing."

But experts say this spring should be impressive.

"My forecast is there's a 100 percent chance of bluebonnets," Waitt said.

In Brenham, a town of about 14,000 nestled in the rolling hills between Austin and Houston, dozens of the state's famed bluebonnets made an early appearance this month, with their proud blooms dotting a hillside at a local intersection and standing tall against snow there earlier this week.

"We do have some very early bloomers, which is not something very typical," said Seneca McAdams, marketing and sales manager for the Brenham/Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, which posts a wildflower watch on its Web site.

But she's not advising people to start coming just yet, saying the real show will be when entire fields bloom and those with bluebonnets are a sea of blue.

In Cuero, about 80 miles southeast of San Antonio, the DeWitt County Wildflower Association is gearing up for what will hopefully be a good wildflower season.

"We're still keeping our fingers crossed," said Myrna Hassfield, president of the association.

She said people come from all over to tour the county. When the season is in full swing, they'll be giving tours, passing out maps showing the prettiest wildflower spots and will have a display in the DeWitt County Historical Museum in Cuero of the current blooms, she said.

"We hope toward the middle of March we'll start seeing some things popping," Hassfield said. "At the beginning of April, we hope they'll lift their heads out and get some sunshine."

Waitt said the wildflowers are the result of a Texas Department of Transportation planting program along highways and roadsides, people planting their own wildflowers in yards and pastures, and, of course, the wildflowers that pop up as a result of Mother Nature.

"Texans take real pride in their wildflowers," he said.

Winnie M. Spitz, 82, who lives near Buda outside Austin, said she expects her yard of wildflowers will soon draw not only butterflies, but also parents having their children pose for pictures among her bluebonnets.

"I have people in my yard all the time," said Spitz, who volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Dennis Markwardt, director of vegetation management for the Texas Department of Transportation, said the department both protects naturally occurring wildflowers and has yearly plantings. He said he's already seen some wildflowers blooming south of San Antonio.

"There are wildflowers that grow in just about every region of the state," Markwardt said. "When the conditions are right, you can just drive from one end of the state to the other and see wildflowers."