painting by Mary Bechtol
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The spring wildflower season in Central Texas may come early this year and be spread out over several months rather than a rush during March and April, say experts at The University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
The area received ample fall and winter rains to promote good wildflower displays, and warmer than usual weather in February is leading to some wildflowers blooming earlier.
“Hold onto your hat and fasten your seatbelt,” said Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Wildflower Center. “Wildflower season is taking off faster than you expect.”
Most of the wildflowers that bloom in the spring are dependent on fall precipitation followed by sustaining winter rains. Such iconic spring-bloomers include the beloved Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), phlox, verbena and a rainbow of other colorful flowers.
Higher temperatures in January and February pushed some plants to bloom early. The fragrant purplish blooms on Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), for instance, are triggered by the warmth and are beginning to show around Austin.
“When a cold snap happens, bluebonnets are rarely damaged,” DeLong-Amaya said. “But when we have warm spells as we have, and plants such as mountain laurels bloom, they are vulnerable to damage during a late hard freeze. We’ve had freezes in late March and early April, and if things are blooming by then, we can lose a lot of flowers for the season.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s three-month forecast predicts warmer than average weather for Central Texas, but cold fronts and freezes can still occur.
Besides weather, factors such as soil quality and land management practices (e.g., burning, mowing and grazing) determine what blooms where. Bluebonnets tend to thrive in disturbed sites, so mowing and grazing can promote robust growth of the state flower.
“Generally speaking, spring-blooming annual wildflowers are encouraged by grazing and mowing because the competition from perennials and grasses is knocked back,” DeLong-Amaya said. “A fire or flood, or even vigorous gardening, can open up space and make it more conducive to annual wildflowers.”