Recent Rains a Boon for Wildflowers, Especially Hardier, Late Bloomers

April 7, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — Cooler-than-average temperatures and rain in recent weeks should help bluebonnet blooms last longer while boosting the flowering of late spring bloomers, according to a University of Texas at Austin expert at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

"The rain has an immediate effect on wildflowers blooming early in the season," said Damon Waitt, the center's senior botanist. "It also helps with the growth of plants such as Indian blanket that are preparing for a late spring and summer showcase."

The rains in Austin and elsewhere have not yet been enough to dispel the drought that has plagued Central Texas. But pockets of early bloomers such as bluebonnets received enough moisture to put on good shows in some traditional strongholds, such as west of La Grange along Highway 71 in Fayette County, and northeast of there on Highway 105 between Navasota and Montgomery. Bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush are also plentiful off Interstate 45 east of Bristol in Ellis County.

Meanwhile, east of San Antonio, good sightings have been made by center staff of Engelmann's daisy, Texas ragwort, Drummond's phlox and other early spring bloomers along Highway 123 south of Seguin and Highway 80 north of Nixon.

Rain lilies have been sparse near San Antonio due to the infrequent rains, and pink evening primrose hasn't had the banner year in some places that it did last year. But late spring bloomers look to be luckier. As a result of temperatures and other conditions that benefit their growing season, the upcoming winners will likely include black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, Indian blanket and plains coreopsis.

Like all other native plants, though, seasonal wildflowers have more to overcome than just the drought.

"They're also being challenged by invasive plant species like turnip weed, or bastard cabbage," Waitt said, noting that he's spotted large infestations of the Mediterranean invader with highlighter-yellow flowers along most major roadways in Austin.

"Certain exotic plants are a concern because they displace plants that naturally occur in Texas without providing ideal wildlife habitat and other benefits of native vegetation."

Waitt is acting board president for the Texas Invasive Plant and Pest Council. His hobbies include knocking the flower heads off bastard cabbage whenever he encounters them on quiet stretches of roadway. He also oversees the Invaders of Texas Citizen Science program and a new program at the Wildflower Center called the Eradicators. Managed by staff members Travis Gallo and Carrie McDonald, the program teaches volunteers to identify and remove invasive plant species in Austin parks in collaboration with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

To learn more about Eradicators and volunteer opportunities to remove invasive plant species, contact Gallo at tgallo@wildflower.org or 512-232-0116. Learn about invasive species in Texas. To learn about wildflowers from Texas and other states, search the Wildflower Center's Native Plant Database.

Wildflower photos are available upon request.

For more information, contact: Barbra Rodriguez, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 512 232 0105;  Saralee Tiede, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0104.