Springtime makes it difficult not to fall wildly in love with Texas. Purple mountain laurel perfumes the air on our morning walks and drives home. Beloved bluebonnets pop up in yards and spray roadsides in brilliant bursts of blue. And wide-open fields become blanketed in a radiant rainbow of color thanks to the Indian paintbrushes, pink evening primrose and vibrant winecups that blossom alongside the show-stopping state flower. With wildflower season on the brink of bursting into full bloom, it’s prime time to fill up the tank, grab your camera and hit the road for a flower-fringed trip through Texas.
“The bluebonnets are going nuts right now — there are big displays already and they are not even at their peak yet,” says Leslie Uppinghouse, a horticulturist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “In terms of wildflowers, it is a really healthy year and a typical year in terms of its timing with the big display peaking the first week of April.”
Even an average wildflower season in Texas is well worth the trip. Wildflower watchers will recall last year’s unusually warm and wet winter that brought out the blooms early, but thanks to a slightly drier fall and winter, combined with cold snaps throughout the cooler months, this year experts say wildflowers are taking the usual time to blossom. Even though Texas is still under drought-like conditions, the recent strand of moist days and cooler evening temperatures have helped the blooms along.
“Wildflowers will take any kind of moisture they can get, and all of those foggy mornings really gave a helping hand to the healthy blooms we are seeing now,” Uppinghouse says. “Everything is looking really nice and strong and green and colorful.”
Iconic roadside and park-populating wildflowers such as Indian paintbrush, firewheel, pink evening primrose, prairie verbena and more will soon color the landscape, according to the Wildflower Center’s experts, who predict pink evening primrose will have a banner year, as they tend to thrive in slightly drier conditions.
In addition to those signature early spring bloomers, Uppinghouse says she’s seeing a bounty of yellow in the form of blossoming buttercups and four-nerve daisies as well an exceptional display of iconic spring-blooming trees like the notoriously fragrant deep purple mountain laurel, redbud trees with their magenta blossoms and Mexican plums draped in white fluffy flowers.
Kick off the season’s quintessential pastimes of wildflower-watching and picture-taking right here in Austin or venture off to the various areas of Texas known to boast beautiful blooms. Here are 10 ideas for where to go to be wowed by the wildflowers this year.
1. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin), wildflower.org
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a 284-acre oasis brimming with more than 800 species of native Texas plants, serves as home to hundreds of species of native wildflowers. Not only does the Wildflower Center offer a safer alternative to high-trafficked roadsides when it comes to posing and picture-taking, but it’s an ideal first-stop to become familiar with the different types of wildflowers. Many of the wildflowers are labeled, and knowledgeable docents are roaming the grounds to help educate guests about what they are seeing. Expect to see everything from signature blooms to more rare varieties such as the goldeneye phlox, windflower and golden groundsel. “It’s also a great time to see the winter migratory birds, butterflies and moths,” says Uppinghouse.
2. St. Edwards University (Austin), stedwards.edu
Discover big swaths of blue decorating the 160-acre St. Edward’s University, where a beautiful campus and the Austin skyline serve as iconic backdrops to your photos. Patches of bluebonnets are scattered throughout the grounds, but this year a spectacular bluebonnet display can be found at the campus entrance running parallel to South Congress Avenue.
3. Washington County’s Bluebonnet Trail (distance from Austin to Brenham: 90 miles), visitbrenhamtexas.com
Spring is the prettiest time of year to travel the flowering farm roads known as Washington County’s Bluebonnet Trail, which winds through Burton, Independence, Washington, Chappell Hill and Brenham — a bloom-prone area of the state known as “bluebonnet country.” Brenham/Washington County Chamber CVB’s Jenny Mills says bluebonnets aren’t seen to the extent they once were on the main roads, but they can be found in abundance on the lesser-trafficked country roads. “Get a county map and go get lost,” she suggests. “It’s all about wondering where a road goes and then going and checking it out.” You can even time your trip with Chappell Hill’s Official Bluebonnet Festival of Texas April 14-15.
4. Texas State Parks, tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks
Texas is home to more than 5,000 species of wildflowers, and more than 90 Texas State Parks offer some of the best, safest places to view them. Pedernales Falls State Park, Inks Lake State Park, Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Goliad State Park, Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site and nearby McKinney Falls State Park, a laid-back Hill Country oasis southeast of downtown off of U.S. Highway 183, consistently teem with wildflowers. “Texas State Parks offer great, picturesque settings for family wildflower photos away from busy roadways,” says Stephanie Garcia, TPWD press officer. “But we do want to remind park visitors that entering wildflower patches carries the risk of disturbing wildlife resting or hiding in that location, such as nesting birds, or undesirable encounters with venomous snakes and fire ants, so always exercise caution.” TPWD also encourages visitors to let wildflowers enhance their pictures without harming them by refraining from sitting in or trampling wildflowers. Find out what’s blooming in which Texas State Parks by checking out TPWD’s Pinterest board: pinterest.com/texasparks/where-to-see-wildflowers.
5. Wildseed Farms (distance from Austin: 70 miles), wildseedfarms.com/home.php
Plan an April visit to Wildseed Farms, a working wildflower farm brimming with more than 200 acres of fields sandwiched between Fredericksburg and Stonewall on Highway 290 East. “April is magic in the Hill Country as far as bluebonnets and other wildflowers,” says John Thomas, owner and founder. Take an April trip to become bedazzled by the bluebonnets, red poppies and dozens of different crops of wildflowers that call Wildseed Farms home. Visitors can also explore walking trails, browse the Blossoms Boutique and Lantana Nursery, sip a beer in the Brewbonnet Biergarten, swirl wine at the new Wedding Oak Winery and purchase native wildflower seeds to plant at home.
6. The Willow City Loop (distance from Austin: 76 miles)
For a fabulous, flower-fringed drive, tour the scenic 13-mile Willow City Loop, which offers stunning sights of meadows and valleys cloaked in colorful blooms ranging from bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush to firewheels and poppies. Tip: Avoid weekend traffic along the increasingly popular narrow 13-mile ranch road by making a midweek drive.
7. Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail (distance from Austin: 50 miles to Marble Falls)
The Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail is a self-driven tour guaranteed to wow everyone from snap-happy families to professional photographers. Start this scenic, self-paced drive by grabbing a map at the Marble Falls Visitor Center, which will lead you in and around Marble Falls, Horseshoe Bay, Granite Shoals, Kingsland, Inks Lake and Buchanan Dam.
8. Bastrop (distance from Austin: 35 miles)
Head east toward Bastrop or Elgin and you won’t even have to get out of the car to become beguiled by the blooms. Some of the most vivid displays of Indian paintbrush can be found along US 290 east of Elgin to Highway 21, according to Elizabeth Pullman of the Lost Pines Master Naturalists, the Bastrop-Caldwell chapter of Texas Master Naturalists. “If orange is your color, this is a roadside for you,” says Pullman.
9. Nearby parks and trails
Pose with the bluebonnets within the parks and along the trails in and around Austin — it’s a safer option than stopping off along busy roadsides, and you can pack along a picnic to dine among the blooms. Balcones District Park, Circle C Metropolitan Park, Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park and the grassy stretch of Lady Bird Lake just past Austin High School’s ball fields consistently have beautiful bluebonnets, according to Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s spokeswoman Shelley Parks, who has also received reports of the big blue displays at the section of Walnut Creek east of North Lamar at Oakbrook Trailhead and at Bull Creek and 45th Street. Bluebonnet buds have been spotted in Lower Colorado River Authority Parks such as the 1,047-acre Turkey Bend Recreation Area and Pedernales River Nature Park in Johnson City, according to LCRA officials, with blooms expected to unfurl within the next couple of weeks. At Cedar Park’s Brushy Creek Lake, about 20 miles from downtown, the bluebonnets are already blooming and on track to peak in April. The treasured state flower has also started to spring up around the grounds of Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.
10. Burnet (distance from downtown Austin: 60 miles), bluebonnetfestival.org
Celebrate the state flower April 13-15 at the 35th Annual Bluebonnet Festival in Burnet, the pint-sized town officially recognized by the Texas Legislature as the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas.” Widely considered one of the best places in the state to view the wildflowers, you can bet the drive there will yield breathtaking sights. For more Burnet-area blooms, drive toward Canyon of the Eagles located on the northeast shoreline of Lake Buchanan, where wildflowers adorn the roadsides in abundance.
A DOZEN FUN FACTS BEHIND THE BLOOMS
• The Indian paintbrush is actually a pretty parasite — they will attach themselves and draw nutrients from other plant species such as the bluebonnet.
• Antelope horns, from the milkweed family, are a host plant for the monarch butterfly.
• Texas parsley, which can grow up to 5 feet high, is the host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly.
• Bluebonnets are selfish and prefer disturbed soil — they don’t like competition and they thrive in landscapes that have been heavily grazed by cattle, scorched by fire or are defined by poor-quality soil.
• There are many kinds of bluebonnets in Texas.
• The bluebonnet became the Texas state flower in 1901, but since it has lookalike relatives, all lupine species were designated as the official state flower 70 years later.
• Big Bend bluebonnets in West Texas grow up to 3 feet high.
• Shorter, more common Texas bluebonnets grow 15 to 24 inches.
• Bluebonnets typically bloom from early March to early May.
• Up close, the flower looks like a little bonnet.
• After it rains, look for a drop of water in each bowl-like leaf.
• Bluebonnets are part of the legume family.
Source: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
For facts about Texas’ most iconic wildflowers, updates about what’s blooming, recommended drives across the state and more, explore the Wildflower Center’s new Texas Wildflower Central website at wildflower.org/texas. Become part of this year’s wildflower watch by posting those Insta-worthy blooms and tagging your photos #txwildflowers2018.
WHAT’S BLOOMING WHEN
Common early-spring bloomers:
Pink evening primrose
Common late-spring bloomers:
BEING WILDFLOWER WISE
“People tend to see a lot of spring wildflowers and race out to buy seeds to plant them right away,” says Leslie Uppinghouse, horticulturist at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “It’s a common mistake, but if you want to get that wonderful display of spring wildflowers, don’t plant in the spring. Wait for the fall to plant and they will come up fresh in the spring.”
“Bluebonnets are a heavy seed, similar to a little pebble,” says Uppinghouse. “If your house is on a hill, your neighbors downhill from you might get all of your bluebonnets due to the big Texas washout rains. Instead, rough up that soil, don’t plant on a slope, or provide a trap so your neighbors don’t get all of your bluebonnets.”
TEXAS HILL COUNTRY WINE & WILDFLOWER JOURNEY
The 2018 Wine & Wildflower Journey (April 6-22) marries wildflower watching with wine-tasting in this idyllic region of Texas, where you can sip and sample award winning wines at 44 unique Hill Country wineries. Tickets are $75 for couples and $45 for individuals and include a tasting passport booklet to get a full complimentary tasting at each winery with a limit of four wineries per day, a 15 percent discount on three bottle purchases and one wildflower seed packet to take home as souvenir. texaswinetrail.com