The 2020 Texas wildflower season begins

Huisache Daisy is a south Texas favorite. Large swaths of them are blooming along Viggo Road in Beeville.

It is the first week of March, and this is the time we typically begin to see our first spring wildflowers. Not all of them, of course, just the earlier species. Fringed Puccoon shows up as dots of pure yellow in the pastures. Our parks and fields host waves of white and light purple Carolina Windflowers, particularly during a good year.

But is this a good year for our favorite wildflowers? Perhaps not. The Texas Wildflower Report (TWR) says that we are on track for a “hit or miss” season. The site predicts that roadsides and urban areas are more likely to have early blooms than rural roads and fields. Why is that? Urban areas (think concrete) and highways retain heat better than open fields, and thus plants growing near such areas respond as though spring were further along. Warmer areas are just going to be in bloom sooner. This has always been true.

However, this year the flowers that are showing up are smaller, almost puny, as compared to some years. Have a look at the bluebonnets that are out now. They are barely six inches high and can hardly be said to be luxurious. No billows of gray-green foliage topped by tall spikes of blue-and-white bonnets this year. In good years, those bloom spikes often support 30 or more individual bluebonnet flowers. Instead, the inflorescences I am seeing have only 10 or so bonnets. From a distance, as from the interstate highways, the medians look as though they have been lightly washed with blue against the dull green of the winter grass. I know that the blue patches are bluebonnets, but they are just not as showy as I expected.

The reason is the lack of winter rains. At least in some areas, the rain has been quite scant since the fall. We had enough rain to germinate the seeds, but lack of rain during the winter has stunted growth of the young plants. Some places have received more precipitation, and that is where you are going to find the best wildflowers this year. You just may have to search a little longer to find them!

I have been driving around our area to see if any of the usual wildflowers are making a show. I have come across lovely patches of Huisache Daisies along Viggo Road in southwest Beeville. Their golden color sings springtime! Huisache Daisy (Amblyolepis setigera) is a member of the Sunflower Family. It is the only known species in the Amblyolepis genus, and it is native to Texas and northeastern Mexico. It is kind of a special flower to us in this part of south Texas. In a way, it is more of a harbinger of spring for us than the bluebonnet.

Blankets of pinkish-red Drummond’s Phlox cover sandy fields in parts of our county. The individual, five-petaled phlox flower is only about half an inch across, but there are always so many of them in a patch, a field full can make a spectacular show.

Almost everyone recognizes the cool purple of Dakota Vervain, also known as Prairie Verbena. This wildflower starts up early and keeps on blooming until October. Native American Seed calls it “an amazing native perennial.” It is drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. Its sweet fragrance is delightful. Butterflies are attracted to the masses of blooms. A few plants are starting to bloom in my pasture right now, and I hope they will soon be showing up everywhere.

Let’s not forget the grasses. Many species of grasses actually bloom in the spring and produce seeds during the summer. Although harder to identify (at least for me) than the wildflowers, they are essential to the ecology of an area. Grasses provide forage, seeds for wildlife, and cover for many species. I like to find a native grass in bloom because then I at least have a chance at identifying it!

The 2020 wildflower season has begun. For the next several months we can look forward to bright blooms and swaths of color, although you may have to search a little harder this year. Enjoy!

Texas Master Naturalist Columnist: Brush Country Backyard