Buckle up, folks — our beloved bluebonnets are making an early debut this year. Although spring hasn’t officially begun, the iconic state flower is popping up in patches and blanketing roadsides in brilliant bursts of blue as early-blooming wildflowers are starting to sprinkle winter’s bleak landscape with a rainbow of color.
Following a damp and atypically mild winter that included some unseasonably warm days in February, experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center say Central Texans will be greeted with earlier-than-average wildflowers this year, including the state’s signature flower. They added that this week's freezing temperatures likely will not impact wildflower season, writing on the center's Twitter page that "our native wildflowers are well adapted to seasonal temperature swings."
Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the Wildflower Center’s director of horticulture, said bluebonnets in particular are blooming earlier this year. “Bluebonnets, from what I can tell, are going to have a good year. We had a warmer winter, and we did have some rain, but we had some decent sun, too — all of which has them blooming earlier than normal.”
While bluebonnets tend to be taking the stage a bit early, DeLong-Amaya doesn’t expect a “super bloom” season this year. Rather, she is forecasting a fairly average display in terms of quantities. But Wildflower Center experts also advise that even an average wildflower season in Texas is well worth the trip, and an early season doesn’t mean a shorter season for bluebonnets and other wildflowers.
“Just because bluebonnet season peaks earlier doesn't necessarily mean it will finish earlier,” says DeLong-Amaya, who is predicting bluebonnets will most plentiful in late March or early April this year rather than their typical peak in mid-April. But it all hinges on what Mother Nature decides to do in the coming weeks.
“Bluebonnets can respond in just a few days to weather changes,” she says. “As long as plants don’t dry out too much, the show should keep going. If we have a full week of warm sunny weather, that would push everything really fast. If we get some well-spaced rains into the spring, they may stretch out a bit longer.”
But bluebonnets are not the only wildflowers that have been triggered by winter’s warm, sunny weather and well-paced rains, says DeLong-Amaya. Early bloomers like coreopsis and phlox are particularly early this year, while Indian blankets and purple coneflowers, which typically bloom from April or May and into June, also are making an early appearance. All around Austin neighborhoods, where heat radiates from roads and driveways, blooming trees such as redbud, mountain laurel and Mexican plum, which are typically the first to bloom, are right on track. DeLong-Amaya predicts a banner year for the fragrant purple mountain laurel that is already perfuming the air all around Austin.
With wildflower season on the brink of bursting into full bloom, it’s time to scout out the best spots to see them. Whether you launch into Texas’ favorite springtime rituals of wildflower-watching and photo-snapping in your own backyard or venture out on a flower-fringed road trip, here are seven ideas for where to become bewitched by the blooms this year.
Wander the Wildflower Center
Home to more than 800 species of native Texas plants, including hundreds of species of native wildflowers like Texas bluebonnets, buttercups, winecups and diverse blooms you might not see elsewhere, the Wildflower Center is an ideal first stop. Wildflower species are labeled, knowledgeable docents roam the grounds to educate guests about what they are seeing, and free guided tours are offered most days at 10 a.m. Plus, the Wildflower Center provides a more picturesque and protected alternative to high-trafficked roadsides and highways when it comes to posing with the flowers, and you can snap away from the walking trails without damaging the blooms.
Right now visitors can expect to see sporadic patches of bluebonnets as well as golden groundsel, windflowers, goldeneye phlox, spiderworts, prairie fleabane, baby blue-eyes, agarita, salvias, Carolina jessamine, purple coneflowers, redbuds, Mexican plums and Texas mountain laurels with red buckeyes on the verge of blooming. More at wildflower.org.
Trek to these Texas State Parks
Texas is home to more than 5,000 species of wildflowers, and the 95 Texas state parks offer some of the best and safest places to view them. Government Canyon State Natural Area, Pedernales Falls State Park, Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site, Goliad State Park and Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site consistently teem with wildflowers.
“Texas State Parks offer unique backdrops for families wanting to take wildflower photos away from busy roadways,” says Stephanie Garcia, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokeswoman, warning visitors to be mindful of wildlife sharing a space with the wildflowers, including nesting birds, fire ants and venomous snakes. “We encourage Texans to enjoy the wildflowers in a Texas state park and to take their pictures from the edge of the flower patches. If the flowers are trampled, it reduces or eliminates their ability to reseed themselves for next year. Photos can be framed so the wildflowers enhance the photo but are not harmed during the process.”
Bluebonnets have already started blooming at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, Franklin Mountains State Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
“We foresee once the weather starts warming up, the wildflowers will definitely start shining,” says Garcia. Find out what’s blooming where at bit.ly/TSPwildflowers.
Take a trip to West Texas
If you’ve been pondering the journey to West Texas, now is the time to go. The Big Bend bluebonnets are having a banner season — some reports claim the Big Bend region is experiencing one of the most spectacular seasons in years. Big Bend bluebonnets bloom in February, March and April and are taller than other Texas bluebonnets, growing 2 to 3 feet high.
Become beguiled by the blooms in your own backyard
Big swaths of blue are already blanketing areas of Mopac and Interstate 35. Right now you can drive into St. Edward’s University to be greeted with the sights and scents of mountain laurel and a spectacular showcase of bluebonnets scattered across the 160-acre campus — especially along the edge of campus running parallel to South Congress Avenue. Soon, you’ll be able to spend spring days surrounded by wildflowers at a number of Austin’s parks.
“We are just starting to see some bluebonnets popping up in the preserves and wildflower meadows, but you should see them really blooming in parks in the next couple of weeks,” says LeAnn Ishcomer, park ranger program manager for Austin Parks and Recreation, who recommends putting Bull Creek District Park, Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Commons Ford Ranch Metropolitan Park, Mary Moore Seawright and Zilker Park at the top of your bluebonnet bucket list this year.
Find flowers in Fredericksburg
Time your trip to Wildseed Farms, wildseedfarms.com, a working wildflower farm brimming with more than 200 acres of fields just outside of Fredericksburg, between mid-March and the end of April. “We are about 10 days behind Austin because it’s a little cooler here,” says John Thomas, owner and founder.
At Wildseed Farms, you’ll find more than just bluebonnets this time of year. Soak in sights of red poppies and dozens of wildflowers before browsing at the Blossoms Boutique and Lantana Nursery, sipping a beer in the Brewbonnet Biergarten and bringing native wildflower seeds home as souvenirs. Take a floral diversion to Willow City Loop, a 13-mile scenic drive boasting meadows and valleys cloaked in colorful blooms spanning bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush to firewheels and poppies.
Linger in the Hill Country during its most breathtaking season — from March 29 through April 14, you can pair your wine with wildflowers at 44 participating wineries with a Wine & Wildflower passport ($75 for couples/$45 for individuals) that provides a full complimentary tasting at each winery with a limit of four wineries per day and a 15 percent discount on three-bottle purchases. Learn more at texaswinetrail.com.
Book it to Bluebonnet Country
Drive the 80 miles of flowering farm roads known as Washington County’s Bluebonnet Trail winding through Burton, Independence, Washington, Chappell Hill and Brenham later this month into April.
“I think this year is going to be pretty special, with the peak for bluebonnets occurring late March to the first week of April, maybe even into mid-April,” says Mike Shoup, plant expert and owner of Antique Rose Emporium in Independence, who said he expects bigger than normal plants this year.
Bluebonnets have already started showing up at Old Baylor Park in Independence and scattered along various roadways, says Lu Hollander of the Tourism & Marketing DMO with the city of Brenham, but due to February’s gloomy, wet and cool weather, she says the big blue boom hasn’t happened yet. Check the Wildflower Watch webpage, visitbrenhamtexas.com/wildflower-watch, to stay up to date with what is blooming and when, or time the trip with Chappell Hill’s Official Bluebonnet Festival of Texas on April 13-14.
Hit the Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail
Stop into the Marble Falls Visitor Center to grab a map outlining the scenic, self-paced drives that make up the Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail. Flower-fringed routes weave through Marble Falls, Horseshoe Bay, Granite Shoals, Kingsland, Inks Lake, Buchanan Dam, Spicewood, Burnet and Llano.
“The bluebonnets are starting to come out, and, from what I’ve seen so far, it looks like we are going to have a very good crop this year,” says Ron Nicholas, a volunteer at the Marble Falls Visitor Center who helps monitor where the wildflowers are blooming. This year, Nicholas recommends putting Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area in Spicewood on your radar. On April 12-14, celebrate the state flower at the 36th Annual Bluebonnet Festival in Burnet — the “Bluebonnet Capital of Texas” is considered one of the best places in the state to view the bluebonnets.
Find more recommended wildflower drives, profiles and facts at the Wildflower Center’s Texas Wildflower Central website, wildflower.org/texas. And get real-time updates about where to see the wildflowers on Instagram, @texaswildflowerwatch, and post your own Texas wildflower photos using the hashtag #TXWildflowers2019.
RELATED: This year's wildflower season could be the best since 2010