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Taking bluebonnet pictures? Be safe, and help protect the flowers

Dale Roe, Go-To Guy

Staff Writer
Austin 360
25 MAR 2012: Brent Ryan takes a picture of his family Bevan, Ephrem, 4, and Georgia, 1, in a field of blue bonnets near Woodland Avenue and Summit Street on Sunday, March 25, 2012, in Austin, Texas. Rodolfo Gonzalez/ Austin American-Statesman.

Plants attract bugs, and this year's bumper crop of bluebonnets is no exception. But the pests that the deep blue and purple beauties often attract are shutterbugs. And who could blame them? Photos of children in rolling fields of bluebonnets are a Texas tradition, and 2011's yield was downright pathetic, leaving shooters with itchy trigger fingers.

Fortunately, the rains that began last autumn fell at just the right times through winter and early spring and in just the right amounts to produce the crazy-colorful blanket of blooms we're enjoying now.

"Fall rain causes the wildflowers to germinate, winter rain keeps them healthy, and spring rain and mild temperatures causes them to grow and flower," says Damon Waitt, the senior botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

And, boy, have they grown and flowered. Since Easter is a popular day for bluebonnet photos, we asked readers and social media friends to share locations perfect for photographs.

"The Wildflower Center is beautiful right now," one response read. The center is open today, Waitt says, and it has special areas set up for those who want to take bluebonnet photos in their Easter best.

"There are some real nice fields in Georgetown out Williams Drive near and past Sun City," another reader wrote.

More locations cited included:

¦ MoPac Boulevard, especially south of Ben White Boulevard

¦ U.S. 290 from Austin to Fredericksburg

¦ Pflugerville, east of Interstate 35 at Grand Avenue

¦ Barton Springs Road near MoPac

¦ Loop 360 and RM 2222

A reader who drives out to Mason sends these instructions: "Look on your GPS for James River Road and drive toward the bat cave. Endless bluebonnets — stunning. Plus you'll see a ton on the way there. The whole drive is beautiful!"

So, OK. It seems like this year is (literally) covered. But what about spring 2013? Short of a rain dance, is there anything we can do to help make sure we get another beautiful bluebonnet bounty next spring? Surprisingly, yes.

"Not everyone has to trample a brand-new path through the bluebonnets to get a good picture," Waitt says, encouraging people to walk on paths already forged by previous photo takers. "Every plant they trample means less seeds and less bluebonnets for next year. That many people getting pictures taken really does have an impact."

Since bluebonnets are legumes, they produce a bean-type pod with the seeds inside, Waitt says. After those pods go from green to brown, they explode and release their seeds. You want to wait until after that happens to mow them down or, you know, squash 'em with your feet — and that's well after they'll make pretty pictures.

The Texas Department of Transportation takes Waitt's admonition further. A statement on the agency's website reads: "The department is pleased with the attention wildflowers attract, however, we discourage picture-taking that damages the wildflowers." It's really no surprise that TxDOT toes such a hard line — the agency purchases and distributes around 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year.

"Usually you see the big, dense displays along highways and in pastures adjacent to the highways," Waitt says. "That's probably due mainly to the seeding."

The prominence of those brilliant bluebonnet displays means that Texans are going to continue pulling off to the sides of busy highways and squatting their kids down for pictures — and I'm going to keep gripping my steering wheel and fearing that one or more of those kids is going to dart out in front of my car. So, I asked the Texas Department of Public Safety for some information I could share to make the whole exercise a little less risky.

Department media and communications assistant chief Tom Vinger sent along these safety tips:

¦ Be careful when slowing down to enjoy the view. Remember that there are laws against impeding traffic, and only select areas with light traffic for stopping.

¦ Park off the roadway (and off of improved shoulders) and parallel to the road in the direction of traffic. Don't walk or run across lanes of traffic. Obey any signs that prohibit parking, and always signal before leaving or entering a roadway.

¦ Don't forget that while you're enjoying the wildflowers, fire ants, snakes and other potential dangers might be lurking. A friend posted a terrifying photo on Facebook last week of a snake that was waiting where her kids were going to sit down for their bluebonnet photos.

"I'm constantly seeing parents saying, you know, ‘Hey, little Suzy, go stand over there' without checking it first," Waitt says. "Mom or dad should always go and walk into the area where they're going to take that shot and check that there are no critters, no cacti, you know?"

Contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal to pick the flowers. But you still want to make sure that a bluebonnet photo doesn't turn into an orange jumpsuit photo. There are laws against damaging government property, so don't drive your truck into a field or dig up excessive amounts of bluebonnets. Last, some Texans don't take kindly to trespassers, so make sure you're on public land (or get permission).

And don't forget the most important part: "Enjoy it while you can," Waitt reminds us. "Last year showed that not every spring is going to be spectacular and we're just fortunate to have this one."

Contact Dale Roe at 912-5923. Twitter: @djroe