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Wildflowers are a welcome sight

Mike Leggett, Venture Out

Staff Writer
Austin 360

After two long years of dry, dusty almost post-apocalyptic landscapes, the Hill Country is rolling in rainwater and awash in brilliant blooming wildflowers.

Nobody knows what the future will bring, of course, but let's not focus on a negative. This is the time just to enjoy the color we currently have and to wait to see what tomorrow will bring, according to Jackie Poole, a botanist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

"Any year is good compared to last year," Poole said, recalling the parched ground when virtually nothing had enough moisture to bloom. "Things may be blooming at odd times this year, which would be a response more to moisture than to temperature and sunshine."

Poole said that already across the Hill Country, mountain laurel plants are blooming everywhere, producing those spectacular blue violet clusters of flowers with the pungent scent.

"Those started in mid-February, when they normally are more in early March," Poole said.

Other early bloomers among woody plants, like agarita, haven't started blooming yet, which would suggest that plants still are trying to figure out which season is upon us and whether the rain is going to last.

Bluebonnets have begun cropping up all over the Hill Country, which should be good news to the annual sightseeing tours through the area. "Bluebonnets seem a little early to me," she said. "They started blooming in February, which is early, but we didn't have a real cold winter either."

The nice thing about bluebonnets, Poole said, is that their year — our year in terms of viewing them — is pretty much already made. Warm temperatures and nice rainfall already have lots of highway right-of-way plants blooming, and they should only increase through May when the flowers begin to fade.

"I was surprised at the profusion of bluebonnets this year, and I was thinking they really do have a great seed bank" because there were virtually no blooms last year. Poole did say botanists are facing an interesting spring in terms of which plants will bloom and which won't have as good a year as bluebonnets seem to be having. "We may not have the normal succession" because of the extended drought, she said.

There are a number less desirable plants, such as annual bastard cabbage, that are showing up in large areas, and they could slow native flowers such as paintbrush and firewheel that come along later than the bluebonnets.

"You're always looking for the first wildflowers of the spring," Poole said. "It's difficult to predict what might happen the rest of the spring. A lot of it is going to depend on whether the rain keeps going."

Texas Parks and Wildlife just released a list of state parks where flower enthusiasts might find good viewing this spring. Central Texas sites included Palmetto State Park, Enchanted Rock, Inks Lake, Lost Maples and Hill Country State Natural Area near Bandera.

You can view the entire list by going to the TPWD website, www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

Enjoying the bluebonnets this season? Share your wildflower photos at statesman.com/go/wildflowerpics, and we'll include them on REAL online, the Statesman's magazine dedicated to the authentic Austin lifestyle, which debuts March 30.