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Mild spring favors some colorful natives

Wildflower Sightings

Looking for fields of Bluebonnets or Indian Blankets, the following websites track wildflower sights around Central Texas and the Hill Country. Look for sightings or post your own.

Evening Primrose among Early Flowers
Benefiting from Mild Spring Conditions

Mild temperatures and intermittent rains have helped many wildflowers this season, with pink evening primrose especially prominent along roadsides in Texas. Besides providing a great show in Central Texas and at the Wildflower Center, large patches of Pink evening primrose have been seen intermingled with Indian paintbrush and other early bloomers near Fort Worth, Houston and elsewhere.

Another native that has done well this year is Huisache, a tree with golden flowers, while Mountain laurel and some others aren’t as lucky.

“About three years ago, we had the perfect convergence of conditions for Mountain laurel to bloom, but it really varies from year to year which native plants do best.” said Joe Marcus, collections manager at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin.

Why have the winning native plants done so well?

“The winter drought suppressed winter grasses so they aren’t as tall or as full as usual, allowing shorter flowers to be more visible,” Marcus said. He also noted that, “The rain we have had so far this spring has helped pink evening primrose and some others put on a better display.”

Regardless of the year, native plants in Texas compete for space and resources with those that aren’t local. Native plants are adapted to the regions they grow in, can use less water and other resources to maintain, as well as being beautiful. Some exotic plants can also be impressive, but those that spread invasively can be expensive to root out, with herbicides often called into play.

An example is the clusters of small, showy yellow flowers found in North and Central Texas known as Turnip weed or Bastard cabbage.

“Those little bastard cabbages are occupying space that could be occupied by our native wildflowers like the Texas bluebonnet,” said Dr. Damon Waitt, senior botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

He noted that every part of the state has different invasive plant challenges, such as Salt cedar in West Texas, Chinese tallow along the Gulf Coast - and even Kudzu in East Texas.

For this reason, the Wildflower Center helped develop the Pulling Together Initiative as a statewide partnership with the Texas Forest Service and others to address the threat of invasive plants and train volunteers to report them. About 300 Texans have become Citizen Scientists through the initiative since 2005 and have reported more than 2,000 occurrences of invasive species statewide.

In some cases, that detective work has been supplemented with research at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on how to outsmart an invasive flower, shrub or tree. For example, Wildflower Center research suggests areas infested with Turnip weed can be over seeded in late fall with native Indian blanket as a control. With many other invasives, pulling them out by hand is recommended.

To prevent the spread of invasives and protect our wildlands and natural areas, consider the Plantwise national educational program involving the Wildflower Center. Learn more at: http://www.wildflower.org/invasive/ or http://www.wildflower.org.