Wildflower season is just around the corner, which means this is the perfect time of year to get up in nature’s business and look for early signs of life. If you lean in and look closely, you’ll find subtle beauty all around, from scarlet winter berries and vibrant cactus fruit to lime green fiddleheads and early-blooming flowers in yellow, purple and pink.
Though discreet at first, the Center is setting the stage for spring one small speck of color at at time. Preview some of our favorite go-getters below, then come explore the Center to look for them and find your own. Call it an early-season scavenger hunt, a wildflower warmup — or simply an excuse to get outside and know nature better.
Talk about pretty in pink! The blooms of eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) not only look lovely on the branch (and they cover all the branches), they add a slightly sour kick to pancakes, salads and breads. The alternate common name duraznillo (“little peach” in Spanish) can lead to confusion with Prunus texana, or peachbush. Redbuds have been spotted blooming around Austin and should make an appearance at the Center soon.
Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) is not just an early bloomer, it’s an overachiever! While its yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers can show up on vines as early as January, it sometimes comes back for an encore in early fall. Guess it’s hard to blame something as lovely as this evergreen vine for being a showoff. Find it climbing a trellis in our Seed Silo Garden.
Tasajillo (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis), also known as Christmas or pencil cactus, has the most slender stems of all southwestern chollas. This time of year, the plant’s edible reddish-pink fruit stands out among mostly dormant surroundings. Spot lots of them clinging to stems along the John Barr Trail.
Like many flowers in the genus Anemone, this stellar stunner blooms in a variety of colors, from soft violet to crisp white and in pinks from baby to bold. The genus name means “daughter of the wind” in Greek, and windflower (Anemone berlandieri) relies on spring breezes to carry its seeds. All parts are poisonous (in large quantities), so don’t let any of that prettiness blow into your mouth! Ambitious windflowers were recently spotted in our Texas Arboretum.
Just as every rose has its thorn, every agarita leaf has a sharp bayonet tip! Despite the threat of injury, Mahonia trifoliata has plenty of amiable qualities, from fragrant flowers that herald spring in bright, sunny yellow to berries that can be used to make wine or jelly. So far, these have only been spotted in employee areas on site; follow your nose and be the first to find one in bloom on public grounds!
Mexican plum (Prunus mexicana) is easily recognized by its showy white blooms, but it has more color in store as the season moves on. Plums ripen from July through September and turn from yellow to mauve to purple along the way, making this attractive tree a veritable rainbow of beauty. The fruit can be eaten fresh or made into preserves, and it’s also a welcome food source for birds and mammals. Look for blooming bigtree plums, as they’re also called, near the Entrance Garden and around our parking lot.
While many hollies (Ilex spp.) are evergreen, possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is not, meaning its scarlet berries really make a splash on otherwise stark winter landscapes. These perennial shrubs are beloved for their ability to attract winter birds, and we see plenty of them gobbling up berries at the Center. Enjoy lunch at the Café or take a loop around (and up) the Observation Tower for a great view of possumhaw’s conspicuous fruits.
There are also lots of wildflowers-to-be out there. Sharpen your rosette game and see how many iconic Texas wildflowers you can identify by their tiny winter leaves alone.