Wild About Wildflowers

Wildflower season is in full swing with eye-catching colors of spring. I must admit that on my commute, I am drawn out of myself with wonder at the vivid colors dotting the landscape. It can be a little difficult to capture floral details as I botanize down the highway at 60 miles an hour. Some flowers are more distinctive and easy to spot, like the bright red clusters of Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa). There are the masses of pastel pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) that remind me of my playful youth; we would call them ‘buttercups’ from the flowers yellow pollen my cousins and I would smear on each other’s faces. And of course, I’m always looking out for fields and fields of Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) to complete my experience. Don’t forget the ephemeral ‘one day’ blooms of Prairie Nymph (Herbertia lahue; image at left).

Where can you go to see this display of natures’ treasures? While it is convenient to enjoy nature at a distance, I proposed planning a purposeful wildflower destination, finding a natural area to wander and enjoy up close the beauty of Texas flora. Texas Department of Transportation magazine Texas Highways published a brochure offering maps of well-known scenic drives as well as natural areas to visit. In Brazoria County. One such scenic drive includes a 70-mile loop (F.M. 1462 to Texas 36, to F.M. 2004 to Texas 288) through West Columbia, Angleton, Lake Jackson and Brazoria. Points of interest includes natural areas such as Brazos Bend State Park, Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and Quintana Beach County Park. While at a natural area, I encourage you to stop and smell the wildflowers. Don’t just breeze through a hike and call it a day: take in the subtle beauty offered at your feet. See if you can identify some of the following wildflowers while on your travels:

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium sp.) – Not a grass at all and a member of the Iris Plant Family, I will often see blue-eyed grass in clusters of single blue to purplish petals surrounding a golden center. The flowers about ½-inch in diameter and are borne atop 5 to 8-inch long flower stalks arising from tufted clumps of grass-like leaves.

White Gaura (Oenothera lindheimeri) – Sometimes called ‘Butterfly Gaura’, petite, pinkish buds open to pure ½-inch wide white butterfly-shaped flowers that nod at the end of a 2-foot tall flower stalk. The herbaceous plant has a bunching growth habit.

Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) – The common name best describes this beauty, offering chalice-shaped 2-inch wide flowers with deep maroon petals off-set by a whitish spot toward the flower center. Vegetation appears to crawl along the ground up to 3-feet long. Even though the flower is small, it may look familiar to you: this plant is a member of the Hibiscus Plant Family.

Bluebonnets! That is the beauty we would like to bring to the ball, and while we may see smaller pockets of seeded bluebonnets in our county, you will see higher populations as you travel west. Another route is an estimated 80-mile loop from Brenham to Burton, Independence, Washington and Chappell Hill. If you are travelling northwest of Houston, try the 105-mile loop fromBrenham along FM 1774 and includes Navasota, Plantersville, Magnolia and Hempstead. Then there is the ‘motherload’ often seen in at the foot of the Texas Hill Country. Roads between Marble Falls, Burnet, Lampasas, San Saba, Mason, Llano, Fredericksburg and Johnson City can  cover almost 300 miles and should be best enjoyed over several days. You can pick and choose your stops by the true Texas hospitality offered at some of the towns and cities along the route. Research popular tourism destination cities chamber of commerce or convention and visitor bureau to keep an eye on Texas regional flowering and best places to stop along your travels.

For more information about Brazoria County Extension programs, browse online: http://txmg.org/brazoria. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to seeing you in the garden.

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