Texas Bluebonnets Already Signal Spring

If you listen to the bluebonnets, they’re saying spring in Texas lurks right around the corner.

Texas bluebonnets with Indian paintbrush in a field.
Texas bluebonnets, the state flower, frame a bright splash of Indian paintbrush. Photo Credit: Shayla Neris

Oh, I know it’s not quite February. I know that spring doesn’t officially arrive in the Austin area until March 15, the date when almanacs assure us the threat of freeze has finally passed. But as winters all over the United States have gotten progressively warmer, that March date moves further and further away from the definite arrival of spring-like temps.

Bluebonnet plants early in the growing season
My bluebonnet patch gets bigger every year. This photo of young plants was taken at the end of Jan. 2017. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

The bluebonnets in my yard popped up weeks—maybe months—ago. I’m ashamed to admit I mistakenly pulled up many of the sprouts, thinking they were invading weeds. You see, small bluebonnets don’t have the same distinctive leaf shape sported by more mature plants. Despite my inadvertent and much lamented bluebonnetacide, many more of Texas’ state flower are sprinkled about the front yard than ever before.

Bluebonnets blooming in early March 2016
I took this photo–same spot–of bluebonnets on March 11, 2016. They were already blooming before traditional threat of freeze had passed. Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

I wrote this piece for the The Austinot; originally published in April 2015, it needed some updating so I’ve reprinted it here, because reviewing bluebonnet photo etiquette before we head into the season and out with the camera is always a good thing.

Bluebonnets in bloom in March 2016
Same bluebonnet plant from March 2016, but 11 days later in the season. So much bigger! Photo Credit: Leah Nyfeler

The bluebonnets will be blooming any day now. And the following photos, all contributed by friends in the Austin area, illustrate just how easy it is for the average photographer to take some truly memorable wildflower photos.

Everything You Need to Know About Texas Bluebonnets

Field of bluebonnets at McKinney Falls State Park, with girl to the side.
“Bluebonnet infinitum” gives an Andrew Wyeth-ish look at a field at McKinney Falls State Park. Photo Credit: Susan Mack

All along Austin’s roadways, bluebonnets are making their annual splashy appearance. Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts to beautify the state’s highways, generations of Texans have grown up with a shared rite of passage, taking the family portrait in fields full of the state flower.

Where Can You Find Bluebonnets?

Close up photo of Texas Bluebonnets.
Brilliant color makes for beautiful close-up “bluebonnet portraits.” Photo Credit: Kristen Gilson

There’s an approximate two- to four-week window every March and April for catching sight of these wildflowers. Just how long they last and how spectacular their blooms become depends on the preceding winter’s rain and cold.

Circle C trail in Austin with bluebonnets.
Patches appear along trails, like this one at Circle C. Photo Credit: Janice Langley

It’s hard to anticipate exactly where and when wild bluebonnets will appear. A good strategy is revisiting places where flowers previously bloomed. That’s because it takes years for bluebonnet seeds to germinate. The plants reseed each season when tan, fuzzy pods turn brown and fall off; seeds pop out and are spread by the wind. Weather softens the seeds, which sprout in late winter.

Note: To encourage more bluebonnets in a field, wait until at least half the pods have turned tan before mowing. Big fields have a continuous cycle of germinating seeds from many years.

Need help locating bluebonnets in your area? Here are four websites that give wildflower bloom updates: wildflowersightings.org, bluebonnetlove.comwildfowersearch.com, and wildflowerhaven.com.

6 Tips for Getting Perfect Bluebonnet Photos

Matt Bush posed in bluebonnets at Enchanted Rock in Texas
Amy took this photo of her husband, Matt, at Enchanted Rock: “I have no children, and the puppies weren’t around, but I had to take adorable pictures of SOMEone in the bluebonnets.” Photo Credit: Amy Bush
  1. Keep little ones and pets from putting plants in their mouth. Bluebonnets are toxic to humans and animals.
  2. Leave the flowers as you found them. It’s not illegal to pick bluebonnets, but it is illegal to mar or take someone else’s property.
  3. Drive thoughtfully, park legally, and carefully re-enter traffic.
  4. Look for a safe walkway. It is illegal in Texas to walk on a highway or highway shoulder.
  5. Watch out for bees. Especially for those with allergies, stings could mean trouble.
  6. Take advantage of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s bluebonnet areas. Their special stands were created to provide a safe place for snapping pics away from traffic.
Two kids nestled in a field of blooming bluebonnets in Round Rock, TX
I like to call this popular composition “bluebonnet bathing.” Essentially, the kids get nestled down among the plants. Noah and Sophia enjoy bluebonnets in Round Rock. Photo Credit: Arthur Lopez

Grow Your Own Bluebonnet Field

Bluebonnets in a field at Rocky Hill Ranch during Hell's Hills Trail Race
Hell’s Hills is a trail run at Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville, TX, but this field of bluebonnets from the 2014 race is heavenly, not hellish. Photo Credit: Janice Langley

Adding these annuals to your home landscape is easy and beneficial. Native plants use less water and require less care (in fact, fertilizing bluebonnets creates more leaves than blooms). They don’t even need quality soil, so they’re perfect for problem areas that get lots of sun. And bees and butterflies will thank you.

Boy sitting in bluebonnet field at Brushy Creek Lake Park
Most families make yearly trips to get an annual bluebonnet photo. This one of Brody at Brushy Creek Lake Park was taken in 2014. Photo Credit: Sadie Jones

Bluebonnet seeds should be sown in the fall, after the first rain. Simply scatter seeds over the area, lightly cover with soil and give a gentle soaking of water. Seeds sown naturally take two to three years to germinate. Scarification—the botanical term for breaking open tough seed pods—speeds up the process. If nature is too slow, either freeze harvested seeds before dousing with boiling water or soak them in water overnight before planting. Or buy pre-treated seeds from seedsource.com and help support the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Big close-up of bluebonnets in Westlake area near Austin
While there are different colors of bluebonnets, these variations in a Westlake field are simply due to blossom age. Photo Credit: Kristin Shaw

How do I grow my own bluebonnets? A few years back, I bought a bluebonnet transplant at my neighborhood H-E-B (a great resource for inexpensive herbs, FYI) and selected a spot for  it in my sunny front yard. They’re easy plants to grow: just give plenty of sunlight, water when dry, and leave them alone. When the plants died, I simply shook the dry, rattling pods over the ground as I pulled up the dead plants. I repeated the following year…and then the bluebonnet lifecycle took over.

Now, all I have to do is shake those seed pods out and voila! (Note to self: Just make sure I don’t accidentally weed out the young plants again when they appear in late December and early January of next year.)

The Texas Highway Department has more tips on planting bluebonnets. They should know—for more than 60 years, TXDot has been sowing seeds, putting out 30,000 pounds every year and keeping Texas beautiful.

Learn More about Bluebonnets with These Links

Who was Lady Bird Johnson? (from the National First Ladies’ Library)

Planting Texas Bluebonnets and Buying Treated Bluebonnet Seeds

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Information on Bluebonnets

Texas Department of Public Safety Tips for Wildflower Fans

Golden Labrador bounds over field of bluebonnets at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, TX
And here’s what a professional photographer can accomplish. Boudreaux is caught mid-air as he enjoys the bluebonnets at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. Photo Credit: Lara Gale
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s