Texas, how does your garden grow? Our Texas Wildflower Guide shares a behind-the-scenes look at wildflowers along Texas’ highways, prime times and places to typically see wildflowers, a regional breakdown of what to expect and a spotlight on 30 of the most common blooms.
With its sprawling size and diversity of landforms, Texas offers a treasure of spectacular wildflowers for residents and visitors alike. More than 5,000 species of flowering plants are native to Texas. The abundance results from an exceptional multitude of plant habitats and weather conditions.
Texas elevations range from sea level to craggy mountain peaks over 8,000 feet high. More than 55 inches of annual rainfall drench the jungle-like regions of East Texas, while the sun-baked Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas averages less than eight inches of moisture per year. Although Panhandle localities average 24 inches of snowfall a year, the city of Brownsville at Texas’ subtropical tip rarely records a single snowflake.
Nation’s Largest Gardener
Connecting all the sites and offering sightseeing access is the Texas highway system. Along the roads lie more than 800,000 acres of highway right-of-way. The Texas Department of Transportation cares for every acre. Landscape architects and maintenance personnel carefully groom the roadsides and highway medians—fertilizing, mowing, planting shrubs and trees, and sowing literally tons of wildflower seed yearly. Examples of the department’s commitment to beauty are seen in highway medians and roadsides, especially in spring. In addition to wildflowers, attractive cultivated varieties also are planted along highways, a prime example being the miles of crape myrtles, spectacular in spring, on U.S. 271 north of Paris.
Years of beautification experience have yielded valuable knowledge. For instance, the most effective roadside horticulture mimics nature. Plantings of single species don’t do well. Roadsides are most stable when natural combinations of grasses, legumes and wildflowers are encouraged. In subtle symbiosis, the varieties complement each other, form better ground cover, and are healthier, hardier and more drought resistant. The result is beauty by the mile.
Prime Times & Places
March, April and May are prime blooming months in Texas. Dogwood festivals in Woodville and Palestine celebrate the season with special events usually held on the last two weekends in March and the first weekend in April. Bluebonnets, too, are in their glory all during April. One of the oldest bluebonnet trails is in Ennis, featuring more than 40 miles of well-marked routes. Trails in Washington County are charted from Brenham and Chappell Hill, while La Grange offers bluebonnet trails in Fayette County. Farther west, the Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail loops through the scenic Hill Country, usually on the first two weekends in April. In Northeast Texas, a signed wildflower route on the last full weekend in April showcases dozens of beautiful wild species between the towns of Avinger, Hughes Springs and Linden. A floral treat in mid-March is the Houston Azalea Trail, when the cultivated, manicured gardens of some of the city’s prestigious homes are open to the public. Visit a Texas Travel Information Center or write to the address on the back cover for a free copy of each spring’s Texas Highways Events Calendar, which gives wildflower and other floral event dates and locations.
And Other Times
While spring hosts lavish wildflower displays, succeeding months offer their own spectacles. Indian blankets may color entire fields with red and orange during May and June. Bunches of brilliant yellow flowers thrive during summer’s hottest months. Elegant Queen Anne’s lace is a September offering, followed by fall blooms including goldenrod and purple gayfeather. In mid-October, roses are the stars of Tyler’s annual Rose Festival. But fall’s flowers are rivaled in color by October’s autumn trails in Canadian and Winnsboro. In West Texas, colorful blossoms of cacti, succulents and other desert species may erupt following any rain.
Keep this link handy as you travel Texas. It will introduce many beauties seen along Texas highways and enhance the pleasure of your trip.
Like to Know More?
The state’s capital city, Austin, is home to The University of Texas Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, devoted to the preservation and use of native plants. The Wildflower Center is a botanical garden that demonstrates the beauty and importance of native plants. Water features, nature trails, display gardens, visitors gallery, café, gift store and award-winning architecture can be found, along with information on how to plant and grow wildflowers. Spring wildflowers bloom March through June; fall wildflowers bloom September through November.
The Center is at 4801 La Crosse—from I-35 take Exit 227 (Slaughter Lane) and go west six miles. Turn left on Loop 1 South. La Crosse is the first left turn. The Center is down two blocks on the right. For more information: www.wildflower.org or 512-232-0100.
The Texas Panhandle combines the vegetational areas of the Rolling Plains with that of the High Plains, which are the southernmost extension of the Great Plains of the United States. The Rolling Plains consist of juniper woodlands and midgrass prairies, while the High Plains are primarily short grasses. Much of the Panhandle has been converted to cropland and ranches. Sand sagebrush and honey mesquites, along with buffalo grass, various species of grama grass and little bluestem dominate the natural landscape.
Prairies and Lakes
The oak woods and prairies portion of this region is a transitional zone for a number of plants, with ranges extending northward into the Great Plains or eastward into the forests. Early settlers named it Cross-Timbers because of the belts of oak forest crossing strips of prairie grassland they found here. This region also includes the Blackland Prairies, so named for its deep, fertile black soils. The area’s once-dominant grass species—big and little bluestem, Indian-grass and switchgrass—are now found only in pockets of land left undisturbed by grazing or cultivation.
The eastern portion of Texas includes the vegetational areas of the Piney Woods and the Post Oak Savannah. With its abundant rainfall (40 to 55 inches a year), the Piney Woods is characterized by mixed pine and hardwood forests, plus swamps that support unique species such as pitcher plants, orchids and sundews. Flowering dogwoods herald the arrival of spring in moist woodlands. The Post Oak Savannah—dominated by hickories, post oak and blackjack oak—comprises a transition zone between the eastern forests and prairies to the west.
This 50- to 100-mile-wide arc of land bordering the Gulf of Mexico consists of cordgrass marshes, which support a rich array of marine life and provide wintering grounds for water birds. Remnants of coastal tallgrass and midgrass prairies with tall woodlands are found in the river bottomlands. Much of the land has been developed into farms, ranches and urban areas. With an annual rainfall of 25 to 55 inches, the Gulf Coast blooms almost year-round with morning glories, sea ox-eyes and beach evening primroses.
South Texas Plains
The South Texas Plains, known as the Rio Grande Plain, is a land of thorny woodlands, shrublands and many subtropical species. Formerly an area of open grasslands, today’s South Texas landscapes reflect the changes wrought by agriculture, industry and urban development. Rainfall is sparse, but when it comes—usually in spring and fall—it brings a profusion of wildflowers, cacti and flowering shrubs such as huisache.
One of the richest areas for wildflower displays, Central Texas includes the Edwards Plateau, known more popularly as the Hill Country. This region is primarily an area of oak-hickory or oak-juniper woodlands, mes-quite-mixed brush savannah and grasslands. The scenic area is a rich ecosystem with limestone cliffs, caves, granite outcrops and hidden springs, which create diverse habitats for wildflowers. Favorites such as bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, winecups, Indian blanket and lemonmint paint the fields with bold palettes of color.
Big Bend Country
West Texas, primarily the Trans-Pecos zone, is perhaps the most complex of all of the regions. A land of desert and mountains, the region’s annual rainfall can be as little as eight inches. The Trans-Pecos is home to the highest point in the state—Guadalupe Peak at 8,749 feet above sea level. Moist canyons, wooded mountains and desert shrublands offer myriad habitats for unusual wildflowers. Spring rains transform this arid region into a riot of color, as Chisos bluebonnets, desert marigolds and a variety of cacti bloom. An encore comes with a second flowering period in the fall, following late summer rains.