A Spring Ritual in Texas –Welcoming Our Wildflowers

San Antonio Express News
Sunday, March 27, 2005

By Lynn Rawe

Painting of Texas wildflowersWe Texans are proud of our wildflowers! We brag that we have the most beautiful wildflowers in the world. Our travel bureaus convince non-natives to visit Texas in the spring to view the splendor of Mother Nature’s quilt of colors. A field of bluebonnets is often THE background choice for those special event photographs of a blushing bride, precious toddlers on Easter, or a Texas couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

The bluebonnet is the Texas state flower and the floral trademark for our state. Only about ten percent of wildflowers have ever been studied to any degree. Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson and the National Wildflower Research Center in Austin, more research is being conducted today than ever before. We have a multitude of wildflowers in Texas, but more research has been done on the bluebonnet than any other variety. Dr. Jerry Parsons, Horticulture Specialist with Texas Cooperative Extension, has spent more than two decades researching and developing the white, pink, maroon and red bluebonnet. Dr. Wayne Mackaye with the Texas A&M Research Center in Dallas has worked with two varieties of bluebonnets from the Big Bend area to develop a “cut-flower” crop for florists.

Bluebonnets are in the legume family, and all legumes are “nitrogen makers.” A bacterium called Rhizobium, found in soils, infects the roots of the flower, causing a formation of a nodule encircling the bacteria. The bacteria take the nitrogen from the air and convert it to a usable form for the bluebonnet.

The white top portion of a bluebonnet serves as a signal to bees that pollen is available and fertile. When the pollen is no longer viable, the white petals turn red signaling the bees to move on to another food source.

Indian paintbrush is a very popular wildflower, too. The red portions of the paintbrush are actually bracts. Bracts are petal-like leaves that look like flowers (like the poinsettia). The yellowish-pink color at the base of the bract is the real flower. The seeds are so small that a couple of handfuls of seed would cover an entire acre. There are four million seeds in one pound.

Products have even been named for wildflowers. The Texas bluebell thrives in abundance around Brenham, Texas, thus the name of the plant was adopted by the popular ice cream manufacturer.

The daisy-like yellow coreopsis has played an important role in old Texas history. The pioneers placed coreopsis seeds in their mattresses to repel fleas, ticks and bed bugs. Many wildflowers were used as medicinal cures and perfumes. Many books are available on this historical and interesting topic. Visit the library or your favorite bookstore and search the titles within wildflowers section.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sows more than 33,000 pounds of wildflower seeds each year, composed of about 30 varieties per pound (that’s about 5.6 billion seeds annually!). The state of Texas maintains 79,000 miles of wildflower-covered highways for our enjoyment. Not only are the wildflowers beautiful, but they are providing erosion control.

A 24-hour Wildflower Hotline is available from March through early May, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Callers can check on the status of wildflowers in seven different regions across the state. The toll-free number is 800-452-9292. You may also visit them online at: http://www.dot.state.tx.us/wflwr.

Make plans to visit the annual Wildflower Celebration at Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg, April 5 through 18. For a real taste of Texas pride, check out Dr. Jerry Parsons’ Texas flag grown entirely of 9,000 red, white and blue bluebonnets!

This article was written by Lynn Rawe, County Extension Agent-Horticulture with Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County.

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