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Springtime and Wildflowers, namely Texas Wildflowers
by Bob Dean

Springtime in Texas means many things to many people. To nature photographers it means wildflowers. Although wildflowers bloom all year round in parts of this large state, Texas is famous nation-wide for the colorful blooms that usher the new growing season.

The intensity of the spring flower bonanza is affected by the weather patterns of the preceding summer, fall and winter. A dry summer and a wet fall ensure that the flowers don't go to seed too early and that they germinate at the proper time. A cold winter prevents other plants from sprouting early and crowding the flowering plants. A moderately wet spring provides the necessary moisture for lavish blooms.

Texas is a very large state, so knowing where to go to find subjects requires some planning. Arguably, the best part of the state is in the central section, around the state capital of Austin. Austin itself has large displays of wildflowers along most of the roadsides. Route 360, the Capital of Texas Highway, Interstate 35 and Route 290 are good places to start. Texans in this area are serious about wildflowers. The National Wildflower Research Center is located southwest of Austin and has a 42 acre parcel seeded with many types including Indian paintbrush, bluebonnet and evening primrose. This Center is a great place to visit early in your trip to help learn what you can see and to find out where it's blooming. Their address is 4801 La Crosse Ave. Take loop 1 (Mopac) south past Slaughter Lane. Turn and go east on La Crosse Avenue for a short distance to the Center. The phone number is (512) 292-4627. The Center also maintains a wildflower hotline at (512) 832-4059. The center was inspired by Lady Bird Johnson as part of her efforts to beautify America and the Texas area in particular.

If you have the time and the inclination to out to the countryside, you can find great flower opportunities in any direction you go from Austin. Let's start with the regions to the east and southeast of town.

Washington County, Yoakum County, DeWitt County and the Brazos River region are east of town. In Washington County, any of the side roads north of Route 290, near the towns of Brenham and Hemstead are good locations. The Brazos area is typically best early in the season (late March and early April). Yoakum and DeWitt Counties are typically best throughout the month of April. Bluebonnets bloom early followed by the yellow flowering plants. This area produces Indian blankets, primroses and hollyhocks amid the old oak trees and historic church cemeteries. The Guadalupe River Valley, in particular, has great examples of this type of subject, as is the Brazos River Valley between Chappell Hill and Washington.

The La Grange area is southeast. It has wildflowers blooming normally from late March into late April. Old farm buildings, grazing cattle, rural churches and old bridges set off the blossoms here. Travel the local roads off of Highways 71 and 90 around La Grange and Columbus.

To the north and northwest of Austin you can see great displays of flowers around the Highland Lakes area. The roads around the towns of Burnet, Marble Falls and Kingsland as well as the north shore of Lake L.B. Johnson offer photographic opportunities. Also travel route 71 northwest of Austin from Llano to Johnson City. LBJ State Park near Stonewall is consistently good. Mason County to the northwest of Austin can be a good bet. Mason County has many stone houses and stone fences to add drama to your images. The roads around the town of Mason and Fredonia are worth exploring.

The Rio Grande region of southern Texas in and around Big Bend National Park is a good stop. This arid region is very dependent on rainfall for good flower production. Spring and late summer rains will generate carpets of flowers among the flowering cactus. Prime spring blooming time is March to May. The Chisos Mountains sport blooming wildflowers later in spring. The Dagger Flats area may have dramatic giant dagger flowers in April.

East Texas, with its abundant rainfall boasts year around blooming flowers. The areas near the Texas-Oklahoma border from Wichita Falls to Paris are dotted with forest and swampland. These areas have dogwood and wild azaleas in the spring with bluebonnets, wild passionflowers and primrose later in the season. Far eastern Texas, around Beaumont has great flower potential as well. The Big Thicket National Preserve is wonderful most of the year. At Big Thicket you may find dogwood, wild azalea and sundew in spring, Indian blanket and magnolia in summer and cardinal flower and ironweed in fall.

Don't overlook the Dallas area in your travels to Texas. The Dallas-Ft Worth region has spectacular blooms from late March through late May. While all of the metro roads have potential, drive out to northeast Tarrant County, around the town of North Richland Hills. Red and yellow Indian paintbrush, pink buttercups, bluebonnets and verbena mix with small yellow daisies along the roadsides.

As you travel through Texas on a quest for the perfect wildflower photograph, pay careful attention to your safety. Pull off the roads completely and watch for traffic, particularly in the more heavily traveled areas. Texas law, at this time, does not prohibit picking of wildflowers but to do so may detract from the experience of others. The law does however come down hard on trespassing and damage to property, so be considerate as well as careful.