Spring has arrived in Texas and the annual bloom of wildflowers is drawing people out to country lanes, hillsides and pastures to see the famous Texas Bluebonnets and other beautiful natural wonders.
Daisies, Indian Paintbrush, and Bluebonnets are popping up all over central and eastern Texas these days.
Families can often be found among the flowers, getting pictures of the little ones seeing their first blooms.
Heavy rains earlier in the year played a role in producing a good show this year.
Mark Simmons is Chief Ecologist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. A native of Great Britain who has studied natural flora worldwide, Simmons says the appearance of so many flowers really is something to celebrate.
"These wildflowers really give us an idea of the ecological condition of the landscape," he said. "They can be indicators of previous disturbance. You get certain wildflowers that come up under conditions of heavy grazing, for instance or after wildfires - or even conditions of the soil, so they can tell us an awful lot."
Natural flowering species can be threatened by over-use of herbicides on farms and the introduction of non-indigenous plants in the ever-expanding suburban areas of the state.
Mark Simmons says some foreign species of plants, once introduced, can spread quickly beyond their original point of entry and compete with native plants.
"Invasive species, by their very nature, usually are very prolific, they have a lot of seeds, they are generalists and can put up with all kinds of conditions, so they can put up with conditions that the wildflowers can, but they may be better at it in some circumstances," he said. "When that happens, when, say, they are brought in by accident or deliberately, they can spread out and then you have an invasive species problem on your hands."
"This is a species of Medicago or 'burr clover' as it is commonly called," Mr. Simmons continued. "This one comes from Europe. The problem with a plant like this, although it seems fairly innocuous, is that it can actually actively replace some native wildflowers. What can happen is that you can get an area, where you have a really well-established bluebonnet colony, which we have nurtured through the years to maintain it and this little clover invaded us. The problem is there is no easy way to get rid of it. It almost needs a sort of hand-pulling level of management to get rid of it."
But the Texas Bluebonnets have some advantages of their own. For one thing, cows don't like to eat them, so they tend to eliminate other weeds and grasses in a pasture, giving the flowers full range.
Many landowners and the Texas Department of Transportation also give the natural flowers a boost by planting them and nurturing them in select areas.
Mark Simmons says Texas really does have something special in its Bluebonnets.
"The Texas Bluebonnet is Lupinus Texensis, which is a native bluebonnet," he said. "There are blue lupinus throughout the world. Blue lupines are not unique, but the Texas Bluebonnet, I think, has become fairly popular, because it is one of the first dramatic wildflowers to occur in the country, being this far south. When it does display, some years you get these dramatic displays across large areas of the landscape."
In a few weeks, the wildflowers will disappear as the summer heat builds across the Texas plains, but their seeds will remain in the ground, waiting for next year.