Friday, April 16, 2004

Texas Wildflowers Now Is The Time

A wildflower trip this far takes less than a day, and after passing through Johnson City, President Johnson's hometown, named in the 1870's for one of his ancestors, over more roadways bordered with blue, red and violet, it might be easy to assume that Texas couldn't have better wildflowers to offer. But a night in San Antonio and a venture onto Alternative Highway 90, the humbler cousin that runs more or less parallel to Interstate 90, broke that illusion. There, in the crossroads area that separates the Hill Country from South Texas, the colors seemed especially brilliant, perhaps because of the warmer temperatures and uncluttered roads.

Along this route is Gonzales, the town where H&P BBQ and Home Cooking lures customers from the Legion hall behind a Wal-Mart. The barbecue may deserve to be famous, but Gonzales is better known for its place in Texas history. The first skirmish of the war that resulted in Texas' secession from Mexico was fought there, and the town's plaza has a towering monument to that conflict. One plaque notes that General Sam Houston burned the town to the ground to keep it from falling into the hands of the Mexican Army.

Bluebonnets are blooming

Late March through early April is the best time for viewing roadside fields of azure that Texans consider a part of state heritage.

"When there are bluebonnets all across the open field in the spring, that's sort of unique and beautiful," said Kay Fleming, 65, a retired wildlife biologist who lives in Athens, in East Texas.

In recent years, bluebonnets have appeared in retail nurseries; they have been produced in colors other than blue and sold as cut flowers. Chappell Hill and Ennis both have festivals celebrating the bluebonnet.

The bluebonnet is also called "buffalo clover" and, in Spanish, el conejo (the rabbit). Paintings, songs, family snapshots and even Comanche legend pay homage to the bluebonnet, but its designation as the state flower nearly didn't happen.

When the Legislature considered naming a state flower in 1901, some favored the open cotton boll, calling it the "white rose of commerce." Others, including future Vice President John Nance Garner, wanted the prickly pear.

Texas members of the Colonial Dames of America won the day for their beloved bluebonnet when they hauled a painting featuring the flowers into legislative chambers.

Today, Amador refers to the bluebonnets -- along with Indian paintbrushes -- as the "rock stars" of Texas wildflowers. So much so that the wildflower center has been forced to address how to deal with bluebonnet lovers who feel compelled to plop themselves down in flower patches.

The Texas highway department began planting seeds along roadways in 1930. It now sows more than 33,000 pounds of wildflower seeds, including bluebonnets, each year.

You can call the toll-free wildflower hotline at 1-800-452-9292 to get the best locations to find wildflowers. The information is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Click here to see the TxDoT Wildflower Map.

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