Bluebonnets aren’t supposed to flower before daylight saving time springs forward.
But here we are in mid-March, and families have already been clambering onto roadsides for weeks for pictures with Texas’ state flower, Lupinus texensis. The flowers started popping up in Waco, including along Highway 6, in late February, and now they’re spreading across Central Texas.
“Bluebonnets are coming about four weeks earlier this year than we’ve seen in the past,” said Lee Clippard, spokesman for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. “On Interstate 35, the roadsides are full of bluebonnets. It’s very unusual.”
Clippard said you can blame or thank the unusually warm winter weather throughout the southeastern half of the United States, which has caused trees to leaf out up to 20 days early from Texas to New Jersey, according to a national study.
Waco posted average February temperatures of 60 degrees, or 9.4 degrees higher than normal, according to the National Weather Service. February had two days with highs in the mid-80s, and the only freezing temperature was Feb. 16.
Bluebonnets are now in bloom at Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place in Cameron Park, at Whitehall Park in Woodway and along West Highway 84, among other places.
Clippard said the early onset shouldn’t be a problem for the health of bluebonnets, at least in the short term.
“Bluebonnets are cold-adapted,” he said. “If we had a late freeze, they would only get nipped a little. … One of the larger long-term threats is that they will come out of sync with the native bees and butterflies that pollinate them, and which don’t come out until March.”
Clippard said bluebonnets usually peak in early April, but this year he expects a more gradual bloom period.
City of Waco parks superintendent John Rose said he is hoping for a good showing of blooms in parks and roadways that his department maintains. Last year, the department mowed some bluebonnet areas in Cameron Park prematurely, drawing public complaints from wildflower lovers. This year, the department is planning to hold off on mowing until midsummer to give the bluebonnets and other wildflowers time to reseed. The city also spread 120 pounds of wildflower seed last fall, including about 8 pounds of bluebonnet seed, Rose said.
“We are planning on doing that every October or November,” Rose said. “Normally, it takes about three years to get a good stand. If we do it yearly, down the road we should get to where we should be.”
Clippard said municipalities and other landowners can encourage bluebonnets with some management practices that have been tested at the wildflower center. He said removing invasive species such as bastard cabbage and King Ranch bluestem helps. So does mowing around June, after the seeds have set. Some of the best results have come from prescribed burns, he said.
Rose said he has considered prescribed burns to encourage wildflower growth, but he thinks it would be too risky to set fires near Cameron Park.
Clippard said bluebonnets are tough plants that don’t need irrigation or rich soil, but like other wildflowers, they sometimes need some human assistance to thrive in parklands.
“One common misconception is that we can just let it go wild,” he said. “Even natural spaces require management because of invasive species and because we’ve already interrupted the natural process.”