“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”
— Lady Bird Johnson
One of the glories of Texas is its wildflowers, which burst forth each spring in a riot of color and make the season the most beautiful in the state. Like fall foliage in New England, the wildflowers attract throngs of blossom-besotted tourists to Texas in the springtime to gaze at roadsides and fields strewn with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, Mexican hat, yellow primrose and a host of other floral varieties.
A Texas ritual is to load the kids into the car, find a particularly spectacular patch of bluebonnets — the state flower — nestle them among the blossoms and take a photo. The bluebonnets usually suffer some from the ritual, but the family gets a trophy for the mantel.
One of the best ways to see the wildflowers is by bicycle, and one of the best places is the Texas Hill Country, south and west of Austin. I’ve noted in reading the online journals of cross-country cyclists riding the southern tier route through the Hill Country that they’re struck by the beauty of the state, mostly because of the wildflowers.
I and two friends, Steve McReynolds and Jeff Gibbons, rode our bikes on Friday through the rolling ranchland around Lipan, about 60 miles southwest of Fort Worth in extreme northwestern Hood County, once home to the Comanches, Kiowas and Lipan Apaches. The day was overcast and the bluebonnets were past their prime, but golden arrays of daisies sprouted along the narrow country roads.
The wildflowers were sparse this year because of drought in much of the state. But recent bouts of rain, including some this week, freshened the landscape and brought out the late bloomers.
Much of the credit for this glory of the Texas springtime goes to Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Johnson. As first lady, she worked with the American Association of Nurserymen to protect wildflowers and promote wildflower plantings along America’s highways. She was a prime mover of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 (called “Lady Bird’s Bill”) to limit billboards and plant wildflowers.
The University of Texas operates the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in southwest Austin “to increase the sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, plants and landscapes.”
The Texas Department of Transportation buys and sows an estimated 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year along 79,000 miles of highways around the state. The department maintains a wildflower hotline until late spring, providing statewide information on wildflower locations. It operates 24 hours a day at 800-452-9292.
The wildflower program, according to TxDOT’s Web site, “not only helps our highways look good but also reduces the cost of maintenance and labor by encouraging the growth of native species that need less mowing and care.”