Luci Johnson, the youngest daughter of President Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, admits that her love of nature came later in life, despite her mother’s devotion to protecting and restoring native plants. But, thanks to Lady Bird’s gentle persistence, an enthusiasm for the natural world eventually rubbed off. That’s one of the reasons Luci speaks with such passion about the new Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Opened in May and named for Luci and her husband, Ian Turpin, the garden’s lead donors, the center’s elaborate, 4.5-acre addition intends to change the way children and their families approach play.
It’s that magical time of year when Texas prairies, pastures, and roadsides sprout forth with a palette of colorful wildflowers.
If you’re getting ready to hit the road for a spring trip, be sure to check out the Texas Department of Transportation’s “Wildflower Sightings” website. The page identifies the locations of particularly scenic wildflower spots around the state.
Over our 40 years as a travel magazine, we’ve been “Wowed by Wildflowers,” sowed “The Seeds of Spring,” joined in the “Dance of the Wildflowers,” and gawked at “The Great Texas Bloom Boom.” Our various themes have included thoughts from such diverse observers as Moravian-born author Karl Anton Postl, who in the mid-1800s described a Texas prairie “as if clothed with rainbows that waved to and fro,” and a modern-day fourth-grader from Woodville, who penned, “Thousands of blooming hands reaching in the sun … Marching through the meadow with hearts aglow.”
Texas, how does your garden grow? Our Texas Wildflower Guide shares a behind-the-scenes look at wildflowers along Texas’ highways, prime times and places to typically see wildflowers, a regional breakdown of what to expect and a spotlight on 30 of the most common blooms.
Texas Highways has chosen 30 of Texas’ most common wildflowers to identify and celebrate. It is a brief introduction to the splendor of a Lone Star spring – just a sampling of the more than 5,000 blooming plants in our lush state, so forgive us if we’ve omitted your particular favorite.
In this image I wanted to contrast the poppy's white petals and its green buds and leaves with the darkness of the burned trees in the background. In order to extend my focus from the flower, which had to be sharp, out into the trees as far as possible, I used a wide-angle lens because it has an intrinsically greater depth of field than a regular lens. The brightness of the sunlit prickly poppy allowed my lens to stop down to its minimum aperture of f/22, which provided its maximum depth of field. As for exposure, I knew from experience that digital-camera sensors often misread a very bright subject and end up underexposing it. To counteract that, I set my camera to overexpose by 2/3 of a stop, which also helped bring out some details in the dark parts of the trees that might otherwise have been lost.
While dogtooth violets aren’t rare in Texas, they’re not commonly seen or reported, either. “The delicate, lily-like blooms are hard to spot from the road,” explains botanist Michael Eason, who coordinates collecting for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s seed bank. “In addition,” he says, “the plants are small—only six to 12 inches tall—and typically flower in early spring and disappear within about two months of emergence.”
As our First Lady in the 1960s, Lady Bird Johnson worked tirelessly to call attention to our country’s natural beauty, and she deserves much credit for the abundance of glorious spring wildflowers that we enjoy today. She recognized the beauty and also the ecological advantages of native plants, and, in 1982, along with actress Helen Hayes, founded what has become the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Now affiliated with the University of Texas, the Austin center is a national leader in native-plant research and education. Any Texan who has ever snapped baby photos in the bluebonnets or marveled at a pasture awash in color can thank Mrs. Johnson, as well as the state agencies, counties, municipalities, and private landowners who follow her vision.
The following sites offer opportunities to see summer wildflowers. Keep in mind that changes in temperature and rainfall may cause plants to bloom earlier or later than the periods listed. As botanists are fond of saying, “Plants don’t read field guides!”
For the enlightened and adventurous traveler, serendipity transforms every trip: Hiking a new trail and rounding a bend to encounter an unexpected vista, journeying to a destination you’ve heard about—or visiting a familiar place with someone who’s never been—without an agenda. Or, in the case of pursuing Texas wildflowers, finding yourself surprised with the splashes and brushstrokes of red, blue, orange, and purple that appear in the landscape.