In celebrating our 30th anniversary, Texas Highways has chosen 30 of Texas’ most common wildflowers to identify and celebrate, along with our usual profusion of other beautiful blooms. Please note, I didn’t say these are our favorite flowers, just 30 of the state’s most common ones. Think of what follows, if you will, as the briefest of introductions to the splendor of a Lone Star spring (especially helpful, we hope, for newcomers). Botanists tell us we have more than 5,000 blooming plants in our lush state, so forgive us if we’ve omitted your particular favorite.
I know people who have no trouble saying the bluebonnet is their hands-down favorite Texas wildflower—only fitting, then, that it’s our Official State Flower, since people love it so. As for me, I find it hard to pick (oops, I mean, choose). Purple verbena and pink evening primroses, which we called buttercups, too fondly remind me of my South Texas childhood. We heedlessly plucked the verbena’s tiny petals and sucked the minuscule droplet of nectar from the bottom of the tubes. Buttercups decorated our May Day baskets. I even loved the dandelions that appeared in the front yard, cursed by others as “weeds.”
Many Texans have a special place in their hearts—as do I—for Indian blankets. A dear relative who also loves them reminded me kindly a few years ago that the magazine had gone too long without a photo. The following year’s April issue (and this year’s) remedied the oversight.
Bluebonnets—yes, I love them, too—have two especially happy associations for me. A spectacular wildflower year in the early 1980s prompted me to take my young daughter out of school for a day. We drove for, literally, miles along blue fields just west of Lake Buchanan. It seemed to me an important part of a Texas education, of any education for that matter, for her to learn that sublime lesson in nature’s bounty and generosity.
My most recent bluebonnet memory is only one year old. In March a year ago, my grand-nephew, Paul, was born, just as the bluebonnets peeked through the grasses and lent their blue to his newborn eyes. Our family had long hoped, through trial and shared heartache, for a baby. I picked (yes, I did) a bouquet from a field near the hospital and took it to him and his courageous mother and father. Those flowers, like spring itself, re-minded us that life and the earth renew themselves, that hope not only springs eternal, but also—with luck, proper care, enough rain, grace, more luck—sometimes comes to splendid, joyous fruition.
1. Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)—Begins blooming early spring (but Big Bend bluebonnet can bloom as early as January). All six species of bluebonnet that grow in the state have been designated the State Flower by the Texas Legis-lature. A member of the large lupine genus.
2. Indian paintbrush (Castilleja spp.) Blooms early spring throughout the state. Several species, whose colors vary from scarlet to orange, cream, yellow, and occasionally purple. The bright tips of the petal-like bracts look like they’ve been dipped in paint. The genus name honors Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo (1744-1793).
3. Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)—Blooms April to June across much of the state. When viewed in a mass, the brilliant combination of red, orange, and yellow resembles brightly woven fabric. Also called firewheel.
4. Drummond phlox (Phlox drummondii)—Blooms early spring. Oc-curs most frequently in spectacular masses of color among sandy post-oak woods and along roadsides in south Central Texas. Named for Scottish botanist Thomas Drum-mond, who collected the plants on a visit to Texas in 1834. Most common color is red, but shades of pink, blue, and purple are also seen. Also called wild phlox.
6. Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa)—Blooms April to June across much of the state. Opens at dusk in northern portions of Texas; flowers wither each day, replaced by new blossoms each evening. Elsewhere in the state, blooms stay open all day. Drought-tolerant. Also known as buttercup.
7. Texas bluebell (Eustoma grandiflorum)—Blooms June to September in moist areas in fields and prairies, and in drainage areas, except in Big Bend Country. Bluebells have virtually disappeared in many locations because of indiscriminate picking. Don’t pick them! One of the state’s loveliest flowers; an entire field is stunning. Flowers range from bluish-purple to white, or white with tinges of yellow or purple. Sometimes called prairie gentian and lira de San Pedro (Saint Peter’s lyre).
8. Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)—Blooms May through Sep-tember. A prairie species found throughout the state. Renowned Swedish naturalist Linnaeus (1701-1778) dedicated the genus to two of his botanist predecessors at the University of Uppsala, the father and son Olof Rudbeck. Hirta means “rough hairy” in Latin.
9. Mexican hat (Ratibida colum-naris)—Blooms May to July, later with favorable weather. Common throughout most of state. Named for its resemblance to the tradi-tional high-crowned, broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero.
10. Winecup (Callirhoë involucrata)—Blooms early spring into summer, in most parts of the state, except the west. Grows in sandy soils in open woods and scrublands. Mostly single flowers, on plants about six to eight inches high. A tall (two to three feet), branched variety bears many blossoms on one plant.
11. Spotted beebalm (Monarda spp.)—Tall erect annual or biennial that blooms May through August. Thrives in sandy or rocky pastures, prairies, plains, and meadows throughout Texas. Also called lemon-mint, horsemint, and wild berga-mot. Lin-naeus named the genus in honor of a Spanish writer and physician, Nicolás Monardes (1493-1588), whose work first introduced much of Europe to such American plants as balsam, coca, corn, passionflower, potatoes, sarsaparilla, sunflower, and tobacco.
12. Gayfeather (Liatris mucronata) Blooms August to December on well-drained soils in prairies, plains, limestone glades, hillsides, and on the edges and open areas of woodlands. Also called button snakeroot be-cause roots and underground stems have been used to treat rattlesnake bites. Butterflies and hummingbirds are frequent visitors, and goldfinches and other songbirds eat the seeds.
13. Blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum)—Blooms early spring through fall, thriving on calcareous soils of West and Central Texas. Low-growing perennial; blooms form a dense, compact mound. Other common Texas daisies are Tahoka daisy (Machaeranthera tanacetifolia), huisache daisy (Amblyolepsis setigera), chocolate daisy (Berlandiera lyrata), and sleepy daisy (Xanthisma texanum).
14. Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.)—Blooms March-May, blanketing roadside pastures with blue to purple blooms and grasslike leaves on sunny spring days. Common in sandy forests of East Texas and on prairies of the Texas Gulf Coast.
15. White prickly poppy (Argemone albiflora)—Blooms profusely in April. Abundant, nettle-like plant of Central and South Texas. Plants may grow more than three feet tall. Close-ly related species are yellow, pink, and rose. The herb-age is so prickly that cattle leave it untouched even during severe droughts when they have grazed other plants to the ground.
16. Basketflower (Centaurea americana)—Blooms June and July from east Central Texas westward and north into the Panhandle; in the Trans-Pecos, sometimes blooms a second time in August. Also called shaving brush and star thistle (but isn’t prickly like a thistle).
17. Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus)—Blooms March through December in vacant lots, fields, pas-tures, open stream banks, and along roadsides and railroad tracks throughout the state. Texas boasts some 19 varieties of wild sunflowers, in-cluding Maximilian sunflower (Heli-anthus maximiliani) and swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius).
- 18. Eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii)—Blooms July through October in Central Texas. Also called false purple thistle. Striking flowers on plants that grow up to three feet tall. In late summer it forms dense masses of purple in fields and prairies and along roadsides.
19. Beach morning glory (Ipo-moea stolonifera)—Blooms April through December on Gulf Coast dunes and beaches. Roots are im-portant in helping to stabilize the dunes. This white morning glory frequently grows with the rosy and purple goatfoot morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae), which also helps stabilize coastal dunes.
20. Rain lily (Cooperia pedunculata)—Appears like magic a few days after heavy rains, sometimes in masses, across the eastern two-thirds of the state. Single white bloom atop a straight, foot-high green stem. Blossoms open slowly at dusk, gradually expand during the night, in full flower by morning. Flowers may last up to four days be-fore turning pinkish and withering. Delicate, lovely fragrance. The smaller evening star rain lily (Cooperia drummondii) tends to bloom in late summer and fall, while the larger rain lily blooms in spring and early summer.
21. Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)—Various species bloom somewhere in the state every month except January. “Coreopsis” is from a combination of New Latin and Greek for “having a buglike appearance,” referring to the seed, which resembles a beetle. Hence, the common name, tickseed.
22. Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus)—Blooms March to August in moist soils in fields, pastures, woodland edges, roadsides, and along streams throughout the eastern half of Texas. Prairie fleabane (Erigeron modestus) blooms March through Novem-ber in gravelly or rocky calcareous soils in open areas and hillsides in North Central and western Texas.
23. Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.)—Blooms in shades from yellow to red across the state. Perennial. The fruit, or tuna, which ranges from red to deep maroon when ripe, makes a very good jelly.
24. Spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.)—Blooms statewide Febru-ary through June. Spiderworts were named for John Tradescant the Elder (1577-1638) and John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662), both of whom were English royal gardeners. The Tradescants grew plants sent to them and collected by them in America. As a result, spiderworts are common in English gardens.
25. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)—Blooms April to September throughout Texas in fields, thickets, open woodlands, and hillsides. The densely packed flowers, rich in nectar, attract bees, beelike flies, nd butterflies.
26. False dragonhead (Physostegia spp.)—Depending on the species, blooms April through August in the central and eastern portions of Texas. Physostegia flowers may be moved up, down, or sideways, and will remain in those positions. Hence, the common name, obedient plant. A member of the mint family.
27. Spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme)—Blooms March to May. Prefers swampy or other moist bottomland, banks of streams, and ditches along the Gulf Coast and in East Texas. Plant can grow 40 inches tall, flowers to six inches across. The elegant plant gets its genus name from the Greek kallos, meaning “beautiful,” and hymen, which means “mem-brane.” Hymen was also the Greek god of marriage. A member of the amaryllis family.
28. Texas lantana (Lantana urti-coides or L. horrida)—Blooms nearly year round in South Texas, April to Octo-ber in Central and East Texas, some-what earlier in the Trans-Pecos. “Horrid” in name comes from the leaves’ distinctive pungent odor. Blooms are tight clusters of yellow, orange, and red flowers.
29. Mountain pink (Centaurium beyrichii)—Thrives on the barren, gravel-strewn hills of Central Texas and westward. The flowers, which bloom May through August, branch to form a nearly perfect bouquet. Called quinine weed by pioneers, the plants were dried and used to reduce fevers.
30. Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum)—Blooms throughout Texas, except in the Panhandle, April to August. Bumblebees and butterflies are attracted to Texas thistle. Goldfinches eat the seeds and line their nests with the fluff of the ripened seeds.