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Texas drought means less colorful spring

A winter drought in Texas means a spring forecast that is bleak for bluebonnets, poor for primroses and iffy for Indian paintbrushes.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The spring forecast across the Texas landscape is bleak for bluebonnets, poor for primroses and iffy for Indian paintbrushes — and the winter drought is to blame.

The flowers typically provide a seasonal treat for tourists and locals driving along thousands of miles of roads and are celebrated at festivals all over the state.

But this year wildflowers didn’t get the necessary rainfall in November and December, so fewer are expected to grow. Those that do could be shorter despite recent storms in parts of the state, horticulturists said.

“It’s too late,” said Jerry Parsons of San Antonio, a horticulturist with the Texas Cooperative Extension with Texas A&M University. “All you’re going to see is patches of flowers, not big fields or massive displays.”

The flowers may be wild, but they do get a little help. The Texas Department of Transportation sows 33,000 pounds of wildflower seeds — 30 varieties of flowers — along the state’s 79,000 miles of highways each fall. The project started in 1932 but was expanded in the 1960s when the federal highway beautification program was passed.

“We do it not just because it’s pretty; it promotes tourism and helps with erosion control,” said transportation department spokesman Randall Dillard. “It works out really well, as long as we get cooperation from Mother Nature.”

The blooming season starts in March and runs through May, and so far only a precious few flowers have popped up from North Texas to the Hill Country to the Brazos Valley, horticulturists said. Most are close to the road or in low areas, where the seeds soaked up water run-off.

In Ennis, nicknamed “the Bluebonnet City of Texas,” folks are preparing for an annual event where some 100,000 visitors usually flock each April to tour 40 miles of country roads.

They hope the prediction of meager blooms doesn’t disappoint visitors, so Ennis Bluebonnet Trails organizers are encouraging people to call about the status before traveling long distances.

“We’re just like everyone else: We’re nervous,” said Gina Rokas, director of the Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau in the town 30 miles south of Dallas. “We’re thinking positive, but we’re realistic.”

Even if the state’s landscape is a bit lackluster, flower lovers shouldn’t despair.

In the Hill Country, Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg features 80 acres of wildflowers, including a bluebonnet field that is already 50 percent in full bloom — thanks to its underground irrigation system.

Owner John R. Thomas, who started the business to harvest and sell flower seeds eight years ago, said he usually has 300,000 visitors each year — even when wildflowers are running amok on roadsides — and has already exceeded that by 25 percent this spring.

Thomas said central Texas has a second blooming season featuring several flowers, including Indian blankets and Black-eyed Susans.

“The May flowers still may look real good,” Thomas said. “Plus, Texas is a big state, so it just depends on where you are.”