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Wildflowers in the Garden

"You see a weed, but I see a wildflower. Let's transplant it so we'll both see a flower."

Texas is blessed with over 5,000 species of wildflowers, and at least two dozen live on our humble spread south of San Antonio. In the spring, the riding mower comes out for the lawn, but the wildflowers in the "back 40" reign until their flowers disappear. This is as it should be. But wildflowers aren't restricted to springtime. On October 9th we went for a short walk and spotted 13 different species in bloom. On April 4th, that same route revealed 41 species.

I am often amazed to find potted wildflowers sold in nurseries, but all cultivars originated from their wild cousins at some point in history. Recently, I saw wild purslanes and lantanas growing not 1/2 mile from a nursery selling the cultivars. This too, I suppose, is as it should be.

My wife and I have differing opinions about wildflowers. I like them best (in the garden) when grouped together by species. A stand of bluebells, even a small one, looks much prettier than a mixture of flowers that happens to include a few bluebells. But Donna likes to mix the seeds so that a rich mixture of colorful flowers is obtained. I must admit that her seeded area looked pretty darned good this Spring.

In our area, we have the wildflowers of the very alkaline Texas Hill Country to the north of us and those of the sandy intercoastal plain to the south. In between, flowers from both areas are interspersed. It is possible to arrange the xeriscaped garden to include both. A rock garden can be constructed without too much work using the natural limestone from the north, along with a top dressing of alkaline caliche clay from the same area. Only a 4-6 inch layer is required, and even a small pickup truck can haul enough to provide a modest-sized natural environment for those plants requiring the alkaline environment. The rock garden should have irregular borders, so that it looks natural. Below the rock garden, the local sandy loan will support a wide variety of species. In between the two habitats, a band of buffalo grass, shredded cypress, cedar or pine bark, or crushed rock or river gravel makes an attractive barrier separating the differing pH levels.

The state flower of Texas is the Bluebonnet. I have seen these planted in many different ways. A solid bed of bluebonnets is spectacular when in bloom, but after the bloom passes, that same bed is a disappointment. I favor the treatment whereby the bluebonnet seeds are scattered thickly in an area of the lawn -- usually closer to the street than the house -- and the lawn is mowed around them in the spring to allow them to bloom. After the blooms die off, they are saved just long enough to drop their seed and then the plants are mowed with the rest of the lawn. They will return year after year.

Our "back 40" bloomed spectacularly this year. A solid layer of purple phlox appeared in February on plants only 2"-3" high. Suddenly one day a carpet of bluebonnets appeared standing above the purple phlox. Within two weeks, the phlox had grown up to meet the bluebonnets and the field was a beautiful, delicate mixture of rich purple and blue. At the same time, tiny white daisies covered our lawn areas, standing no more that 3" high. After another two weeks, the phlox had grown higher than the bluebonnets and the field was again deep purple. This only lasted a week or so, because then the coreopsis, black-eyed susans and sunflowers raised up over the phlox and turned the field yellow. Again, the phlox grew upward and spread thrie purple among the yellow. At about the same time, red and salmon Indian paintbrush shot upward and added a new dimension to the whole. The bluebonnets had by then grown seed pods, and by early May these were opening and dropping seeds everywhere. Among these primary flowers were a few lavender vebenas, some yellow and orange lantanas, some blue widow's tears, and two kinds of poppy.

We intend to introduce a few additional species by way of seed next winter. In particular, I'd like to see a little more red and maroon out there and a little less yellow, but I'll take whatever comes up.

The links below represent but a few of the sites on the world wide web which feature widflowers. Many of them have images you can view. Some discuss habitats and a few discuss seed gathering and transplanting specimens. Explore the linked sites and learn more about our native plants, then go looking for them this weekend. You'll feel better for it.

Texas wildflowers

Texas wildflowers in a natural setting

Do you know of a wildflower web site I should look at? Please send me the URL via email and I'll visit it. If deemed appropriate, I'll include it above.

For images of various Texas wildflowers, click here.

Last update was November 3rd, 2000.


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