Wanderlist - Spring in Bloom

Wanderlist - Spring in Bloom

Season 2 Episode 1

Oak woods & Prairies


[SPONSOR--CECILIA NASTI] Under the Texas Sky is Brought to you in part by Toyota, a proud supporter of Texas Parks and Wildlife Programs. Toyota, Let’s Go Places.



[NARRATION--RANDALL MAXWELL] One of my fondest memories growing up was traveling to my grandparent’s farm on the weekends. They lived just outside of Waco near a little town named Cranfills Gap. Along the way we’d see lots of cows, sometimes a freight train, and lots of rolling hills and pasture land. The landscape was always picturesque, and even more so every Spring, when blankets of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes would appear along the roadway and across the countryside. Those were the most memorable drives to grandma and grandpa’s.

On the Wanderlist, TPW Magazine Editor Louie Bond and I are talking wildflowers and some of the best places to see them in Texas. We’ll also visit with the Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Andrea [Ann-dray-ah] DeLong-Amaya. She’s helping us answer some of your questions submitted via our Instagram account last week.

Stay with us.


[NARRATION] From Texas Parks and Wildlife, this is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist. I’m Randall Maxwell and with me by phone is Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine Editor, Louie Bond.


[LOUIE] Hello Randall.

[RANDALL] Hi Louie. How are you doing?

[LOUIE] Well I'm just doing great today Randall. I'm telecommuting today, so luckily I get to sit in the beautiful woods around my hill country cabin to talk to you.

[RANDALL] That's good. And you're doing okay? You're staying safe?

[LOUIE] We're all safe and well here.

[RANDALL] That's good, at the time of this recording I should mention that there is the global pandemic, the coronavirus, and we're all safe and we're hoping all of our listeners are safe as well in keeping your social distance, but keeping us plugged in to you in listening to our podcast.

So Louie, what's our Wanderlist about today?

[LOUIE] Well we're bringing you such a fresh Wanderslist today Randall. It is hot off the press, and fresh bursting up from the ground you could say. It ran in April 2020, you might know that's very soon, like now...


[LOUIE] And it is called Spring Abloom. Basically it is four wonderful centers for native plants that are kind of spread out across the state. And you know these are sort of repositories with great collections of all those plants that you see along the roadside and in your yard. They've collected them all and you can just go see them all in one place.

[RANDALL] That's wonderful. I understand there's you know several places, North, South, East, West.

[LOUIE] Right, right, I found one everywhere, so that was really handy. One of the ones we picked was way out East. It's at Stephen F. Austin State University, and my daughter went to school there, and I noticed when we would drive to Nacogdoches how beautiful all the gardens were around the university. So this particular one we're featuring is called the Mast Arboretum, but there are also several other gardens around Nacogdoches and around the university that just display all the East Texas splendor. Down South, in the Rio Grande Valley we visit this incredible place called Quinta Mazatlan. It's one of the World Birding Centers, and it is unlike any garden you've ever seen, because, it's a twenty acre estate all surrounding this beautiful adobe mansion and it contains all of those gorgeous flowers from South Texas that we all love.

[RANDALL] I've been there actually and it's a beautiful place. Nice trails that go through there, and the interior of that mansion is incredible.

[LOUIE] Inside and out it is the most beautiful place in the Valley, and I think people get married there. They do all kinds of incredible programming there. Well worth the trip where if you're down in the Rio Grande Valley it's one of those must-stop places.

[RANDALL] And what are the other places?

[LOUIE] You can head out West to the Barton Warnock Visitor Center, which is way out there at Big Bend Ranch State Park, and then right in Central Texas in the heart of wildflower country is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


[NARRATION] Coming up next, a conversation with Andrea [An-dray-ah] DeLong-Amaya, Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. But first…

[SPONSOR--CECILIA NASTI] Support from Toyota allows us to bring you stories from Under the Texas Sky. Toyota has been a proud sponsor of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation since 2002, providing generous support to help the department provide outdoor programs for Texans and conserve the wildlife of the Lone Star State.

[NARRATION—RANDALL] This is Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist from Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Randall Maxwell…Wanderlist is a collaboration with Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. Editor, Louie Bond, and I have been talking about wildflowers and the best places in Texas to see them. We left off talking about the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and that's where Louie and I pick up our conversation.


[RANDALL] So tell me a little more about the Center.

[LOUIE] Well it's one of my favorite places. I love to go there when they have their native plant sales. You can find things there you can't find anywhere else. But it's actually home to over 900 native plant species. It's sort of in the South Austin area. It's 284 acres. They have classes, they have displays. They have gardens. Just everything you can imagine. And of course it's all inspired by Lady Bird Johnson who is of course the queen of Texas wildflowers.

[RANDALL] I believe she was responsible for the Highway Beautification Act.

[LOUIE] That's right. And you know when we think about going anywhere, when it's April and it's Texas. It's going to be all about the journey and not the destination, because all along the way there's going to be these fabulous wildflowers. She pushed through the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. And it was about cleaning up junkyards, and most of all about planting flowers. The highway department carries on her work all these decades later. And we all get to enjoy the great results every time we drive down any of these highways and see just these blankets of bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes, all these beautiful flowers.

[RANDALL] So Louie, what are some wildflower statistics that you can give us.

[LOUIE] Well you know, Texas is just wildflower central and there are more than 5000 species, which is mind-boggling, but even more mind-boggling, twenty percent of those are in the sunflower family. So later in the summer you'll see those fields of beautiful sunflowers. I know a lot of people have questions about what they can plant in their backyard or not and just a lot of wildflower questions in general.

[RANDALL] Glad you brought that up Louie because I actually talked to the Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. That's Andrea DeLong-Amaya. She actually answered several questions that our listeners submitted on Instagram about wildflowers. Let's take a listen.


[RANDALL] Hi Andrea, how are you?

[ANDREA] I'm doing well, thank you.

[RANDALL] Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us on Wanderlist.

[ANDREA] Sure.

[RANDALL] So we have some questions that came into us through social media about wildflowers and we thought you might be a great resource to help answer those questions.

[ANDREA] I'll give it a shot.

[RANDALL] Okay, so one of the things that we're hearing a lot, is that wildflowers have appeared earlier this year. What impact do you think that has on pollinators?

[ANDREA] Yeah, we did have a particularly warm winter which did result in a lot of plants blooming earlier than average, particularly the bluebonnets we were seeing. In fact I remember seeing some bluebonnets blooming in Austin on I-35 at the end of January, which I've never seen that before and I wasn't noticing just one or two plants here and there, it was like a whole patch which kind of floored me. That's the first time I've seen that, so yeah I think it's real that some of the plants have been blooming a little bit earlier than normal. And how that affects pollinators is really hard to say. You know I think that it's possible that they may be blooming out of sync with the activities of the pollinators. What's interesting is there is a lot of different factors that can go in with different species. Some plants and some animals are triggered by temperatures. Others might be triggered by photo period, meaning how much and at what time they're getting sunlight, so there's a lot of different factors that can influence when the timing of blooming is on the plants and also the emergence of the pollinators throughout the season. So it's possible, and I know that there are some studies that have shown that asynchronicity, plants and animals being off-sync, has resulted in some insect pollinators for example not getting their food source at the right time. So I think as people learn more, we'll find out more how that impacts our pollinators.

[RANDALL] Interesting. Well here's another question. Crazyemimi wants to know, "Why are bluebonnets so hard to grow?

[ANDREA] Bluebonnets can be really easy in the right situation and not easy if they are not in the right conditions. What bluebonnets really thrive in is to have disturbed soils. So where you see them most commonly, say on the roadside or on ranches is where there is some kind of disturbance to the system. Either it's getting mowed on a regular basis or on ranches if cattle are grazing, they're going to be eating down some of the surrounding vegetation and making open spaces for bluebonnets and other wildflowers they don't like to eat. So in a garden setting what people want to do is to create an open space in their landscape or garden for those bluebonnets to germinate. You need to have full sun and good drainage, those are both really critical. The other thing that is important which is a little bit tricky is that bluebonnets have an association with the roots, a Rhizobium that grows on the roots of the bluebonnet plant, and without that the bluebonnets don't really thrive that well. That's the main way that they are able to metabolize nitrogen from the air and soil. And so if you haven't had bluebonnets growing in a particular area before, you may not have that, you're soil may not be innoculated with that Rhizobium. So one way to do it is to actually take a shovel full of dirt from an area that you know has grown bluebonnets successfully and mix that with your bluebonnet seeds before you spread the seeds out. And that is one way to get that innoculent into your soil. If you want to look at our website, there's also a nice fact-sheet on how to grow bluebonnets that will give a little bit more detail perhaps.

[RANDALL] Great. What's that web address?

[ANDREA] Wildflower.org. Yeah, if you go to the learn more tab, we have a whole bunch of how-to articles that I think people would find interesting.

[RANDALL] Excellent. Okay, so franklin_seeks_wings submitted a question that says, "How can we grow wildflowers in our own backyard? Can they be potted for apartment dwellers?"

[ANDREA] Yeah, that's a great question and definitely the answer is yes. Native plants and wildflowers in the ground obviously but if you live in an apartment it's a really nice way to add color and maybe attract some pollinators to your balcony. If you have sun that gives you a lot more options, a few things you might consider that do well in containers would be things like Zexmenia which is a little yellow daisy flower that blooms quite a lot. Spring and fall mostly and throughout the summer also. Salvia Greggii or Autumn Sage is another great bloomer that's very easy to grow. And if you have a lot of shade you might look at something else like Spiderworts or Turk's Cap, or Inland Sea Oats. So those are some options that do well in pots, but there's a huge list of plants that do well in containers, and I believe we have an article about that on our website in our how-to section that gives you some more ideas on containers.

[RANDALL] Wonderful. So, dustin.e.traynor, michell_whitmire and vs_woods want to know, "Are any of these wildflowers edible?"

[ANDREA] There are some. Well, I like to say everything is edible at least once (laughs). I have to start that conversation by noting that really before you eat anything you want to be absolutely sure of the identification of that plant because there are some look-a-likes that could be very very bad to eat and possibly poisonous and possibly even deadly. So having said that, there are some things are are fun to eat. One of my favorites this time of year is the pinky bing primrose. You can eat the foliage mostly. That's what I've eaten. I think you can eat the flowers too. But the foliage has a nice, almost arugula-like flavor, a slight little hint of heat to it and I like to use it fresh, put it in salads and sandwiches, and that's really refreshing. The other nice thing about it is if you have any in your garden it's usually very prolific and you don't mind harvesting some of it. So that's a nice one to try eating. You can also eat the flowers and the aerial parts, the leaves and stems of Spiderworts. And I've used those in a stir-fry or as a thickener in a stew. But those have a nice flavor, and it's easy to just collect some greens from your front yard. And another one of my all-time favorites is Chile pequin which is also called Bird pepper, and it's a little small bush that has white flowers on it and in the later Spring and into the Summer and into the Fall and they are followed by a bright red pepper. They're small but they have a huge punch. So you can throw those either green or red, the berries, you can throw into scrambled eggs or a pot of beans, or anytime you want a little bit of heat, you can dry them and use them as crushed red peppers and those are delicious.

[RANDALL] That's interesting. I met an old cowboy named Chili Petine.

[ANDREA] ahhh (laughs) That's a great name.

[RANDALL] That's pretty good (laughs), okay. Fishgiirl asks, "What are the best Texas flowers to plant to attract wildlife?" And I'll throw add on, for that matter, pollinators?

[ANDREA] Well, that is a big question because there's lots of different kinds of wildlife out there and each species really has its own needs. If you're looking at attracting pollinators, you know planting things that butterflies, bees or other insects that might pollinate, things that might have showy flowers are generally good. Things like Salvia greggii or purple coneflower would be good for attracting a wide range of pollinators. If you are trying to attract fruit eating birds like Mockingbirds for example, they love Chile pequin. I've seen a lot of activity on our Texas persimmon where raccoons and ring-tailed cats will go for them, and that's a lot of fun if you're trying to accommodate some different mammals into your landscape. So really just depends on what you're trying to attract. There's a whole set of information that's out there about different kinds of wildlife gardening, but I encourage anybody who's interested, look at that more. Sometimes we offer classes on those kinds of topics at the Wildflower Center.

[RANDALL] Now m.j.y.93 asks, "Do bluebonnets really attract rattlesnakes and fire ants?" Is there any truth to that?

[ANDREA] No. There's nothing special about bluebonnets that would attract fire ants or rattlesnakes. Both of those pests just occur naturally pretty much anywhere. Rattlesnakes don't want to encounter people. They will go away if given an opportunity. So if I'm walking in an area that I can't see very well, I'll take a stick and just kind of poke it around in front of me to alert the snakes to go away.

[RANDALL] That's very good advice Andrea.

[ANDREA] Sure.

[RANDALL] Now we have a few questions regarding the pink that you see in some Bluebonnets. Marycorncat asked, "Is it true that Bluebonnets turn pink in the center if they've been pollinated.

[ANDREA] That's not technically true. The centers of the flowers will turn from white to pink depending on the age of the flowers regardless of whether or not they are actually pollinated. And what the plant is signaling to pollinators is that the flower's old and there isn't a lot of pollen and maybe you should go to another flower. But it's not necessarily a result of being pollinated.

[RANDALL] Got it. Thank you so much Andrea. I appreciate all of your time in answering our questions. If people want to find out more they can go to the Wildflower Center website?

[ANDREA] Yeah, that's wildflower.org. Please do.

[RANDALL] Awesome, thanks for your time Andrea.

[ANDREA] Alright, fun. Thank you.


[NARRATION—RANDALL] We’re done wandering for this podcast…but Louie Bond and I—or our executive producer, Cecilia Nasti—will be back with more fascinating things to see and places to explore in the Lone Star State.

Before heading to any state park, historic site or natural area, call ahead.

Also, keep an eye on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Instagram account, which is @TexasParksWildlife. We’ll use it to notify you of some of the Wanderlist subjects we plan to cover in the weeks ahead and give you a chance to ask questions, some of which we’ll answer on the podcast.

Under the Texas Sky is a production of Texas Parks and Wildlife. We produce our Wanderlist series in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine in the Media Production Studios in Austin, Texas. Yours truly did our sound design. Whitney Bishop does our social media. And we get distribution and web help from Susan Griswold and Benjamin Kailing.

Stream or download Under the Texas Sky and Under the Texas Sky’s Wanderlist wherever you get your podcasts. And please leave a review while you’re there and let us know how we’re doing and what you’d like to hear.

Until next time…keep on wandering Under the Texas Sky. I’m Randall Maxwell.