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FLORA FACT

Second Wave of Wildflowers

When it comes to Texas wildflowers, bluebonnets get all the attention. By May, they are spent, but Mother Nature replaces our blue beauties with a riotous display of rainbow hues. All along Texas roadways, travelers can revel in what could be called the “second wave” of wildflowers, ones that bloom in late spring and early summer.

Whizzing by in a car, you might just admire the pinks and yellows and purples, but on a walk or a picnic, you might want to know their names or how they came to bloom along Texas highways. For that, you can thank Lady Bird Johnson, the late former first lady, who promoted a highway beautification bill that literally sowed wildflowers across the nation and the state. During the time of the Vietnam War and civil unrest, Lady Bird believed that a cleaner, more beautiful country could calm people and bring them together.

“Ugliness is so grim,” she once said. “A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.”

Perhaps that’s why we look forward to seeing these blooms every spring and summer. Here are a handful of easy-to-identify species to get you started.


Photo © W.D. and Dolphia Bransford

Bumblebees love to buzz around the spidery purple flowers of tall Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum), and it’s a host for painted ladies. Goldfinches eat the seeds and use the fluff to line their nests.


Photo © Jeff Parker

One of the most abundant wildflowers, prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida) has clusters of small, symmetrical lavender blooms. The Spanish name, moradilla, comes from morado (purple). It blooms profusely and tolerates heat, returning every year.


Photo © Theresa DiMenno

Catch these delicate beauties while you can. Pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) blooms with a heady fragrance each evening and closes up tight in the morning. Some Texans grew up calling these buttercups; they do leave butter-yellow pollen on your nose when you sniff them.


Photo © Jeff Parker

What color were Susan’s eyes, anyway? Whether you call them brown-eyed Susans or black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta starts blooming this month, filling our roadsides with bright-yellow cheer. Unlike many fragile wildflowers, these keep well in a vase.


Photo © Bruce W. Leander

Blue curls (Phacelia congesta), also called fiddlenecks and caterpillars, won’t be around as long as some of the other “second wave” flowers, but they do provide another beautiful springtime blue flower. They are deer resistant and provide nectar for pollinators.


Photo © Theresa DiMenno

Those deep purples dotting the roadsides are winsomely named winecups. Several species of Callirhoe bloom in Texas, including Callirhoe involucrata, also known as purple poppy-mallow. The chalice-shaped flowers, with five big petals, do indeed resemble a cup of red wine.



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