Thanks to Lady Bird Johnson, Texas roadsides are filled with wildflowers in the spring. She was the catalyst for changes to the highway department treatment of the land along highways.
First, the strips of land along the pavement were seeded with wildflowers in the autumn. Then, mowing was delayed in the spring until after the wildflowers went to seed.
Now we Texans are known for our love of Bluebonnets, which bloom in early spring. But I think the wildflowers that follow in later spring are just as spectacular.
This year a nice surprise was seeded. Massive drifts of Basket Flower (Centaurea americana) were lovely. This is the first time that I can remember that this wildflower has been used by the highway maintenance department in our area.
Although it is quite pretty, beware, the foliage is prickly. Tiny needles will cut into bare skin. The smooth foliage of a Basket Flower is one way to distinguish it from a thistle.
Where one thistle grows this year, hundreds will grow next year.
Some of the more aggressive wildflowers are not seeded, such as these Beggar’s Lice (Torilis arvensis) on our county road. They look pretty from the car, but they are a menace in the yard. They are also called hedge parsley or wild carrot.
The thing is, they first look like Queen Anne’s Lace, so it’s tempting not to get rid of them. But I learned my lesson a few years ago.
Antelope Horns Milkweed (Asclepias asperula) is another native that spreads easily. When the brown seed pods open up, hundreds of tiny puffs will float, like dandelions tufts, to germinate in other spots.
Since milkweed is the only plant where Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, it is essential for their survival. When the eggs hatch, the caterpillars then consume the leaves of the milkweed. Even though it isn’t the prettiest wild flower around, it vital to not destroy them.
Now that the highway mowers have been busy cutting everything down, it’s the end of spring wildflowers and the beginning of the long hot summer.
“Wildflowers are the stuff of my heart.” Lady Bird Johnson