Lantana, Mountain Laurel and Red sage at pocket park in downtown San Antonio.Photo by Monika Maeckle
Lantana, Mountain Laurel and Red sage at pocket park in downtown San Antonio.Photo by Monika Maeckle.

Sick of the rain? Don’t complain. The slow soak of winter has been great for wildflowers and helps keep the drought at bay. Vast stands of bluebonnets may not be showing locally when the Spring Equinox hits at 5:45 p.m. CDT today to mark the first day of spring, but a slightly late, banner bloom season will be on display soon, say experts.

The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center released its annual wildflower forecast this week, predicting a delayed start to a “stunning” season.

Bluebonnets at Big Bend
Bluebonnets are not quite out yet in most areas, but they will be soon. This shot was taken recently at Big Bend National Park. Photo courtesy Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

“It’s going to be good,” said horticulturist Andrea DeLong-Amaya, Senior Program Coordinator for the Center. DeLong-Amaya cited well-paced rains that benefit all wildflowers, especially annuals with shallow roots. Some plants will be “a teeny bit late, others right on time,” she said, adding “as soon we get some warm days with full sun, we’ll be cooking with gas.” Early bloomers like bluebonnets and fringed puccoon are showing themselves now at the Wildflower Center.

On a recent bike ride on San Antonio’s Mission Reach, bluebonnet rosettes were abundant but not quite showing. “At this point there are no large patches,” said Lee Marlowe, sustainable landscape superintendent at San Antonio River Authority (SARA), which manages the linear park. “We’re seeing some good bluebonnet stands that should be really nice, probably in April,” she said.

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Over at the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT), horticulturist Amanda Wielgosh also predicted a great wildflower season. She credited ideal precipitation and cool temps as reasons. “We’re already seeing a nice display of wildflowers here at the garden,” she said.

In Bandera County, it’s a bit different.

“It’s looking absolutely spectacular,” said botanist and horticulturist Charles Bartlett, president of Greenhaven Industries, a local landscaping company. Bartlett visited his ranch in Bandera County this week and reported fields of three-five acres of Indian paintbrush with grand stands of bluebonnets in the bud stage. He also mentioned that the Texas buckeyes in Medina County are gorgeous.

Monarch butterflies, recently petitioned to be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, will be leaving their roosts in Mexico soon and heading our way. Their departure from the Oyamel fir forests in Michoacán usually coincides with the Equinox. Unfortunately, not much milkweed, their host plant, is out of the ground yet in our area. Milkweed is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs and Texas is their first stop on their multi-generational migration to Canada and back to Mexico.

Both DeLong-Amaya and Marlowe said milkweed is not quite ready.

“It’s still pretty early for milkweeds to come out–they don’t have a rosette in the spring like others, they just come up,” DeLong-AMaya said. At Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne, Ben Eldredge reported that no milkweeds were up yet, but plenty of nectar plants are available. Bartlett cited four-inch tall Antelope Horns, a Texas native milkweed found out in the campo, but mentioned it was just beginning to bud. The more refined atmosphere of the SABOT coaxed milkweeds to show early. SABOT’s Wielgosh said “a plethora of milkweed” will be ready for Monarchs when they arrive later this month.

Monarch on mulch
Monarch butterfly, recently hatched, readies for flight on mulch at the Museum Reach Milkweed patch. Photo by Monika Maeckle

At the Milkweed Patch at San Antonio’s Museum Reach, a favorite gathering spot for Monarchs and other butterflies, the Tropical Milkweed stand got a trim this winter and has not fully recovered. Marlowe said the plant, while technically not native but a preferred host plant to Monarchs and other milkweed feeders, was cut back in February to stimulate healthy growth. A visit there this week found a freshly hatched local Monarch resting in the mulch getting ready for her first flight.

One plant that’s pervasive but unwelcome is the ubiquitous “bastard cabbage.” You’ll see this yellow blooming member of the mustard family all over town and in select spots along the river. While attractive enough, don’t be fooled. This extremely aggressive invader, which can grow five feet tall, will take over and displace native vegetation. Marlowe says she would even look the other way if someone yanked it out when strolling the river. Managing bastard cabbage continues to vex SARA’s landscape managers.

Bastard Cabbage
Damn, you, bastard cabbage! This attractive but highly invasive plant displaces native vegetation. Photo courtesy SARA.

With continued rain in the forecast, it might be a few days before we see the sun and the big bloom of 2015 begins in full. While waiting, remind yourself that all this rain boosts the Edwards Aquifer while we’re still in a major drought. As of March 19, the Aquifer is up 4.2 feet over the same time last year, hovering at 654.7. Average rainfall year-to-date totals 5.78 inches–up 1.21 inches, almost 30% above the historic norm of 4.51 inches.

That said, we’re still in a drought. Summer will be here soon enough, so enjoy the rain–and the wildflowers–while you can.

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Monika Maeckle

San Antonio Report co-founder Monika Maeckle writes about pollinators, native plants, and the ecosystems that sustain them at the Texas Butterfly Ranch website. She is also the founder and director of...