Bluebonnets of the Texas Hill Country
The signs of spring in the Texas Hill Country are everywhere. A visit to the south central portion of Texas known for its bluebonnets in spring will leave a lasting impression. To visitors that have never seen the springtime display, it is difficult to imagine the landscape without actually being there. It will draw them back year after year.
In the Texas Hill Country springtime, Mother Nature puts on one of her unique displays. The hills become covered with a small blue wildflower – the bluebonnet -- the state flower. There is an Indian legend about the bluebonnets, as there are Indian legends about many wildflowers. It says that the land was thirsty and dry. The leaders of the tribe knew that the Great Spirit wanted to give the land water, but that in order for that to happen, someone would have to give up something very valuable to them. All the tribe members thought and thought. None could imagine that it would be themselves who would have to give up anything except this one small Indian girl who always carried around her special doll. She never parted with it because it was a gift from her mother. However, she knew that she was the one the Great Spirit wanted to make the sacrifice.
One night the little Indian girl went to the hill upon which the Great Spirit lived. The sacred tribal fire was burning and she placed her doll in the fire as a sacrifice so that her people might have rain. The next morning the rains came. Along with the rains tiny blue flowers were scattered across the hills as far as the tribe could see. These bluebonnets were signs from the Indians’ Great Spirit of his pleasure with the special sacrifice of the little girl.
Some years are better for bluebonnets than others. It is dependent upon the amount of rainfall and sunshine in the early spring. There are a number of publicized "bluebonnet trails" that allow visitors to see the splendid little flowers along routes that take them through the countryside off the main roads. Many pass through private property and the property owners do not like wildlflower-peepers to trespass onto their land. So, a word of caution. If there is a fence, chances are it is private land. But, there are plenty of pull-offs that allow visitors to get up close and personal with the bluebonnets.
Three counties within a hundred miles of Austin have a particularly bountiful bunch of bluebonnets. Washington, Gillespie, and Burnet Counties are usually blessed and each one boasts of great "bluebonnet trails". Washington County, west of Houston, is home to Brenham and the Blue Bell Creameries. Farm roads off the main highways, east-west US 290, and the north-south SR 50, are best for wildflowers. The La Bahia Trail, originally an Indian route from Louisiana to Texas, is one bluebonnet trail. It follows FM 390 and FM 50 and goes from Washington-on-the-Brazos (the site where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed) to the town of Burnet (pronounced like durn it) in Burnet County. The trail passes through rolling farm land and the town of Burton, the site of the oldest operating cotton gin in America.
Burnet is called the Bluebonnet Capital of Texas for good reason. An annual bluebonnet festival will be held April 10-12, 2015, and the wildflowers are usually right for the viewing. The county's bluebonnet trail heads west toward Llano along SR 29. About 3 1/2 miles out of town, Ranch Road 2341 heads north to Lake Buchanan. This 15-mile route has some of the best wildflowers in the state and there are plenty of pull-offs for stopping and admiring.
Gillespie County, south of Llano County, is the third great place for bluebonnets. Its largest city is Fredericksburg with the National Museum of the Pacific War and the George H.W. Bush Gallery. The best route for bluebonnets is the Willow City Loop, which is about 13 miles north of the city off SR 16. The 13-mile narrow road passes along farm land (most of which is private) and offers more great bluebonnet viewing.
There are actually five species of bluebonnets. All grow in Texas, in slightly different areas, but all in spring. Besides bluebonnets, the Hill Country is ablaze with other wildflowers. The red Indian Paintbrush often grows next to the bluebonnets. Some pastures are filled with goldenrod or white poppy flowers. Indian blanket, sometimes called firewheel, has red, orange, and yellow blooms.
Bluebonnets are wildflowers that are not easy to grow. They are adapted to the rocky, alkaline soils of the Hill Country, and to the frequent drought conditions. In addition, the hard-coated seeds take a couple years to germinate. They can be artificially prepared by scarifying the seeds. That is, either physically nicking the seeds, or using chemicals. Then, if they do germinate, care is required in the planting process. I suppose it is better to let Mother Nature do her thing in the Hill Country. And just go see them there.
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