Austin bluebonnets are here early. And that's OK.
Bluebonnets, Texas’ beloved state flower, are being spotted along roadsides all around Austin — seemingly earlier than usual.
But it's not too early for them, Amelia Wolf, a biology professor at UT Austin, said.
Although the blooms are a few weeks ahead of the official start of spring, the peak flowering season for bluebonnets is between March and April. They're normally one of the first springtime flowers to bloom.
“It’s probably a couple weeks early, earlier than average, but you know it’s hard to know exactly when average is because it moves around,” Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, said.
Different species of flowers can blossom based on several factors like rainfall, day length, nitrogen content in the soil and even warmer temperatures, she said. An unknown combination of these factors could be the reason bluebonnets are sprouting a bit earlier this year.
“That’s been this kind of fingerprint of climate change that people have seen. ... A lot of flowers do start to flower a little bit earlier,” Wolf said. “I don’t think we know exactly how much of that flowering timing is linked to temperature versus some of these other factors.”
Bluebonnets are resilient and thrive in areas that have been damaged or get lots of wear and tear, like front yards or roadsides. If the soil lacks nitrogen, the flowers can make the nutrient and fertilize it for future plants.
They can also withstand the cold. The recent freeze probably didn’t have a big impact on them or other native plants, Wolf said, and they should be fine if another freeze hits.
Despite widely circulated rumors, bluebonnets are not illegal to pick, unless you've trespassed on private property or are in a state or national park. The green rule of thumb is to be careful not to crush the flowers or pick too many so that everyone can enjoy them.
When going into a natural area or patch of grass with bluebonnets or other wildflowers, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for insects and even snakes, DeLong-Amaya said.
It’s dangerous to stop by a highway or busy street to take pictures or look at the wildflowers. Instead, DeLong-Amaya recommends going to a state or national park, a backroad or visiting the Wildflower Center.
“I cringe every time I see people like on I-35 with their families taking pictures," she said. "It’s so dangerous, there’s so much traffic here."
Sangita Menon contributed to this story.