Monday, October 1, 2012

The Big Tooth Maple

Are you starting to dream about the feel of a cool autumn breeze? To hear the crackle of leaves beneath your feet? To smell the smoke of an evening campfire?

Imagine those autumnal pleasures and destinations like Vermont and New Hampshire come to mind...but Texas? The Lone Star State greets the changing of the seasons, though, with its own color and festivals that give a Texas-size welcome to fall. Small towns throughout the state put he finishing touches on harvest festival plans, and bed and breakfasts get ready for a peak tourism season, and hotlines are making preparations to field questions for just where to spot the best fall foliage.

And just where do you find the best fall colors? Unlike its northern neighbors, however, Texas doesn't have vast displays of color but rather pockets of autumnal glory throughout the region. "There are a lot of jewels here and there," points out Howard Rosser, executive director of the East Texas Tourism Association, an agency that promotes the area that boasts the lion's share of Texas' fall foliage.

West of Austin, the Hill Country puts on a show of color thanks to the big tooth maples, sumacs, sycamores, china berries, and cottonwoods. These trees begin to blush with fall's first flush as the days start to grow shorter and the nights a little cooler. Farther west, the Guadalupe Mountains are home to the magnificent McKittrick Canyon, where walnut, ash, oak, and the Texas madrone color the landscape.

One of the longest running hotlines is operated by the East Texas Tourism Association. "We've been doing this for 30 years," says Rosser, who got the idea on a trip to New England. "We invite people in the region to call in and report on the leaves. You have to have an update to find the best color, you just can't go out driving."

But don't pick up the phone just yet. "People start wishing for cooler weather," says Rosser. "But start calling about the end of October. Usually the color peaks from around the 11th to the 18th of November."
And don't always look to the weather to guess whether the upcoming months will mean a colorful fall or not. As Rosser says, "You just can't outguess Mother Nature."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

It's Bluebonnet Time...

The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland. - Historian Jack Maguire

Bluebonnets in Texas are a major Spring attraction. They grow along many state highways, and are truly spectacular. Bluebonnets typically bloom until the end of May when temperatures get warm. They tend to peak in mid-April.

Blooming along with the bluebonnets are Indian paintbrush, Indian blanket and coreopsis. As the state flower of Texas, bluebonnets have an interesting history. Texas actually has five state flowers. They are all bluebonnets. Here is how it happened.

In the spring of 1901, the Texas Legislature got down to the serious business of selecting its official state flower. The ensuing floor debate was hot and heavy. One state legislator spoke emotionally in favor of the cotton boll since cotton was king in Texas in those days.

Another, a young man from Uvalde, extolled the virtues of the cactus so eloquently, noting the hardy durability of the plant and the orchid-like beauty of its flowers, that he earned the nickname of "Cactus Jack" which stuck with him for the rest of his life. He was John Nance Garner, and later became vice president of the United States under Franklin D. Roosevelt. At the end of the day, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America won. Their choice was Lupinus subcarnosus ("generally known as buffalo clover or bluebonnet," stated the House resolution) and it was passed into law on March 7 without any recorded opposition.

Thus began the Bluebonnet Wars.Lupinus subcarnosus is a dainty little plant which paints the sandy, rolling hills of coastal and southern Texas with sheets of royal-blue in the early spring. But some folks thought it was the least attractive of the Texas bluebonnets. These individuals wanted Lupinus texensis, which is a showier, bolder blue beauty which covers most of Texas and gives inspiration to many an artist.

So, off and on for 70 years, the Legislature was encouraged to correct its oversight. But legislators weren't about to get caught in another botanical trap, nor did they want to offend the advocates of Lupinus subcarnosus. As seen often in the political world, a solution was hammered out.

In 1971, the Legislature handled the dilemma by adding the two species together, plus "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded", and lumped them all into one state flower. Among the many things the Legislature did not know then was that the state of Texas is home to three other species of Lupines. The umbrella clause makes all five of them the state flower. And, if any new species are discovered, they automatically will assume the mantle of state flower as well.
Texas is so large and grand, that we cannot have just one state flower.

The five state flowers of Texas are:

  • Lupinus subcarnosus, the original champion and still co-holder of the title, grows naturally in deep sandy loams from Leon County southwest to LaSalle County and down to the northern part of Hidalgo County in the Valley. It is often referred to as the sandy land bluebonnet. The plant's leaflets are blunt, sometimes notched with silky undersides. This species, which reaches peak bloom in late March, is not easy to maintain in clay soils.
  • Lupinus texensis, the favorite of tourists and artists, provides the blue spring carpet of Central Texas. It is widely known as THE Texas bluebonnet. It has pointed leaflets, the flowering stalk is tipped with white (like a bunny's tail) and hits its peak bloom in late March and early April. It is the easiest of all the species to grow.
  • Lupinus Havardii, also known as the Big Bend or Chisos Bluebonnet. The most majestic of the Texas bluebonnet tribe, it has flowering spikes up to three feet. It is found on the flats of the Big Bend country in early spring, usually has seven leaflets and is difficult to cultivate outside its natural habitat.
  • Lupinus concinnus is a tiny little lupine, from 2 to 7 inches, with flowers which combine elements of white, rosy purple and lavender. Commonly known as the annual lupine, it is found sparingly in the Trans-Pecos region, blooming in early spring.
  • Lupinus plattensis stretches down from the north into the Texas Panhandle's sandy dunes. It is the only perennial species in the state and grows to about two feet tall. It normally blooms in mid to late spring and is also known as the dune bluebonnet, the plains bluebonnet and the Nebraska Lupine.
Thanks to Texana News for their wonderful article...