2010 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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  BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK, PART 4:
WHAT'S IN BLOOM?

FRIDAY, MARCH 26

 
"With its sprawling size and diversity of landforms, Texas offers a treasure of
spectacular wildflowers for residents and visitors alike. More than 5,000 species
of flowering plants are native to Texas. The abundance results from an
exceptional multitude of plant habitats and weather conditions . . ."
 
~ Wildflowers of Texas brochure, Texas Dept. of Transportation
 
 
And with its own 5,000-acre microcosm of mild weather, abundant rainfall, and diverse habitats, Brazos Bend State Park has hundreds of different wildflowers and flowering trees and shrubs that bloom throughout the year. I was delighted to see so many different plants in bloom while we were here in March.

FEBRUARY SHOWERS BRING MARCH FLOWERS

Spring comes earlier to coastal Texas than wherever the little ditty about "April showers bring May flowers" was referring to!

Because of the diversity of ecosystems within the park, we were treated to a wide variety of spring flowers during March. In this entry I'll include photos of some of the wildflowers we enjoyed, as well as shrubs and trees that were blooming.

WILDFLOWERS GALORE

The most noticeable wildflowers when we first arrived were yellow buttercups, shown below, which grew prolifically along the roadways and trails, covering large expanses of grass until park staff mowed some of them down when the grass got too straggly in the more "civilized" areas (campgrounds, nature center, picnic areas, shoulders of the roads)

Buttercups growing along the Bayou Trail, above;  close-up of the flowers, below.
They are about an inch in diameter and 4-8" tall.

The buttercups continued blooming throughout March, serving as an under story to taller wildflowers that appeared later in the month.

Other early spring flowers included violets, tiny blue forget-me-nots (below), little white spring beauties (below, upper right),

and (of course) those ubiquitous dandelions that grow everywhere in this country, it seems. We've been in the Dandelion Time Warp since January. They'll probably be blooming in Virginia when we get back to our house in a couple weeks!

The next wave of flowers included a type of yellow daisy that stood taller than the buttercups.  They grew in most of the same spots as the buttercups, adding even more golden contrast to the bright green grass in the campgrounds, lawns, fields, and roadsides:

Daisies and buttercups line the Bayou Trail in early March, above.  Close-up of daisy cluster, below.
They are about 2" in diameter and grow about 12-18" tall.

 


Field of daisies and buttercups between the campgrounds and George Observatory

Other flowers that I noticed in mid-March were crown vetch, several kinds of blooming thistles, these flowers on low-growing vines near Creekfield Lake,

and all of these wildflowers near Elm Lake:

 

 

 

Later in March I began seeing these delicate pink flowers (similar to Pasque flowers) next to the shore around 40-Acre Lake:

The last week of March I noticed lots of blue and purple spidorwort, bluebonnets (TX state flower), red and pink phlox (?), and red Indian paintbrush on the edge of the prairie on the southwest side of 40-Acre Lake:


Two colors of spidorwort


Phlox(?) and bluebonnet


Indian paintbrush

These little waxy reddish-orange flowers that look like forget-me-nots were also in bloom near Hale Lake this week:

There were other varieties of wildflowers in bloom during March but I can't identify most of them. Just trust me that there are a lot of pretty flowers at Brazos Bend in the spring!

TREES AND SHRUBS IN BLOOM

We also enjoyed a variety of blossoms on spring-flowering trees and shrubs within the park.

Fruit trees like apples and cherries were blooming when we arrived in early March; Bradford pears had already finished blooming by then. The best places to see theses blossoms are in the campground area and along the Red Buckeye Trail.

Apple or crabapple blossoms, above?  Maybe the more rare Mexican plum?
Close-up of the blooms below. This tree is in the 200 Loop of the campground.

There's another kind of tree with very similar white flowers in the forest through which the Red Buckeye Trail meanders. This tree is taller and the bark, leaves, buds, and flower clusters are different. Here are three photos from three of these trees:  

 

 

One of the most striking flowering plants in the park is the red buckeye, a shrub or small tree native to the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains.

Red buckeye buds were just getting ready to bloom when we got there. I saw these buds on my first foray into the heart of the Brazos floodplain on March 5 and wondered what they would look like when they opened up:

Within a few days I found out! Here's another shrub whose flowers are mostly open:


Some red buckeye flower clusters have a bit of orange in them; others are completely red.

The flowers have been gorgeous the last two weeks of March and will continue to bloom until May. Ruby-throated hummingbirds often stop to sip nectar from the flowers on their migration north in the spring.

Red buckeyes are blooming in various locations but are primarily concentrated in the southeastern part of the park where the aptly-named Red Buckeye Trail courses through the bottomlands near the convergence of Big Creek with the Brazos River. That's where I took all these photos of them.

What a magnificent show!

That soon became our favorite trail but for different reasons. I liked the lush greenery and contrast with the bright red flowers. Jim liked the winding single-track trails. As you'll see in the entry about the trail system, most of the trails at Brazos Bend are wider and straighter. Only a few are perfect single-track like this:

Those are just a few of the wildflowers and flowering trees we enjoyed at Brazos Bend. The variety is amazing. Keep in mind that we saw only what was blooming during the month of March. We also saw azaleas, redbuds, roses, wisteria, dogwoods, and lots of other flowers blooming on our way to and from the southwestern Houston metro area (Sugar Land, Missouri City) when we went to town to run errands.

I love spring!

In the next entry I'll introduce you to some of the numerous species of animals that call Brazos Bend home for part or all of the year -- some are sunbirds, like us.

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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