I spy wildflowers in winter

Can’t wait to see your spring blooms? Many wildflowers can be identified just by their leaves. Here’s how.

While winter often feels like a time when nature is sleeping, if you planted wildflower seeds in the fall, know that they’re silently growing all winter long through frosts (and sometimes snow). They’re slowly storing energy they need to put on a beautiful show in the spring.

But you don’t have to wait until spring to enjoy them. Although it’s a bit more difficult without blooms, many wildflowers can be identified just by their leaves, aka winter rosettes.

Here are some tips on how to identify common Texas wildflowers from their leaves.

Annual wine cup
Included in many wildflower seed mixes, this species of winecup is native to the southern parts of Texas. It’s a good addition for pollinating insects and readily reseeds. As a winter rosette it has many dark green fan-shaped leaves that have a leathery appearance. In the spring they’ll pop up to about two feet with a profusion of purple flowers.

Texas yellow star
A member of the aster or sunflower family, this is a Texas endemic, meaning it only grows in Texas. Larger insects enjoy the flowers, while birds like the painted bunting are drawn to the seeds. They produce rosettes of long, hairy leaves that develop lobes as they age. In the spring yellow five-petaled flowers will be bloom at the ends of the three-foot stems.

Texas bluebonnet
Everyone’s favorite Texas wildflower produces rosettes with leaves that have three to five leaflets. Each leaflet comes from a central point, what botanists call digitate or palmate. They continue putting on leaves until they start blooming later in spring. Members of the legume or pea family, bluebonnets help enrich soils by fixing nitrogen — taking nitrogen from the air and incorporating it into the soil.

A second member of the sunflower family, firewheel’s leaves look similar to Texas yellow star. They are narrower, often more lobed and a lighter shade of green. The cheerful red and yellow flowers are long lasting for an annual and they readily reseed.

Picture of Cleveland Powell
Cleveland Powell
Cleveland Powell is a conservation planner for SAWS. He is enthusiastic about grass taxonomy and milkweed propagation. In his free time, Powell enjoys hiking around area parks in search of intriguing bugs, birds and plants.
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