The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Why So Few Wildflowers This Year?
by Ro Wauer

The obvious answer to the paucity of wildflowers his year is the drought conditions that the Central Gulf Coastal Region has experienced for the last several months. During the period that would have made a huge difference, the Victoria Advocate reported less than five inches for November 2005 through March 2006, the average rainfall during that same period is almost twelve inches. What a difference!

The lack of wildflowers this spring has not only impacted on our visual enjoyment of our surrounding landscapes, but has caused considerable stress in DeWitt County. The DeWitt County Wildflower Association in Cuero has had to cancel their guided wildflower tours this year. Considered the Wildflower Capital of Texas, the annual festival has practically had to shut down. Visitors are still given maps of the county roadways where some wildflowers can still be found, although the numbers are only a tiny fraction of normal, so one can go on their own.

In addition, Wildflower Association members still daily travel the roadways and collect a few specimens to keep their wildflower display up to date. On a visit to the DeWitt County Historical Museum in Cuero last week, I found a total of 90 wildflower species on display. That is a remarkable number considering this year. The Historical Museum, at 312 E. Broadway in Cuero, is also the headquarters for the annual Wildflower Festival. The display did provide an exceptional opportunity to see in one place the variety of wildflowers available along the DeWitt County roadways. A super way to help identify wildflowers one is unsure about. Additional information about this really classy festival can be found at www.dewittwildflowers.org.

Also while in Cuero, Betty and I visited Cuero’s Municipal Park, located across the highway from Wal-Mart, where we checked out the Native Plant Enhancement Area at the Gazebo. The flowering shrubs were limited, although some were in full bloom, but we did see a few butterfly species, including a Dorantes longtail, one of the skippers that are only uncommon in our part of the state. But DeWitt County claims almost 120 butterfly species, according to Derek Muschalek, who surveys the county somewhat regularly for species he can find. And my new book, "Finding Butterflies in Texas, A Guide to the Best Sites," will include DeWitt County as one of 76 sites in Texas, and it will include a list of all the DeWitt County butterflies and where they can best to found. Publication of that book is expected by mid-May 2006.

Although this year's butterfly numbers are far below average, due principally to the lack of nectar and larval foodplants, a few can still be found along the roadways. For instance, pipevine and giant swallowtails; checkered white; orange, cloudless, large orange, and dainty sulphurs; southern dogface; little yellow; sleepy orange; gray hairstreak; gulf and variegated fritillaries; bordered patch; vesta, phaon, pearl, and Texan crescents; tawny emperor; Carolina satyr; Horace's and funereal duskywings; common and tropical checkered-skippers; clouded and fiery skippers; and sachem are likely.

In addition, DeWitt County also can produce a few truly special butterflies, those more southern species that barely reach the northern edge of their range in DeWitt County. Five of these include rounded metalmark, coyote cloudywing, Mazan's scallopwing, and laviana and Turk's-cap white-skippers. And a few others, such as Julia, zebra, and white peacock, are tropical strays that usually can be found in late summer and fall.

It is only natural and expected that an area like little DeWitt County, that can boast more than 1000 kinds of wildflowers, also attracts a wide variety of butterflies. The two groups go together like no other categories of flora and fauna.

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