Wildflowers in the Valley of Dinosaurs

A Geek’s Guide to Traveling Well
Dinosaur Valley State Park [Review]

Wildflowers abound in a place where dinosaurs once roamed.

Wildflowers abound in Dinosaur Valley State Park, one of Texas's most beautiful natural parks.

You can go there, too, and enjoy the bucolic central Texas scenery at Dinosaur Valley State Park. The park is famous among science circles for its fossilized 108-million-year-old dinosaur trackways, but the natural beauty of the park is one of its biggest draws for campers, hikers, and all those looking to escape into the woods.

While I was romping around like an overgrown kid, documenting and enjoying the fossilized dinosaur trackways, I was consistently amazed by the bright flourishes of color in the tall Texas prairie grass. The wildflowers of central Texas are pretty awesome–and considering our camping trip ended with a double rainbow, I’d say we were in sensory overload for much of the trip.

Just look at that thing. I mean, it's all the way! And those wildflowers...*sigh*
Just look at that thing. I mean, it’s all the way! And those wildflowers…*sigh*

Here’s an overview of some of the most prevalent wildflowers at the park, and across central Texas, throughout the late spring and into deep summer.

Prairie Spiderwort (also known as “cowslobber”)

This cool little purple flower has bright yellow anthers on the stamen (the male parts of a flower that stick up like spidery legs). Its bright pedals make it hard to miss in the green of prairie grass. One cool thing about spiderwort: if it’s exposed to dangerous ionizing radiation, the stamen hairs change color from purple to red. It’s kind of like a natural Geiger counter. Pretty neat! Besides, what a great nickname, heh!

 

Tradescantia occidentalis
Tradescantia occidentalis

 Sea Lavender

This fragrant purple flower grows on stalks and can form big expanses of lavender fields. Central Texas is known for large farms full of the beautiful stuff, but at DVSP we only saw a few singular plants.

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Sea Lavender – Limonium carolinianum

Blue Sage

Oh, the amazing smell of sage on the prairie. Different from the sagebrush bushes of the mountain plains, blue sage flowers in singular green stalks. It still bears the small oval leaves that emit the earthy fragrance of sage when crushed, causing the volatile oils in the flesh of the plant to be released.

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Blue Sage – Salvia texana

Texas Thistle

Cirsium texanum is a firework of purple color in the grasslands. These flamboyant flowers attract bumblebees to help spread their pollen.

 

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Texas Thistle – Cirsium texanum

 Texas Bull Nettle

Also known as “OH GAWD WHY DOES IT BURN?”

This beautiful but nasty little herbaceous plant looks real pretty from afar, but up close it packs a powerful punch. Each stem, leaf and bud is covered in tiny, glass-like needles that break off when the plant is brushed. Not only do they stab you with tiny shards of glass, the plants go one step further: the nettle needles inject your body with a small amount of acetylcholine and histamine (according to this 1948 issue of the journal New Phytologist), which inflames your allergic response and BURNS LIKE HELL. According to more recent research the nettle family also injects such lovely things as oxalic acid (a rust removing bleach agent–though it is common in spinach and parsley) as well as tartaric acid (a sour antioxidant common in wines and grapes).

As bad as it is to scrape against one with your ankle, I’d hate to be the unlucky herbivore shoving the whole thing in my mouth. That’s got to be a nasty lesson for a young bovid (cow-thing).

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Texas bull nettle – Cnidoscolus texanus
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Stinging nettle spines!

The spines. Oh my goodness. They are pure evil. Nature at its finest!

Woolly White – Old Plainsman – Wild Cauliflower

Ah, finally on to something cute and pretty once more. Without the burn of tartaric acid death. These lovely little things are called woolly whites, old plainsmen, or wild cauliflower–though they are not very closely related to actual cauliflower.

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Woolly White, also known as Old Plainsman, and Wild Cauliflower. The flowers smell like honey! (Hymenopappus scabiosaeus)

Texas Creeping Oxeye – Orange Zexmenia

Okay, this plant wins hands down for second best name (after “cowslobber”). Zexmenia is planted outside the Dinosaur Valley State Park visitor center entrance, with a helpful sign.

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Texas creeping oxeye, or orange zexmenia (Wedelia texana)

It is also abundant in the park. It’s easy to confuse zexmenia with the yellow Texas star plant, though unfortunately I didn’t snap any photos of those. Zexmenia has eight yellow, grooved pedals while the Texas star has only five pedals. Yeehaw!

 

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A close-up of Zexmenia. What an awesome name.

Black-eyed Susan

These pretty little flowers in the sunflower family pop up around the park. Pollinators like bees and butterflies love ’em.

 

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Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

 Prickly Pear

Whoa, wait, who said we could go back to things that stab you? Why do plants have to be so damn good at defending themselves? Ugh. Anyway, another stabby plant–the prickly pear, which actually has really lovely flowers, and you know what? From a distance they’re kind of pretty.

A reasonable, safe distance.

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Flowering Prickly Pear
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Opuntia macrorhiza – Prickly Pear

Super close up! These soft buds may look cute now, but just you wait. They will grow into thin glass harbingers of stabby pain.

Indian Blanket – Firewheel

Man, I really like these names, too. ‘Firewheel’ evokes a whirling dervish or a crazy circus trick with flaming hoops. I took a few photos of the firewheel unfurling its buds. It ends up looking like mottled cotton candy.

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The Indian Blanket or Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella)
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Blooming firewheel. Cultivar variants (that is, home-grown modified) have colorful nicknames like the ‘goblin’ and the ‘tangerine’.
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The firewheel in full bloom
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The last stage of the firewheel’s blooming process. It looks like cotton candy!

Standing Cypress

Not to be confused with the Indian paintbrush of the high desert plains, this bright red flowering plant stretches toward the sky, tall and proud and really gorgeous in the sea of green.

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Standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra)
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The standing cypress leaves, covered in morning dew.

 Inland Sea Oats (Sea Grass)

Another helpful sign by the Dinosaur Valley State Park visitor center entrance displayed inland sea oats. When they flower, the buds look like oats, which are relatives of these grasses.

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Inland sea grass or sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

Yarrow

When yarrow flowers, the little white buds look a lot like the woolly white or old plainsman. Other nicknames are plumajillo (little feather), old man’s pepper, and nosebleed plant.

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Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)–the thousand leaves of Achilles. When it blooms, the tiny white flowers have a feathery appearance, giving it the Spanish name plumajillo.

Salvia greggii

Hummingbirds flock to the red buds of Salvia greggii, and the leaves have a very strong, almost cat-pee odor. Mmm.

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Salvia greggii (Salvia greggii), a hummingbird magnet when in bloom!

Coral Berry – Indian Currant

The pink-purple fruit of the coral berry or Indian currant will keep foliage bright even in the middle of winter, so these plants are popular in some home landscaping.

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The coral berry or Indian currant, in the honeysuckle family (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)

Turks Cap

This is a drought resistant plant that blooms in summer and all the way into fall.

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Red flowers bloom from this broad-leaved Turks Cap (Malvaviscus sp.)

 Juniper (not a wildflower)

But still pretty!

Not a wildflower, but still pretty! (Juniperus sp.)
Not a wildflower, but still pretty! (Juniperus sp.)

 

Endangered Texas Prairie

Prairie grasslands, like the ones that shelter these wildflowers, once spanned over 140 million acres in the Great Plains of the United States. In the Texas panhandle, 16 million acres still roll like an green ocean across the plains and hills of north central Texas. But these grasslands are endangered, lost each year to croplands and urban development. Species like the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) and bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) call the shortgrass prairie their home, and are put at risk when the grasslands begin to dwindle. Luckily, conservation efforts are in place to help prevent the loss of endangered grasslands like those at Dinosaur Valley State Park–part of the Cross Timbers grassland region. Reintroduction of local, non-invasive plants and support of local animal species through breeding programs is really giving the grasslands the kickstart they need to keep thriving.

If you’re in Texas and interested in learning more about plains conservation, we encourage you to contact your local wildlife biologist through Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Special thanks to the rangers and staff of Dinosaur Valley State Park, Carrie and Dean Wolf of Central Texas Wildflowers, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Do you have a favorite flower? How about a favorite wild spot to relax your mind and escape? Let us know in the comments below!

 

A Geek’s Guide to Traveling Well
Dinosaur Valley State Park [Review]
  • Thanks for sharing this post with me. I keep hoping to get up to Dinosaur Valley but life keeps getting in the way. I especially like the photos of the Indian blanket in various stages of blooming. I planted some Salvia greggii next to where hubby parks his car. I think it smells nice, but he’s more in agreement with your description of the odor.

    • Haha, it does take some getting used to. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, please let us know if you do make it to Dinosaur Valley! It’s a beautiful place.

  • Wow, beautiful flowers. The firewheel and standing cypress are so colourful. Sounds like a great place to go, I’d love to visit Texas and will remember to get outdoors and see some of the wonderful natural beauty 🙂

  • Cool flowers, half the time I love taking pictures of flowers but dont really know their names…

  • My favorite flower? Daffodils. I love relaxing at the local beach – sitting on the rocks, looking at the sea.

  • Gorgeous collection of flowers in the park. I would hope to stay away from Texas Bull Nettle of course. It sounds very painful.

  • Very interesting, and quite the variety! I really like the Black-eyed Susans, they’re so pretty!

    • They were some of my true faves 😀

  • WOW your first photo with the rainbow and the flowers…seriously that’s right out of a story book- has to be a pot of gold somewhere!

    • I’m still shocked we didn’t find one 🙂

  • I’ve been visiting Texas quite a bit recently and your post made me realize that I need to start paying more attention to the flowers! Visiting the park is something I’ll put on my list. =)

  • It certainly looks like a paradise to me! And those double rainbow is so beautiful. You have caught them so well within the frame!

  • Amy

    That Texas Bull Nettle sounds scary! I’ll definitely keep an eye out for that one next time I’m in Texas. Otherwise, the flowers are gorgeous. I’d love to visit there some day!

    • It’s a great little park!

  • I’m a Texan myself, and all of these flowers make me feel right at home!

    • I love these Texan prairie wildflowers, as a “tranasplant” myself 😀

  • Those flowers are so nice looking. That Standing Cypress DOES look like Indian Paintbrush!

    • Doesn’t it?? Thanks for reading!