Get the camera and kids ready. The age-old Texan tradition of spring bluebonnet photos may begin sooner than you think.
Thanks to warm winter weather and precipitation, patches of wildflowers have been cropping up a few weeks earlier than normal. Officials with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin also predict the season will last longer than the usual March and April influx.
Local botanist and retired University of North Texas professor Don Smith said he's already seen sprouts of bluebonnets, the official state flower, around town.
"It's going to be a really good year for bluebonnets," he said. "By Monday, they'll be out in full bloom."
Rick Torres, a park interpreter at Ray Roberts Lake State Park, said he expects to see Indian paintbrushes, pink evening primroses and dwarf verbena accompany bluebonnet blooms at the park soon.
"There' s an overall great outlook for wildflowers in North Texas this year," he said. "An unexpected freeze in the next few weeks could kill early bloomers, however."
Though the National Weather Service in Fort Worth doesn't forecast a cold snap in the near future, one isn't out of the question.
"It's always possible we could see a freeze in late March or into April," meteorologist Jesse More said.
For now, though, horticulturalists are encouraging people to take advantage of the early blooms. Denton County's landscape project manager Fred Brurrell said he and his team laid down wildflower seeds in the fall at the county health services office on South Loop 288 and the Denton County Historical Park on Sycamore Street.
"Not only do wildflowers look pretty but they provide a habitat for pollinators [such as bees] and reduce costs for the county by decreasing the mowing area," Brurrell said.
Smith and Torres said they've noticed a decline in the number of wildflower patches over the years. Torres says he thinks there could be multiple factors contributing to the downturn, but Smith believes ongoing construction plays a significant role.
"Too many sites are disappearing because we're putting buildings on them," Smith said.
In addition to the county seeding sites, Smith said flower enthusiasts can go check for blooms along Mingo Road, North Bell Avenue and a field near the Ann Windle School on Audra Lane. Torres said residents can also come out to Ray Roberts Lake State Park as well as Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center and the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area.
Brurrell wants to remind all budding botanists that wildflowers must stay in the ground so they can regenerate for years to come.
"The best thing to do is to enjoy them, take pictures and learn all you can about them," he said. "Just don't pick them."
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.