National Wildlife Refuge System

Get Ready for Spring’s Magic Act!

Spring wildflowers bloom at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, OK.
Credit: USFWS

Get ready for spring’s magic act – the carpeting of the landscape in vibrant color. Look for some of the most ooh- and ahh-inducing spring wildflower displays on national wildlife refuges across the country.

Their abundance there is no accident. Many refuges encourage these natural beauties by harvesting their seeds and replanting them for wildlife’s benefit. Once you learn how local blooms help native bees and butterflies, and withstand stresses that kill other plants, you may want to plant some in your home garden. Some refuges offer help, through wildflower walks, demonstration gardens and web pages that showcase easy-to-grow varieties and where to find them.  

At Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in south-central Iowa, prairie violets help open nature’s spring show in April. Wild geraniums and sweet william follow. Weather has a say in how bright a show you see. “It depends how much snowpack we get in the winter or rainfall in the spring,” says refuge manager Christy Smith. Last year’s drought dimmed some flower displays, but heightened others. “The wonderful thing about native plants is that they are able to adapt to temporal changes,” says Smith.

Neal Smith Refuge has a butterfly garden and a tallgrass trail, where native prairie plants attract butterflies in great numbers. See photos of refuge wildflowers; take your own shots on a spring photo hike at the refuge on May 18. Pre-register: 515-994-3400. Check for related events on other refuges here.

At Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, refuge manager Cindy Beemiller is anticipating a “great” spring bloom, starting in April. The refuge’s Bayscape Garden, maintained by volunteers, holds more than 40 species of native wildflowers that draw butterflies and moths. Favorites include goldenrod (solidago), columbine, rudbeckia, coreopsis, phlox and gaillardia. The garden is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to sunset. Ask to receive a new booklet on native wildflowers that you can plant at home.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma is preparing for an influx of spring wildflower enthusiasts. Wildfires and drought like those recently seen in the region promote wildflower growth, says supervisory biologist Walter Munsterman, “so we should have a good year.” The Friends of the Wichitas, a refuge support group, will host three spring wildflower walks (May 11, May 18, May 25). Call to reserve a place starting May 6:  580-429-2197

“Usually, wildlife photographers are out here getting photos of Indian blanket, coreopsis tinctoria and wild blue indigo,” says visitor services staffer Quinton Smith (no relation to Christy or Neal). “Prickly pear is starting to bloom then. Barrel cactus has beautiful pink flowers on it.”

Other regional favorites are Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) and several species of coneflowers, says Munsterman. All are hearty and can be cultivated.

Some refuges and refuge Friends groups have standout wildflower photos online. See this page, for example, from the Friends of Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. The Refuge System offers more photos and advice for home gardeners. For detailed information specific to your region, contact your U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service offices.

Of course, refuge wildflowers aren’t just a spring phenomenon. Check out the gorgeous shots on this July 2012 post on the summer wildflower scene at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

Flicker set: wildflowers on refuges
Last updated: March 11, 2013