Rosettes Give Wildflowers Early Start

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By Jake Landers
Published March 2012

Jake Landers Huisache Daisy rosettes, grey green with spatula-shaped leaves, emerge in the winter to get a head start on spring growth. Many native wildflowers start in early spring as rosettes. With winter moisture many native plants germinate and survive the winter as a rosette to get a head start on spring growth.  The leaves hug the ground and claim as much space as they can to keep other plants out.  Sunlight, soil moisture, and a little warmth keep them growing slowly until they can spring forth with warmer temperatures.

Plants coming up from seed usually have very little stored energy to draw on before there is enough leaf surface to make their own food.  All it takes for a green plant to grow is sunlight energy, carbon dioxide from the air, water and minerals from the soil, chlorophyll in the leaves, and the right temperature.

Many of our native wildflowers that bloom in the early spring start out as rosettes.  Bluebonnet is a good example.  It must come up from seed, but Engelmann Daisy comes up from a root and gets a vigorous start.  Rosettes of Indian Blanket, Lizard-tailed Gaura, Bladderpod, Texas Star, Evening Primroses, Huisache Daisy, and many others may be underfoot right now if only you could identify them.

The rosettes above will push vertical shoots as the weather wams and produce Huisache Daisy flowers. Several notorious weeds, particularly the thistles, get a head start on spring growth as rosettes.  In general they are easy to identify because of the spiny leaves.  I’ve seen Musk Thistle rosettes two feet across before they start to send up a flower stalk five feet tall.  For every big rosette there are many dozens of small ones.  The ground can be covered with tiny ones of Shepherd’s Purse, Texas and California Filaree, Broomweed, Tallow Weed, and many others.  Dandelion remains a rosette all of its life. 

The first few leaves of most rosettes press so tightly against the ground that it is difficult for a grazing animal to take a bite.  Following such a stressful dry year as we have had, the winter rosettes are the first green forage available for the animals, and in reality it is hardly available until a few more leaves start growing upright.  If you want to see how tightly the leaves hug the ground, select a particular rosette, and with a long knife sever the root near the top of the ground and watch how the center of the rosette arches up as the leaves continue to press down.  Pick a weed instead of a wildflower.

Much of our rangeland has been laid bare from wildfires and the extreme drought of the past year.  Rosettes of forbs and weeds will soon be everywhere along with the new growth of the surviving perennial grasses and forbs.   With more spring moisture the rosettes will cover open ground and burst forth with growth because the resident grasses have been so badly damaged that they will be weak competitors.  I am very curious to see how many seeds survived in the soil of the most severe burns.

Scot’s Thistle, grey leaves with spiny edges.
California Filaree, tiny purple flowers drop before noon, excellent forage when leaves become upright.
Bluebonnet, up and growing wherever you have seen them in past years.

To learn to identify plants when they are rosettes, you may want to take a photo with a marker nearby.  (Does anyone in your family save popsicle sticks?)   It’s easier to identify plants when they start flowering whether a weed or a wildflower, and the numbered marker will let you refer back to the photo.

Reading The Landscape

High fenced pasture.

What is the story behind this high fence in Central Texas?  Click here for my answer.


The Bluebonnets are already up and were making rosettes as early as December.  Wherever you have seen Bluebonnets in the past, you ought to be able to pick out a few of them now.  The first two leaves (cotyledons) are oval shaped, the next leaves are three-parted then five-parted like a Texas star. With sheep, goat, and deer numbers down it could be a very colorful wildflower season.

Reading the Landscape: Answer

Behind the high fence is a ranch recently purchased from a long time mediocre rancher who had no brush control program which allowed Mesquite and Prickypear cactus to dominate.  New owner built the high fence and intends to raise deer and exotics and maybe a few cows.     —JL

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