Bluebonnet seeds hard to find in bulk after drought, winter freezes

Justin Seed Co. in the town of Justin and Turner Seed Co. in Breckenridge are out of bluebonnet seeds, and Wildseed Farms of Fredericksburg is offering nothing larger than 4-ounce allotments for the first time in 30 years.

"You have to draw a line," explained Tom Kramer, botanist at Wildseed, which normally offers 50-pound bags. "I have to have so much seed to put in the ground myself."

Two years of drought have withered seed supplies of the state flower, resulting in a shortage. It hasn't exactly rocked the desks of commodities traders, but it has deprived backyard planters of the beloved lupine.

"We sold out April 10," said Tracy Tally of Justin Seed. Darcy Turner of Turner Seed handed over his last packets in February.

While the Texas bluebonnet should ideally be planted Sept. 15 through October, reclamation project overseers and amateur gardeners buy them year-round, Turner said.

It's still too early to determine whether the abundance of blooms in many parts of the region will end up replenishing supplies, Tally said.

Hailstorms, extreme temperatures, competition from other plants and other factors can reduce the wildflower's seed output, he said.

Kramer agreed, saying: "They look fantastic along the highway. But whether they seed is a different story. It depends on weather conditions, just like any other crop."

Planning is impossible, Turner said.

"Ninety percent of bluebonnets are native, cut in the field," he said, unlike scientifically bred and field-tested crops for which risk is somewhat reduced. "Bluebonnets are tricky, real tricky."

The drought and winter freezes devastated production while boosting prices, Tally said.

"Normally, bluebonnets are $8 to $10 for a pound of seed retail, and it's been as low as $5," he said.

This year, Justin Seed priced them at about $50 a pound.

Bill Neiman, a former Argyle resident who operates Native American Seed in Junction, said he never ran out of bluebonnet seed but tried to persuade customers to try other native Texas wildflowers because of the shortage. His biggest bluebonnet package this year was 1 pound, instead of 50.

"We've turned down business," Neiman said. "This is not like buying rebar or concrete or widgets from China where they have packed warehouses. We are constantly trying to match up supply and demand."

At Wildseed, if customers just had to have Texas bluebonnets, they could buy only 4-ounce batches for $7.45, which works out to $29.80 a pound. That's up from $16.50 last year, Kramer said.

"We tried to let everybody get a little," he added.

BARRY SHLACHTER, 817-390-7718

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