Texas ablaze in blue state flowers after drought

(CBS News) AUSTIN, Texas - In Texas this spring, nature is rolling out the blue carpet.

Along highways and in fields, the bluebonnet -- the Texas state flower -- is shamelessly showing off, a stunning display of color that Texas hasn't seen in years. CBS News correspondent Chip Reid reports.

When the bluebonnets are blooming, Texans know exactly what to do: Grab their cameras and their babies and head for the fields.

"Texans will risk life and limb to get a picture of their baby in the bluebonnets," said to Damon Waitt, a senior botanist at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

"When there's not a great bluebonnet display they start to panic because you know you're going to miss that one year old shot of your baby's butt in the bluebonnets, and that would be a real Texas tragedy," he added.

Reid: "You like to say Texans and bluebonnets have a lot in common."

Waitt: "Yeah, just like Texans, bluebonnets are hardy, they're rough and tough and they can take it."

Reid: "Don't mess with bluebonnets?"

Waitt: "Please don't."

The bluebonnets struggled during the recent Texas drought -- but last fall's rains and a mild winter have set Texas ablaze in blue. For Texans, Waitt said, it's a symbol of hope.

"For a lot of people it is, it's a renewal," said Waitt. "This year is so good, I think spirits are lifted."

Texas owes much of its love affair with wildflowers to Lady Bird Johnson and her "Beautify America" campaign in the 1960s. Waitt said she treated wildflowers like family.

"I would say Mrs. Johnson, couldn't call her Lady Bird, Mrs. Johnson what's your favorite wildflower?" explained Waitt. "And she would go, oh Damon I can't tell you my favorite one, they're like my children."

Anne Linville who volunteers at the Johnson Wildflower Center said naming her favorite one is easy.

"As a young nurse, I joined the airforce for a couple years and I was stationed overseas" she explained. "My mother would press the bluebonnets in the spring and send them to me in a card so I could feel a little bit of home."

She still greets them each spring with tears of joy.

Reid: "You get very emotional about the bluebonnets." Linville: "Yes they're very special." Reid: "Because they remind you of your mother?" Linville: "Yes, and just my family and my youth. It's just part of who we are."

Soon, the bluebonnets will wilt in the Texas heat. But the seeds of next spring's bloom are already in the ground, giving Texas hope for another picture perfect bluebonnet season.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.