Bluebonnets: Treasured Flowers of Texas
Although a resolution to adopt an official state flower for Texas was passed by the Texas Senate in 1900, it wasn’t until the spring of 1901 that the House began to seriously debate which flower it should be.
Various legislators appealed zealously for their personal favorites. The cotton boll was emphatically proposed by Phil Clement, as cotton was a booming crop in Texas in those days. Highly praised by John Nance Garner for the beauty of its blossoms was the prickly-pear cactus. Garner–later vice president of the United States–was so adamant that the prickly-pear should be the honored flower that he was dubbed “Cactus Jack.” Although his much admired prickly-pear cactus did not receive the state flower title, it did later become one of Texas’s two state symbols, along with the cotton boll.
Then there was John M. Green, who launched his petition to have the bluebonnet designated as the state flower. Because of his pleas, what was labeled “The Bluebonnet War” began in earnest in the hallowed chambers of the Texas state legislature.
Confusion reigned for a time as to exactly what a “bluebonnet” flower was. Some thought its beautiful blue blossoms were reminiscent of the sunbonnets Texas pioneer women had worn. Still others believed it was either “buffalo clover” or the “wolf flower.” Following much heated controversy, a group of Texas women representing “The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Texas” decided it was time to take some serious action.
Apparently it was the Colonial Dames Society’s unanimous opinion to have the lovely bluebonnet become the official flower. So they arranged to have a painting depicting the beautiful bluebonnet flower brought to the legislative chamber. On seeing this painting, the bluebonnet won the hearts of the people and the legislature, and it was officially approved as the Texas State Flower by Governor Joseph D. Sayers on March 7, 1901. However, little did these legislators know that their designation of this particular azure bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus) would cause a profound problem for years to come! They soon discovered that there was more than one species of this native flower in Texas. To make matters worse, they also learned that L. subcarnosus was not the most common species, neither did some folks think it was the most attractive. Many Texans favored the L. texensis, which covers much of central Texas in the springtime with its deeper royal blue colors and its larger blossoms.
It wasn’t until seventy years later on March 8, 1971 that H.C.R. No. 44 was passed and signed by Governor Preston Smith. This additional resolution resolved the problem, since it not only included the L. texensis variety, but also “. . . any other variety of Bluebonnet not heretofore recorded.” Thanks to this resolution, the long, drawn-out bluebonnet dispute in the state of Texas finally ended!
The Official Designated Texas Bluebonnets
Research shows that the following species of bluebonnets are the official state flowers of Texas:
- Lupinus subcarnosus
- Lupinus texensis
- Lupinus Havardii
- Lupinus concinnus
- Lupinus plattensis
Each species is unique and different from the other. However, the Lupinus texensis remains the favorite of Texans, tourists, photographers, and artists. They come from far and wide during the peak blooming season in late March just to view the lovely azure blue carpets of Texas bluebonnets bloom so abundantly in Central Texas.
Since the bluebonnet is a native Texas wildflower and grows quite profusely along the state’s highways, it is considered a misdemeanor to damage or destroy it. As with most species of wildflowers found in U.S. state or national parks, it is unlawful to pick or dig up Texas bluebonnets. One renown historian, Jack Maguire, wrote: “The Bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the Rose to England and the tulip to Holland.”
Indeed, Texans are entitled to be very proud of their official state flowers. For their breathtakingly beautiful bluebonnets reach out toward the matching deep blue Texas skies every year during “Bluebonnet Season!”
Growing Bluebonnets in Gardens
Lupines, including Texas bluebonnets, are members of the legume family Fabaceae (Leguminosae). It was once believed that bluebonnets depleted the soil of nutrients; however, this proved to be erroneous as they actually help enhance nitrogen deprived soils. Since legumes have a nodulated root system, they have the ability to provide vital sources of nitrogen to soils lacking sufficient nitrogen for healthy plant growth.
Of the five official state flowers of Texas, the Lupinus texensis is said to be the easiest for gardeners to grow. It is recommended that gardeners use transplants rather than seeds for growing bluebonnets and other species of hybrid lupines in their gardens. Transplants are much easier to establish than plants grown from seeds. When transplanting, be certain not to cover the crown of your plants as this will cause them to rot and die.
Since bluebonnets require a minimum of 8-10 hours of direct sunlight for optimum growth, planting them in a sunny location is of utmost importance. They are quite drought tolerant and should be planted in well drained soil. Overwatering should definitely be avoided once the plants are established. A good rule of thumb to use is to wait until the top inch of the soil around your plants is dry. Remember, they are a Texas native plant and as such they require less water.
When planting bluebonnets as transplants, place them about 10-12 inches apart to give them ample room to spread and develop. They are excellent companion plants when interspersed with some of your favorite annuals or perennials. If your garden space is limited, try planting bluebonnets in containers such as large clay pots, wooden barrels, or planter boxes. Again, make sure to place your containers in a sunny location, using a potting soil and containers that provide good drainage.
For gardeners who prefer planting with seeds, Texas bluebonnet seeds that have been chemically treated (scarified) are available through most seed catalogs and garden centers. It is important to follow the planting instructions for your particular hardiness zone when planting these seeds. As with transplants, be sure you plant your seeds in a sunny location with well drained soil.
Since bluebonnets have hard coated seeds similar to those of sweet peas, they can be very slow to sprout. To help this process along, either soak them in hot water or simply scratch the hard coat of each seed before planting. Scarified seeds will usually germinate in 10-12 days, and should be planted 4-6 inches apart. After the seedlings have a good start, they need to be thinned so that they are no less than 8-10 inches apart to provide room for them to spread properly.
Some garden pests to watch for that LOVE bluebonnets or other species of lupines are sowbugs, pillbugs, and slugs. To avoid having these hungry pests devour your tender seedlings or transplants, place slug bait or pillbug bait around the plants. Doing this on a regular basis until plants are well established will usually prevent these pesky critters from making a tasty meal of your bluebonnets.
Now if you just happen to be a Texan, you may be lucky enough to have a natural wall-to-wall carpet of Mother Nature’s beautiful azure bluebonnets right in your back yard. If so, please don’t just take them for granted. Remember another famous statement made by historian Jack Maguire when he said, “It’s not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat.”
© Naomi Mathews, 2006. All Rights Reserved