TEXAS BLUEBONNETS -- TEXAS PRIDE
JERRY M. PARSONS, STEVE GEORGE AND GREG GRANT
TEXAS COOPERATIVE EXTENSION
LORE OF THE BLUEBONNET
Bluebonnets have been loved since man first trod the vast prairies of Texas. Indians wove fascinating folk tales around
them. The early-day Spanish priests gathered the seeds and grew them around their missions. This practice gave rise to the
myth that the padres had brought the plant from Spain, but this cannot be true since the two predominant species of bluebonnets
are found growing naturally only in Texas and at no other location in the world.
As historian Jack Maguire so aptly
wrote, "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." He goes on to affirm that "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."
The ballad of our singing governor, the
late W. Lee O'Daniel, goes, "you may be on the plains or the mountains or down where the sea breezes blow, but bluebonnets
are one of the prime factors that make the state the most beautiful land that we know.
TEXAS HAS FIVE STATE FLOWERS?
As our state flower, bluebonnets have a most interesting history. Texas actually has five state flowers, more or less,
and they are all bluebonnets. Here is how it happened.
In the spring of 1901, the Texas Legislature got down to the
serious business of selecting a state floral emblem and the ensuing battle was hot and heavy. One legislator spoke emotionally
in favor of the cotton boll since cotton was king in Texas in those days. Another, a young man from Uvalde, extolled the virtues
of the cactus so eloquently, noting the hardy durability of the plant and the orchid-like beauty of its flowers, that he earned
the nickname of "Cactus Jack" which stuck with him for the rest of his life. He was John Nance Garner and later became vice
president of the United States.
But the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Texas won the day. Their
choice was Lupinus subcarnosus ("generally known as buffalo clover or bluebonnet," stated the resolution) and it was
passed into law on March 7 without any recorded opposition.
And that's when the polite bluebonnet war was started.
Lupinus subcarnosus is a dainty little plant which paints the sandy, rolling hills of coastal and southern
Texas with sheets of royal-blue in the early spring. But some folks thought it was the least attractive of the Texas bluebonnets.
They wanted Lupinus texensis, the showier, bolder blue beauty which covers most of Texas and gives inspiration to many an
So, off and on for 70 years, the Legislature was encouraged to correct its oversight. But the wise Solons
of Capital Hill weren't about to get caught in another botanical trap, nor did they want to offend the supporters of Lupinus
subcarnosus. They solved the problem with typical political maneuvering.
In 1971, the Legislature handled the
dilemma by adding the two species together, plus "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded", and lumped them
all into one state flower.
Among the many things the Legislature did not know then was that the big state of Texas
is home to three other species of Lupines and the umbrella clause makes all five of them the state flower. And, if any new
species are discovered, they automatically will assume the mantle of state flower as well.
The five state flowers
of Texas are:
- Lupinus subcarnosus, the original champion and still co-holder of the title, grows naturally in deep sandy loams from
Leon County southwest to LaSalle County and down to the northern part of Hidalgo County in the Valley. It is often referred
to as the sandy land bluebonnet. The plant's leaflets are blunt, sometimes notched with silky undersides. This species, which
reaches peak bloom in late March, is not easy to maintain in clay soils.
- Lupinus texensis, the favorite of tourists and artists, provides the blue spring carpet of Central Texas. It is widely
known as THE Texas bluebonnet. It has pointed leaflets, the flowering stalk is tipped with white (like a bunny's tail) and
hits its peak bloom in late March and early April. It is the easiest of all the species to grow.
- Lupinus Havardii, also known as the Big Bend or Chisos Bluebonnet, is the most majestic of the Texas bluebonnet tribe
with flowering spikes up to three feet. It is found on the flats of the Big Bend country in early spring, usually has seven
leaflets and is difficult to cultivate outside its natural habitat.
- Lupinus concinnus is an inconspicuous little lupine, from 2 to 7 inches, with flowers which combine elements of white,
rosy purple and lavender. Commonly known as the annual lupine, it is found sparingly in the Trans-Pecos region, blooming in
- Lupinus plattensis sneaks down from the north into the Texas Panhandle's sandy dunes. It is the only perennial species
in the state and grows to about two feet tall. It normally blooms in mid to late spring and is also known as the dune bluebonnet,
the plains bluebonnet and the Nebraska Lupine.
EXCITING NEW COLORS
Texas Cooperative Extension horticulturists in cooperation with seed producers, bedding plant growers and vegetable farmers
have domesticated the bluebonnet wildflower into a new multi- million dollar bedding plant. The blue bluebonnet was, of course, already available. The only thing needed to be done with this color was to enhance seed germination
and formulate a commercial production technique which would ensure a dependable seed supply.
People often ask how did
such a wonderful project begin and why hadn't it been done before. In 1982, a terminally ill entrepreneur and Texas naturalist
named Carroll Abbott, known to some as "Mr. Texas Bluebonnet", implanted in the mind of Extension horticulturists a dream
of planting the design of our state flag comprised entirely of the state flower to celebrate the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial.
This seemingly simple proposal and what has been involved to make it a reality have involved thousands of people, created
a multi-million dollar agricultural industry, generated tremendous publicity for Texas A&M , and is still producing new
products and wildflower knowledge with no apparent end in sight.
Since the beginning, development of unusual bluebonnet
color types has been the main driving force of this project. All of the other developments including bluebonnet transplants,
rapidly germinating, chemically scarified seed, commercial seed production and early-blooming plant types were all necessary
ingredients needed to find and proliferate the colors needed (blue, white and red) to plant the initial floral goal, a Texas
WHITE: The white strain of bluebonnet was familiar to most local botanists yet still unknown to the majority of Texans. Photographers always treasure
the opportunity to find a rare white albino bluebonnet nestled among the blues to enhance their artistic attempts. Consequently,
many people knew where white populations existed.
PINK: The development of a pink bluebonnet was thought to
be an impossible task. Even Carroll Abbott considered location, purification and proliferation of the pink, and eventually
red, bluebonnet a bit farfetched. This great plantsman had roamed the fields of Texas his entire life and had seen only three
pink bluebonnet plants. Most of his native plant friends had never seen even one!
In searching for the pink strain,
the same criterion used to successfully locate and purify the white bluebonnet strain was used. People were told to collect
only seed from pinks in large groups so that natural selection would have already bred some of the blue out of the pinks.
However, the pinks were indeed so rare that only four locations throughout the entire state were reported. The "mother lode"
of pinks was found within the city limits of San Antonio. Once a gene source was located the pink and shades thereof were
added to the bluebonnet color spectrum.
Because the pink strain of bluebonnet was so rare and so special, it has been
named after the mentor of this project. The 'Abbott Pink' bluebonnet is now a reality. Its unique and subtle beauty will always
serve as a reminder of Carroll Abbott's dedication and inspiration to all who love and appreciate nature's rarities.
COLOR STRAINS: Like Carroll Abbott himself, the pink bluebonnet is full of surprises. The 'Abbott Pink' strain is providing
wonderful "bonus" color hues which none could have initially imagined. The purification of a pink bluebonnet strain will eventually
lead to the creation of an entirely new color variant which will make the bluebonnet without a doubt the most revered state
flower in history to a certain segment of the Texas population. Geneticists indicate that for every color in nature, there
exist hues or shades of that color. For instance, within the pink bluebonnet there should exist a series of shades of darker
pink and, eventually, red. Another spectrum of colors should exist when blue color shades are mixed with dark pink or red
to create lavender or possibly even maroon. Now isn't there a group of Texans who might show a subtle interest in developing
a maroon colored state flower? Sounds as if the Aggies may have done it again!
The additional colors of the state flower were not
genetically created by man; these colors have existed for as long as bluebonnets have bloomed. The additional colors, which
already existed in nature and have for hundreds of years, were simply isolated, purified and grown in large numbers. No plant
breeding or genetic manipulation of bluebonnets has been done except by God. All of these colors have been developed to enhance
the Texas state flower. ALL of these colors, by law, are legally the state flower. Now, for the first time in history, color
patterns of the state flower can be planted and enjoyed. And, since these colors are all naturally occurring selections, they
complement each other perfectly, making design and color selection almost fool-proof. There is nothing prettier than a mixed
bed of pink, white and blue bluebonnets. Through working with Mother Nature, the Texas state flower can now be raised to new
heights of beauty and enjoyment.
Others hasten to add: "If a bluebonnet flower is white, it shouldn't be called a
bluebonnet, it's a whitebonnet." The state flower is the bluebonnet, written as one word. A color variant of that flower would
be properly described with the name of that color, PLUS the name of the flower. Consequently, the terms white bluebonnet,
pink bluebonnet, and maroon bluebonnet are correct. Be advised that from all packets of seed or flats of transplants of bluebonnet
color strains such as pink, white or 'Worthington Blue' there will be some plants which will bloom with the standard blue
color. The new color strains are not 100 percent pure and thus will occasionally exhibit the ancestral blue and possibly other
hues as well. Also, be advised that in bluebonnet stands which have been allowed to naturally reseed the mixing of blues with
pinks or whites will, in several years, result in reversion to the blue color due to cross-pollination and the subsequent
masking of the less dominant color strain.
The Legend of the Pink BluebonnetGreg Grant
A number of years ago while roaming the quaint inner city gardens of San Antonio with noted Navasota garden
historian and good friend, Pamela Puryear, we came across an elderly hispanic woman with a charming tale..."The Legend of
the Pink Bluebonnet".
As Pam scribbled with the skill of a court stenographer, I listened to the old tale...
The two children scampered through the April field of wildflowers near San Antonio, on their way to the old mission
church to pay their Lenten devotion. They were followed by their slower grandmother, dressed in rusty black. She was painfully
thin and her face was seamed with many fine lines.
"Mamacita! Here is a white flower with all the blue ones!", the excited girl cried.
"Those are bluebonnets," her grandmother explained, "and sometimes, very seldom, there is a white one among them.
Some even say that the Lone Star of the Texas flag was fashioned after a spot of white bluebonnets amongst a field of blue."
The little boy stood still and gestured to the bloom at his feet, "But what about this pink one then?"
The small group studied the pure pink bluebonnet a moment before the grandmother turned to the children and spoke.
"If the white ones are special, then the pink ones mean even more." She paused, "When I myself was a little girl,
my grandmother told me a special story about these rare flowers. They seem to only grow downstream from the mission Alamo,
and that is because of something which happened here many years ago."
"It was when Texas was not part of the United States, but only a remote province of Mexico. The Americanos and
other foreigners had not been settled here for long, but trade was busy, and we all had hopes of a golden future for our country.
Our family owned a fine house and farm near the old cathedral. My Papa would rise early, take his tools, and work
the land before the day grew too hot. Then after the noon siesta, everyone would begin to wake in the cool of the dusk. The
adults would bath in the clear river, while we children splashed in the shallows. Everyone would dance, eat, and visit until
late into the evening. Sometimes there were Americanos who came to celebrate with us, but their talk always turned to politics.
The men were angered because the Constitution had been overthrown by a terrible Mexican dictator.
The men all went about with frowns, and the women began to be afraid. Then came that bitter spring when we learned
that the dictator was on his way to our city with many troops. Papa was torn between joining the Americanos to fortify the
old mission compound, and fear for his family.
He decided to hide us in the countryside, and every time I look at the ruins of the mission chapel, I remember
the fear we lived in during that time. Day and night we heard the cannons and the rifles firing in the distance. The brave
new Texans fought long and hard, but in the end were overwhelmed by the Mexican troops.
After the shots had finally ended, we crept silently home in the darkness. Mama and Papa were thankful that our
lives had been spared, but it broke their hearts to learn of the many who had lost their lives in that terrible battle. Mama
often cried when she passed the homes where friends had fallen.
One day several years later, I found her putting a pink wildflower in a vase beside the statue of the Virgin.
She told me she had found it near the river where it had once been white, but so much blood had been shed, it had taken the
tint of it."
The grandmother paused, "That is why you will only find the pink ones near the river, within sight of the old
mission," she said.
"So remember, the next time you see a pink bluebonnet, it's not only a pretty flower, but a symbol for the struggle
to survive and a memory of those who died so that Texas could be free."
NOTE: Interestingly enough, according to Dr. Jerry Parsons, the only place in the state where the original wild
pink bluebonnets were found was along side the road, just south of downtown San Antonio.