Five Colorful Facts You Should Know About the Bluebonnet
When the sky falls on Texas, grab your camera and head for the countryside
All along Texas roadways, bluebonnets are making their annual showy appearance. Native Texans and tourists from all over the world make annual pilgrimages to see these beautiful flowers and pose in the middle of massive fields of blue. Mrs. A.L. Morgan understood the allure of these flowers and their unusual color and, in a 1941 article in Texas Parade, wrote “springtime is when the sky falls on Texas.” Along with their ability to color the countryside with breathtaking hues, here are five more reasons to love the Texas bluebonnet.
A Bluebonnet by any other name
Most everyone today simply calls this pretty flower a bluebonnet, but this Southern beauty is rooted in legend and has had a series of poetic nicknames throughout history. The first who noticed and admired bluebonnets were American Indians, who included stories about this special flower in their folktales. 19th century botanists referred to the flower simply as the Lupine due to its inclusion in the Lupinus genus. The general public used the names Wolf Flower and Buffalo Clover. The Spanish had their own names for the bluebonnet: El Conejo, which means rabbit, comparing the bluebonnet’s white tip to a cottontail rabbit’s tail, Azulejo, which can be loosely translated as indigo bunting or cornflower, and Flor Azul Silvestre , or wild blue flower.
Bluebonnets become the state flower
In the spring of 1901, the Texas Legislature was tasked with selecting a state flower. There were several worthy contenders, most notably the cotton boll, since cotton was king in Texas during this time, and the beautiful yet hardy prickly pear cactus flower, which was fervently championed by Representative John Nance Garner. (Garner, who became known as “Cactus Jack,” went on to become Vice President of the United States.) Despite these strong contestants for the state flower, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Texas won the day, along with their flower, the 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.
There is more than one bluebonnet
As with most things in politics, even choosing the state flower came with problems. Turns out there is more than one variety of bluebonnet, and while one camp wanted the royal-blue colored Lupinus subcarnosus chosen as the state flower, another camp advocated the Lupinus texensis, the showier, bolder blue beauty which covers most of Texas. This tug-of-war went on for over 70 years when, in 1971, the Texas 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. Today, there are at least five known bluebonnet species and, if any new species are discovered, they automatically will assume the mantle of state flower as well.
Catch them while you can
Bluebonnets usually bloom in early March, hit their peak in late March to mid-April, and valiantly linger on as long as possible as temperatures rise through May. An unusually warm spring can mean the flowers will bloom early in the year. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where and when bluebonnets will make an appearance, as their locations vary from year to year. If something happens to the flowers (hard freeze, mowing, hail storm) before they go into their seeding stage, they won't return the next year. If you plan on taking a road trip to see the bluebonnets, check out the season’s forecast so you will see the flowers at their peak.
Admire, just don’t ingest
A lot of varieties of flowers are edible and look lovely scattered across a cake or salad. The bluebonnet is not one of them. Leaves and seeds from the Lupinus plant family are poisonous so, during your road trip, make sure your pets (and children) don’t nibble on the flowers when you stop by a colorful field for the family portrait.
Bluebonnets aren’t always blue
Most bluebonnets are blue and white, but the flowers actually come in varying shades of pink, purple, and white as well. The Barbara Bush Lavender is a selection of the Texas bluebonnet noted for its varying shades of lavender.
The Texas Department of Transportation buys and sows around 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year. Unless essential for safety, the DOT delays mowing the roadsides until after wildflower season is over.