Ask any Texan about wildflowers, and they will likely mention the bluebonnet—unsurprising, considering the bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. A state resolution recognizes six different bluebonnet species as the state symbol. However, it wasn’t always that way. In March 1901, the Texas House of Representatives voted to make Lupinus subcarnosus the state flower. Cotton and cactus were the other contenders up for the honor. As the years followed, debate swirled over whether legislators had chosen the wrong species. Some argued the Lupinus subcarnosus was too dainty and should be replaced by the showier Lupinus texenis. In 1971, the legislature decided that both bluebonnets and “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded,” would be the state flower. The six state flowers are:
• Lupinus texensis grows in Central Texas and is the most commonly known of the species.
• Lupinus subcarnosus grows in South Texas.
• Lupinus harvardii grows in the Big Bend area. This species blooms as early as January and reaches as high as 3 feet.
• Lupinus concinnus is found in the Trans-Pecos region.
• Lupinus plattensis grows in the Texas Panhandle.
• Lupinus perennis grows in eastern Texas.
Many often associate bluebonnets with well … the color blue. The truth is bluebonnets can have light blue, white or pink flowers due to genetic mutations. But those colors don’t typically stick around in wild populations. The blue flowering plants are more dominant and will overtake the other colors. Some horticulturists have worked to create their own varieties. Jerry Parsons, a horticulturist with the Texas Cooperative Extension, created a maroon bluebonnet in honor of Texas A&M University, where he worked.
Texas Highways Magazine would love to see favorite bluebonnet photos over the years. Submit them to texashighways.com/wildflowers/submit-your-favorite-wildflower-photo.
Q: Is it illegal to pick bluebonnets?
A: No, this myth comes from a law created in 1933 nicknamed the “Wildflower Protection Act,” which could fine individuals $1 to $10 for picking or pulling any plant (including bluebonnets) on public or private land. The law was erased in 1973, but it is still illegal to damage property on state public lands, which includes picking bluebonnets and damaging all other plants. So, although it is not currently illegal to pick bluebonnets, Texas encourages everyone to leave bluebonnet flowers attached to their plants so that they can go to seed. Bluebonnets are annuals and need to reseed so their beautiful display can be enjoyed every year.
Q: Are bluebonnets fragrant?
A: Yes, Texas bluebonnets emit a lovely fragrance. Nestle your nose up to a flower (watch for bees!) and you can get a nice whiff of their perfume. If the bluebonnets are growing in big fields, the scent wafts across the landscape.
Q: Are bluebonnets safe to eat?
A: Though bluebonnets (Lupinus species) are in the pea family, it is not recommended to eat them to be on the safe side. Most species of Lupinus have seeds and other parts that are toxic. In fact, cattle and horses mostly avoid them. Sheep and goats, on the other hand, find them quite tasty. And bluebonnets are eaten by a number of caterpillars, including those of the gray hairstreak, Henry’s elfin, painted lady, American lady, and orange sulphur butterflies. Bluebonnets also feed the soil. Through a special symbiosis in their roots, these legumes take nitrogen from the air and turn it into plant food, thus enriching the soil around them.
Legends of the Wildflowers: The Bluebonnet
One April many years ago, two children were playing in a field of wildflowers with their grandmother near San Antonio. Upon finding a white flower among the blue, the grandmother explained to her excited grandchildren that they were playing in a field of bluebonnets, and on rare occasions a white one is among them. “Some even say the Lone Star of the Texas state flag was fashioned after a spot of white bluebonnets among a field of blue,” she said.
“Then what about this pink one?” one child asked, pointing to a flower at his feet. The grandmother 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 that happened here many years ago.” She went on to tell of how their ancestors once owned a beautiful house and farm before Santa Anna’s army overtook the Texans in the bloody Battle of the Alamo. Heartbroken but thankful their lives had been spared, the grandmother, then a child, witnessed her mother place a pink wildflower in a vase beside the statue of the Virgin Mary. “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.”
After relaying her grandmother’s story to her own grandchildren, she stopped to explain the meaning she had given the rare flower. “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 of those who died so that Texas could be free.”