|FOR RELEASE CONTACT – Ernie Edmundson
March 2, 2009 or Thea Edmundson 361 790-5456
By Elayne Arne, Master Gardener, Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners
Despite an almost state wide drought, we will still see a number of the spectacular Texas bluebonnets of March and April. The bluebonnet is a really tough flower and well designed for the rigors of the Texas climate. On the Texas coast, you won’t be planting seeds for next year’s display until late this August, so for now, sit back, relax and enjoy these interesting tidbits about this lovely flower.
The bluebonnet most common here and across most of the state is Lupinus texensis. It is larger and showier than Lupinus subcarnosa, a coastal and South Texas species. There is also a Big Bend species Lupinus Havardii, a TransPecos species with small blooms called Lupinus concinnus and Lupinus plattensis, a Panhandle species.
The bluebonnet is the Texas state flower. “Which one?” you well may ask. The surprising answer is - all 5 species. In 1901, Lupinus subcarnosa had been named state flower. Many argued for the showier and greater ranging Lupinus texensis. A faction wanted the original honoree and the fight was on for 70 years. Finally, in 1971, the state legislature, in a Solomon like resolution of the dispute, named both species as state flower “and any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded”. This means Texas officially has 5 state flowers with more to come if additional species are discovered.
Bluebonnets are also known as Buffalo Clover, Wolf Flower or in Spanish “el conejo” which means jackrabbit. The name of the genus Lupinus comes from the Latin word “lupus” meaning “wolf”. It was noted that the plants of this genus can grow in very tough circumstances and it was believed that the plants were drawing out nutrients from the soil in a vicious or “wolf like” manner for their own sustenance. We now know that the success of this genus in rough areas goes to its further classification as a legume with a legume’s unique ability to create nutrients in the soil.
Here is a Native American story from the Comanche about this native Texas plant. A small girl once owned a beautiful warrior doll with a headdress made of Blue Jay feathers. The doll was precious to her. It had been made for the girl by her parents who had both perished in the famine that accompanied a severe and ongoing drought. When others refused to contribute to a sacrifice as a solution to the crisis, the girl threw her precious doll into the fire as the sole offering from the village. The next day the land was covered from horizon to horizon with the brilliant flowers we know as bluebonnets. Then the rains came and the drought was ended. The generous child was renamed She Who Dearly Loved Her People. To the Comanche, the annual appearance of the Blue Jay colored bluebonnets of Texas is a remembrance of the brave child and also signifies the rains will come - now and forever.
Yes Virginia, there are several red bluebonnets and also one in pink. There is a white variant and one called ‘Laura Bush Lavender’. “Red bluebonnet” may seem to be an oxymoron right up there with “Jumbo Shrimp” but it is the correct way to identify the common name of a colored variant. Some find the idea of a red bluebonnet as jarring as the concept of a blue watermelon. However, many others like this type of unusual variant and the variants are becoming increasingly popular.
The colors now available, which include a deep maroon, were developed by, you guessed it - Texas A&M. It is an interesting story. In 1982, Texas naturalist Carroll Abbott, called “Mr. Texas Bluebonnet” came up with a goal of being able to create the Texas state flag in bluebonnets in time for the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial. Texas A&M took up the challenge. White and a deep pink became available by the dead line. Carroll Abbott’s floral flag was created. The 1986 pink was named “Abbot’s Pink” in Carroll Abbott’s honor. The pink has since been further refined to red, maroon and lavender. If you would like to try some variants when it is time to plant them here in late August, contact your local nursery with questions. A source for maroon ‘Alamo Fire’ is Wildseed Farms at 100 Legacy Drive, Fredricksberg, TX 78624 1-800-848-0078 or at www.wildseedfarms.com.
These color variants are all Lupinus texensis. Regardless of color, as to common name, they are still properly called bluebonnet flowers – that is, red bluebonnet, white bluebonnet, maroon bluebonnet, lavender bluebonnet and yes, even blue bluebonnet. So it is no surprise that, along with the blue bluebonnet, all of them are the state flower.
The A&M scientists and commercial growers worked with and continue to work with naturally occurring variations of the bluebonnet. This process is not genetic engineering as some mistakenly believe. Isolating and purifying naturally occurring color variations in this way falls under the process of domestication. Blue bluebonnets remain unchanged except to enhance seed germination and work on better commercial production techniques,
Mr. Abbott’s challenge to Texas A&M spawned a mega expansion of this segment of horticulture into what is now a multi million dollar industry. Even our local Winter Texans are trying the flower as an annual, which they plant in late spring, creating a Texas show of bluebonnets in late summer or early fall at their northern homes. Last year we reported on the success that Lois and Tom Corbett had at their home in Tweed, Ontario, Canada with seeds purchased here. This year, the Extension office received a report and pictures in September from Winter Texans, Wendell and Janice Vreeman of Rochester, MN. Winter Texans, Monica and Gene Ahrens, also reported that they had success at their home in Sheboygan, WI last summer with seeds they purchased here and planted in May. But at their cabin further north in Pound, WI, the seeds planted in May came up but did not have enough time to bloom before the hard frosts. Winter Texan, Gretchen Wiegel had success with Bluebonnets in Indianapolis, IN.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service - Aransas County Office can be reached by phone at 361 790-0103 or by email at email@example.com and is located at 611 E Mimosa, Rockport, TX.
AgriLife Extension education programs serve people of all ages, regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, handicap or national origin.