BY LORI MURRAY
Nearly everyone who has driven through south and central Texas in the spring has been at one time or another captivated by the beauty of a field of bluebonnets, and many Texas households sport a painting of a meadow of the beautiful blue flowers. At one time the bluebonnet was believed to have been brought from Spain, but the two predominant species of bluebonnet are found growing naturally only in Texas, and it is in Texas that man’s love of this flower was born. Historian Jack Maguire even wrote 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.”
Its formal choice as our state flower occurred in 1901, when several floral emblems were suggested. One legislator spoke emotionally in favor of the cotton boll since cotton was king in Texas those days. Another, from Uvalde, extolled the virtues of the cactus so eloquently that he earned the name of “Cactus Jack,” a name which stuck with him for the rest of his life. (He was John Nance Garner and he later became vice president of the United States.) But it was the women who had the last word, and 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.
The resolution was passed into law on March 7 without any recorded opposition – then. Unfortunately, some people came to feel that it was not as attractive as Lupinus texensis, a much showier and bolder blue flower which covers most of Texas and inspires many artists. On and off for seventy years, the disagreement raged, with the legislators not wanting to offend anyone.
Finally, in 1971, the Legislature named both species and “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded.” Little did they know that the state was home to three other species – soon to be four -and that they were giving Texas not one but six state flowers!
More recently, the area around the swimming pool at the White House was planted in bluebonnets during the tenure of George and Barbara Bush.
In the1980s and 90s, aggie horticulture specialists refined Lupinus texensis and made it the very first Texas SuperStar. The brighter blue bluebonnet with an icy white terminal tip was called it the Lady Bird Johnson Royal Blue Bluebonnet.
In a similar move, the Texas Maroon Bluebonnet came about because an idea was discussed to plant the Texas state flag using the bluebonnet for the 1986 state Sesquicentennial.
The blue and the white bluebonnets were easy to come by, but no red. It took quite a few years, but Texas A&M horticulturists isolated the pink-colored flowers’ seeds and eventually came up with a deep maroon bluebonnet, which pleased those two Aggies.
Unfortunately, the maroon variety is currently in jeopardy due to heavy rains which have washed out much of the segregated seed.