Texas roadsides become tourist attractions and photography studios this time of the year as bluebonnets put on their annual show. Ask any Texan what is the state flower and they will tell you, “the bluebonnet!” But if you’ve thought of our state as having but one state flower, think again. Texas actually has five state flower species. According to former Extension Horticulturist Dr. Jerry Parsons, Extension Horticulturist Dr. Steve George and former Extension Horticulture Agent Greg Grant here’s 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.
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 artist.
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. I have also seen them in sandy soils in Montgomery County. 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. Extension horticulture researchers have evaluated this bluebonnet as a greenhouse cut flower production species.
- 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 early spring.
- 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.