Since 1901, Lupinus subcarnosus bluebonnets carry the designation of the state flower of Texas. From that time until 1971, debate and discussion flowed over exactly which bluebonnet variety the legislators meant in their decree. In a diplomatic solution, the legislature decreed that not only would L. subcarnosus enjoy the honor, but so would its competitor, L. texensis, and any other variety found in Texas even if presently unknown.
At least five varieties of Lupinus share the title of state flower. L. subcarnosus, or buffalo clover, thrives in southern and coastal Texas, and produces a small, royal blue blossom. The larger L. texensis, or Texas bluebonnet, naturally occurs across most of Texas. It grows into a larger, hardier plant than L. subcarnosus and generates the blooms more widely recognized. L. Havardii limits its range to the Big Bend part of the state. The Trans-Pecos region hosts L. concinnus, and L. plattensis calls the Panhandle home.
Since the 1930s, most Texas highways boast shoulders carpeted with the spires of Texas bluebonnets in season, with roadside mowing halted until the blooms are spent. Enjoy the products of the Highway Department’s landscaping program, which results in a statewide tourist attraction, in March and April. Check the Texas Department of Transportation website (see Resources) for updated viewing information.
Bluebonnets typically occur in various shades of blue. Occasional mutations allow other colors to develop. These "sports" attract the attention of horticulturists, such as Dr. Jerry Parsons, who cultivate them. By careful breeding, new varieties such as the Barbara Bush Bluebonnet in lavender, named in 1994, come to the marketplace. As a result of these efforts, gardeners can purchase seeds and bedding plants for traditional bluebonnets as well as other shades, including pink and maroon.
Look for pink bluebonnets growing wild in San Antonio. Local legend holds that the flowers grew originally as albino or white bluebonnets. They took on the pink hue when the river turned red with the blood of the defenders of the Alamo after the battle. Parsons states that the only place the pink bluebonnets grew wild was along the roadside “just south of downtown San Antonio.”
Add nitrogen to poor soil naturally with the cultivation of bluebonnets. Like other legumes, lupines grow in a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Lupines thrive in soil that does not sustain other plants and improves the nitrogen balance where they grow. Till the spent plants back into the soil and allow them to decompose there to boost the existing soil quality.
- Photo Credit Bluebonnets 4 image by Olivia Ogden from Fotolia.com spring beauty image by Andrey Ivanov from Fotolia.com
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