Bluebonnets have been loved since man first trod the vast prairies of Texas. Indians wove fascinating folk tales around them. The early-day Spanish priests gathered the seeds and grew them around their missions. This practice gave rise to the myth that the padres had brought the plant from Spain, but this cannot be true since the two predominant species of bluebonnets are found growing naturally only in Texas and at no other location in the world.
As historian Jack Maguire so aptly wrote, "It's not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat." He goes on to affirm 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."
The ballad of our singing governor, the late W. Lee O'Daniel, goes, "you may be on the plains or the mountains or down where the sea breezes blow, but bluebonnets are one of the prime factors that make the state the most beautiful land that we know.
As our state flower, bluebonnets have a most interesting history. Texas actually has five state flowers, more or less, and they are all bluebonnets. Here is 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.
And that's when the polite bluebonnet war was started.
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.
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