The bluebonnet is more than just a symbol of Texas

Josue Torres

In season, waves of bluebonnet flowers blanket Texas highways and backroads. Parents are taking pictures of their children in fields of purplish blooms, and road trippers are trekking from Big Bend National Park to the Texas Hill Country in pursuit of the enchanting wildflowers.

Bluebonnets come in a variety of colors, including indigo, pink, and ivory. They bloom from mid-March to April, flanked by other seasonal flowers such as pristine white prickly poppies, dreamy evening primroses, and lavender-hued Texas thistles.

The tale of how the small plants grew to be such a huge deal is as diverse as the Lone Star State itself. Here’s how they got off, where you might find them, and why they’re in need of assistance right now.

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Animals enjoying the bluebonnets.Shutterstock

The smaller Lupinus subcarnosus and the showier, larger Lupinus texensis are the most common bluebonnets in Texas. They have clusters of lightly fragrant blooms on three- to six-inch stems and are native to Texas and the southwest. They’re perennial plants, which means they develop from seed to flower and back again each year, germinating in the fall and winter before blooming and spreading in the spring. What is the significance of the name? People say they look like vintage women’s bonnets.

The National Society of Colonial Dames of America commissioned Austin artist Mode Walker to paint “Bluebonnets and Evening Primrose” in order to persuade the Texas Legislature to make the bluebonnet the official state flower.

Though they can be seen growing wild in fields and natural habitats, the blue swaths that line major highways and byways date back to the 1930s, when the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) started planting them as beautification programs.

Bluebonnets grow in Texas’ alkaline, mostly dusty soil. Even after the blooms disappear, their thick vegetation guards against flooding around highways and easements. According to Travis Jez, a landscape specialist for TxDOT, “they’re a hardy plant” that can survive the state’s sometimes scorching temperatures.

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Photo by Matthew LancasterUnsplash

According to Jason R. Singhurst, a botanist and plant ecologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, certain grasses planted to feed livestock, such as King Ranch bluestem, can eat into the bluebonnet’s habitat.

Wide patches of bluebonnets, often interspersed with other wildflowers such as giant spiderwort, blue-eyed grass, and Mexican buckeye, can be found along every Texas highway in the morning.

Although picking or damaging bluebonnets on public land (such as state parks) or private property is prohibited, this is not the case on highways, where many bluebonnets can be found. However, environmentalists warn against plucking the blue seeds, and parking along the highway is dangerous.

Any of the finest bonnet peepings can be found in Texas’ small towns. Ennis, located 35 minutes south of Dallas, was named the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas in 1997 and is host to the Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail. Visitors will travel 40 mapped miles across some of the state’s best blooms every April.

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Photo by Phinehas AdamsUnsplash

Remember to keep an eye on your move anywhere you go in Texas in search of bluebonnets. A few careless steps here and there will kill the state flower and keep it from reseeding the following year.

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