That Texas has the Bluebonnet as its state flower is due to efforts of the Society of Colonial Dames of Texas . On 7 March 1901, the Texas House of Representatives finally adopted a resolution elevating Lupinus subcarnosus to official status as the state flower. It had been a strangely fierce struggle. When John Green of Cuero first suggested the Bluebonnet at the behest of the Dames, Legislator Phil Clements of Mills argued for the open cotton boll (Gossypium hirsutum). Cotton was important in Texas back then, and for the business-minded Mills, cotton was the “white rose of commerce.” Meanwhile, State Representative John Nance Garner of Uvalde argued equally forcefully for the Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia engelmanni) which was common around his home. Garner later became Vice-President of the United States under FDR in 1932, but in 1901 he failed to persuade his fellow legislators of the “orchid-like beauty” of his favorite flower. The episode only earned him the nickname of “Cactus Jack” for the rest of his career. The Dames gave no ground, presenting to the legislature a supposedly magnificent Bluebonnet painting by a Miss Mode Walker of Austin—the painting apparently still exists in the Neill-Cochran House Museum (at 2310 San Gabriel Street in Austin). Not much else seems to be known about the artist.
The choice of Lupinus subcarnosus remained controversial. In central Texas, in particular, it is overshadowed by the beauty of the Texas Bluebonnet, Lupinus texensis. In April, when these are in full bloom, fields are transformed into blue seas in the Hill Country all around Austin, particularly in the vicinity of Burnet. The legislature felt compelled to return to the issue of the state flower seventy years later and, on 8 March, in the spirit of compromise, declared all Bluebonnet species to be the state flower of Texas. The genus Lupinus has six species which are found in Texas and so we have six state flowers. If more species are discovered we’ll have even more. If taxonomists merge some species, we’ll have less. (This is not an empty threat: the Prickly Pear, Opuntia engelmanni, and the Texas Prickly Pear, Opuntia lindheimeri, have been merged into the former species within the last two decades, and are mere varieties today.) And if they reclassify all Lupinus species into some other genus, we’ll have no state flower. It’s wonderful to see how science can drive policy in Texas, at least when it comes to naming a state flower.
None of this should detract from our enjoying Bluebonnets while we can. They have been in bloom for the last month or so though the flowering is clearly past its peak. Three weeks ago, driving to Bastrop in our continued search for the Houston Toad, the strip between highway lanes were a mess of blue. Bluebonnets are legumes, and contrary to popular belief, fix nitrogen in the soil rather than destroy it. An unfortunate reputation for impoverishing the soil once led them to be called “wolf flowers.” They were even called “buffalo clover” because bison were mistakenly thought to eat them. They don’t if they can help it—only sheep and goats thrive on these flowers. Though the Bluebonnets are still around in patches, other flowers now dominate the landscape—and, thanks again to the drought, which may or may not have finally broken, blooms are stingier than they have usually been during the last decade. That wildflowers abound along our highways is due to the efforts of Jack Gubbels, the first landscape architect with the Texas Highway Department. Hired in 1932, Gubbels decided to encourage wildflower growth on land owned by the Department along the highways. That program of beautification and ecological management—the first of its type in the United States—continues to this day. Some odd patterns have emerged this year: today, we found many more flowers along east-west routes than north-south ones. This may partly reflect rainfall patterns: recently there appears to have been an east-west gradient of rainfall, with much more rain just to our west than to our east.
Both along the highways, and at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Indian Blankets (Gaillardia pulchella) have largely come to replace the Bluebonnets in abundance. This is usually a signal that summer is about to begin—and it isn’t even May. This will be a long harsh summer, it seems. These red and yellow flowers have many legends associated with them, some going back to the Aztecs . The red in the flowers is supposed to reflect the blood of the innocents spilled by Cortez and his band of murderers. First Nation groups have other legends. In one of them, the flowers formed a blanket over a lost little girl who had to spend a night in the woods. These are beautiful flowers though I continue to prefer the more sedate beauty of the Bluebonnet.
If the abundance is somewhat less than usual, wildflower variety this year is no less than previous ones. Species we easily identified included Huisache Daisy (Amblyolepis setigera), Bushy Bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus), Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata), Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa), Engelmann Daisy (Engelmannia peristenia), Green-flowered Milkweed (Asclepias asperula), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulos), besides Bluebonnet, Indian Blanket and Texas Prickly Pear. The occasion for going to the Wildflower Center is a visit from Mark Colyvan, a philosopher of ecology from the University of Queensland. Wildflowers are the best of Texas nature that we could show him during his short trip. It is good to see the Wildflower Center flourishing with helpful volunteer staff and a large crowd, both old and young. Lady Bird Johnson deserves all the recognition we can give her. Her support has been instrumental in setting up the Center which has become a model throughout the country for both advocacy and research: if more Texans are planting native flowers than ever before, the Center must receive much of the credit. Lady Bird Johnson was also the force behind the 1965 National Highway Beautification Act without which our highways would have been an even greater visual disgrace than they often are now.
 Silverthorne, E. 1996. Legends and Lore of Texas Wildflowers. College Station: Texas A & M Press.
 Price, S. 1996. Texas: Seasonal Guide to the Natural Year. Golden, CO: Fulcrum.