Texas bluebonnet: blossom of renewal

Sen. John Cornyn

“No other flower – for me at least – brings such upsurging of the spirit and at the same time such restfulness.” – J. Frank Dobie “No other flower – for me at least – brings such upsurging of the spirit and at the same time such restfulness.” – J. Frank Dobie A fter one of the worst droughts and wildfire seasons in Texas’ history, a sign of renewal is springing up along Texas highways. It is the State Flower of Texas: the bluebonnet.

For decades, poets, authors and artists of all kinds have been drawn to the bright blue f lower, which typically makes its debut for a few weeks each Spring, decorating the Texas landscape in a sea of blue.

It is believed that the first to observe and write about the bluebonnet were European naturalists who traveled to Texas, then part of Mexico, in the early 1800s to collect and document specimens of new plants and animals.

The first of these was 20- year-old Jean Louis Berlandier, a Franco-Swiss botanical explorer who was sent to Mexico by his professor to serve as the botanist for the Mexican Boundary Commission, which was tasked w ith establishing the border between Mexico and the U.S.

While traveling from Ciudad de Bexar ( San A ntonio) toward Nacogdoches, his company camped overnight by the Salado Creek.

It was here that Berlandier first described the bluebonnet in his journal: “The fields, strewn with f lowers, were yet only a small thing compared with what we saw in the upper regions of Texas. A lupine, verbena, delphinium, some lilies, and a great many evening primroses contrasted with the tender green of the grasses, from which sprang flowers of various colors.”

Berlandier called the blue- bonnet a “ lupine,” which is a genus that includes mostly perennials and stems from the Latin “ lupinus,” or wolf. Lupines were classified as such because many were believed to rob the soil of its nourishment, much like wolves rob shep - herds of their sheep. In fact, the bluebonnet is not predatory in nature and actually has the opposite effect, nourishing the soil through nitrogen nodules on its roots.

Over the next several decades, the blue lupine continued to draw attention as a new specimen for naturalists and a beautiful sight for weary travelers. In 1901, State Representative John M. Green of Cuero made a compelling argument before the state legislature as to why the bluebonnet should be the official state flower. When he rose to the podium to suggest the bluebonnet, someone on the floor called out, “What the devil is a bluebonnet?” One explanation was given comparing the bluebonnet to the sunbonnets worn by Texas women in the pioneer days to protect their faces from the sun. Another called the bluebonnet by its Spanish nick name “el conejo” or “the rabbit” because of its resemblance to the tail of a cottontail rabbit.

A f ter the legislators were shown a painting of the blue f lower, the bluebonnet stole the show. A resolution making the bluebonnet, specifically the Lupinus subcarnosus, the official state f lower of Texas was signed by then-Governor Joseph D. Sayers on March 7, 1901.

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