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The 70 Year Bluebonnet War

The history of  the state of Texas is expansive and colorful.  It's boundaries have fluctuated.  It's flown six different flags.  It's background is steeped in tales of battles and wars, including the war with Mexico, the Civil War,  and many Indian battles that include the Red River War, but until recently, I was unaware of a battle that was waged for 70 years. 

In 1971, a state resolution ended the dispute called, "The Bluebonnet War."  Battle lines were first drawn when the senate first passed a resolution to adopt an official state flower in 1900.   The delicate lupine, or bluebonnet, was nearly defeated by stronger and more bold contenders, namely the cotton boll and the prickly pear cactus bloom.  It took a group of Texas women representing  The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Texas, to set things right by marching into the legislative chamber with a painting of the lovely bluebonnet.  The legislators could not deny the beauty of the flower, or of the women presenting it. 

On March 7, 1901, the Lupinus subcarnosus was declared the state flower.  However, it was soon discovered that there were more than one species of this Texas native, and arguments arose over the worthiness of Lupinus subcarnosus when many Texans favored Lupinus texensis, which covers much of Central Texas in the springtime with its deeper colors and larger blossoms.  Finally in 1971, the Legislature ended the polite war by adding the two species together, plus the phrase, "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded," and lumped them all into one state flower.

What the Legislators didn't know then, was that the state of Texas is home to three other species of Lupines, and the clause makes them all the state flower.  The five are:

  • Lupinus subcarnosus,  the original champion and still co-holder of the title.  It grows naturally in deep, sandy loams from Leon County southwest to LaSalle County and down to the northern part of Hidalgo County.  It is often referred to as, "the sand land beachbonnet."  The plant's leaflets are blunt, sometimes notched with silky undersides.  This species, which reaches peak bloom in late March, is not easy to maintain in clay soils.
  • Lupinus texensis, the favorite of tourists and artists, provides the blue spring carpet of Central Texas.  It is widely known as, "THE Texas bluebonnet."  It has pointed leaflets. The flowering stalk is tipped with white, like a bunny's tail, and hits its peak bloom in late March and early April.  It is the easiest of all the species to grow.
  • Lupinus Havardii, also known as the, "Big Bend," or "Chisos Bluebonnet," is the most majestic of Texas bluebonnets with flowering spikes three feet tall.  It is found on the flats of the Big Bend country in early spring.  It usually has seven leaflets and is difficult to cultivate outside its natural habitat.
  • Lupinus concinnus, is an inconspicuous little lupine, ranging in height from two to seven inches, with flowers that combine elements of white, rosy purple, and lavender.  Commonly known as the annual lupine, it is found sparingly in the Trans-Pecos region, blooming in early spring.
  • Lupinus plattensis, creeps down from the north into the Texas Panhandle's sandy dunes.  It is the only perennial species in the state.  It grows to about two feet tall,  typically it blooms in mid to late spring, and is also known as the dune bluebonnet, the plains bluebonnet, and the Nebraska Lupine.
Years ago Skip Mancini left the rocky coast of Northern California to return to her roots in the heartland. Her San Francisco friends, concerned over her decision to live in a desolate flatland best known for a Hollywood tornado, were afraid she would wither and die on the vine. With pioneer spirit, Skip planted a garden. She began to learn about growing not only flowers and vegetables, but hearts and minds. If you agree that the prairie is a special place, we think you'll enjoy her weekly sojourns into Growing on the High Plains.