Bluebonnet Bonanza
6:32 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

15 Amazing Things You Should Know About Texas Bluebonnets

It’s time for the bluebonnet bonanza.

For just a few sweet weeks across North Texas, bluebonnets are in bloom. But act fast: They don’t last long. They’re about to peak across the metro area. (You have until Easter weekend to catch the peak.) But the flowers should last through the end of April – and perhaps into early May if we’re lucky.

Texans have long been fascinated by bluebonnets. Join us as we travel virtually through the bluebonnets – you might just learn something new about Texas’ favorite flower.

The bluebonnets are popping in Ennis.
Credit Arlene Honza / City of Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau

1. The bluebonnet is our state flower

In 1901, the Texas Legislature named the bluebonnet, a legume, the state flower. Many say it got its name because it resembles a sunbonnet. It’s also been called buffalo clover, wolf flower and el conejo, or rabbit in Spanish. Five species of bluebonnet grow in Texas: Lupinus subcarnosus, L. havardii, L. concinnus, L. perennis, and L. plattensis.

2. Bluebonnets help to beautify the roads

Why do we have so many wildflowers along the highways? Credit the Texas Department of Transportation. The agency says: “Shortly after the Texas Highway Department was organized in 1917, officials noted that wildflowers were among the first vegetation to reappear at roadside cuts and fills. In 1932, the department hired Jac Gubbels, its first landscape architect, to maintain, preserve and encourage wildflowers and other native plants along rights of way. By 1934, department rules delayed all mowing, unless essential for safety, until spring and early summer wildflower seasons were over. This practice has stayed in place for more than 60 years and has expanded into today's full-scale vegetation management system.” TxDOT buys and sows about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year.

3. We create family memories in the bluebonnet fields

Snapping pictures of the family in a field of bluebonnets: It’s an iconic springtime image in Texas. And Texans have done it for generations.

Credit Wayne Weatherred -- flickr.com/photos/stimpyjcat/

Credit Chuck -- flickr.com/photos/cwulmer/

4. And don't forget the animals

Are these horses nibbling on bluebonnets? Or smelling them?
Credit Leena Robinson -- shutterstock.com/gallery-935740p1.html

5. We get poetic about our bluebonnets

Historian Jack Maguire once 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 also said: "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."

6. In North Texas, Ennis is Bluebonnet Central

In 1997, the Texas Legislature named Ennis the Texas Bluebonnet Trail and the official bluebonnet city of Texas. Every April, up to 100,000 people flock to the Ellis County town. It’s home to 40 miles of roadsides covered with wildflowers. KERA recently toured the Ennis bluebonnets to find out why the town is so crazy about the flower. This weekend, Ennis holds its annual Ennis Bluebonnet Trails Festival. Bluebonnets means big business for the town – bluebonnet visitors spend about $1 million each April.

7. But there's competition for Bluebonnet Central

Then there’s Chappell Hill, which earned the title “Official State of Texas Bluebonnet Festival.” It, too, is proud of its bluebonnets. Its 50th annual Bluebonnet Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday. Chappell Hill, which calls itself “the heart of Bluebonnet Country,” is located halfway between Houston and Austin on Hwy. 290.

Can you ever get tired of looking at bluebonnets? Nope.
Credit Richard A McMillin -- shutterstock.com/gallery-1034824p1.html

8. Meet a flower scholar

PerriAngela Wickham, a bluebonnet addict, posts regular bluebonnet updates on her website, bluebonnetlove.com. She drives around Texas roadsides on spring weekends and spreads the word on the best places to admire the state’s favorite flower. The catch: She lives near Washington, D.C., and flies back and forth to Texas a few times each spring.

9. A bluebonnet’s brilliant life cycle: Germination is key

Bluebonnets germinate in the fall, when they benefit the most from a drink of water. So fall rainfall is critical. But winter rains help, too. The snow helps insulate the plants.  In Ellis County, Ennis Garden Club members start to monitor the plants after Christmas. Then, by February and March, people start to ask: “How are the bluebonnets? When will they peak?” In North Texas, they peak in mid to late April. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center explains what happens next: “Around mid-May, they form a seedpod, which is green at first but turns yellow and then brown. Sometime between the yellow and brown form of the seedpod, the seeds mature. The seedpods pop open, releasing the small, hard seeds.” Many say the bluebonnets make pop-pop-pop-ing sounds.

10. Germination 411

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension dives into germination: “Only a small percentage of the seed germinates during the first season after planting. This delayed germination ensures species survival during periods of adverse growing conditions such as prolonged drought. … To ensure rapid, high percentage germination, the bluebonnet seed has to be treated to remove inhibiting properties of the seed coat which otherwise prevent water uptake and the initiation of growth. This process of seed treatment is referred to as scarification. Seed which has been properly scarified will germinate within 10 days after planting in a moist soil.”

11. We adore gorgeous wildflower videos

A bluebonnet field in Crandall:

PerriAngela Wickham with Bluebonnet Love captured these scenes in Ennis in 2012:

A look at Texas Hill Country in 2013:

12. Look at this super-cool bluebonnet timelapse

13. We sing songs about bluebonnets

Did you know Texas has a state flower song? It's "Bluebonnets." In 1933, the Texas Legislature adopted the song, which was written by Laura D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett. Some lyrics:

When the pastures are green in the springtime

And the birds are singing their sonnets,

You may look to the hills and the valleys

And they're covered with lovely Bluebonnets.

14. We sing even more songs about bluebonnets

And here’s another song: Texas Bluebonnets by Laurie Lewis

Here are some lyrics:

Those Texas bluebonnets how sweetly they grow
For all the wide prairies they're scattered like snow
They make all the meadows as blue as the skies
Reminding me of my little darling’s blue eyes

Well I wanted to ramble so I started to roam
And I didn't think twice about leaving my home
But when I got to Texas not far from Burnet
Those Texas bluebonnets wouldn't let me forget …

But then springtime had blossomed
And it just made my head feel bluer than blue
Those Texas bluebonnets they smiled in the sun
But they just made me think of my only one

15. More than just bluebonnets: Don't forget the other spring flowers ...

Of course, bluebonnets are the grande dame of the spring wildflower show. But there are many other Texas wildflowers. Many have beautiful names. Indian paintbrush. Pink evening primrose. Indian blanket. Mexican hat. Learn more about Texas wildflowers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Also, check out widlflowersightings.org. And the Texas Department of Transportation has its own sightings page.

Bluebonnet bonus: There are red bluebonnets!

A maroon version of the state flower that's sprouted in the shadow of the University of Texas Tower in Austin has some wondering if it's the work of Aggie pranksters. Flower beds containing brightly colored bluebonnets are now home to a variant known as Alamo Fire, which is a shade of maroon. (The Texas A&M colors are maroon and white.) There's speculation in the land of the Longhorns that Aggies are responsible for sprinkling Alamo Fire seeds on the UT campus, the Associated Press reports. Texas A&M horticulturists developed the maroon variety in the 1980s in an attempt to plant a floral Texas flag in honor of the state's sesquicentennial. Texas A&M professor and horticulturist Doug Welsh says the recessive maroon hue will recede over time to the bluebonnet's dominant shade of indigo.
 

Forget the yellow brick road. Let's follow the bluebonnet road.
Credit Jeffrey W. Spencer/Bull Creek Studio -- https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffwspencer/

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