Quintessential spring wildflowers of Texas

Most true Texans know what a Bluebonnet is.  The ones who do not, shame on them!  After all, it is the state flower.

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.
– Jack Maguire, Historian

Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) in flower.
Bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) in flower in an urban setting.  There are six species of Bluebonnets in Texas, all of which are the state flower.  L. texensis is considered the showiest, but L. subcarnosus is the original state flower.
photo 2 (2)
Bluebonnets in the rosette stage near a highway historical marker. I couldn’t tell if this was a first or second year plant.

The other four Bluebonnets found in Texas are:
Lupinus havardii – Big Bend Bluebonnet (A must see!)
Lupinus concinnus – Bajada Lupine
Lupinus plattensis – Nebraska Lupine (or Dune Bluebonnet)
Lupinus perennis ssp. gracilis – Wild Lupine (or Sundial Lupine)*

Of the six Bluebonnets in Texas, only two, L. subcarnosus and L. texensis, are endemic to the state. All Bluebonnets are in the bean (Fabaceae) family and can capture atmospheric nitrogen and store it in the soil.  Why use chemical-laden fertilizers when you can use natural, plant-derived fertilizer?  It’s a no brainer, except for those who love to toil at the hand of an exotic lawn.  Watching pollinators buzz about happily from flower to flower is much more gratifying than pushing around some noisy, exhaust-billowing contraption for a couple hours, only to have an end result that resembles something as boring as green carpet.

For further reading on this highly celebrated wildflower, click here.

*According to the U.S. Fish and Widlife Service and the USDA, “Sundial [Lupine] is the only food for the larvae of the Karner Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). Both fire suppression and habitat loss have contributed to the decline of the lupine and the butterfly. The Karner Blue is nearly extinct over much of its range.”  Another discussion on the Karner Blue and its relationship to the Wild Lupine can be found here.

Note: In my roadside and pasture searches for Bluebonnets, I also searched for Texas’ other favorite – and the Bluebonnet’s ecological pal – Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa).  Indian Paintbrush is a hemiparasitic plant, meaning it obtains some of its nutrients from a host plant, but it also photosynthesizes and makes its own food. A common host plant of Paintbrush is Bluebonnet, and it will also attach itself to shortgrasses such as Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) and Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis).

After long bent-over walks and many miles of county roads, I came up empty.  It will probably be a less than showy season for spring wildflowers due to a lack of fall and winter precipitation.  But then again, it is still early in the spring wildflower season for North Central Texas.

Here’s to hoping summer wildflowers will abound!

Photo Credit: Connie Merrill, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Indian Paintbrush.  Photo Credit: Connie Merrill, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Author: J. Crumpler

Grasslands ecologist. Native seedsman.

All civil comments welcome.

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