Texas State Flower: The Bluebonnet & The Amazing Story Behind It

Scientifically named Lupinus texensis, the bluebonnet is the official flower of Texas and was adopted by the Texas state legislature in 1901. Also known as the buffalo clover, wolf flower, and “el conejo” (“rabbit” in Spanish), the vibrant sapphire blue petals are said to resemble the bonnets worn by pioneer women to shield them from the sun.

Bluebonnets typically germinate in the fall and then peak in mid to late April and can often be seen blooming in fields and roadsides throughout central and south Texas. They are not hard to spot as their centers typically have while or yellow spikes and the flower can grow to around 1 foot tall.

The origins of the Bluebonnet is chalked full of myths, legends, and quirky stories, but the flower remains one of the most beloved and recognizable symbols of the great state of Texas. The plants determination to come back, year after year, despite soil and weather conditions, is symbolic of the resilient people who call Texas their home.

Why is the Texas State Flower the Bluebonnet?

After a heated flower war in 1901, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America successfully convinced the Texas legislature to choose the bluebonnet, a name that paid homage to the many brave Texas pioneer women.

The first flower nominated was the cotton plant which was chosen because cotton is symbolic of Texas’s economic independence and growth. Shortly after, a legislature dubbed “Cactus Jack,” nominated the pear cactus for its hardiness and strength. Horrified by the ugly flower choices, the National Society of Colonial Dames of America nominated the bluebonnet. Although cotton was likely to pass, the women who made up the National Society of Colonial Dames of America would not go down without a fight. They displayed paintings of bluebonnets on the floor of the legislature and made floral arrangements of bluebonnets to adorn each politician’s desk the day of the voting. Sure enough, the bluebonnets were able to win the vote with its striking beauty.

While the Lupinus subcarnosus species was originally chosen, it also happened to be the least attractive of the Bluebonnet varieties. As a result, in 1971, the legislature decided to settle the debate by combining all varieties of bluebonnets under the official state flower. According to Flo Oxley, a program coordinator at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, “After initially naming the Lupinus subcarnosus as the state flower, further debate emerged when people discovered that another species existed. They solved the problem by basically writing legislation that said those two species plus any other that happened to show up in the future would come under the umbrella of the state flower.” Today, this includes Lupinus subcarnosus, Lupinus texensis, Lupinus havardii, Lupinus concinnus, Lupinus plattensis, and Lupinus perennis. Although Bluebonnets started as a controversial decision for legislation, now according to historian Jack Maguire, “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.”

Are Texas Bluebonnets Poisonous?

Yes, if ingested, Texas bluebonnets are poisonous. While the flowers are beautiful and dainty, there are dangers hiding behind the petals. Make sure to watch little ones and pets from taste-testing as the flowers can be quite toxic to both humans and animals. Blue-bonnet poisoning can seriously damage the nervous system.

While spotting bluebonnets by the highway and on the side of the road, keep in mind it is illegal in Texas to walk on a highway or highway shoulder. Bees frequent bluebonnet fields as well so those with bee allergies should bring medication as stings could be trouble. Although safety precautions are a vital step in viewing the flowers, it is still safe to bring your family for sightseeing. In fact, the “legend of the Pink Bluebonnet” started with two children playing outside and spotting a pink and white bluebonnet. When they asked their grandmother why the flowers are different colors, she responded that the white flower represents the Lone Star and the pink flower honors the brave soldiers who lost their lives at the Alamo. And just like that, the legend was born.

Is the yellow rose the state flower of Texas?

It is a common misconception that the yellow rose is the Texas state flower but actually it is the Bluebonnet. There is a famous legend about an African American woman named Emily D. West who was referred to as the “yellow rose”. Emily played a critical role in the Texas Revolution and later inspired the famous song, The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Are bluebonnets only in Texas?

Texas is the only place you’ll find both the Lupinus Texensic and Lupinus Subcarnosis species of Bluebonnets, but it’s not the only state where bluebonnets can be found. You might be able to spot the flowers in Florida, Louisiana, and Oklahoma because the flowers thrive on 8-10 hours of sunshine a day, alkaline soils, and low moisture.

That being said, Texas has more bluebonnet flowers than anyplace else in the world with flowers popping up on roadsides, fields, sidewalks, and of course in Texans gardens. In fact, after the Texas Highway Department was organized in 1917, officials noticed that bluebonnets were the first to poke out of the roadside cuts and fills. Instead of getting rid of them, officials started to maintain the flowers and now the Texas Department of Transportation buys and sows about 30,000 pounds of wildflowers each year!

Don’t fret if Bluebonnets are not found in your state, as you can easily buy bluebonnet transplants at your local garden center. Adding these annuals to your landscape is easy and beneficial because native plants use less water, don’t require quality soil, and don’t need lots of care. Make sure you give them plenty of sunlight and only water when the plant is completely dry. If you are lucky, they will return to your garden next spring even more vibrant! Since they are also native, the bees and butterflies will thank you!

Is it illegal to pick bluebonnets?

Contrary to the myth, it is not illegal to pick bluebonnets in Texas, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. That being said, there are some areas where you should not pick bluebonnets, most notably the Texas State Park for wildflower viewing where it is against the law to pick, cut, or destroy and plant life on park grounds. When hunting for the best bluebonnets, also make sure that you are not on private property, as trespassing is illegal and is taken very seriously in Texas.

Other than that, the average Texan will most certainly find bluebonnets on the side of the road whether they are looking for the flower or not. Although you might be able to get away with picking up a few, never dig up large clumps of flowers or drive your vehicle into a flower patch. Keep in mind that many of the roadside wildflowers are annuals that won’t reseed if they are picked or trampled. Therefore, the Texas Department of Transportation discourages picking and taking pictures among the wildflowers if doing so will damage them. But if you are planning a photo shoot by the road, remember to not cross lanes of traffic on foot, obey all signs that prohibit parking on the roadway, and if allowed, park parallel to the road in the direction of traffic. Wildflower season is fast approaching so hopefully you can get outside and enjoy the treasures that attract many visitors each year!

Where is the best place to see bluebonnets in Texas?

One of the best places to see bluebonnets is Ennis, Texas which was named the official bluebonnet city of Texas in 1997. Ennis hosts the Official Texas Bluebonnet Trails where up to 100,000 people visit each year to feast their eyes on 40 miles of wildflowers. Of course, you can find bluebonnets all across Texas roadways in the spring.

Chappell Hill, Texas is also known for their stunning wildflowers and hosts the famous Official State of Texas Bluebonnet Festival each year. Another classic is Burnet, which is the Bluebonnet Capital of Texas and is located 60 miles northwest of Austin and directly west of Georgetown on Highway 29.

Since Ennis, Chappel Hill, and Burnet are all famous for bluebonnets, keep in mind that the gardens and trails are known to get crowded. No matter how much you plan, ultimately the best way to find Bluebonnets is by word of mouth. If you’re in Texas or planning to visit during the spring season, ask a local. Wherever you go, remember to use your southern manners by not picking the flowers so that they can continue to be part of Texas’s beauty for many years to come!

Also check out the history of the Texas state bird, insect and animals.

About Lyman

Lyman Hardeman has held a deep interest in Texas history. He spent his youth in College Station, Texas and received a degree in Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M in 1966. In 1995, Lyman created Lone Star Junction, a popular Texas history website that later merged with TexasProud.com. Lyman is a life member of the Texas State Historical Association and the author of Texas A&M The First 25 Years.