A Preview of Coming Attractions

Bluebonnet ~ Lupinus texensis

Every spring, Texans indulge in a statewide ritual known as “going to see the bluebonnets.” Most don’t have far to travel, since the flowers can be found in nearly every part of the state. In full bloom, they’re truly spectacular, and well worth the journey.

Originally, Lupinus subcarnosus, a bluebonnet found in sandy loam in southern parts of the state, was named the state flower, but supporters of four other Texas lupine species argued on behalf of their favorites. Eventually, a satisfactory conclusion was reached, and five species of bluebonnet were designated the state flower: L. havardii, the Big Bend or Chisos Bluebonnet; L.  concinnus, found in the Trans-Pecos region; L. plattensis, a Panhandle species also known as the dune bluebonnet; and L. texensis, the brilliant blue flower whose colonies carpet central Texas in spring. Should a new species of bluebonnet be discovered, it, too, will become a state flower.

Thanks to geneticists and plant breeders, seeds for maroon or white bluebonnets can be purchased, and differently colored flowers — pink, purple, and white — sometimes are seen in nature.

When I found the burgundy-tinged flower shown above thriving on the Willow City Loop outside Fredericksburg  last weekend, I thought it especially elegant. Whether a touch of cold weather affected its color, or whether it’s a natural variant, I can’t say, but I thought it lovely, and delightfully different from the early bluebonnets surrounding it.

A truly blue example of L. texensis

It’s still too early to experience the flowers in their full glory, but when their time comes, I’ll be “going to see the bluebonnets” myself.

Comments always are welcome.


57 thoughts on “A Preview of Coming Attractions

  1. I would rush to see those — but the early blooms are fascinating because you can really see inside them! I can only imagine a field of these. It would take your breath away.

    1. I’ve not yet been able to photograph whole fields of flowers with any degree of skill, but I’ll give it a try again this year, and see how things go. Every year the flowers are pretty, but they can be breathtaking. Seeing hillsides covered with bluebonnets, or even better, bluebonnets combined with Indian paintbrush or other flowers, is one of the best experiences in the world.

  2. What grabbed my attention in the second image is the way the inflorescence curves. Now I’m wondering how common that is, and of course there’s the question of what causes it.

    1. I have a sense that a few days of sunshine are going to make a big difference. I found a variety of flowers when I was in the hill country last weekend, and some of our local flowers, like the dewberry, are in full bloom. West of Houston, the Indian paintbrush are getting enthusiastic. Some are saying it’s going to be a banner year, and if the temperatures cooperate, I think that might be so.

  3. You’ll never be able to truly capture a field of bluebonnets on camera…until they develop “Smell-a-vision”. To truly be overwhelmed by a hillside of these flowers is to sit in the middle and INHALE.

    1. For whatever reason, I’ve never experienced their fragrance. On the other hand, I do remember finally finding a colony of rain lilies large enough that it was impossible to escape their scent. I’ll put inhaling eau de bluebonnet at the top of my to-do list this year!

  4. Lovely macros!
    A big field of Bluebonnets sounds like a GREAT photographic opportunity.

    Lupines are a colorful sight alongside Norwegian roads when they are blooming in blue, white, pink and purple. It’s a view and flowers I grew up with and to me, those gorgeous flowers are equal to home and early summer in Scandinavia. BUT, it’s not a native plant and because the Lupine is very invasive, it’s blacklisted. It is odious, beautiful, and spreads like the wind. Lupines from the northern parts of America was introduced in Norway as ornamental plants and planted along roads to prevent soil erosion. The plants have nitrogen-fixing bacteria on their roots that help the plant to obtain nitrogen. In that way, they can grow on the most barren places. The name ‘Lupin’ derives from the Latin word lupinus (meaning wolf), and was given with regard to the fact that many found that the plant has a tendency to ravage the land on which it grows. Originally, Blue Lupins and Nootka Lupins were introduced to bind the sand along new railway lines on the Norwegian West Coast, but they quickly spread across the country and since many years, all Lupine species are on the ‘Black List’ as they may be a threat to Norwegian flora and fauna.

    1. If you hop on a plane within the next few days, you might be able to see these fields of bluebonnets – and other wildflowers. They’re beginning to come out.

      1. I found some delights other than bluebonnets last weekend — including a couple that really surprised me. I was just a little early this trip, but on the other hand, I was able to catch the tail end of things like the agarita bloom, which I’d never seen before. I think everyone’s eager for the flowers this year, particularly down here on the coast, where we’ve lived with entirely too much fog.

    2. Our Texas bluebonnets, I’m happy to say, are almost completely limited to our state, and not responsible for the damage being inflicted in Norway. The species you mentioned do live much farther north in this country. I’d not paid attention, but I just learned that there are over 150 species of lupine in the U.S. Some are native, but some have been introduced here, as well.

      The nitrogen-fixing capability of the plants is one of their primary benefits, and it does allow them to thrive in places where others can’t, but as you point out, that can be a double-edged sword. I was both amused and horrified to learn that non-native lupins also had been introduced to New Zealand; some suspect that tour bus drivers scattered seeds along the roadways, to make the scenery more attractive to tourists!

      I was interested to hear your interpretation of the meaning of Lupin. It agrees with something I recently read: that “farmers once thought that this plant preyed upon the fertility of their soil.”

      It’s really quite interesting to track the movement of invasive plants around the world. The reeds that you featured in your beautiful photographs of thatching are considered invasive in parts of this country. Ironically, they were introduced here to control soil erosion!

      “Odious and beautiful” is such a compelling description!

      1. Thank you for this lovely and informative response, Linda. I’m saving your text in my little book of “All things interesting”. This is too precious to get lost.Every now and then I sit down and with a cup of tea and browse through all the fascinating notes I put in there. Unfortunately, there’s not enough storage room in my own memories to keep it all with me, so I make sure to copy + save. Have a wonderful weekend.

        1. I’m a great copy-and-saver, too. Poetry, quotations, odd thoughts, topics for blog posts all go into my little file. After so many years of collecting, it is fun to look back over the collection. One of the best things about collections of ideas is that they don’t need to be dusted!

    3. I just found this fascinating paragraph on a Montana government website, and thought you’d find it of interest, too:

      “Lupinus is derived from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf. The connection is not clear but several theories have been advanced. A she-wolf was regarded as the wetnurse of Rome, so it may be a term of fond affection.

      Or, more commonly promoted is the theory of lupines as sheep-killers, as were wolves. Lupines, including silvery lupine, are considered poisonous to livestock, especially sheep. The seeds contain the most concentrated toxic principle, but the toxin is not cumulative. A great quantity has to be eaten at one time for toxic effects to be exhibited. Poisoned sheep may froth at the mouth, have labored breathing and convulsions.”

      Different environments, different explanations, perhaps.

  5. I had to look up the Willow City Loop when you mentioned it on the comments of my blog the other day—looks like one I may have to take in the coming weeks!

    1. If you can manage it, going before or after the height of the bluebonnet season, or in the middle of the week, is best. The loop winds through private property, and there are signs posted that parking or stopping isn’t allowed. I’ve never had any trouble there, but I’ve chosen times where there are few people around, and the Sheriff isn’t patrolling to keep folks moving. There are roads leading to Willow City that aren’t necessarily bluebonnet-laden, but which do offer quite a variety of flowers. And you’re not far from Enchanted Rock.

      One of the best things about the Loop in quieter times is that residents seem to enjoy our enjoyment of their properties, and will stop to talk. On this last trip, I came home with some arrowheads given to me by a man who was clearing brush across from where I was photographing. His English seemed to be about as good as my Spanish, but we had a fine conversation, and he seemed as tickled to offer the chert and arrowheads as I was to receive them.

  6. It is indeed a splendid flower. I can only imagine what the landscape must have looked like before highways and cities, with bison and prairie dog towns, Burrowing Owls, Black-footed Ferrets……..and so on. We will never see it again.

    1. You’re quite right that the unspoiled land of centuries ago is gone. But there still are glimpses available to us, and there’s a growing willingness to preserve and nurture what is left. In some cases, even reversal is possible. When I moved to Texas in 1973, a brown pelican was a rare sight. Today, they’re nearly as common as grackles or pigeons, and have been taken off the endangered species list thanks to efforts on their behalf.

      We may not be able to undo the past, but there’s still a chance to reshape the future.

  7. These are such sculptural images. Fascinating.
    I’ve seen the colored ones in nature, but none matches that blue. (It’s coming! People are spotting them….if we can just get through the next cold week…road trip calling. Sigh)

    1. I really like the lines of that first plant. I think the slightly different coloration helps to emphasize them, apart from being unusual in themselves. Like you, I think the blue is best, just as the red/orange Indian paintbrush outshine the variants that pop up from time to time. They’re great curiosities — who doesn’t like a white or yellow flower? — but the more usual shades really do shimmer and shine.

      Something just occurred to me for the first time: we love the combination of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush, but both of those colors show up in the Scarlet Pimpernel. Maybe nature likes combining blue and orange, too.

  8. They’re popping up all over the Austin area. Like you, I’ve never been able to do the whole-field shot with any echo of the real thing that I see, but I do love closeups–still my favorite. Both of yours are excellent.

    1. I have a suspicion that a tripod and a wide-angle lens would help me out with those flowery fields, but there are plenty of photographers providing those stunning panoramas.

      Besides, I do love the details. For example, I’d never paid much attention to that little white spot that’s so obvious in the second photo. I recently read that it’s called the ‘banner spot.’ When the pollen is fresh and sticky, it’s white, and when the bees see the reflected UV light, they come in for a landing. But, as the floret and its pollen age, the banner spot turns a reddish-magenta color and the bees ignore it. I’ve seen flowers with both white and magenta banner spots, but never thought anything more than, “That flower’s getting old.” Live and learn!

  9. As you say, it’s still too early. But I’ve seen lovely beds of Bluebonnets already farther south, towards Karnes City.

    1. As a matter of fact, I read yesterday that one of the best places to see bluebonnets emerging now is south of Elmendorf, between highways 16 and 181. That certainly is the neighborhood of Karnes City.
      A few years ago, I stopped in Panna Maria on a dismal December day and thought, “I need to come back here again.” I’d always thought to visit during their fall festival, but spring might do just as well.

      1. That’s about where I saw them lately. Next Thursday I’ll be able to check as I’ll have to go down to our old place to help installing a new countertop.

    1. I think the effect might be similar to those wonderful photos I see of your bluebells in the woods — except, of course, our bluebonnets don’t like shade at all, and prefer to lounge around on hillsides, in the sunshine. They are a sight — you’d love them.

  10. Two years ago I planted some bluebells along the path in our little woods. They came back last year so I am hopeful to see them again. In the meantime these are delightful images that enhance the longing.

    1. Like bluebonnets, the flowers we call Texas bluebells (Eustoma grandiflorurn) prefer full sun, and are rather different from your woods-loving bluebells. Another name for ours is ‘prairie gentian’ — a nod to the kind of environment they like. They can be unpredictable, with good years and bad. I hope yours have a good year — I can imagine you’re more than ready for their color.

    1. They certainly are beautiful. But I see you have your own, silvery lupines. It was fascinating to read this account of the Lewis & Clarke expedition and their collection of the plant. I was struck by the conclusion to the article: “When you see silvery lupine remember the role it played in Montana history and the importance of preserving its prairie and ridgetop habitats, many of which may be threatened by weed invasions and off-road vehicle travel.”

  11. Those ‘blue bonnets’ are gorgeous but I wasn’t familiar with that common name. When I read the word Lupin… I remembered what they were. I can well imagine a field of these Lupins looking spectacular.

    Sort of, like the Bluebells in the woods in the U.K.

    1. Our bluebonnets are much smaller than the lupines that grow farther north, or that often are used as garden flowers, but what they lack in size, they make up for in intensity of color. Unlike the bluebells, they prefer full sun, but that makes the rolling countryside of central Texas perfect for them.

  12. For no reason I can actually account for, I love all aspects of this plant; furry leaves, beautiful colours, and now I learn it has a scent too – what could be better!

    1. The bluebonnet truly has become more than just the official state flower. It shows up embroidered on tea towels, and embossed into boots. The salon table in the boat I’m working on right now has bluebonnets inlaid into its wood. There are oil paintings of them in the state capitol, and hundreds of thousands of photographs of them for sale at arts and crafts fairs around the state.

      They’ve even made it into one of the best songs ever written about the state — one that brings smiles, toe taps, and an urge to two-step.

  13. I’ll never forget traveling from D/FW to Denton in spring one year. All around were the most spectacular bluebonnets — I felt like that was what Heaven must look like! Do be sure to “go see the bluebonnets” this year — and take LOTS of pictures!!

    1. I remember you mentioning that trip, Debbie. In the same way, I remember a trip with my mother when the bluebonnets were spectacular, and mixed with Indian paintbrush. She talked about that for the rest of her life; it was a memorable trip for us both.

      Your mention of heaven made me smile. You probably know that Brenham is right in the middle of both bluebonnet and bluebell territory, and that Bluebell took its name from the flowers. The cows that provide the milk, of course, think Brenham is heaven.

    1. For a couple of days, the title of this post was “Burgundy Bonnets.” Then, I decided to change it, lest I tempt someone to start talking about whitebonnets, pinkbonnets, and so on. There actually are forum discussions about this issue, and the word from On High (that would be TAMU) is that “burgundy bluebonnet” is the correct way to phrase it.

      I missed Monty Python’s “flying lupins” — clearly, my loss.

  14. What fun, finding that oddball, and it made a gorgeous photograph. Of course the “regulation blue” is gorgeous too. It’s good to hear about the species compromise – why can’t that kind of thinking extend into politics??

    1. In truth, the final decision on the state wildflower was as political as it gets, since the state legislature was responsible for the final decision, and the lobbying efforts on behalf of the various species apparently were, shall we say, enthusiastic. What I most loved was that they left room for newer species. If botanists or taxonomists declare another, it gets to join the party — what could be better?

    1. Maybe you won’t need to go to the Andes. Look at this fascinating article I found about the development of chocho in Ecuador as a food source. I’m trying to remember what you said about a group you came across that was doing (as I recall) work related to sustainability. I need to go back to your blog and look. It would be interesting if they’re related to these people.

      1. Si; last week I pureed the chochos with basil and moringa to make a ‘pesto/hummus’ blend.. it’s nutritious and delicious.
        Chochos dot the Andes, and they are often grown where quinoa is grown. They’re stunning together, and walking the Andes with those flowers/grains on each side makes for a lovely outing. Prepared chocos are sold in larger grocery stores; the beans are ready to eat, and many people eat them w/limon and onions ‘ceviche’ style.

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