Texas Colors for a Nation’s Celebration

Texas Bluebonnet ~ Lupinus texensis

While individual reddish-pink or white bluebonnets can be found in nature, a red, white, and blue color scheme is typical for the state flower of Texas.

The top blue petal, known as the ‘banner,’ provides a way for the plant to communicate with bees seeking nectar. If the lower part of the banner is white, bees know that nectar still is available. Once a flower is fertilized, it stops producing nectar and the lower part of the banner changes to red. Since bees don’t see that color, they direct their attention to younger flowers still filled with sweetness.

Older flowers aren’t ignored, of course. Those with red markings still have plenty of pollen for  bees to gather, packing it on their hind legs in special pollen ‘baskets.’ Mixed with honey, the pollen will nourish developing larvae.

Bumblebee filling its pollen ‘baskets’

For the bees, red, white, and blue are practical rather than patriotic, but the combined colors of this Texas flower are a fitting reminder of our nation’s flag and what it stands for. This year’s bluebonnets may be gone, but our founding and our history remain, and are worthy of celebration.


Comments always are welcome.

57 thoughts on “Texas Colors for a Nation’s Celebration

    1. The more I learn about the relationships among pollinators (of all sorts) and the flowers, the more amazing they become. When I first met bluebonnets, I assumed the change from white to red was simply a sign of aging. That’s true, but it certainly isn’t the whole story.

    1. I was pleased to find a plant that showed both colors so clearly, and that also was fresh and otherwise undamaged. I’ve often found honeybees with pollen sacs, but the size of this bumblebee’s was impressive.

  1. And as long as the bees continue to perform their service we will all be able to rejoice in the flowers.

      1. I can guarantee you there are a lot of roux-laden pots over in Cajun country this weekend — and a few around southeast Texas, too. With crawfish still available, gumbo will have edged out barbeque on some menus.

    1. I don’t think a honey bee could carry that much pollen: in fact, I’m sure of it. It takes a nice, strong bumblebee to pack it on like that. I can’t help thinking this one may have reached its limit!

    1. When I found that flower in the demonstration garden at the Brazoria refuge, I knew I had to find a use for it; before long, I figured out that it would do perfectly for this day. It’s just been sitting in my files, waiting.

  2. Wonderful photos!! The bee is a wonderful capture. When I saw it I didn’t think of the 4th of July I looked at that bee bag and though Immediately of Robert Brownings’ Summum Bonum:

    All the breath and the bloom of the year in the bag of one bee:
    All the wonder and wealth of the mine in the heart of one gem:
    In the core of one pearl all the shade and the shine of the sea:
    Breath and bloom, shade and shine, — wonder, wealth, and — how far above them —
    Truth that’s brighter than gem,
    Trust, that’s purer than pearl, —
    Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe–all were for me
    In the kiss of one girl.

    1. I’d completely forgotten that poem, but it’s a good one — and not only for the bee reference. That line about ‘all the shade and the shine of the sea’ is perfect, and couldn’t we all do with a little more truth and trust? Happy Independence Day, Judy — I hope it’s been a good one.

  3. I’m going to celebrate Independence Day enjoying my inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which is to say, kicking back, putting up my feet and enjoying those leisure activities that bring me joy — not to mention a big bowl of ham salad in the fridge that’s been calling my name. I should go see what it wants.

    1. You have your ham salad, and I have my watermelon. That always was on our July 4th menu, together with sliced tomatoes, sweet corn, and fried chicken. I’m not about to fry up chicken, but I do have all those other goodies, fresh from the farmers’ market. It’s going to be a good few days, table-wise.

  4. Great shot of the bumblebee, coming in for a landing like an Air Force C-5. I always get a kick out of bumblebees, and when I looked them up, and saw they belong to the “tribe Bombini” I like that, too, like a big friendly Italian family.

    1. I didn’t know that an older name for them was ‘humble-bee.’ Shakespeare himself used the name and, later, Darwin. Now I’m wondering if the Bombini in the photo was carrying that pollen home to its bambini.

  5. Wonderful photos, as usual, but also a nice reminder that the red, white and blue signals something to those who see it. And I learned something about bluebonnets and bees, too!

    1. For years, I thought the bluebonnet banners turned red only because they were aging. It was quite a surprise to learn they were sending messages to the bees: or, if the flowers aren’t quite that intentional, at least the bees have figured out the meaning of the color change.

      Something else that surprised me when I checked was how many national flags are red, white, and blue: either stripes, or patterns like the stars and bars. I’m sure there are complicated reasons behind that, but whatever the explanation, it’s a snappy combination.

  6. I never realized bluebonnets actually can have red on them! Linda, thank you for educating me today. I agree: Texas’s state flower is a most patriotic representation!

    1. And now I have something else to explore. We have several bluebonnet species, and all of them are considered the state flower. What I don’t know is whether all of the species pull this same little trick, changing from white to red after pollination. I’ll put it on my “stuff to find out” list!

    1. Thanks, Sheila! It was a good day — and with luck it will be a good night, although the business at the fireworks stands suggests otherwise!

    1. Thanks, GP! I’ve always loved Independence Day, and it was well-celebrated in my town. We didn’t have a parade this year, but there were family activities galore, and there will be fireworks tonight — not too long from now, as a matter of fact.

    1. Indeed she is. Every time I learn something like this, I always wonder what else is happening right under my nose that I haven’t discovered yet. More than a little, I suspect!

    1. I was beyond happy to find such a fine, fresh example of a bluebonnet that showed the color change. As for that bee — I think it might be time for her to head home with that delivery. It looks as though it might be getting heavy!

  7. I love learning facts about nature I never knew. That encompasses a whole lot!

    Thank you for the lesson on Bees in Your (Blue)bonnets. Wonderful photographs and I especially loved your final thoughts on the Day and Our Nation.

    1. We’ll never run out of wonders, that’s for sure. Some of the lessons we learn can be painful, but they’re still useful: like knowing that a mad bumblebee is perfectly capable of stinging multiple times. Rule # 386: don’t disturb a bumblebee’s nest!

      There are a lot of people kicking over a lot of nests these days, and there’s a whole lot of buzzing going on, but if we watch where we step, we still can avoid being stung.

    1. Hooray for the red, white, and blue — in all its forms! You sure had some fine celebrations, including the party for the Bubble Boys. We’re into full summer now, and you certainly know how to enjoy it.

    1. I’ve wondered what other flowers might use color change to communicate to pollinators. Color change, ‘landing strips,’ structures that ensure pollination: there are a lot of tricks up those flowery sleeves.

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