These Sweet Bluebonnet Springs


At the height of Texas’s bluebonnet season, ‘going to see the flowers’ is a state-wide ritual. While certain towns and counties are known for spectacular displays that cover acres — if not miles — of land, one of my favorite routes is along the highway known as Alternate 90.

Between Altair and Hallettsville, and both north and south of small towns like Rock Island, Sheridan, and Sublime, the displays may be less extravagant, but people are fewer and wandering is easier.

Along this stretch of Alt90, few bluebonnets line the road. Instead, they’ve emerged in glorious profusion around homes and outbuildings, in pastures, and next to stock tanks and ponds. Because cattle and deer don’t eat them, they’re free to flourish in these settings: blooming, setting seed, and fading as they have for millenia.

All of these photos were taken in this relatively small area on quiet mornings in early March. I’ve become deeply attached to both Texas and her bluebonnets; since Nanci Griffith’s “Gulf Coast Highway,” as performed by Emmylou and Willie, best expresses my feelings about them, I’ll share the song, and a few photos from Colorado and Lavaca counties. I wish I could take you with me to see them.


Comments always are welcome.

54 thoughts on “These Sweet Bluebonnet Springs

    1. In fact, all parts of the plant (but especially the seeds) contain toxins. Nibbling on a leaf probably wouldn’t affect you or me, but every year there are warnings when family treks to the flowers begin to keep an eye on children and pets. As for the cattle, there’s this more complete answer about Lupines generally from the Wildflower Center. Since bluebonnets appear at a time when other forage is available, it seems that cattle by choice avoid them. The photo I included here tells the tale: if those cows thought bluebonnets delicious, they wouldn’t be there. For that matter, if deer enjoyed them, there would be evidence of that around the countryside, too.

    1. I enjoy bluebonnets mixed with other flowers as well, but felt they deserved a post of their very own. I’m glad you enjoyed them, Derrick. Of course, you have your bluebells, which are equally lovely.

    1. When they have one of their good years, it’s a nearly unbelievable sight; the flowers seem to flow over the hills like water. That’s one thing that attracted me to the scene in the last photo: ‘streams’ of bluebonnets crossing the land.

    1. Your ‘bluebell woods’ must be just as lovely, although from what I’ve read, they’re less expansive. Although the flowers shown here — Lupinus texensis or the Texas bluebonnet — have moved a bit into Oklahoma and Louisiana, they’re often referred to as a Texas endemic, and the lyrics of the song are accurate; this is the only place in the world where they’re seen in such numbers. One way to distinguish these flowers from the sandyland bluebonnets I showed in my previous post is the white ‘tips’ of the Texas bluebonnet, and their somewhat deeper color.

      1. Bluebell woods are indeed very lovely and the flowers are protected by law. There’s a good-sized expanse of them quite near us but it’s only a fragment of what there once was.

  1. Absolutely gorgeous, Linda. Must be lovely to walk through the area at this time of year.

    Reminds me of the pink rounded noon flowers in the nature reserve near my home.

    1. I remember those noon flowers from your posts, and I well remember how they impressed me. There’s something about these large swaths of color that’s soul-stirring. I always admire the work of photographers who have the equipement and processing skills to capture these in larger-scale landscape images, but any view of bluebonnets is a good view in my estimation.

    1. They sure are. You can’t believe the number of babies, engaged couples, grandmas and grandpas, brides, and squirmy ten-year-olds who’ll have their photos taken in a bluebonnet field this year. The flowers are iconic, and who doesn’t love an icon?

  2. Glorious! While nothing could compare with actually seeing those flowers, you have, in a way, taken us with you. Many thanks! The song is a lovely accompaniment. I especially like the blend of voices.

    1. One of the things I like best about the song is the way it includes the feelings of people who live out their lives in the midst of these flowers. Rig workers, rice farmers, ranch hands — all have seen significant changes to their lives over the years, but the flowers endure, and bring a special beauty with them.

    1. In a word, no. The only Texas bluebonnets I remember seeing in Galveston or Brazoria counties have been planted: primarily in front of homes. At the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, there are a few in a demonstration garden, and near Nash Prairie there’s a lady who has decorated the road near her home with them. Closer to home, the wildflower plot developed by the League City Garden Club has them in bloom this year, but of course those were planted as well.

      When I checked the iNaturalist observation maps, my suspicions were confirmed. I looked first for L. subcarnosus, and found exactly four sightings listed for Galveston and Brazoria counties, even though there’s plenty of sandy land down here. The closest and most observed display of those flowers seemed to be the fields I found at the Attwater prairie.

      There were a lot of sightings of L. texensis listed for Harris and Montgomery counties, especially around Houston, but I’d bet those were planted, too. Outside of the cities, you have to get farther north to begin seeing them. Down here, Indian paintbrush are far more common.

  3. Beautiful, Linda. Someday, maybe we’ll be in Texas when the blue bonnets bloom with you there to be our guide. –Curt

    1. Wouldn’t that be fun? I’d even throw in some good barbeque and a selection of Texas beers. Of course, one of the towns in the heart of ‘bluebonnet country’ is Brenham, which also happens to be the home of Blue Bell. A combination of bluebonnets and Blue Bell isn’t bad, either.

    1. Every year, I’m amazed all over again. The bluebonnets are gorgeous — and fragrant as can be in large enough quantities — but there are other flowers in bloom, and they’re have their time in this spotlight, too.

    1. I’m glad I chose last weekend for a little flower-seeking, since we have temperatures in the 40s and sleet this morning. That’s all right. Indoor hours will give me some time to sort through the clutch of photos I brought home, and see what other treasures might lurk there.

    1. I’m so glad. Sometimes it takes only a bit of travel to unearth real beauty — including the kind that’s rooted in the actual earth. I do love the countryside at this time of year. Even after the bluebonnets have faded, there will be new flowers to take their place: just as beautiful, although perhaps less well publicized!

    1. Save a gasp for what’s to come. More than bluebonnets grace the land at this time of year, and I’ll be showing some, but I never can resist a bluebonnet-heavy post. I especially enjoy them when they’re combined with other flowers; around the town of Sublime, they usually do a good job of being sublime. There are plenty of sources mentioning that the town’s post office was opened under that name in 1875, but I can’t find any information on the reason for choosing ‘Sublime.’ Perhaps those early settlers were equally impressed with the flowers in the area.

  4. You did take us along through your photos! We had planned to get out this weekend but it is cold. I hope there are still some around. I have seen them thrive in the cold.

    This song has become one of my favorites too. I think I first discovered it on your blog.

    1. My hunch is that the cold will work in your favor, extending the bloom. Bluebonnets are tough, and they do thrive in cooler conditions. While the bluebonnets at the Rockport cemetery were fading, those I found in Lavaca County, as well as around Hallettsville, Goliad, and Cuero still were developing. That’s close enough to you that you ought to be able to have a nice tour in the next couple of weeks.

      I noticed something interesting on this trip. Around the upper coast, the big roadside thistles almost always are yellow. Once I got farther south, beyond Port Lavaca toward Rockport, they all were pink. Their scientific name is Cirsium horridulum , or ‘horrid thistle,’ and they are that: except that the flowers are soft as can be. If you scroll down a bit on this page, you can see photos of both the yellow and pink forms. I wonder why the colors differ from one area to another.

    1. As we like to say, y’all come! It’s actually a relatively long season. Since the state is so large, flowers that appear in its southerly parts bloom later farther north, so they can be followed in their ‘migration’ all the way to the Oklahoma border. All of these photos were taken south of Interstate 10; in the coming weeks, I hope to get north of I-10,just to see what I can see.

  5. Oh the bluebonnets! A neighbor near us has a “glorious profusion” of bluebonnets in the front yard. I’ve never grown them, never (until recently) had enough sun. I do now, but have so many other things that I love that I’ll simply enjoy what I see in Austin. Thanks for this trip along Alt90.

    1. That makes sense to me — forgoing the bluebonnets in your limited garden space. Besides, they’re one flower I prefer seeing ‘in the wild.’ While they’re just as beautiful in gardens, it’s just different seeing them spread across the hills on a Texas afternoon. I hope I get at least one sunny afternoon to enjoy L. texensis before they’re gone for another year!

      1. Yes, and you’re so right about them really needing to be in a community. The swath of blue is so incredible! I hope you’re able to get that sunny afternoon with the bonnets, too!

    1. No kidding! I woke up to sleet tapping on the windows this morning, and it kept sleeting until noon. But we’re in the 50s now, and a nice warming trend will begin tomorrow, so it’s all good. I actually don’t mind the cold, since my experience is that it will help the flowers linger a bit longer. That’s all to the good!

  6. Thanks for those views. They are wonderful. Does anyone use lupins as a green manure in the States? We grow annual blue lupins to pull up minerals here, that are then turned into the top layer of soil.

    1. I’m so far from being a gardener, I had to begin by looking up ‘green manure.’ Once I wrapped my mind around that practice, I realized I didn’t have a clue about whether bluebonnets might be used in that way.

      Since the purpose of having any bluebonnets at all generally is to get more bluebonnets, my hunch is that they aren’t, although it’s possible that the technique might be used in areas of the country where different Lupine species grow. To be honest, given the difficulty some of my friends have had establishing bluebonnets on their property (taking as long as three years to get blooms in some instances), I suspect the best word to describe turning them into the soil would be ‘sacrilege!’

  7. Linda, I can appreciate how attached you feel toward these lovely bluebonnets! A single bloom, of course, is very striking, but when they’re displayed in full color and covering an entire field, well, they’re just spectacular! I know they don’t last forever, so any time you’d like to show us more, I’m game (especially as it’s still winter in these parts).

    1. One of the things I love about the bluebonnets is how well they combine with other flowers. Red, yellow, pink, and lavender flowers often are found in the same fields, and the sight is quite something. Even after I toss out the not-so-good and the truly terrible photos I took, there are quite a few still to be shared; perhaps they can keep you smiling until your own flowers begin to bloom!

  8. Nostalgia, thy name is Lagniappe.

    So many wonderful memories in this post. The bluebonnet extravaganza, Alt. 90 and its side roads, Gulf Coast Highway on the radio, windows down with my arm hanging out, Gini by my side – life is good.

    Thank you, Linda.

    1. I’ve been puzzled by my tendency to tear up when I hear this song, and my compulsion to get out and see the bluebonnets each spring. I finally remembered a word that’s akin to ‘nostalgia’ but a little different: the Welsh word ‘hiraeth.’

      Welsh speakers say it’s nearly untranslatable, but in essence it suggests a blend of homesickness, nostalgia and longing: a pull on the heart that conveys a distinct feeling of missing something irretrievably lost. Poet Eric Ngalle Charles, Cameroon born but Cardiff based, says “hiraeth is the music you play constantly in your head hoping that you do not forget – it’s a place of comfort that you always return to.”

      That makes sense to me. There’s something infinitely comforting about the return of the flowers: they’re a reminder of a home that’s larger than a spot on the map.

    1. The ‘blue’ part of the name’s obviously for the color, but in the past, people decided that the individual flowers looked like the bonnets that women often wore. The name stuck, and now even people who don’t know a thing about nature or gardening know about the bluebonnets. They’re sort of an in-your-face flower when in bloom, but in a nice, polite way.

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