From Bluebonnets to Bluebells


Now that the last of our bluebonnets are fading away, another beautiful native is waiting to take their place. The so-called Texas bluebell (Eustomia exaltalum) has begun to flower on the coastal prairies.  The genus name, formed from the Greek eu, or ‘beautiful,’ and stoma, or ‘mouth,’ refers to the large, upward-facing blooms which evoke handbells; the flower also is known as catchfly prairie gentian, bluebell gentian, and prairie gentian.

Because their foliage isn’t palatable to grazing animals, Texas bluebells often are found covering central Texas pastures; the cattle no doubt help to hold down competing vegetation. The cows-and-flowers connection led to a certain Texas creamery being named Blue Bell in 1930; anyone who enjoys their ice cream has a connection, however tangential, to this lovely Texas native.

Major pollinators for the plants include a variety of bees, particularly those whose long tongues enable them to reach the nectar deep within the flower. 

One of the flower’s special charms is the intricate patterns found within its cup-like ‘bell.’ Varying from bloom to bloom, they’re a special treat for those who take the time for a closer look.

Comments always are welcome.

66 thoughts on “From Bluebonnets to Bluebells

    1. I’ve heard of Blue Bunny, but never had it. When I still was in Iowa, we had an independent ice cream shop we frequented, and by the time the brand began to be more popular, I already was gone. I heard about it from family members in Kansas City, and I remember thinking: Blue Bunny? I just read a bit about the company’s history — very interesting.

  1. Your circular framing is a good way to present the pattern at the base of the “bell.”

    From what you say about bluebells already starting to come out on the coastal prairies, it seems safe to conclude the coastal area blooms ahead of the state’s center. I wouldn’t expect to see any bluebells for a few weeks.

    I’ve read that Texas traditionally found bluebells so attractive that in some areas the flowers got picked clean.

    1. It’s been a long time since I thought of trying that circular framing, but it came out nicely: especially since the pattern was so regular.

      I was a little surprised to see them blooming already. In 2017 and 2018, they didn’t show up until early July, although I found them mid-June in 2019. I found this year’s first plants in April, so our rain and warm temperatures may have encouraged them.

      I’ve read about that over-picking of bluebells. You’ve reminded me of the fate of white beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis). When I last was in Kansas, I was told that it became so popular for weddings they began telling people to stop, already: their over-picking was eliminating colonies;

    1. What a great way of seeing it, Laurie. Now that you’ve said that, I see it as a little island, sporting some ‘trees’ and surrounded by a purple reef.

  2. Nature’s wildflowers add so much color to any landscape. A metro park near me features Virginia Bluebells along a well-shaded creek. Eventually the warmer days in June put them back to sleep until the next spring.

    1. I’ve never seen your Virginia bluebells, but of course every spring there are photos galore of ‘bluebell woods.’ It’s hard not to wish our spring flowers could stay around a little longer, but there always is something else to celebrate once they’re gone.

  3. Lovely photographs of a really beautiful bloom!

    The last image looks like a hand-painted dish adorned with gourmet delicacies.

    Speaking of dishes, time for a bowl of Eustomia exaltalum home-made vanilla ice cream.

    1. I suspect the pollinators see it in exactly that way: an array of gourmet delicacies meant just for them. I’m not so fond of pollen myself, but a big bowl of ice cream? I’m there!

    1. It is mandala-like, isn’t it? I was delighted to find a flower sufficiently open to get that sort of image. In the past, I’ve always focused on the smooth curves of the buds, or more oblique views of the flower’s interior.

  4. Lovely post, Linda! I didn’t realize “blue bell” was named for a real flower, nor did I know what a gorgeous closeup this beauty provides. That looks like a kaleidoscope or one of those adult coloring mandalas.

    1. I almost described it as kaleidoscopic, Debbie. Give it a twist, and see how it changes. It’s interesting how focusing on one aspect of a flower — like its interior — can show it off in a new way. This one certainly profited from the closer view.

      1. Luckily it has not YET become too hot, but I’m afraid that won’t last too long, even if the long-term forecast predicts a cooer summer than usual. We really enjoyed the cool weather in Ireland.

        1. I’ll bet you did. There’s a reason as many Texans as can will head to the mountains or lakes in August. Well, or even in July, for all that!

  5. I recall reading somewhere (correctly, I hope) that the Texas Bluebell was Lady Bird’s favorite flower. It’s obvious why! Nice set of photos, Linda!

    1. I’ve read about Lady Bird’s prefernce for this flower, but I didn’t include it because I’ve also read that firewheel and Winkler’s gaillardia were her ‘favorites.’ I suspect that she might have been inclined toward the same attitude I take: my favorite flower is the one I’m looking at! I do love these bluebells, and the similarly colored eryngo species: of course, there’s white prickly poppy, and… and… There’s no end to it!

    1. Isn’t that something? I’ve known that the interiors of the flowers are pretty fancy, but this is the nicest photo I’ve been able to get of the pattern.

    1. If I’m lucky, I’ll find some white ones this year. There was an area of the Brazoria refuge where they set up shop for a couple of years, but I think mowing might have done them in. Or not: at least I know where to look for them. White ones with deep purple interiors are quite a sight.

    1. That’s true for everything, from a flower to a person. Prickly thistles and prickly people still can be beautiful — we just have to look more closely, and more carefully!

    1. It is. It seems that E. grandiflorum also is native to Texas, but I’ve never seen it. I assumed it was a cultivar. It’s interesting that the Japanese grew so fond of it; they’ve produced some glorious flowers.

    1. It was worth ‘going off-road’ to get a better look at that flower’s center. It amused me that the edges of its petals had been significantly nibbled, but the center was pristine, and just waiting for its photo shoot!

    1. At this point, we’re edging into summer. The spring ephemerals are gone, the mostly-spring flowers are fading, and the beauties that mark our summer season are beginning to emerge. It seems as though time is passing faster than usual, but we all know how that happens with age!

  6. I do love the blue bells. they took a big hit, almost getting wiped out some decades back so many people were digging them up for their gardens. It’s good to see they recovered. I tried the hybrids available at nurseries a couple of times but they never did well so I gave that up.

    1. I’ve read about that over-picking, and a couple of other people mentioned it. There’s a white flower in Kansas that suffered the same fate. It’s a penstemon that’s come to be known as the ‘brides’ flower’ because so many were picking it in the wild for bouquets and decorations. Now, there are annual appeals to leave those flowers alone.

      If you were trying with Lisanthes, which I assume were those hybrids, I’m surprised they didn’t work for you. I looked at the various Houston gardening sites, and they seem to work here: although they often were described as an annual. But, the soil and water didn’t seem to be a problem. They surely are beautiful.

  7. Any flower that gets ice cream named after it is my kind of flower. That bit about the cows not eating it is another example of the interaction between grazers and their pastures. They came, they grazed, they left reminders.

    1. One of the most interesting tidbits I’ve read about grazing helps to explain why cattle are roaming the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge. The cows clean out some of the undergrowth, creating little ‘highways’ for the birds to use when they need to run for cover. It’s all connected, and wonderful.

  8. You were quite creative with that last photo, Linda. And I liked your statement about it being a mandala. And I know what you think about Blue Bell ice cream! You’s almost have to love that flower.

    1. When I saw the pattern so nicely displayed, ‘trimming off’ the ragged petal edges to focus on the center seemed just right. I rarely do that sort of thing, but it really worked well in this instance. As for ice cream, I’ve come to place HEB’s gelato at the top of my list, although Bluebell’s seasonal flavors like peppermint bark can’t be beat.

    1. Have you ever tried growing the related lisianthis? They have that ‘fluffier’ look that I do enjoy, but these, spread across a prairie? There’s nothing like them.

      1. I’ve never tried growing the lisianthis but I have bought them as a cut flower. They’re really pretty, so I should try growing them. It must be fabulous to see these growing on a prairie though…such a sight!

        1. I looked at the grocery store tonight, but didn’t see any lisianthis. They show up from time to time, but not regularly. They certainly would make fine photographic subjects for you!

  9. I had no idea that’s where Blue Bell ice cream was from. I love that first photo. You’ve really captured the beauty of the flowers, nicely illuminated against the background

    1. It looks as though we may have a good year for these; there were lots of plants beginning to set buds the day I took these photos. Over this holiday weekend, I intend to get back down there to see if larger colonies have developed — and perhaps to find a white variant.
      As for Blue Bell, if you haven’t seen this old, old commercial, I suspect you’ll enjoy it. Whatever people think of their product, the companyhad some marketing geniuses on staff.

  10. It’s a lovely flower. And quite different from the bluebells we see here in the east. The last shot reminds me of decorative plates that people collect (including us for a short time)

    1. It’s like mountain laurel; no one could mistake our native species for one another, and yet they bear the same name. I hadn’t thought of the circular framing creating the sense of a plate, but it sure enough does. Throw in some matching saucers and fruit bowls, some solid color cups and accessories, and you’d have something.

            1. I doubt if it’s ever been a combo. In any event, I’ve still not tasted fluffernutter, even though I finally learned what it is. I just used it as one of your regional specialties, since I forgot about lobster. There’s a candy shop in Chatham that makes and ships fluffernutter fudge, but I don’t need a half pound of the stuff.

            2. My former employer (I work for his daughter now) loved the stuff and even named his dog after it. You ought to try it at least once. I stopped because the marshmallow is filled with sugar and as a diabetic it’s a no-no even though I gorge myself on many other no-nos. I don’t have a lot of willpower when it comes to food but have restrained myself from fluff and Coke…I wonder what that combo would be like.

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