Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge
Although I’d never considered the Attwater Prairie Chicken Refuge as a source for bluebonnets, an impulsive decision to swing by for a visit revealed acres and acres of the flowers covering the land.
These weren’t the Lupinus texensis of central Texas’s gently rolling hills, but Lupinus subcarnosus: the sandyland bluebonnet. Declared the state flower in 1901, Lupinus subcarnosus competed for years with the larger and showier Lupinus texensis for pride of place. In 1971, the state legislature resolved the conflict by declaring that the Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) and “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded” also should be considered the state flower; today, six recognized species share the honor.
As I walked into the field, the appropriateness of the name ‘sandyland’ became obvious; the covering of loose sand reminded me of barrier island prairies. The sandy conditions also suggested I was seeing white prickly poppies in the distance, but walking farther in I discovered something quite different: bull nettles. One of the nastiest plants I know, the flowers are lovely, and butterflies visit them without fear, but the sting from the hairs covering every other part of the plant is remarkably painful. Having learned about that sting in the past, I looked, but didn’t touch.
Texas bull nettle ~ Cnidoscolus texanus
The day’s greatest delight was a scattering of white bluebonnets throughout the field. I’ve occasionally found one or two white flowers, but on this occasion I counted a full dozen in the area I explored.
What I’d never before seen were pale bluebonnets: lovely, soft hues that were immensely appealing.
Even more fun were the variegated bluebonnets blooming in the middle of the field. Whether variations are more common in Lupinis subcarnosis, or whether other conditions caused them to appear, I can’t say, but I’m certain that any budding genticist would have had a field day in this field.