Sandy’s Garden ... Bluebonnets

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I enjoy relaxing in the garden on a Sunday morning.

Lapping up the sunshine and enjoying a cold pre-lunch gin and tonic while perusing the Sunday papers … oh, all right, so I can only dream of doing this on a November day in Scotland.

Like me, you must have noticed that a number of books have been, or are about to be, published dealing with the life and death of President John F. Kennedy. We are, of course, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination in Dallas, Texas, on 22 November 1963, an event which sparked sundry conspiracy theories about its perpetrator, ranging from his own security men to a gunman acting on the orders of the Vice-President. My personal view, for what it is worth, is that he really was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who never stood trial for this killing, being himself shot dead by night-club owner Jack Ruby two days after his arrest.

Whatever, thoughts of Texas brought to mind the popular song “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” which bloom I had assumed was that state’s official flower. Wrong! I learn from the internet that, “On March 7, 1901, the Twenty-seventh Texas Legislature adopted the bluebonnet, flower of the annual legume Lupinus subcarnosus, as the state flower. The flower’s popular name derives from its resemblance to a sunbonnet. It has also been called buffalo clover, wolf flower, and, in Spanish, el conejo. On March 8, 1971, the legislation was amended to include L. texensis and any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded.”

Lupinus subcarnosus is a member of the same family as the familiar lupin, although the flowers do not immediately suggest that. It is an annual, meaning that it grows from seed, flowers, produces its own seed and dies in a single year. Its flowers are much more reminiscent of those of the sweet pea, as are the green seed pods which succeed the flowers. These bright blue flowers open to reveal a white centre, which turns purple after the flower has been pollinated. Quite a small plant … it grows to between 15 and 35 centimetres in height (say, 6 to 14 inches in old money) … it was originally found only in sandy soils east of Austin and San Antonio in Texas. This extremely limited habitat resulted in the plant becoming seriously endangered as increasing acreages of fertile soil were brought under cultivation; and in consideration of it having been adopted as the state flower of Texas, that state’s Highway Department initiated a programme of plant conservation which resulted in bluebonnets being extensively planted along roadsides, a programme which means that in late March and throughout April every year many roads are lined with brilliant blue verges.

In the folklore of the native tribes who first inhabited the area, Lupinus subcarnosus was regarded as a gift from the Great Spirit; and the bluebonnet continues to be a favourite subject for artists and photographers, with several locations staging festivals which feature the flower at the peak of bloom. But the legislators who approved Lupinus subcarnosus as the official flower on 7 March 1901 seem to have been unaware that several varieties of bluebonnets grew in the state. That designation sparked a debate which raged for over seventy years before the legislation was amended in 1971 to include L. texensis “and any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded.”

Inevitably, the flowers have appealed to songwriters and lyricists, as in, “Those Texas bluebonnets how sweetly they grow / O’er all the wide prairies they’re scattered like snow / They make all the meadows as blue as the skies / Reminding me of my little darling’s blue eyes” and so on for many more verses. I think the flowers are more attractive than the words!

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society