Columns written by Greg Grant and a Smith Co. Master Gardener which have appeared in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, are posted here.
Bluebonnet became Texas’ state flower in 1901
Published on Thursday, 23 March 2017 01:02 – Written by GREG GRANT, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Bluebonnets have been loved since man first trod the flower-strewn prairies of Texas. Indians wove fascinating folk tales around them. The early Spanish priests gathered the seeds and grew them around their missions. This practice gave rise to the myth that the padres had brought the plant from Spain, but this isn’t the case, as the two most common species of bluebonnets are native to Texas.
As historian Jack Maguire so aptly wrote, “It’s not only the state flower but also a kind of floral trademark almost as well known to outsiders as cowboy boots and the Stetson hat.” He goes on to affirm that “The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland.”
Texas actually has five state flowers, more or less, and they are all bluebonnets. Here is how it happened.
In the spring of 1901, the Texas Legislature got down to the serious business of selecting a state floral emblem, and the ensuing battle was hot and heavy. The National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Texas won the day. Their choice was Lupinus subcarnosus (“generally known as buffalo clover or bluebonnet,” stated the resolution) and it was passed into law on March 7, 1901, without any recorded opposition. And that’s when the polite bluebonnet war was started.
Lupinus subcarnosus is a dainty little plant that paints the sandy, rolling hills of coastal, eastern and southern Texas with sheets of royal blue in the early spring. It’s actually the most adapted bluebonnet to East Texas, but some folks thought it was the least attractive of the Texas bluebonnets. They wanted Lupinus texensis, the showier, bolder blue beauty that covers most of Central Texas and gives inspiration to many an artist.
In 1971, the Legislature handled the dilemma by adding the two species together, plus “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded,” and lumped them all into one state flower.
Among the many things the Legislature did not know then was that the big state of Texas is home to four other species of lupines and the umbrella clause makes all six of them the state flower. And, if any new species are discovered, they automatically will assume the mantle of state flower as well.
The six state flowers of Texas are:
– Lupinus subcarnosus, the original champion and still co-holder of the title, grows naturally in deep, sandy loams from Leon County southwest to LaSalle County and down to the northern part of Hidalgo County in the Valley. It is often referred to as the sandy land bluebonnet. The plant’s leaflets are blunt, sometimes notched with silky undersides. This species, which reaches peak bloom in late March, is not easy to maintain in clay soils.
– Lupinus texensis, the favorite of tourists and artists, provides the blue spring carpet of Central Texas. It is widely known as the Texas bluebonnet. It has pointed leaflets, the flowering stalk is tipped with white (like a bunny’s tail) and hits its peak bloom in late March and early April. It is the easiest of all the species to grow.
– Lupinus Havardii, also known as the Big Bend or Chisos Bluebonnet, is the most majestic of the Texas bluebonnet tribe with flowering spikes up to 3 feet. It is found on the flats of the Big Bend country in early spring, usually has seven leaflets and is difficult to cultivate outside its natural habitat.
– Lupinus concinnus is an inconspicuous little lupine, from 2 to 7 inches, with flowers that combine elements of white, rosy purple and lavender. Commonly known as the annual lupine, it is found sparingly in the Trans-Pecos region, blooming in early spring.
– Lupinus plattensis sneaks down from the north into the Texas Panhandle’s sandy dunes. It is a perennial species and grows to about 2 feet tall. It normally blooms in mid to late spring and is also known as the dune bluebonnet, the plains bluebonnet and the Nebraska Lupine.
Lupinus perennis is the most recently discovered species in Texas. This bold, beautiful perennial bluebonnet grows in sandy soils in the southeastern United States and occurs sparingly in Southeast Texas.
I once worked with legendary horticulturist Dr. Jerry Parsons in San Antonio on his bluebonnet colorization project where we developed red, white and blue Texas bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) to plant a Texas flag. I even got to help develop an Aggie maroon bluebonnet. I’ve always loved bluebonnets and wrote the following poem about them years ago. It was actually a third verse to an old song that I thought needed a bit more:
Oh the blue of our Texas bluebonnets,
is food to my weary old eyes.
Deeper than the blue ocean,
and bluer than summertime skies.
Oh how I love the bluebonnets;
no other flower compares.
I’m sure that I’ll see bluebonnets,
at the foot of the heavenly stairs.
Greg Grant is the Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. You can follow him on Facebook at Greg Grant Gardens, read his “Greg’s Ramblings” blog at arborgate.com or read his “In Greg’s Garden” in each issue of Texas Gardener magazine (texasgardener.com). For more information on local educational programming, go to smith.agrilife.org.
How to grow the “lucky” Shamrock
Published on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 17:08 – Written by Jim Powell, Smith County Master Gardener
Friday is Saint Patrick’s Day. We Americans traditionally celebrate with two symbols of this special day – the wearing of the color green and enjoying the beauty of the “lucky clover” Shamrock or Oxalis plant. “Shamrock” is the common name for three different kinds of three-leaf clovers native to Ireland. The Shamrock was chosen Ireland’s favorite emblem because of a popular legend that St. Patrick had used it to illustrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
The common name for Shamrock plants is Oxalis or woods sorrel. The plants should begin appearing in plant departments around St. Patrick’s Day. They have soft, thin, triangular leaves that are divided into three leaflets forming the clover. Two versions of Oxalis are popular in our area. Oxalis crassipes, the green leafed version has small delicate white flowers, and Oxalis triangularis, or False Shamrock, has dark purple leaves with pinkish lavender flowers.
Shamrocks can be grown both as houseplants and outside in the flower garden.Here are some suggestions for growing Shamrocks if you are lucky enough to receive a plant as a gift for St Patty’s Day, or purchase one for yourself:
Houseplants: As houseplants, they need indirect light, but not the sun because direct sun often burns the tender leaves. The ideal location for the plant is directly in front of an east-facing window, or 1 to 3 feet from a west-facing window. Keep the soil of a Shamrock moist but never soggy. Feed the Shamrock plant monthly in the spring and summer when it is actively growing, using basic houseplant food at half the recommended strength. Never feed a Shamrock plant when it is dormant and the bulbs are resting. At times the plant will look sick and lose its leaves. This dormant (resting) period, which occurs two or three times a year, is part of a growing process common to all plants like Oxalis, which are grown from bulbs. During dormancy, stop watering. Let the leaves die back naturally, then remove brown dead leaves. Generally, plants will “sleep” for about three months. Because of this dormant period, Shamrocks are not suited for growing in groups with other houseplants.
Outdoor Garden: As an outdoor plant, Oxalis crassipes makes handsome mounds of light-green foliage. It often begins blooming in late winter, but flowers more heavily in the spring. Though oxalis has a tendency to invade the lawn, it can be used quite effectively to edge a sidewalk or flower border. It also can be grown in containers or in a rock garden.
One local gardener wrote, “I love my purple Oxalis. It adds color to my shade garden as well as sunny areas and in pots. When the sun shines through it, it shows the red/purple for a nice surprise. The little pink flowers are a bonus.”
The Oxalis foliage dies back in the summer’s heat. Cut the leaves back severely when this occurs. The plant will reward you in late summer by sprouting, adding new foliage and blooming again. Propagation is obtained by dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets) at the end of a dormant cycle. Take the bulbs and replant just under the soil’s surface, or in a mix of potting soil and sand. Most Oxalis plants fold up their leaves at night, hugging them tight to the stems until daylight.
Plan to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day festivities Friday while wearing some green. If not, you may get pinched! While you are at it, look for a four-leaf clover for good luck!