Every spring, Texas wildflowers pepper rolling hills around the state in various shades of white yellow, pink and purple.
But there’s one particular color that Texans flock to view: blue.
The state flower — the bluebonnet — is expected to make its appearance again this spring, despite precipitation having been abysmal across most of the state, including Dallas County.
Wildflowers, including bluebonnets, are expected to pop later in spring, according to a forecast from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
“They’re certainly out there and you can see them, but it’s not the most spectacular we’ve ever had,” Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the center’s director of horticulture, said of the blooms in central Texas.
Ennis is expecting an overabundance of bluebonnets, and it’s a waiting game to see when rain or temperatures inspire the flowers to bloom, said Erica Todd, the city spokeswoman. The blooms are expected to peak in the third week of April, as usual.
“We don’t have any evidence to show that they’re not going to be just as abundant as they have in the past,” Todd said.
The city’s welcome center sees at least 1,000 people a day and is one of many places around North Texas where visitors can view the blooms.
The bluebonnet has been the state’s flower since 1901, beating out the cotton boll and the cactus, according to Texas A&M archives.
After so many years, what makes the beloved flower so unique?
Here’s everything you need to know about these blue beauties.
Those purple flowers you see popping now are not necessarily bluebonnets
Though there are many varieties of bluish, purple and lavender-colored wildflowers, the initial purple patches popping up across North Texas should not be confused with bluebonnets.
Some of the purple flowers we’re seeing now are called grape hyacinth. The flowers are smaller and round, like tiny grapes, and the leaves are thin and narrow as opposed to the larger blooms, petals and leaves of the bluebonnet.
They’re tough Texans
While bluebonnets may not be having their best year, they are well-adapted and enjoy well-drained, deep soils.
Their seeds have an extremely hard protective coat, ensuring there are plenty for next year’s crop, said Texas A&M extension horticulturist Larry Stein.
About 95% of the state is experiencing at least abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Many areas of the state, including North Texas, are experiencing drought conditions.
“A good rain would really push them out, but we just really haven’t had rain since October,” said Stein, who is at the Uvalde AgriLife Research and Extension Center in South Texas.
There, he expects blooms to be sparse. But further up in central and North Texas, the blue blossoms should be more significant, he said.
More than blue
Just like people have different-colored eyes and hair, bluebonnets naturally come in a variety of hues, DeLong-Amaya said. While the standard color is sky blue or a darker, cobalt blue, she said, sometimes the flowers are white, pale blue — and even pink.
It took about 30 years for a red bluebonnet to be developed by former A&M horticulture specialist Jerry Parsons, said Stein, who helped develop the hue.
They wanted to make a Texas flag from the state’s flower, but a red bluebonnet didn’t exist, Stein said.
“There are very rare instances where you will find a pink bluebonnet,” he said.
The pink bluebonnets were isolated so they wouldn’t pollinate with blue or white colors, and over time a red strain of the plant was discovered.
Now, there are Aggie-colored bluebonnets.
State flower debate
After the bluebonnet, also known as the “buffalo clover,” was declared the state flower by the Texas Legislature in 1901, a “polite bluebonnet war,” was started, according to an archive from Parsons on the A&M website.
The species of bluebonnet chosen is “not really very pretty,” Stein said. People wanted the showier, bolder-colored bluebonnet as the flower.
Seventy years later, the legislature solved the problem with “typical political maneuvering” and lumped all bluebonnets into the state flower — even undiscovered ones — the archive said.
This has resulted in five different bluebonnets being considered the state flower, Stein said.
Are bluebonnets weeds?
The plants are hardy, Stein said, so much that ranchers consider them a weed and cattle won’t eat them.
Bluebonnets can be a sign of overgrazing because once grass is gone, the flowers move in, DeLong-Amaya said.
But, she said, “weed” is a subjective term when it comes to the blue blooms. At the Wildflower Center, a weed is something that grows in unwanted places.
DeLong-Amaya’s distinction? Big, showy flowers are wildflowers. The others are weeds.
Bluebonnets and other wildflowers are also planted by the Texas Department of Transportation, which buys and sows about 30,000 pounds of these seeds each year, creating a display that draws tourists from across the country, according to its website.
Can you pick them?
While Texans are known to be serious about their bluebonnets, and it may not be illegal to pick them, there are myths that say picking the native plants is bad luck.
Trespassing to pick the flowers or take photos also is not legal.
The flowers also have a short period of time to leave seeds for next year, so it’s important not to disrupt their lifecycle, DeLong-Amaya said. They are annuals and won’t grow back from the same root, she said.
The Texas Department of Transportation also discourages picture-taking that damages the flowers because if too many are trampled, they will die before they seed.
But even Ennis — seeing upwards of 30,000 people a year — doesn’t see much damage to the blooms, Todd said, and people inherently know not to bother the bluebonnets.