Those Texas Baby Blues

When the bluebonnets carpet Texas roadsides and fields each spring, every parent or grandparent with a cell phone is on the lookout for the best patch to take photos of their precious little ones. Professional photographers can be booked months in advance.

So loved are the flowers, it’s a common myth that it’s illegal to pick bluebonnets. It’s not. Trekking across private property is, and the possibility of encountering someone’s bull isn’t worth the risk. Just as beautiful roses can have nasty thorns, the lovely bluebonnets can conceal rattlesnakes stalking rodents and rabbits. Take care.

Bluebonnets–named for their deep blue color and bonnet-shaped petals–have been loved since man first crossed the vast prairies of Texas. American Indians wove fascinating folk tales around them. Early-day Spanish priests gathered the seeds and grew the flowers around their missions. This practice gave rise to the myth that the padres had brought the plant from Spain, but this can’t be true since the two predominant species of bluebonnets are found growing naturally only in Texas, and nowhere else in the world.

In the spring of 1901, the Texas Legislature got down to the serious business of selecting a state flower and although the ensuing battle was fierce–among the contenders were the cotton boll and the cactus flower–the bluebonnet prevailed.

Like many states, the Texas roadsides greatly benefitted from the ardent effort and passion of one person–Lady Bird Johnson, former first lady and wife of President Lyndon Johnson. More than 200 beautification and conservation laws were passed, and 47 national parks created during the Johnson presidency. That’s more than during any administration before or since.

Lady Bird Johnson is remembered for turning the entire nation’s consciousness toward the need for better scenic views across America. The signature achievement that gained her this reputation and laid the groundwork for roadside enhancement and conservation was the Highway Beautification Act. – the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center