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2009-04-09 digital edition

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2009-04-09 / Community News

A Bluebonnet By Any Other Name?

By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn

Davy Crockett once famously said that Texas is "the garden spot of the world." If there's one icon that helps Texas live up to Mr. Crockett's compliment, it's our state flower, the bluebonnet. Every spring, the bluebonnet covers miles of Texas countryside in a sea of blue.

Having just one state flower, as other states do, was not good enough for the State of Texas. In fact, Texas has five different species of the bluebonnet as our official state flower.

In 1901, the Texas Legislature took on what might have been an easy task in a less diverse state— selecting the state flower. Debate was heated, with different groups and legislators lobbying intensely for their favorite species. One legislator, Phil Clement of Mills, Texas, made an emotional argument for the cotton boll, because cotton was one of Texas' lead crops.

Another legislator from Uvalde, State Representative John Nance Garner, fought for the prickly pear cactus, lauding its durability and the beauty of its blooms. Because of his enthusiasm for the prickly pear, he was dubbed "Cactus Jack"—a nickname that stuck with him for the rest of his life. Cactus Jack went on to serve as Vice President to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The most compelling argument was made by John M. Green, of Cuero, Texas, with the help of an organization called the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Texas. When Green rose to the podium to suggest the bluebonnet, someone on the floor called out, "What the devil is a bluebonnet?" One explanation was given comparing the bluebonnet to the sunbonnets worn by Texas women in the pioneer days to protect their faces from the sun. Another called the bluebonnet by its Spanish nickname "el conejo" or "the rabbit" because of its resemblance to the tail of a rabbit.

Finally, representatives from the Colonial Dames organization stepped up to make their case for the bluebonnet with the help of a visual aide. They presented a painting of bluebonnets by Miss Mode Walker of Austin, which brought on a "deafening" round of applause. The bluebonnet had stolen the show. A resolution making the bluebonnet, specifically the Lupinus subcarnosus, the official state flower of Texas was signed by Governor Joseph D. Sayers on March 7, 1901.

The debate did not end there, however. Not everyone was content with the selection of the Texas Legislature. Different groups argued that the Lupinus subcarnosus was not the most attractive of the bluebonnet family. They claimed another species, the Lupinus texensis, was bolder, more beautiful and should be named the official flower. For the next 70 years, this debate would ensue. In 1971, a solution was finally reached. Governor Preston Smith signed a resolution on March 8, 1971, designating both species of the bluebonnet as the official state flower, along with "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded." As it turns out, three other species have been discovered.

The 70-year debate did prove one thing: Texans were passionate about bluebonnets. Over the years, this bright blue flower, which usually peaks in late March and early April, has been a source of inspiration for artists, poets, and photographers. Even the Texas Highway Department was moved to incorporate the bluebonnet in a landscaping and beautification project in the 1930s. As a result of their efforts, Texans and those traveling throughout our state can see fields of bluebonnets alongside most of Texas' major highways every spring.

Towns across Texas have developed wildflower tours and festivals to showcase their bluebonnets as the best and most colorful in the state. Every April, thousands of visitors flock to the historic cotton town of Chappell Hill for the official "Texas Bluebonnet Festival," complete with bluebonnet contests and crafts.

I hope this spring we can all pause to enjoy the beauty of our state's flower. Indeed, the bluebonnet runs wild throughout Texas and deep in our state's history.

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