In 1892 Washington State designated the coast rhododendron, Rhododendron macrophyllum, to be its official state flower, and other states added themselves to the list with Texas not far behind in 1901. In contrast, Pennsylvania, for instance, didn't choose its state flower (the mountain laurel, Kalmia matifolia) until 1933, and Rhode Island, first in so many other things, was the last in 1968, selecting the wood violet (Viola sororia). Many state flowers sound like the punchline to "who is buried in Grant's tomb?" (Grant.) For instance, the state flower of Massachusetts is the Mayflower (ba-da-bing). Predictably, California has the California poppy and Florida, the orange blossom.

Perhaps the most recognized state flower of all is the Texas Bluebonnet.

To settle the original dispute between the three contenders in 1901, the cotton boll, the cactus flower and the bluebonnet, a painting of the bluebonnet by Miss Mode Walker of Austin, TX was actually brought into the House of Representatives and displayed. Then the vote of the legislature was unananimous: the State Flower would be the bluebonnet. However, apparently the legislators were unaware of the variety of bluebonnets existing, each adapted to a different ecosystem in Texas. So which Lupinus in Texas is the Lupinus? It turns out, any blue lupine you find growing in Texas is THE state flower. The official citation reads "Lupinus texensis, Texas Bluebonnet or Texas Lupine, Lupinus havardii, Big Bend Bluebonnet or Chisos Bluebonnet, Lupinus argenteus, Silvery Lupine, Lupinus concinnus, Bajada Lupine, Lupinus plattensis, Nebraska Lupine, Lupinus subcarnosus, Buffalo Clover, "or any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded."fields of bluebonnets, c. frostweed

The bluebonnets of Texas are a wildflower, native to Texas and beloved by most Texans. Knowing my personal preference for blue, it is not surprising that they should become a favorite with me, too. Before my husband's company flew in to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, it flew into Austin, the state capital. We made the trek from Austin to Fort Worth several times during the winter of 2011-12, and wondered, would we/should we be moving here? Our last trip, in April 2012, was the one during which we selected a house to rent and we knew that we would be moving soon. And it was then I saw the bluebonnets for the first time.

They are not high above the ground. The whole effect is a bit like a field of grape hyacinth, except of course, bluebonnets grow in full sun. The different species grow at slightly different times and heights, so it's difficult to complain that the wrong bluebonnets are growing. Cultivars have been selectively bred with lavender, pink, or white blossoms. However, unless you prevent cross-polination, most bluebonnets will end up blue.

Many people believe it is illegal to pick bluebonnets, but that is a paticularly stubborn urban legend. It is legal to pick bluebonnets; it's just terribly rude, thoughtless, inconsiderate and short-sighted, says Texas Twisted. Snopes, the website for differentiating between urban legend and fact, agrees. There are surely regulations about how best to comport yourself on the roadside, but if you grow bluebonnets on your own property, you may certainly pick them. You may need to postpone mowing until the bluenonnets have reseeed themselves; they are not a perennial, but a self-seeding annual. To grow bluebonnets, you need to plant them in late summer or fall and not be fussy about when they bloom.

Every year there is huge speculation about the bluebonnets. Was there enough rain? Did the Highway Department spread enough seed? Was there too much rain? Here's a blog just for the 2013 Bluebonnet season. There is even, apparently, a FaceBook goup dedicated to bluebonnet-watching.

Like other members of the lupine family, Lupinus texensis and its relatives respond well to stratifying and scarifying. The seeds live for years or decades in the soil to be germinated by the right combination of rain and temperature. They enjoy sharp drainage and poor soil. Look for them now by the side of highways and in fields.

all photos c. frostweed. thanks to bloggers and bluebonnet lovers everywhere.