Field of Texas Bluebonnets

Wildflowers and Empty Spaces

Don’t want no other shade of blue. But you.

Leave it to Taylor Swift to come up with the perfect line for Bluebonnets.

It took just one unintentional-but-perfectly-timed Spring visit to Austin to become smitten with the royal blue wildflower waves of Texas. But was the Bluebonnet just another pretty face? The folklore of my new flower crush did not disappoint.

The Bluebonnet origin stories are filled with epic battles that broke the sky, mysterious blue-cloaked nuns, and evil wolves snatching sheep. But nothing fits quite like the tale of a Plains Indian girl filling a barren landscape with wildflowers.

Bluebonnet watercolor with kindness quote that reads: "Kindness fills our empty spaces with wildflowers"
Kindness fills our empty spaces with wildflowers

The story goes like this . . .

A little orphaned girl sits quietly in the shadows of a campfire as the Great Spirit speaks to her people. Selfishness has brought suffering, floods, and then drought. Only the ashes of the tribe’s most prized possession scattered to the four winds will make amends. After nightfall and all is silent, the tearful and determined little girl leaves her teepee. She has only a beloved cornhusk doll with a bluebird feather to offer, but she lights a torch from the smoldering fire and surrenders the doll to its flames. After the ashes cool, she releases them in every direction. When the tribe awakens, color has returned to the land. Everywhere the ashes touched is now a blue flower, a buffalo herd roams, and rain begins to fall.

The girl becomes known as “She Who Loved Her Tribe Dearly” and the Great Spirit sends the Bluebonnet back every spring as a reminder of the young girl who was willing to give her greatest possession to save her tribe.

It takes courage to be kind. But when we find the courage, the empty spaces are filled with resilient and beautiful wildflowers.

No Bluebonnets Left Behind

The Bluebonnet was an obvious choice for the coveted Texas State Flower, but it turns out that Texas actually has six State Flowers. Why? It was too hard to pick just one kind of Bluebonnet. After 70 years of arguing, the government finally threw its hands in the air and included all identified and “any other variety of Bluebonnet not heretofore recorded.” I like that someone finally decided to do the kind thing and not leave any Bluebonnets behind.

So, yes, Texans have a little pride in their Bluebonnets. That doesn’t quite explain the shocking amount of them covering every vacant space along highways and freeways and any roadside you roam.

Those flowers are there by design and get a big helping hand from the Texas Wildflower Program. The State is committed to establishing roadsides that blend into their surroundings, help conserve water, control erosion, and provide habitat to wildlife. It’s a conservation kindness loop!

Originally thought to be a flower that robbed the soil like wolves rob sheep (hence the flower’s Latin name “Lupinus” or wolf), experts now know that the wildflowers actually enrich the soil and feed it with nitrogen. The Wildflower Program protects and sows 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed per year. And while the flowers now attract a booming tourism industry, visitors should know to “look, but don’t touch.” Picking or trampling on flowers for photos is discouraged so that the seeds can re-establish for next year.

Flower Nerd Bonus Fact

Bluebonnets need the bees for fertilization. The red dot on the blue petals was once thought to be a sign of pollination. That little red mark will actually always appear on the fifth day of blooming. I guess I had some lucky timing on the field I photographed.

You may not be able to send a bouquet of Bluebonnets to someone special, but you can send a gratitude card or print of the watercolor art in the Kindness Roots shops. The photograph is also available in print on Etsy.

Read more about wildflower lore on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website or check out the beautiful picture book by Tomie dePaola.

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