D. Greg Grant
France may have the Iris, and the English their rose, but only Texas can claim the Bluebonnet.
In recent years, Dr. Jerry Parsons and Texas A&M have expanded our most famous wildflower (Lupinus texensis) into a bedding plant as well. In addition to having access to transplants, Texas gardeners also have a choice of several flower colors as well, with more on the way.
As the new colors have been introduced, it has been particularly interesting to listen to the almost political side-taking which has gone on pertaining to these "new" colors. Actually, the first new colors were here all along...only extremely rare in the wild. But as time progresses and these rare colors are allowed to naturally cross, many fantastic new colors and combinations have been observed. Nature started all the fun with blue, a few whites, and some extremely rare pinks. Then through selection and rogueing, the blues got lighter, the whites got whiter, and the pinks got redder. The next exciting step was blends between the colors. The most intruiging being the mixtures between reds and blues. Suddenly the opportunity existed for purple, lavender, magenta, and even Aggie marroon!
Several years ago while roaming the quaint inner city gardens of San Antonio with noted Navasota garden historian, Pamela Puryear, we came across an elderly hispanic woman with a charming tale...The Legend of the Pink Bluebonnet.
As Pam scribbled with the skill of a court stenographer, I listened to the old tale...
The two children scampered through the April field of wildflowers near San Antonio, on their way to the old mission church to pay their Lenten devotion. They were followed by their slower grandmother, dressed in rusty black. Sne was painfully thin and her face was seamed with many fine lines.
"Mamacita! Here is a white flower with all the blue ones!", the excited girl cried.
"Those are bluebonnets," her grandmother explained, "and sometimes, very seldom, there is a white one among them. Some even say that the Lone Star of the Texas flag was fashioned after a spot of white bluebonnets amongst a field of blue."
The little boy stood still and gestured to the bloom at his feet, "But what about this pink one then?"
The small group studied the pure pink bluebonnet a moment before the grandmother turned to the children and spoke.
"If the white ones are special, then the pink ones mean even more." She paused, "When I myself was a little girl, my mother told me a special story about these rare flowers. They seem to only grow downstream from the mission Alamo, and that is because of something which happened here many years ago."
"It was when Texas was not part of the United States, but only a remote province of Mexico. The Americanos and other foreigners had not been settled here for long, but trade was busy, and we all had hopes of a golden future for our country.
Our family owned a fine house and farm near the old cathedral. My Papa would rise early, take his tools, and work the land before the day grew too hot. Then after the noon siesta, everyone would begin to wake in the cool of the dusk. The adults would bathe in the clear river, while we children splashed in the shallows. Everyone would dance, eat, and visit until late into the evening. Sometimes there were Americanos who came to celebrate with us, but their talk always turned to politics; the men were angered because the Constitution had been overthrown by a terrible Mexican dictator.
The man all went about with frowns, and the women began to be afraid. Then came that bitter spring when we learned that the dictator was on his way to our city with many troops. Papa was torn between joining the Americanos to fortify the old mission compound, and fear for his family.
He decided to hide us in the countryside, and every time I look at the ruins of the mission chapel, I remember the fear we lived in during that time. Day and night we heard the cannons and the rifles firing in the distance. The brave new Texans fought long and hard, but in the end were overwhelmed by the Mexican troops.
After the shots had finally ended, we crept silently home in the darkness. Mama and Papa were thankful that our lives had been spared, but it broke their hearts to learn of the many who had lost their lives in that terrible battle. Mama often cried when she passed the homes where friends had fallen.
One day several years later, I found her putting a pink wildflower in a vase beside the statue of the Virgin. She told me she had found it near the river where it had once been white, but so much blood had been shed, it had taken the tint of it."
The grandmother paused, "That is why you will only find the pink ones near the river, within sight of the old mission," she said.
"So remember, the next time you see a pink bluebonnet, it is not only a pretty flower, it is a symbol for the struggle to survive and a memory of those who died so that Texas could be free."
NOTE: Interestingly enough, according to Dr. Parsons, the only place in the state where the original wild pink bluebonnets were found was along side the road, just south of downtown San Antonio.