By Tracy Hobson Lehmann
San Antonio Express-News
FREDERICKSBURG, TEXAS: How long
does it take to grow a Texas flag? The
quick answer is about eight months. But the Lone Star banner that's
in red, white and blue bluebonnets at Wildseed Farms has been in the
more than 20 years.
This flag-sowing project required far more than laying out straight
Precisely planted in shades of red, white and blue, 9,000 bluebonnets
the Lone Star flag at Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg. The project,
spearheaded by horticulturist Jerry Parsons, led to discoveries about
Visitors who lean on the cedar fence surrounding the 40-by-60-foot
flowers can appreciate the precise planting of the familiar blue lupines
their recessive-gene brethren that make up the stripes and star. What
can't see, though, is one man's determination woven through all 9,000
plants, especially the 3,000 red bluebonnets.
As the sweet perfume wafts across the banner, viewers won't sense
growers experienced as temperatures plunged to 24 degrees as the flowers
began to bloom. Nor will they know the anxiety that gripped the planters
when hail pummeled an area just 5 miles from the farm right after
painted the green rectangle in red, white and blue.
What viewers soak in with awe, though, is what some call the crown
Antonio horticulturist Jerry Parsons' career.
It was in 1982 that a native plant enthusiast planted the germ for
state flag from the state flower, Lupinus texensis, for the Texas
sesquicentennial in 1986. Parsons, a vegetable specialist with Texas
Cooperative Extension, took the bait.
I said, "That ain't no hill for a climber. We've already got
the blue; we've
got a third of it done!," recalls the horticulturist in his trademark
Tennessee twang. "And we're just getting to the red 20
White bluebonnets, albinos that occur with relative frequency, were
to proliferate compared with red. Parsons gathered seed from white
found in fields and along roadsides, planted controlled crops and
them until he had enough to fulfill the 1986 plan.
Through the next two decades, though, he discovered the depths of
which tested his perseverance in the quest for a "true red"
also unlocked secrets that have helped to tame the wildflower into
profitable nursery product.
Little was known about the flowering plant that is part of the legume
when Parsons began dabbling with it. Horticulturists didn't even realize
that, unlike its self-pollinating hybrid bean and pea cousins, the
cross-pollinated by bees.
Parsons' first big breakthrough was cracking the lupine's seed coat.
wants the seeds to germinate in 25 years," he says. Growers need
sprout in 10 days so they don't rot."
He surmounted the germination hurdle by soaking seeds in a caustic
to create tiny holes in their coating. That advance in scarification
growers to begin raising bluebonnet transplants. Not only did that
Parsons to increase his crops, it also translated to a multimillion-dollar
revenue generator for the Texas nursery industry.
"There were no commercial bluebonnet transplants before we started
project," he says. "That was a byproduct."
With better germination and commercial crops of bluebonnets, seeds
plentiful and therefore more affordable.
"You could go five years without a crop of bluebonnets when relying
on nature," Parsons says. "They would sell for $25 a pound.
I haven't seen
them go for more than $12 a pound in years."
And better germination means commercial growers need only a fraction
seed to get a crop. Whereas it used to take 20 pounds of bluebonnet
get an acre of plants, growers now can get the same results with about
pounds of scarified seed, he says.
While those strides were important, Parsons still wasn't seeing red.
patch of pink bluebonnets found at General McMullen Drive and U.S.
90 showed promise but yielded only a small number of pink flowers
fewer of the desired deep pink blossoms.
Working with former Bexar County Extension horticulturist and A&M
graduate Greg Grant, Parsons persevered.
"I may not be the brightest boy on the block, but I stay the
says, punctuating the self-effacing statement with a roar of laughter.
In the narrow window of spring bloom, he scrutinized the hues in
volunteer-tended fields he had enlisted Bexar County farmers such
Verstraetens and Verstuyfts to plant alongside vegetable crops and
in La Pryor, Texas, to plant in their grain fields. Using a Swiss
as the benchmark for the desired red, Parsons and Grant plucked all
best colors from the fields. With each crop, he selects the purest
the color he's seeking and pulls out plants that don't match the standard.
He then collects seed from the chosen plants and grows a larger crop
next year. Larry Stein, a horticulture specialist for the Texas
Extension Service and Texas A&M University graduate, has taken
up the banner
of intensifying the red bluebonnet and selecting other bluebonnet
such as purple.
Because each of the off-color plants results from a recessive gene,
crops try to revert to their true blue. Growers must be quick to yank
percent of the crop that blooms blue, lest they cross-pollinate in
field. To keep a selection pure, it can't be grown within two miles
blue bluebonnet, Parsons says.
Along the way, Parsons isolated and propagated lavender bluebonnets,
'Barbara Bush Lavender' and pink bluebonnets, named 'Abbott Pink'
late Carroll Abbott, the Kerrville, Texas, plantsman who dreamed up
idea. And there's the maroon bluebonnet that's grown out of the project.
Parsons is quick to stress that he's not tampering with the sacred
flower. All the colors occur in nature. He has just multiplied Mother
Nature's anomalies through a tedious selection process.
The maroon, first named 'Texas Maroon' now is called 'Alamo Fire'.
being propagated in a three-acre field at Wildseed Farms, a commercial
wildflower operation east of Fredericksburg on U.S. 290. Owner John
also has a 15-acre plot of the fiery state flower at his farm near
"If John wasn't growing them, they wouldn't be there," Parsons
says. "If you
don't have a grower willing to put the time, effort and resources--and
resources are considerable--into growing a new plant, it will perish."
While the red bluebonnet met resistance from Texans steadfast in their
of blue bluebonnets, the variety was snapped up in Europe, where it
as an annual flowering plant. After the deep red flower garnered the
prestigious Flora Select award in Europe, Burpee Seed Company contracted
with Thomas to supply seeds for its catalog.
Even with adequate seed supply for planting the flag, progress was
go. Peterson Brothers Nursery in San Antonio, which had furnished
resources for over 20 years of bluebonnet color and transplant development,
grew the red, white and blue bluebonnet transplants for the flag.
"The plants grew so fast because of unusually warm temperatures
September we were about to lose them to overgrowth," he recalls.
University horticulturists and Peterson Brothers Nursery are conducting
plant growth regulator trials to determine how to prevent this problem
add shelf-life to bluebonnet transplants in the future. Parsons'
volunteers worked as tenaciously as their leader in moving the little
to four-inch pots graciously furnished by ColorSpot Nurseries (Lone
Division) in San Antonio.
After transferring the plants from San Antonio to the greenhouses
Wildseed Farms, the field was too wet for planting. Finally, working
diagram by interior designer Steven Burch, a crew got the 9,000 plants
"We make it look easy," says Thomas, referring to having
the plants bloom at
the same time. But coordinating the three varieties that grow at different
rates is tricky. For instance, whites outpace the other colors, so
in the ground two weeks after the red and blue. Now, Thomas and Parsons
the reds will hold their color as long as the blue blooms.
"God is the general contractor in this," says Thomas, who
investment in the flag at almost $20,000, not counting the labor of
people who spent almost two days planting. As Thomas gazes across
of red, white and blue bluebonnets, the Lone Star spectacle tickles
"This is about as Texas as it gets."
here to view Jerry's Bluebonnet Gallery
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE BLUEBONNET TEXAS STATE FLAG:
REMEMBER THE FROG STORY:
There once was a bunch of tiny frogs,...... who arranged a running
The goal was to reach the top of a very high tower.
A big crowd had gathered around the tower to see the race and cheer
The race began...
Honestly: No one in crowd really believed that the tiny frogs would
reach the top of the tower.
You heard statements such as:
"Oh, WAY too difficult!!"
"They will NEVER make it to the top."
or:"Not a chance that they will succeed. The tower is too high!"
The tiny frogs began collapsing. One by one...
... Except for those, who in a fresh tempo, were climbing higher and
The crowd continued to yell,
"It is too difficult!!! No one will make it!"
More tiny frogs got tired and gave up...
..But ONE continued higher and higher and higher...
This one wouldn't give up!
At the end everyone else had given up climbing the tower. Except for
one tiny frog who, after a big effort, was the only one who reached
THEN all of the other tiny frogs naturally wanted to know how this
frog managed to do it?
A contestant asked the tiny frog how he had found the strength to
succeed and reach the goal?
It turned out...That the winner was DEAF!!!!
The wisdom of this story is: Never listen to other people's tendencies
to be negative or pessimistic.....because they take your most
dreams and wishes away from you -- the ones you have in your heart!
Always think of the power words have.
Because everything you hear and read will affect your actions!
And above all: Be DEAF when people tell YOU that you can not fulfill