Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

September 27, 2012

Time to plant Bluebonnet seed

Filed under: garden/flowers/landscaping — Freddie Keel @ 6:00 am

BLUE: The blue bluebonnet was, of course, already available. The only thing needed to be done with this color was to enhance seed germination and formulate a commercial production technique which would ensure a dependable seed supply.

WHITE: The white strain of bluebonnet was familiar to most local botanists yet still unknown to the majority of Texans. Photographers always treasure the opportunity to find a rare white albino bluebonnet nestled among the blues to enhance their artistic attempts. Consequently, many people knew where white populations existed.

PINK: The development of a pink bluebonnet was thought to be an impossible task. Even Carroll Abbott considered location, purification and proliferation of the pink, and eventually red, bluebonnet a bit farfetched. This great plantsman had roamed the fields of Texas his entire life and had seen only three pink bluebonnet plants. Most of his native plant friends had never seen even one!

In searching for the pink strain, the same criterion used to successfully locate and purify the white bluebonnet strain was used. People were told to collect only seed from pinks in large groups so that natural selection would have already bred some of the blue out of the pinks. However, the pinks were indeed so rare that only four locations throughout the entire state were reported. The “mother lode” of pinks was found within the city limits of San Antonio. Once a gene source was located the pink and shades thereof were added to the bluebonnet color spectrum.

Because the pink strain of bluebonnet was so rare and so special, it has been named after the mentor of this project. The ‘Abbott Pink’ bluebonnet is now a reality. Its unique and subtle beauty will always serve as a reminder of Carroll Abbott’s dedication and inspiration to all who love and appreciate nature’s rarities.

OTHER COLOR STRAINS: Like Carroll Abbott himself, the pink bluebonnet is full of surprises. The ‘Abbott Pink’ strain is providing wonderful “bonus” color hues which none could have initially imagined. The purification of a pink bluebonnet strain will eventually lead to the creation of an entirely new color variant which will make the bluebonnet without a doubt the most revered state flower in history to a certain segment of the Texas population. Geneticists indicate that for every color in nature, there exist hues or shades of that color. For instance, within the pink bluebonnet there should exist a series of shades of darker pink and, eventually, red. Another spectrum of colors should exist when blue color shades are mixed with dark pink or red to create lavender or possibly even maroon. Now isn’t there a group of Texans who might show a subtle interest in developing a maroon colored state flower? Sounds as if the Aggies may have done it again!

The additional colors of the state flower were not genetically created by man; these colors have existed for as long as bluebonnets have bloomed. The additional colors, which already existed in nature and have for hundreds of years, were simply isolated, purified and grown in large numbers. No plant breeding or genetic manipulation of bluebonnets has been done except by God. All of these colors have been developed to enhance the Texas state flower. ALL of these colors, by law, are legally the state flower. Now, for the first time in history, color patterns of the state flower can be planted and enjoyed. And, since these colors are all naturally occurring selections, they complement each other perfectly, making design and color selection almost fool-proof. There is nothing prettier than a mixed bed of pink, white and blue bluebonnets. Through working with Mother Nature, the Texas state flower can now be raised to new heights of beauty and enjoyment.

Others hasten to add: “If a bluebonnet flower is white, it shouldn’t be called a bluebonnet, it’s a whitebonnet.” The state flower is the bluebonnet, written as one word. A color variant of that flower would be properly described with the name of that color, PLUS the name of the flower. Consequently, the terms white bluebonnet, pink bluebonnet, and maroon bluebonnet are correct. Be advised that from all packets of seed or flats of transplants of bluebonnet color strains such as pink, white or ‘Worthington Blue’ there will be some plants which will bloom with the standard blue color. The new color strains are not 100 percent pure and thus will occasionally exhibit the ancestral blue and possibly other hues as well. Also, be advised that in bluebonnet stands which have been allowed to naturally reseed the mixing of blues with pinks or whites will, in several years, result in reversion to the blue color due to cross-pollination and the subsequent masking of the less dominant color strain.

BLUEBONNET BONUS: NITROGEN THE NATURAL WAY

It’s ironic that the name Lupinus is derived from the Latin word lupus, meaning wolf. In fact, at one time bluebonnets were known as wolf flowers because they appeared to devour the soil, as they were often found growing in thin rocky soils which didn’t support any other plant life. But it was later discovered that bluebonnets did not rob, but enhanced the soil.

In nature there exists a form of natural fertilizer which is pure and clean. It is the fertilizer, especially nitrogen, produced by soil organisms. The best known of these nitrogen- fixing soil organisms is a bacterium, known as Rhizobium, which lives on the roots of legumes such as clover, alfalfa and vetch. The relationship between this bacterium and the plant is referred to as symbiotic, meaning that both organisms involved benefit. The plant receives the much needed nitrogen from the bacterium which has the ability to take nitrogen from the air. The bacterium, in return, lives on the roots and receives life support from the plant. Man benefits as well because the plant, which has been nurtured by the bacteria-formed nitrogen rather than applied fertilization, can then be utilized as a nitrogen source when the plant tissue decomposes. The nitrogen produced from this system is “clean” because there is no salt or chemical toxin potential.

The use of legumes specifically as a source of nitrogen has not been a common practice in Texas. The main reason for this has been the expense involved in their establishment. There IS, however, a legume which thrives in all areas of Texas, produces nitrogen via Rhizobium bacteria, and is the state flower as well- – the bluebonnet. The Texas bluebonnet belongs to the legume or bean family (Fabaceae or Leguminosae). Bluebonnets are probably the most important native rangeland legume in Texas, often occupying hundreds of acres of rolling hillsides during the cool (fall, winter and spring) months. The roots of these legumes are highly nodulated, making them important sources of nitrogen for the soil. Because lupines are able to invade soils low in nitrogen, they have become established in disturbed areas. This is the reason why certain species are used as cover crops for the enrichment of agricultural soils.

Bluebonnet plants have the capacity , with the help of Rhizobium, to produce as much nitrogen as soybeans, which often yield as much as 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Bluebonnets are not a preferred food of deer, as are clover and vetch. Therefore, survival of bluebonnet plants in areas heavily populated with deer is ensured. The bluebonnet is also extremely cold tolerant, so freezes normally will not kill the plants.

BLUEBONNET CULTURE AT A GLANCE

  • Plant in full sun, in soil which drains well and doesn’t stay wet for long periods of time.
  • Utilize transplants or chemically scarified seed
  • Barely cover seeds with soil, don’t bury the crown of transplants
  • Water seeds only on the day of planting and transplants only when the top one inch of soil dries
  • No applications of fertilizer are required but are helpful and will cause more abundant bloom
  • Interplant with pansies and other annuals for winter-long color
  • Don’t overwater!
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