When politicians come into conflict with the members of a women’s lineage society, you know that they will lose. It happened in March 1901. According to the Texas Handbook, the 27th Texas Legislature was considering what would be named as the Texas State Flower. You and I, today, have become quite comfortable with the bluebonnet (Lupinus sp.) as being our flower. We all consider it a good choice. But when politicians get involved, the good choice is not always a foregone conclusion.
Some people thought the cotton boll would be a perfect symbol of Texas agriculture. One politician would put forth another plant and another would suggest yet another. The final decision, though, came down to the opinion of a State Representative who would one day be the Vice President of the United States and the influence of the Texas Chapter of the Colonial Dames of America. The politician in question was John Nance Garner.
Garner was a representative from South Texas. He thought the flower of the prickly pear cactus would be an ideal representative of the state. Garner, when one considers his personality, seems natural as a representative from Uvalde to be putting forth the cactus. He thought the flower was quite beautiful; and he, as a prickly fellow himself, had a reputation of hard-ball politics, drinking, and serious games of poker. Later on in life when he served in national politics as Vice President to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he ‘worked’ the halls of Congress to get much of the New Deal through. He was known in D.C. as a hard, mean politician. In the end, Garner and Roosevelt themselves would have a falling out. In those days, it took a pretty tough hombre to stand against FDR, but Garner didn’t seem to mind a bit, and it is no wonder he came to be known as “Cactus Jack Garner”.
The Texas Chapter of the Colonial Dames of America were not to be trifled with either. So, in March of 1901 when the Texas Legislature met in Austin, the ‘ladies’ had come to insist the bluebonnet become our state’s flower. Timing was on their side. The countryside around Austin was beginning to mirror the blue skies of Texas. The Dames took the part in the proceedings that day by placing jars of the Texas wildflower on each legislator’s table, and carrying a painting by a local artist onto the floor of the legislature on the day of the vote. When the vote came, did that prickly fellow from Uvalde and his cactus win? No, sir. The Colonial Dames won. Let me say right here, if you want to get into trouble politically, just try tangling with women’s lineage societies. The conflict didn’t destroy Garner’s future political career, but the bluebonnet did win out!
Even then, trouble lay in the future for the bluebonnet. The little native bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus) that was named the state flower and grows here in East Texas had a bluebonnet rival that most folks, today, actually associate as the state’s flower (Lupinus texensis). L. texensis is much more robust then our delicate, East Texas bluebonnet. And there were other bluebonnets, as well: L. havardii, L. concinnus, L. perennis, and L. plattensis. Each of these bluebonnets had its supporters. So, in March 1971 as the bluebonnets began to once again bloom in the hill country, the Texas Legislature did what most politicians do. They named all of the Lupinus species the Texas State Flower. Any lupines that grew in Texas became the official state’s flower.
Though all lupines are the state’s flower, today, if you go to the Neill-Cochran House in Austin, you will find an idealized bluebonnet, which the Dames used to promote their campaign for the state’s flower. The ladies’ love for L. subcarnosus paved the way for bluebonnets everywhere.
The delicate Lupinus subcarnosus, Texas 1st official State Flower.