The Native Plant Society of Texas (NPSOT) was founded April 25, 1981 at Texas Women’s University."Texas Wildflower Day" was to be celebrated annually on the fourth Saturday of April by act of the Texas Legislature and signed by Governor Bill Clements on April 27, 1981. Carroll Abbott was responsible for both. In 1983 he was honored by a joint session of the legislature, and in an unprecedented move for a former First Lady, his fellow wildflower enthusiast, Lady Bird Johnson, had requested the honor of being present and reading the resolution.

Carroll Abbott
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It is a fascinating story. What shaped such a man? Let’s start at the beginning. Carroll Abbott was born in Texarkana, Texas in 1926. His family moved to Houston while he was still an infant. That was to be home base for the next 29 years. The deep impressions of his earliest years shaped his life. His father supported the family as a "handy man" and Baptist preacher.

As a toddler Carroll picked flowers in the yard and brought them to his room. His mother said that he always had a container of wildflowers in his room. She did not remember a time when they were not present.

Carroll commented in one of his many talks,"My earliest memory is of a blood red phlox with melting snow on it from a freak storm in Houston. It looked like diamonds sparkling on the leaves. I was about 5 years old."

During his teens he dug lily bulbs and sold them to Dr. Hatashell, an associate of Luther Burbank in California. Some weeks during the depression he made more than his father to help support the family. He circulated a list of plants and bulbs he could supply and distributed them to nurseries. (He dug the plants along railroad tracks and highways.) Such an early successful sales experience built an ability to relate to people and persuade them to act on his suggestions.

Benny Simpson who wrote a tribute to Carroll Abbott on the 10th anniversary of his death said,"His twinkle, his zest for living, his good humor, the sheer friendliness of the man and how delightfully good he could make you feel..." He had charisma.

At 16, while still in high school, he worked for the Houston Post. Wildflowers were to be the passion of his life, but the printed word and the spoken word would be the vehicles he would use so effectively. He was equally persuasive with both.

When he graduated from high school at 18 he considered himself a sage since no one else in his family had attained that much education. He moved to Los Angeles and worked for the Express. A friend (he made them easily) invited him to a hayride at the University of Southern California (USC). All the beautiful co-eds and quantity of beer made him decide he needed a piece of that action so he sought a scholarship and enrolled at USC.

For the first two years he progressed well in his studies and held various elected offices at the University but in his third year a serious ear problem led to a mastoidectomy. He was sent home to recuperate.

While in Houston, feeling much better, he went for a night out to the Red Eagle Dance Hall where he met Pat Black. She remembers,"He was a sight, over 6 feet tall in a brown suit and red socks." Despite her first impressions their friendship blossomed and they married on Valentine’s Day in 1947. They moved into a trailer on Airline Boulevard north of Houston. Carroll was again working for the Houston Post. This time he met Bill Hobby, the future Lt. Governor. It was his family’s paper."My mother wanted me to become a reporter," says Hobby,"and Carroll starting teaching me how. He also taught me how to play softball so I could get on the company team."

Carroll’s parents moved to Kerrville in 1948 and purchased the four acres diagonally across the river from the present Riverside Nature Center on Lemos and Thompson Boulevard. The Ultrafit Center now on Thompson is where the home was and a bronze plaque affixed to a boulder near the river and Lemos Street commemorate his accomplishments.

Back in Houston, Carroll returned from work one night to tell Pat he had been fired because he was too outspoken. Pat said she knew then"this was going to be one helluva marriage. We elevated poverty into an art form."

But Carroll persevered in the news business. He worked for Glenn McCarthys weekly papers, KPRC -TV, and the Pasadena Mirror. While at the Mirror, to make extra money, he would drive to the Rio Grande Valley on weekends to buy plants to sell in Houston. He eventually became a landscaper but an untimely freeze put him out of business almost before he started.

I asked Mrs, Abbott if Carroll was always growing plants? She told me of an incident that occurred soon after they were married. She and his mother decided to clean up the cans in the back yard while he was at work, only to find that what they thought was clutter, he thought was organized. He knew which plants were dormant and where everything was located. She choose to live with clutter thereafter.

Another time he purchased some special Caladium bulbs from Florida and planted them in the yard. One spring night the family enjoyed a shrimp dinner including the smallest children. The next day one of her toddlers came into the house caring a small bucket and with great excitement said, "Momma, I gots shrimp!"

Wildflowers and plants were his passion to which the whole family adjusted.

With a growing family, he had to find another job quickly which led him to Kerrville in 1955 to work at the Times. It was then a weekly publication.

He was soon Editor and won the Press Association first place award for a weekly newspaper, three years running.

His family was growing. Eventually he had three boys and a girl. His first was Carroll Texas Abbott. Pat worried that the Carrolls might get mixed up but he said he’d take care of that. So he named them all Carroll Abbott with different middle names. Texas, Mark, Pat, and Patricia. They all live in or near Kerrville today. Three grandchildren have arrived since his death and all have been named Carroll Abbott. The tradition goes on.

The Abbott’s tell stories about what happened when the census taker hit town. And another story about a bank that couldn’t adjust their bookkeeping system to accommodate so many Carroll Abbott accounts in one bank.

While still the Editor of the Times, he was asked to run a political campaign for the owner of an airlines, a Mr. Blakely. He also ran for office himself but lost. During this period he wrote a pamphlet which became a classic of the time,"The Care and Feeding of Political Volunteers." On the basis of his newly acquired political knowledge, Ray Roberts hired Carroll to run his campaign to fill the seat vacated by Sam Rayburn. He was elected so Carroll ran his next two campaigns as well.

By 1961 he was working for the State Democratic Executive Committee running the campaigns for several politicians including John Connally’s "Whistle-stop" train trip from Texarkana to El Paso, which was credited with John Connally’s success that year. During one of Connally’s campaigns Carroll sent out 10,000 packages of seeds as a promotion.

During all this travel around the state, on behalf of various candidates, he kept logs on the wildflowers, when and where they were blooming, their condition, etc. It was during these extensive travels that he observed that the flowers were in decline due to man’s indifference to them. New building projects, mowing along roads or in fields, careless picking of flowers before they could set seeds was taking a toll on wildflowers. Even during the thick of political battles he never lost track of his interest in the beautiful vegetation around him.

The First Lady, Mrs. Johnson, was leading a national movement to beautify our highways while Carroll was still doing public relations work for the Democratic Party. The beauty of Texas wildflowers was always prominent in her promotions. This culminated in the National Highway Beautification Act.

Ben Barnes, one of the candidates he worked for said of him,"He was the smoothest operator I have ever seen. A tireless worker with a keen mind and great sense of humor." Senator Roberts called him,"A political genius."

At one point in his public relations career, he took a floor at the Driskill Hotel in Austin during a convention to share his good fortune with his family. In addition to his family, each of the children brought along a friend. He missed his family when away so often during these political campaigns and the many miles of travel it required to every corner of the state.

One night in 1970, at the height of his public relation’s success, he returned to Kerrville to announce to Pat that he had resigned. She was in shock.

He would devote the remaining 14 years of his life to his first passion - wildflowers.

He had been preaching the planting of natives all along, but few seeds were available. So he started Green Horizon, his seed company, after he left the political battles. He once said,"You’ve got to be certified insane to think you can pull heads off flowers, then put them in an envelope with a typed label and sell them, but that is exactly what I did."

"We had no doubt that our wildflower business would go, but when?"

Abbott survived the early years of his company by selling plants for small landscape jobs."I had to sell people that whole idea of using native plants, then find the plants and dig them up, transplant them, and hope they would live ‘till the check cleared."

Bluebonnet seed were also a life saver during the early days of his company. He could sell you"50 seed, one ounce, one pound, one ton, one truckload, or one carload of Lupinus texensis and still have seed left over," said Benny Simpson.

Meantime a Kerrville friend, Ace Reid, the cartoonist, was doing good business with a cartoon calendar so Abbott had one printed with wildflowers all around it. He had 10,000 printed and sold 500 right away. It took him two years to sell the rest."I remember weekends when I sat by the side of the road selling plants, seeds, and calendars and made $52."

But help came when things got desperate. One day when he was selling seed a man drove up and handed him a check for $1000 and said, ‘‘I like what you’re doing." He stood there and cried and then went home and he and Pat cried together. It wasn’t until 1981 that the business started to turn a profit.

In 1978, after gaining enough knowledge, he decided to publish a book entitled How to Know and Grow Texas Wildflowers. He waited until he had 300 orders this time before he wrote the book. It was finished in the summer. But before it was printed, 22 inches of rain fell in two days and the Guadalupe flooded his home. He had to start over, finishing it by Christmas. Again he was ahead of his time and he didn’t sellout his books until 1981 and then only because he called on his writing skill to promote it in small town newspapers.

In 1976 he also started a quarterly newsletter to pull together all of those people interested in native plants, teach them how to care for them, and promote his business. This would also be the vehicle he would use to start NPSQT. It was written so skillfully that it won the Men’s Garden Club of America Golden Quill Award.

In Carroll Abbott’s Newsletter the first mention of the Native Plant Society of Texas was the Volume I, Summer, 1977 edition. He traveled widely that spring and the idea was expressed that such a need existed. Over a dozen other states had such organizations at that time.

Dr. Huey, President of Texas Women’s University, called in 1978 requesting help with their 1930 wildflower garden which had lost its glory. He did that and more. Together they sought a historical marker for the garden from the State Historical Commission. With the Abbott touch added to Dr. Huey’s efforts, they were successful. She made him a guest lecturer at TWU and plans were made for a Wildflower Day at Texas Women’s University at Denton.

The first Wildflower Day was held in the spring of 1980. It was the idea of Gertrude Gibson, Office of Development at TWU. Carroll was a speaker and"during a drive across campus, Dr. Beale and Carroll Abbott decided that NPSOT should be organized," according to Benny Simpson. No problem. Carroll would be the front runner and TWU the place. At that time or shortly thereafter, an interim board was established and a plan formulated to create the Native Plant Society of Texas which would take place April, 1981, during the Wildflower Day Celebration at TWU. The interim officers until then were Mary Evelyn Blagg Huey, President of TWU, Robert Collier, Kenneth Fry, William Beale, Gertrude Gibson, Audrey Tuttle, Kay Warmerdam, Leite Davis, Benny J. Simpson and Carroll Abbott.

Carroll’s newsletter was to be the official newsletter and for an additional $2.50 dues you were able to become a charter member of the new organization. If you were not a subscriber, the dues were $7.50 and you also received the newsletter. This was all announced in the Fall, 1980, edition of the Texas Wildflower Newsletter; 354 charter members resulted from this effort.

Carroll Abbott made many speeches. Benny Simpson said he was 64" tall, always wore a straw cowboy hat while speaking and usually started his talk by introducing himself as Carroll Abbott spelled with 2 r’s, 2 I’s, 2b’s and 2 t’s — to make it easier to spell. He obviously enjoyed his name. Then he’d pull out a beer case cut to 4 inches with the top fitting over the bottom. He’ would show how you could pack newly dug plants in wet newspaper and, if kept out of the sun, the plants would last a week. With tongue in cheek he would say that if you were a Baptist you wouldn’t have a beer case on hand but he had discovered that Dr. Pepper cases worked just as well. Next came the"rock in a sack" story. He would take out a #10 paper bag and tell you to use this to gather seed. Everyone would have a blank stare when he mentioned the need for a rock until you suddenly remembered what a windy day would do to your seed without a rock in the sack.

“For years," Abbott once noted,"it seemed that only God and Lady Bird Johnson, not necessarily in that order, were concerned with wildflower survival. Somebody had to ‘step up to the bar’ and get the job done. I decided to be that person. In 1973 he had registered and paid the fee to be an unpaid Texas lobbyist to the Texas legislature for wildflowers. He listed his ‘slush fund’ as totaling $6.

The first meeting of NPSOT was held at 3 p.m. on April 25, 1981 at TWU following an awards luncheon at the University, which he had also arranged. The first president was Kay Warmerdam. Regional Vice Presidents were also elected for five regions but this structure was not effective in the long run and was dropped during reorganization in 1993 -1994.

Monday, April 6,1981, HCR 110 was passed on a motion by Rep. Earnestine Glossbrenner to set aside the 4th Saturday in April as Texas Wildflower Day. Carroll had secured 3,000 individual signatures plus an impressive list of garden clubs to support the bill. He had lobbied every legislator possible. With the help of Dr. Huey and the students at TWU who made ceramic lace cactus as gifts, he hosted a banquet for 250 legislators. The bill was signed into law by Governor Bill Clements on April 27, 1981.

Lady Bird Johnson started the National Wildlfower Research Center in 1982 by planting seeds, no doubt from Carroll’s company. On her 70th birthday, December 22, 1983, with what she said was a gift to herself of $125,000, she dedicated the Center.

Carroll Abbott’s cancer was diagnosed in October, 1981. Most of his major accomplishments were already made. Even his business was now profitable. His many friends kept up with his medical problems by reading the"Last Word" column in his newsletter.

He was given the Presidents Award by NPSOT in 1983. The next year Lady Bird Johnson received the Award at the Wildflower Day Celebration but Carroll was too ill to attend.

When the Texas Legislature honored him in that joint session at which Lady Bird Johnson read the special resolution, Dr. Huey, President of TWU said,"She shared his interest and dedication to wildflowers." Letters had come to the Abbott home from the LW Ranch for years. She was his patron and they worked together on many projects. He continued to produce his newsletter and make the many speaking engagements up to the end.

He died July 6 1984.

About the Author: Ernest Tremayne is the former VP - Chapter Liaison for NPSOT and a member of the Kerrville Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. He gave Dr. Jerry Parsons verbal permission (at a talk Parsons was giving a presentation at the opening of the Riverside Nature Center) to put this on PLANTanswers as part of a tribute to Carroll Abbott and his family.

This write-up appeared in the November/December, 1997, issue of The Native Plant Society of Texas Newsletter. Now I would like to shed some light on my"experiences" with Carroll Abbott and how he"directed" me into a 25 year project which eventually lead to the development of the ‘Abbott Pink’ bluebonnet, ‘Worthington Sky Blue’ bluebonnet, Barbara Bush Lavender bluebonnet, ‘Texas Maroon’ (‘Alamo Fire’) bluebonnet, ‘Texas Red" bluebonnet, ‘Snow Princess White’ bluebonnet and Lupinus harvardii bluebonnet varieties being named and used as a cutflower.

The write-up on the PLANTanswers website about bluebonnets at
entitled "COLOR-IZATION OF THE STATE FLOWER" BY JERRY M. PARSONS, Ph.D. begins with the mention of Carroll Abbott:

“People often ask how did such a wonderful project begin and why hadn't someone done it before. The origin of the entire bluebonnet domestication project can be summarized in one hundred words or less: "In 1982, a dying con artist and Texas naturalist named Carroll Abbott, Mr. Texas Bluebonnet, implanted in the mind of a naive horticulturist, me, a dream of planting the design of a state flag entirely composed of the state flower, bluebonnets, to celebrate the 1986 Texas' Sesquicentennial. This seemingly simple proposal and what has been involved to make it a reality have involved thousands of people, created a multi-million dollar agricultural industry, generated more positive publicity for Texas A&M than the football team and is still producing products and wildflower knowledge with no apparent end in sight."

There is obviously more to the story.

The saga began in 1982 quite innocently when Steve George, then Bexar County Extension Horticulturist received a complimentary package of bluebonnet seed from Green Horizons Nursery in Kerrville. These seed were supposed to be "treated" or scarified so they would germinate rapidly. Steve George did not have a suitable place to plant the seed so he gave them to his car pool buddy - - me. Being a vegetable specialist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and not knowing the difference between bluebonnet seed and pea gravel, I took the free seed and deposited them rather haphazardly in a flower bed which I had prepared. I knew the reputation of bluebonnet seed and figured that all I had accomplished by planting those seed was to use the gravel-like seed to loosen the soil a bit.

To my surprise, the seed germinated in less than two weeks and I mean over 60 per cent had germinated. The only way I happened to observe this was because the flower bed in which the bluebonnet seed were planted was located where I parked my vehicle every afternoon. The seedlings looked like beans, with which I was very familiar, so they caught my attention. I was impressed!

Steve George and I had just started doing a television segment with Bruce Kates on KENS-TV (CBS). It was broadcast live at noon on Friday and rebroadcast on the 6 p.m. newscast. We thought bluebonnets might be a popular topic and the San Antonio Botanical Center was planting a Meadow Wildflower Area, so we did the program on August 27, 1982. The program consisted of doing nothing but sowing the seed, raking them into the prepared area and mentioning the faster-sprouting, scarified bluebonnet seed available from Green Horizons. It was sort of a colorless program but the response was overwhelming. The television station had their telephones completely blocked all of Friday afternoon by people calling wanting to know where to buy that fast germinating bluebonnet seed. Not a single telephone call could be made out of the television station!! This is the most response I have EVER gotten, before or since, on a television program. As the old Texas saying goes, "I was born at night – but not LAST night!!", so it didn’t take me long to figure out that there is magic in working with bluebonnets in Texas. Texans respond to bluebonnet culture and lore as they respond to nothing else.

With my interest peaked, I decided it was time to meet this fellow named Carroll Abbott. He was receptive to my visit to Kerrville since he had sold several pounds of seed (at $22 a pound!) after the television program. I had briefly met him several years earlier in Austin at a banquet for which he was the master of ceremonies and I was the speaker. Of course, Carroll Abbott NEVER met a stranger so we were immediately friends. The first time he took me to his home, I felt sorry for him when we parked in front of his house. The yard was a mess! Knowing he was in failing health, I kindly offered to help him clean his yard up with glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide in the really bad areas and use MSMA to get the weeds out of the bermuda grass. As a vegetable specialist, I was sort of proud of knowing how to renovate such a neglected lawn. Carroll smiled and kindly asked me if I had a herbicide to get the bermuda grass out of his wildflowers - - all of those"weeds" were precious wildflowers which had been collected from all parts of the state and grown with tender-loving care in this Kerrville arboretum. I felt bad until Carroll laughed and told me that others, especially Kerrville neighbors and county beautification groups, had offered the same "weed" cleanup and lawn renovation.

Carroll Abbott’s front yard was the original Xeriscape planting in Kerrville and no one ever - - to this day - - realized it. He was a man ahead of his time.

Carroll Abbott did not waste any time. He didn’t have any to waste. He realized he had access to the mass media through me; he realized I did not have a clue what was involved in the proposal he was going to make; and he realized I was "hungry" to make an educational impact in the Extension district which I worked. So on our first meeting, he proposed the 1986 planting of a Sesquicentennial Flag composed of nothing but bluebonnets.

As Abbott presented it:"We (and he used that term "we" REAL loosely knowing he would not be able to contribute much but guidance and goodwill because of his health) already have the blue; everybody has seen the white bluebonnets; and some folks have seen the pink bluebonnets. All we have to do it collect seed of the white and multiply them. Then collect seed of the pink, grow them and select the darker hues (shades) until we get red. And good Lord, we have four years to do it!" The sad thing about this is that I was so naive, I eagerly embraced the concept and the bluebonnet colorization project was off-and-running.

I realized that we would have only a few seed to begin with and we couldn’t just sow them out and see what would happen. We needed a way to plant and germinate each seed so we could carefully monitor our results.

Carroll Abbott and bluebonnet transplants
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Growing a bluebonnet transplant would be the logical answer. Even though the scarified bluebonnet seed germinate rapidly, emerging seedlings fall prey to the ravages of pillbug hordes and soil fungi. An older plant, i.e., a transplant, would be tougher and easier to establish. The transplant would be easier to space so that stand establishment in formal flower plantings would be insured. The successful production of transplants was a priority and was perfected after several years of costly experimentation. Sowing seed often produces erratic and unreliable plant stands because of improper planting procedure. Seed sowing is easy so most folks like to do it even though the results are less than desirable. When someone buys and plants a transplant, he knows that he has a bluebonnet plant exactly in the right place at the right time. Most people who pay the price for a transplant will plant in areas that can be cared for. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" - the transplant has proven to be a surefire winner for the Texas bluebonnet.

I had developed a cooperative relationship with one of the best, if not THE best, bedding plant producer in Texas - - Bill "Pete" Peterson of Peterson Brothers Nursery in San Antonio. I took some of Carroll Abbott’s scarifed seed to Mr. Peterson and we planted them. He was skeptical, to say the least, but his skepticism turned to enthusiasm when the seed actually germinated within two weeks. We grew the first transplants using the same system he used for all other bedding plants -- sow them in seedling flats, pluck each seedling out after it begins to form the first true leaf (between the two fat cotyledon leaves which emerge first) and plant it in a two-inch peat pot. The first commercial bluebonnet transplants were produced at Peterson Brothers Nursery in 1983 and a multi-million dollar bluebonnet bedding plant was launched.

I do not want people to think such a breakthrough as the bluebonnet transplant was simple. It was, in fact, complicated by the attitudes of "experts" who were either skeptical, jealous or stupid. This criticism is aimed at every "expert" in the field of native plants and wildflowers in academia or private. I was told this task was impossible and not worthwhile. I was told that bluebonnet transplants could NEVER be produced without mycorrhiza and/or rhizobium. I was told that the colors would NEVER stabilize and could NEVER be purified. When these people exhausted information which they thought they knew about wildflowers and native plants, they then would attack the motives of Carroll Abbott himself -- that is when my conversation would end. The two quotes (which Carroll Abbott and I painfully came to understand) come to mind as I think back about some of the conversations I had with these "little" people with no vision: (1) "Either step up to help or get the hell out of the way -- we are going to roll over you non-believers like a freight train over a nickel!" And (2) "When reading wildflower and native plant information, always remember, the first liar is gospel!" I mention this to be a guide to others who might ever want to attempt such an ambitious project. Read the literature, talk to the "experts" but then do it yourself to make sure. If we had followed the advice of the "experts" and believed the literature (which was more wrong than right!), there would never have been the first bluebonnet transplant, scarified seed or beautiful colors which now exist. A multi-million dollar plant product would have been lost to the nursery industry of Texas and to the people of Texas.

The public search for the "albino" or white bluebonnet began with a television program on February 30, 1984. I had collected some white bluebonnet seed and Carroll Abbott personally scarifed them with a hand file on his kitchen table. Scarification was the first key to the success of growing bluebonnets. Nature has designed the bluebonnet seed for survival; scarification is the key to unlock the survival code to allow immediate germination and seedling production in a controlled environment. The frustration of unlocking the code and explaining it to an eager-to-grow-bluebonnet public is demonstrated in the following newscolumn:

“The greatness to which the bluebonnet has risen has been, unfortunately, in spite of and over the age-old prejudices and misconceptions of self-proclaimed "experts" who are either thoroughly confused or terminally ignorant. It seems that many of these types are not open-minded enough to seek scientific truths before engaging the vocal cords and/or the writing pen. Because the public believes everything that is written and because there are more authors printing than there are scientists establishing truths, many misconceptions are perpetuated via vagrant plagiarism stimulated by the knowledge void, i.e. many "authors" also believe everything they read and subsequently plagiarize previously manuscripted falsehoods. To remedy the situation, this series of articles will give you the latest finding and techniques with which to easily and successfully grow the Texas state flower-- bluebonnet. Everything in these articles has been scientifically tested; these facts HAVE NOT been fabricated."

"First of all, you can now buy a bluebonnet seed which will germinate and grow within your immediate life time. One might think that any seed, if viable, will grow when planted. Not so with the bluebonnet. Nature has structured the bluebonnet seed in such a way that only a certain percentage of the seed germinates during the first season. This delayed germination insures the survival of the species during periods of adverse growing conditions such as prolonged drought. Nature may want to ration out bluebonnet seed germination but we want each and every seed to germinate and grow immediately. This is a society which insists upon immediate gratification for everything and bluebonnet growing should not be any different."

“To insure immediate and total germination, the bluebonnet seed has to be treated to remove the inhibiting factors of the seed coat which prohibit water uptake and the beginning of the growth processes. This process of seed treatment is referred to scarification. Seed which has been properly scarified will germinate within 10 days after planting in a moist soil. Seedlings are also more vigorous. Sounds like just what the doctor ordered doesn't it? Would you believe that some confused souls have and are condemning this revolutionary discovery which finally allows people to sow seeds of and successfully grow bluebonnets wherever they want to? Because of immediate seed germination, the planting season has also been extended, i.e., in the past, planting has been recommended no later than September; now planting can occur as late as November. However, the native plant purists propose that if seed are scarified and, consequently, all seed germinate at the same time, there will be no seed left to germinate next year if adverse weather conditions should kill this year's seedlings. Who cares about seed for next year anyway! Most people buy seed to plant this fall so they can enjoy bluebonnet flowers NEXT spring. If people get a good stand of bluebonnets and enjoy the bloom, they will buy and plant more seed next fall. Bluebonnet culture has progressed beyond the point of having to endure the ugliness of drying plants just so next year's seed can be produced. People can now simply enjoy the beauty, discard the plants after bloom and depend on commercial seed producers to insure that more seed is available for next year's planting. The culture of the Texas state flower has reached a degree of sophistication which rivals other bedding plants such as pansies and petunias--have you saved any pansy or petunia seed lately? Besides, bluebonnets have a deep taproot which, when established, make the plants relatively drought tolerant. I would advise skeptics of rapidly germinating, scarified seed to test their theory of bluebonnet drought kill; if seeded at the right time -- not too early -- germinated bluebonnet seedings will survive some dry fall conditions."

“Then there are the eternally-confused types who propose that scarification "hurts" the seed. All one has to do to prove or disprove the "hurt" theory is to conduct a storage test using treated versus non-treated seed. Just such a test was conduced by Douglas King Seed Company. The results indicated that after one year's storage chemically scarified bluebonnet seed actually improved ( percentage germination) and were far superior to non-treated and mechanically scarified seed . Basically, the only thing that chemical scarification does is to remove the germination inhibiting factors of the seed coat. All of the vital constituents of the seed (seed coat, nutrient-providing cotyledons, and embryo) are left intact. The process compares to removing an imaginary armor coating from a bean seed--a chemically scarified bluebonnet seed becomes nothing more than a common bean seed and reacts in a similar fashion. All one has to do is test to determine the truth, but it IS SO much easier to operate one's mouth before the brain is engaged and/or fueled."

“You might think that all of this bluebonnet misinformation is being perpetuated by a few ignorant people. I wish it were so but, unfortunately, much of this information is being generated by people who are supposed to be knowledgeable but obviously are not. For instance, in a recent book written by Jean Andrews called The Texas Bluebonnet, there is a quote which reads "If you know how to scarify seed, forget it in the case of bluebonnets except for small flower beds. As a means of helping nature along, the Texas Highway Department and the National Wildflower Research Center do not, I repeat, do not recommend the process for any of the state flowers of Texas. Getting the seed to germinate is not the problem. Nodulation is the question. You could get one thousand seeds to germinate but, if only twenty are inoculated with Rhizobium (soil bacteria which attach to roots of legumes such as bluebonnets and take nitrogen from the air), only twenty are going to bloom. This failure to form nodules is the basis for another bluebonnet misconception. Many hold the belief that bluebonnets do not bloom the first year because they have planted the seeds, watched them germinate and grow into lush plants, blooms. Nor will they bloom the second year. In fact, they will never bloom unless the seeds become inoculated with Rhizobium." This is wildflower blaspheme and literary rubbish! If, in fact, the Texas Highway Department and the National Wildflower Research Center are making statements such as these, Lady Bird had better get her some new folks! During the past fifteen years millions of bluebonnet transplants have been grown and sold in a completely sterile potting mixture with NO, I repeat, NOT ONE Rhizobium bacterium added. The seed was acid scarified with concentrated sulfuric acid before planting which would have definitely destroyed any Rhizobium. Yet all, I repeat, not some, but ALL of these transplants as well as plants from hundreds of pounds of field-planted, acid scarified seed--not treated with Rhizobium--have bloomed profusely. Rhizobium is Nature's fertilizer (nitrogen) source but if supplemental sources of fertilizer are available in a planting medium, Rhizobium is unnecessary for bloom and nodules will, in fact, not form even if seed are inoculated."

“One might become upset by such ludicrous statements if they weren't so commonplace. Other statements regarding how to scarify seed are also ridiculous when the truth is known. For instance, this book also contains a recommendation of "putting the seeds in an electric blender jar and giving them three or four quick whirls, then soaking them overnight in warm water to produce a high percentage of germination." The silliness of this statement is aggravated by the further revelations that "seed scarified too far in advance of the actual planting date will dry out and fail to germinate. Buying pre-scarified seed is an iffy proposition , which also increases the vulnerability to insect damage." These statements are so wrought with ignorance that they almost expose themselves. The best scarification procedure is with concentrated, hear me, concentrated sulfuric acid for a period of not less than 30 minutes nor over one hour. How would you think "three or four quick whirls in a blender" compares to the severity of a concentrated sulfuric acid treatment ? I mentioned that chemically scarified seed actually store BETTER than others. The comment about scarification "increasing vulnerability to insect damage" is more than my thought processes can decipher. Perhaps bugs like to eat softer seed or maybe pest damage is worse because there are more plants to damage."

“Chemically scarified bluebonnet seed ARE the best to plant unless you are going to plant acres by broadcasting them hither and yon. Be certain to use non-scarified seed for that kind of technique since the scarified seed are more expensive and the birds are going to get the majority of broadcast, non-covered seed anyhow. You shouldn't waste these superior seed!"

I couldn’t have said it better myself!!!!

Unless you might think I am a bit harsh of my criticisms of bluebonnet and wildflower publications written with hear-say information rather than facts, I am going to share with you a bit of Texas history which was brought to light by the bluebonnet color-ization project. It concerns how the bluebonnet became the state flower of Texas and this is the ONLY place you will ever see the truth disclosed. The column which appeared in the San Antonio Light:

"Several weeks ago in this column I published an article which had been published in San Antonio on April 18, 1925 by Evantha Caldwell. Evantha Caldwell's article was about Mrs. J. K. Beretta of San Antonio who first sent out the 1925 warning call which started a statewide movement to save the bluebonnets. Mrs. Beretta was at the time President of the City Federation of Women's Clubs of San Antonio. With a few friends whose interest in the work she had enlisted she went out into the fields and open spaces about San Antonio and gathered bluebonnet seed. Breaking off the portions of the plants that held the seed, the gatherers would toss them into open, inverted parasols and in this way brought them back to town with small loss. Later they opened the pods and sorted the tiny seed. In this manner they gathered several pounds, and remembering that each bluebonnet plant bears only a very small fraction of an ounce of seed, one realizes what a big task they accomplished. Mrs. Beretta had also arranged with some Austin agencies to save seed for her to insure an abundance for her purpose."

“The purpose of my column was to make people realize that bluebonnets have been loved and preserved for a long time -- the bluebonnet crusade is everlasting for Texans. Several days later W.O. Murray, Jr. brought me a heretofore unpublished piece of bluebonnet history. W.O. Murray's maternal grandfather was Judge John M. Green of Cuero who served in the State House of Representatives during the legislative session of 1901. The significance of this man is that HE WAS THE FLOOR LEADER OF THE MOVEMENT TO ADOPT THE BLUEBONNET AS OUR TEXAS STATE FLOWER!"

“The piece of bluebonnet history which Mr. Murray shared with me is a letter written to Mrs. A. H. Cadwallader, Sr., 3027 West Houston St., San Antonio, Texas on February 28, 1924 concerning her questions about exactly how the bluebonnet became the state flower. Much has been written; much has been fabricated; the following is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth written by someone who was there:

" Dear Madam:
"Your highly appreciated letter of the 27th was received this morning."

"Its subject matter - The Texas Blue Bonnet, and its selection as our state flower by legislative resolution - have revived memories of the slumbering and almost forgotten past."

"My memory may be a little hazy to some of the statements I shall make; and, as to them, I am willing to be corrected by someone whose recollection is more accurate. But I am positive about some of them. You must remember that these incidents occurred during the legislative session of 1901 - just twenty- three years ago. "

" You ask: "Who were the ladies that were in Austin advocating the Blue Bonnet as the Texas state flower; and did they represent an organization?"

" They were club ladies from Dallas. But what club or organization they represented I do not now recall. The first I knew of their presence in the legislative chamber was when my friend, Judge S. J. Hendrick, the member from Henderson, Rusk County, a man of colossal physique, fully matched by vocal energy, came to my desk and said he wanted me to meet some club ladies from Dallas. I promptly accompanied him to where they were seated at the rear of the room and after they explained that they had come before the legislature to get the Blue Bonnet adopted as the Texas State Flower, and wanted me to help them, I became interested and readily promised my aid. These ladies were very generous and charming and advocated the Blue Bonnet with captivating skill. They honored several others of the younger and handsomer members by lobbying with them. So far as I know, all who met them were ready and anxious to champion their cause. I know I was. Mrs. Sawnie Robertson was one of the most prominent ones of this delegation of ladies. She is the only one whose identity I can now recall, but they were all fine people, high class, intellectual and distinctive."

"Now, as to the picture incident. This is a new one on me. Although that legislature, the 27th, had its full share of ignorance, I believe every member knew that beautiful little flower, the Blue Bonnet, by sight. If Mr. Kight said they had to paint the picture so the senators could recognize it, I'll accept it as true, but I'm going to defend the house members. This is the first time I ever heard of the picture being painted, and I am reasonably sure that it was not brought into the House of Representatives."

NOTICE HOW DISTORTED PRESENT-DAY AUTHORS TELL THE STORY: I want to make an editorial comment at this point about the previous paragraph of this letter and how history can become twisted. Keeping in mind that the letter being quoted in this column was written (I have a carbon of the original, handwritten document) by John M. Green, read now several beautifully written paragraphs describing the adopting of the bluebonnet as the state flower of Texas from the most recently published and most grossly inaccurate book about bluebonnets ever written called The Texas Bluebonnet by Jean Andrews:

"Then up to the podium strode John M. Green of Cuero. As Green made his appeal for the beautiful bluebonnet, calls came from the floor asking, "What the devil is a bluebonnet?" Someone replied that it was that blue flower that looked like those old-timey sunbonnets the pioneer Texas women wore in futile attempts to protect themselves from the burning sun and winds of Texas. Another replied, "You must mean 'el conejo'." "The rabbit" was a name used by the Mexicans because the waving white tip reminded them of the bobbing tail of a cottontail rabbit. "No, no, no, " roared another. "He's referring to what some have called 'buffalo clover'." Yet another rose up to protest that it was the wolf flower, so named by Old World botanist. No one seemed to know just what flower Green had proposed to them or what to call it."

"At that point a group of stalwart Texas women rose to the cause... The National Society of the Colonial Dames of American in the State of Texas ... determined to make a visual appeal to the legislature. A bluebonnet painting was sent for, and one painted by Miss Mode Walker of Austin was carried into the chamber. Deep silence reigned for an instant then deafening applause fairly shook the old walls. The bluebonnet had won hands down. It was approved by Governor Joseph D. Sayers on March 7, 1901."

If you learn anything from this column other than a bit of Texas history, learn that there are a lot of people writing books who don't know a thing about which they are writing! Let us continue with the true account from John Green himself:

"Your remaining questions will all be answered together, in a sort of general narrative:

"The resolution passed the senate with but little opposition, if any and the matter came over to us in the House in this verbiage, (substantially):

Senate Concurrent Resolution:

"Be it resolved by the Senate of Texas, the House of Representatives concurring, that the flower known as the Buffalo Clover or Blue Bonnet be, and the same is hereby adopted and declared to be the Texas State Flower."

"The friends of the measure expected it to go sailing through to a unanimous passage. Imagine our consternation when P. H. Clements, of Mills County, offered an amendment to "strike out the flower named and insert in lieu thereof the open cotton ball or white rose of commerce."

" W. J. Bullock and John Garner, sent up a substitute for the amendment, striking out Blue Bonnet and inserting "Cactus", as the Texas State flower."

"W. W. Dillard of Bowie County wanted the "Cotton Bloom" inserted in place of the open ball. The Bullock and Garner substitute was tabled by a viva voce vote and thus it was killed."

"Mr. Dillard withdrew his cotton bloom amendment to the Clements amendment. This left a clear cut fight between the big old open cotton ball and our little fragile blue bonnet. And Phil Clements was sturdy and unyielding. He was a real estate man, and could out argue most of us who were lawyers. In a loud and powerful speech he lauded cotton as the source of nearly all our wealth, saying that it was our chief article of export and cited statistics to prove that Texas raised nearly all the cotton that was raised. He declared it would be but a just recognition of these facts to adopt the open cotton ball and let the world know that it was the Texas Flower; that production, commerce and wealth all cried out in stentorious tones for cotton, while all that could be said for the blue bonnet was based on sentiment, because the blue bonnet never made its owner a dollar in its little old useless life or words to that effect, and much more along the same line."

"Perhaps other made speeches on the side of cotton; I think they did, but I don't remember who they were. But Clements' speech was the main one we had to answer."

"On our side we boldly took up the gauge of battle thrown down by Mr. Clements, and met him on his own premises. The argument was made that the basic idea for having a state flower was sentiment; that there was no utility in it, no commerce, no money. That the very conception of a state flower was also of and apart from such grossness as advertising our resources; that as a money crop and a great commercial staple cotton was all right and we "yielded to no man in our admiration for it as such", but that as a state flower we wanted something that grew wild and free on our hillsides and broad prairies; something that did not suggest toil and grime and sweat and gains and losses. And a great deal more to the same general tenor and effect not neglecting to commend the disinterested patriotism of those Dallas ladies."

"The final vote was taken; the Open Cotton Ball lost and thus the Blue Bonnet became the state flower of Texas."

"As a final question you ask: "Just what tipped the scales in favor of the Blue Bonnet"? Those Dallas ladies did it! Their state pride and unallayed patriotic zeal won the admiration of a majority of the legislators."

The letter is signed: Yours very truly, JOHN M. GREEN.

And now you know, "the rest of the story"!"

AND NOW, YOU TOO KNOW THE REST OF THE STORY!!!! I shall return to the color-ization story written by the fellow who did it so the truth will forever be known about this project as well. In spite of roadblocks, we relentlessly pressed on -- 1986 was fast approaching. As I mentioned, the public search for the "albino" or white bluebonnet began with a television program on February 30, 1984. The public search for the pink bluebonnet began with a television program on March 29, 1985. One of the most interesting phenomenon observed during this search-and-collect bluebonnet mission has been the realization that ninety percent of Texans don't really know what a bluebonnet plant is. Telephone calls were received from people who described large fields of bluebonnets with some pinks in one particular area. When investigating the report, the field was found as described but not a single bluebonnet was to be found. The field had plants with blue flowers and some pink flowers in one area but they were not bluebonnets. One fellow telephoned that there were some bluebonnets growing along the side of the road and some pink flowers were growing among them which he assumed to be pink bluebonnets. The pink primrose which blooms at the same time fool many people.

In searching for the pink color variant, the same criterion used to successfully locate and purify the white strain was used. People were told only to collect 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 indeed were so rare that only four locations throughout the entire state were reported. Oddly enough, the "mother-load" of pinks was found within the city limits of San Antonio. Shortly after some seed were gathered, the road maintenance crews graded the area and destroyed the entire naturally-occurring population. We have saved one of Nature’s rarest gifts -- the pink bluebonnet. Once a gene source was located we were on the way to adding pink and shades thereof to the bluebonnet color spectrum.

We did not know exactly how many pink-blooming plants would be produced when planting seed collected from pink bluebonnets. The first season that pink seed were collected and planted, less than 12 percent of the plants produced bloomed pink the following year. This compared to a 75 percent rate for the white strain. This was a good indication that the going was to be slow in the development of the pink but, as the old saying goes, "when the going gets tough, the tough get going". Obviously, the development of the pink then red strain was going to take longer. Because the pink strain was so rare and so special, it was 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. See:

The rareness of the pink plants and the several years of isolation required to purify the color strain meant that the 1986 Sesquicentennial flag of bluebonnets would not contain dark pink or red bluebonnets so red drummondi phlox, which blooms in the spring with bluebonnets, was substituted for the red bluebonnet when the flag was planted at the San Antonio Botanical Center. The flag bloomed in the spring of '86 but unfortunately Carroll Abbott had not lived to see the dream which he sparked become a reality.

Like Carroll Abbott, his pink bluebonnet namesake is full of surprises. The pink bluebonnet strain is providing wonderful "bonus" color hues which none of us 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 with every color in nature exists hues or shades of that color. For instance, with the pink bluebonnet 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 pink to create purplish or, in another commonly used color description in Texas, maroon. Isn't there a group of Texans who might slightly be interested in developing a maroon-colored state flower? Sounds like an Aggie deal to me! The Aggie maroon bluebonnet does exist as well as a beautiful purple. The spectacular and significant thing about the occurrence of these color types is that this is THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD that these color variants have been seen and existed. Because there has never been quantities of pink bluebonnets, red or maroon colors would not have been able to be derived. For horticulturists and lovers of the Texas state flower, this is a significant historical happening -- we have seen what no person has seen before!

One would think that a project such this would receive nothing but praise and support. But there are many people who have an attitude of: "I don't want to do anything but I sure don't want anyone else doing anything either!" Another group of people just want "to leave things as they have always been". It is from these types that come such criticisms as: "If the bluebonnet flowers are white, it shouldn't be called a bluebonnet--it's a white bonnet." "Why change the color of the state flower?" To these types of confused souls I will answer once again.

First of all, 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 of which it is a color--consequently, white bluebonnet, pink bluebonnet, maroon bluebonnet is correct. Secondly, the colors of the state flower which have existed for as long as bluebonnets have bloomed HAVE NOT been changed. Additional colors other than the more common blue, which already existed in Nature and have for hundreds of years, were isolated and purified. No plant breeding or genetic manipulation of bluebonnets has been done except by God. Any complaints or criticisms concerning bluebonnet color strains and their attractiveness should be directed directly to Him--not to me. The maroon color is naturally occurring from the pink strain; if a Texas Longhorn burnt-orange bluebonnet appears, it will be proliferated. All of these colors have been developed to enhance the Texas state flower. ALL of these colors are legally the state flower. Now for the first time in history, color patterns of the state flower can be planted and enjoyed.

What other flower comes only in one color? Shouldn't the Texas state flower be the best that it can be? Like Carroll Abbott, his pink bluebonnet namesake is full of surprises. The pink bluebonnet strain provided wonderful "bonus" color hues which none of us initially imagined. The purification of a pink bluebonnet strain lead to the selection 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 with every color in nature exists hues or shades of that color. For instance, with the pink bluebonnet should exist a series of shades of darker pink and, eventually, red. That has happened. In several years you will be able to purchase a truly red bluebonnet from seed and/or transplant. Another spectrum of colors should exist when blue color shades are mixed with pink or red to create purplish or, in another commonly used color description in Texas, maroon. This is why there now exists a ‘Texas Maroon’ (‘Alamo Fire’) state flower. There is also a beautiful purple.

The spectacular and significant thing about the occurrence of these color types is that this is THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD that these color variants have been seen and existed. If there had never been plantings of the ‘Abbott Pink’ bluebonnets, the red and maroon colors would not have been occurred. For horticulturists and lovers of the Texas state flower, this is a significant historical happening -- we have seen what no person has seen before!

Such a sight stimulated Mrs. Paul Steigerwald to compose the following poem:

When Noah from the Ark did go,
The Lord for a sign did send the rainbow.
But man will forget when the bow is dry.
What will remind him to look to the sky?
How will he remember that to God he is bidden,
That beyond the blue sky heaven is hidden?

So from the bow God took white, pink and red,
To remind us of Jesus, who for sin -- blood was shed.
Then upon the bonnet He painted the hues,
And covered them up with the rainbow blue.
Then he scattered the bonnet all over Texas,
And the whole world admired the flower God gave us.
But it remained for an Aggie, cleverest of the land
To show us the rainbow, hidden by God's hand.

by Mrs. Paul Steigerwald
La Pryor, Texas

and lead to the writing of The Legend of the Pink Bluebonnet by Greg Grant and Pamela Puryear ( )

A number of years ago while roaming the quaint inner city gardens of San Antonio with noted Navasota garden historian and good friend, 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. She 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 grandmother 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 bath 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 men 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's not only a pretty flower, but 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. Jerry 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.