“Lovely Bluebonnets, More Beautiful Than All the Rest”
“Bluebonnets have inspired the poet’s pen, the artist’s brush, the cowboy’s dream, and the legislator’s eloquence throughout the broad spaces of Texas. Their royal beauty and enchanting fragrance have a particular message which speaks to the emotions with compelling directness.”
–Mary Daggett Lake, 1926
“I like the bluebonnet because a field of this Texas flower seems just to have burst from the ground and it trembles subtly, making it very beautiful.”
–Julian Onderdonk, 1914.
A selection of materials from the DRT Library’s collections demonstrate the accuracy of Lake’s statement, which we are highlighting in this entry to mark the anniversary of the Texas legislature’s March 7, 1901 action recognizing the bluebonnet as the state flower.
In her 1926 work The Legend of the Bluebonnet, botanist and author Mary Daggett Lake describes how this came to be, writing that the Colonial Dames of Texas originated the idea. Passing easily in the Senate, the resolution faced opposition in the House, where many representatives knew the flower by other names and where some proposed other flowers such as the prickly-pear cactus flower and the cotton boll. To strengthen their case for the bluebonnet, the Dames presented a painting of the flower by Miss Mode Walker of Austin. According to Lake, “deep silence reigned for an instant. Then deafening applause fairly shook the old walls.” The bluebonnet had carried the day.
Seventy years later, almost to the day, a second piece of legislation was needed to clarify the situation. The initial legislation applied only the the Lupinus subcarnosus species, which some Texans considered to be the least attractive of the bluebonnets. A seventy year argument about the flower was resolved when Governor Preston Smith signed legislation (H. C. R. No. 44) on March 8, 1971, making all six species of bluebonnets and “any other variety of Bluebonnet not heretofore recorded” the official state flower.
The bluebonnet has been the subject of numerous poems, songs, works of fictions, and art. In fact, the 1933 state legislature adopted a state flower song, written by Julia D. Booth and Lora C. Crockett, entitled “Bluebonnets.” While the DRT Library does not have a copy of this song, its sheet music collection does contain scores for other pieces that pay homage to the beauty of Texas bluebonnets.
Finally, artist Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922) was well-known for his depictions of bluebonnets in his artwork, which earned him the nickname of the “bluebonnet painter.” Indeed, William Rudolph writes in his book Julian Onderdonk: American Impressionist that “his paintings of the bluebonnet landscape brought [him] acclaim, his only measure of financial success, and a host of imitators.” While Onderdonk was not the first artist to depict bluebonnets in paintings, Rudolph argues that “it is thanks to Julian that the imagery became both distinct and popular” (37).
Onderdonk first painted bluebonnets in his work Spring Morning (1911), completed two years after returning to Texas from New York. This work is in the collection of the DRT Library and, while currently on loan, is usually on display in the reading room. Rudolph argues that in this painting the “bluebonnets scattered across the middle ground act more as a color-note contrast to the cacti and other vegetation than as the primary locus of attention.” Even though Onderdonk experimented with other plants in his landscape paintings, by the mid-1910s bluebonnets dominated his work (37).