Sample Entries from the Book
Texas Bluebonnet, Buffalo Clover, Wolf Flower
Bluebonnets became the Texas state flower in 1901. There are five species of genus Lupinus making Texas their home, and in 1971 state lawmakers decided to embrace them all as the state flower(s). Two of these are shown following the text.
Despite the name, bluebonnets are not always blue; some species or varieties have pink, maroon, or white petals. Each new flower has a white spot, and careful observation will reveal that on some of the flowers this white spot has turned red, indicating that it has already been pollinated and is on its way to making a seedpod. All lupines have palmately compound leaves.
To grow bluebonnets in a home garden, plant the seeds in the fall. They will germinate with fall rains and grow through the winter as a rosette, or cluster of leaves hugging the ground. When the days lengthen, so will the flowering stalk, and the plant will begin to flower sometime in March or April. Bluebonnets will reseed themselves thereafter if conditions are favorable.
Many lupines contain dangerous alkaloids, but bluebonnets are “sweet”—that is, their alkaloid content is low--making them a desirable forage plant.
The Navajo people believed that lupines were a cure for sterility and would help a man produce female children. They also ground the roots and applied the paste to skin wounds. Wool may be dyed a light yellowish-green by simmering it with bluebonnet flowers, although colorfastness is a problem.
Legends abound about how the lovely bluebonnet came into existence. One story explains that the flowers are chunks of sky knocked down by warriors fighting in the Happy Hunting Ground. Another legend is about an Aztec maiden who was being sacrificed to appease the gods. She dropped her blue headdress to the ground, and the next day there were blue flowers growing there. A third well-known myth says the flowers arose from the ashes of a doll sacrificed by a little girl to bring the rains back to her tribal lands.
Two other bluebonnet species include L. concinnus, annual lupine, which is the least flamboyant of the lupines, and L. havardii, Big Bend bluebonnet, which is larger and more robust than other species.
Occasionally one sees white or pink bluebonnets, which show recessive genes for alternative colors. Examples of these are shown in the Exploring Further pages, along with typical palmately compound leaves and seedpods.
Indian Blanket, Firewheel
The genus Gaillardia was named for the well-to-do French lawmaker of the 1700s Gaillard de Charentonneu, who funded botanical research and exploration. The name “Indian blanket” comes from an old legend about a blanket weaver who wished to thank the Great Spirit for his many gifts. The old man used the colors of the sunset in weaving the most exquisite blanket he had ever made. At his request, he was buried in this yellow, red, and brown blanket so that he could present it as a gift to his Maker. In return, the Great Spirit covered the land with this flower, which displays all the colors of the sunset, just like the blanket.
An ancient Aztec legend tells a different tale of how this flower came to be. According to this story, the Indian blanket was once pure yellow before the coming of HernĚn Cort╚s, but the center became stained red with the spilled blood of the Native Americans he conquered.
This famous drought-tolerant annual is now a well-known ornamental in gardens throughout the United States, although the larger and more robust G. grandiflora is showier and longer lasting.
Kiowas thought this flower would bring them good luck and kept it in their homes. Many tribes used a tea from this plant as a diuretic to relieve water retention and to treat urinary problems. Pale green and bright yellow dyes can be extracted from the flower heads, depending on the compounds used to fix the colors.
Mesquite is a ubiquitous feature of the southern Central Plains and is found throughout Texas. It varies in size from a small shrub to a tree, depending on the availability of water.
One group of Native Americans, the Jumas, used mesquite wood for making cradles, and it is still used to make jewelry, small furniture, flooring, and paneling. Native Americans used the inner bark to provide fiber for making fabric and baskets. The robust spines were modified to serve as sewing needles.
American Indians ground the seeds to make a flour or meal, known as pinole, from which they made bread. The flowers may be eaten raw, and so can the beans, which are high in sugar. Delicious syrup can be made by boiling the pods in water until the liquid is condensed.
A high-quality hydrocolloid, or gum, similar in quality to gum Arabic, can be produced from the sap. Native Americans used the gum as a source of black dye for fibers, as an adhesive for repairing broken pottery, and as a medicine for sore throat, stomach ulcers, diarrhea, and skin injuries. Pimas made use of the dark resin for a hair dye and as a wash for irritated eyes and skin. They applied powdered resin to the navel of a newborn to prevent infection.
The pods are a valuable livestock food. Mesquite seeds germinate much better after passing through the digestive tract of cattle, where they are scarified by the stomach acids; this is believed to have contributed to mesquite’s spread through the cattle country of Texas.
The wood is prized for use in barbecues because it burns slowly and gives a smoky flavor to the meat. Mesquite also serves as a prognosticator of spring: ranchers know that when the old mesquites begin to put out leaves, the danger of frost is past.
Mexican Poppy, Yellow Prickly Poppy, Chicalote
The genus name comes from the Greek word argemone, which means “cataract of the eye,” referring to the belief that the bitter yellow or orange sap could be used to treat eye problems. (Note: One should not attempt this treatment, since permanent damage may result.)
Showy, bright yellow blooms adorn the spiny, blue-green stems of the Mexican poppy, which grows in waste places and reaches over two feet in height. Even the buds are spiny and have three to five “horns” protruding from the top. It has become an international weed by spreading to Asia and Africa, where it is used for herbal remedies just as it is in its native territory.
When prickly poppy stems are broken, they exude a yellow sap containing a number of poisonous alkaloids and protein-digesting enzymes, which give the plant useful pharmaceutical properties. Native Americans used the sap to remove warts and to treat cold sores and other skin infections. A concoction of the flowers helps cold and flu sufferers rid themselves of the phlegm that is such an unpleasant accompaniment to these pulmonary complaints. The numerous tiny seeds can be used as a laxative, an emetic (substance used to induce vomiting), or a mild sedative.
A tea or wash with both analgesic and sedative properties is brewed from the entire plant. Those suffering from a bladder infection or prostate pain drink the tea to gain relief. Sunburned or scraped skin can be soothed by bathing the afflicted part with this liquid. The throbbing pain of a migraine sometimes responds to the tea. All these medical benefits led the Comanches to revere the plant, and they made offerings to it during harvesting.
The narcotic properties of poppies have led to many myths, one of which holds that the twin brothers Hypnos and Thanatos (Sleep and Death) of Greek mythology were crowned with this flower.
The only part of the plant suitable for food is the small, blackish-brown seed, which is generally roasted before being eaten. The seeds also serve as food for quail and doves. The plant is not a food source for grazing animals, however, due to the toxic components of the sap and the prickly nature of the stems and leaves. Since cattle avoid eating this plant, overgrazing may remove the competing flora, leading to the establishment of large colonies of poppies.
Native Americans reportedly used the spiny leaves dipped in ashes to make tattoos.