This 2019 year so far has been a blessing due to all the rains. The severe storms we all could without but the rain like water for our bodies is needed for the land. With this year’s rains, they have given us an abundant beauty in wildflowers, especially bluebonnets.
Last year a Quanah, Texas student asked me how I could pick bluebonnets because they were illegal to pick. I looked at her quizzically and said the bluebonnets were picked from a private garden that I had brought for a school project. It took me a bit to research what the student was referring to. Through this student, I learned something I did not know before.
A long time ago in Texas, a state law from 1933 to 1973 was in place called the Wildflower Protection Act. This law was enacted on June 9, 1933, and it protected a variety of wildflowers, shrubs, and trees growing alongside Texas roadways, parks, and sanctuaries. It also outlawed transporting or dealing in illicit bluebonnets and other wildflowers.
A lot of women and garden clubs were vocal and wanted the ban in place to protect one of our most precious native natural resources. During the middle of the Depression, Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson signed this act written by State Representative Emmett Morse who was from Houston. Unfortunately, Morse and his act became the butt of a lot of jokes on the House floor.
One, in particular, was State Representative Ben Vaughan of Greenville who complained the bill would make it illegal for a child to pick a flower for their teacher. Thankfully, a later amendment to the Wildflower Protection Act on the House floor exempted children from criminal prosecution. Local State Representative Robert Alexander of Childress said the bill was “a direct slap in the face of romance” and said men who want to “take their girls out in the country wouldn’t have any excuse.”
A few State Representatives debated for this bill. One was State Representative T.H. McGregor of Austin who said it best when arguing for this bill that “A city dweller goes into the country and destroys flowers … and thinks nothing of it. What would he think if the farmer came to town and took his roses?”
Morse valiantly defended the Wildflower Protection bill given all the jokes and rebuttals. One-point Morse did make was saying commercial pickers around the Houston area were stealing holly and wildflowers like crazy. A lot of people think the Wildflower Protection Act only protected bluebonnets, our state flower, but the law safeguarded bluebells, Indian blankets, and blazing stars just to name a few. The continued stealing or over picking of wildflowers would have meant many of us today would probably not see all the bluebonnets, Indian blankets, bluebells (one of my favorite wildflowers) as we do without this protection for forty years.
There has always been a tale that if you were caught picking bluebonnets you would be thrown in jail. The law was actually a fine from $1.00 to $10.00 if you were caught picking bluebonnets or any of the other flowers mentioned in the Wildflower Protection Act. The fine was levied against anyone who set out to “pick, pull, pull up, tear up, dig up, cut, break, injure, burn or destroy” bluebonnets or any plants in public parks or on private property.
In 1973 the law making it illegal to pick these wildflowers was erased during a revision of the criminal code.
It is still illegal to pick bluebonnets or other wildflowers in Texas state parks. By the way, bluebonnets were named our state flower in 1901. The Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 10, of the 27th Legislature, specified Lupinus subcarnosus, but was amended in 1971 to include Lupinus texensis and “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded”. There are at least four other species of bluebonnet growing in Texas.
Some safety tips for viewing bluebonnets and other wildflowers:
- Obey traffic laws.
- Park far enough off improved shoulders along roadways.
- Don’t trespass on personal property.
- Be aware of snakes, fire ants, lizards, and other wildlife before taking photos.
- Yes – you may pick wildflowers but please, please don’t over pick them. Save some for future natural seeding.
Wildflowers are the jewels of our land. Tread lightly and don’t over pick them. Thanks to a Quanah student I’m now more knowledgeable about the myth surrounding picking bluebonnets who were protected for forty years. Thanks, Senator Morse.