Bluebonnet Beauty

Bluebonnet love exhibits Texas personality.

On patches of prairie, in backyard gardens, along quiet roads and all across Texas, brilliant bluebonnets are swaying in a gentle breeze.
And like we do every spring, we admire these seas of lush, deep-blue wildflowers.
We watch them, stand in them, take pictures of our kids sitting in them, paint them, name festivals for them, read stories about them, we even pick 'em.
Tourists flock to Ennis and other Texas towns just for the blooming bluebonnets.
So why the wild fascination with a flower that's been called the buffalo clover and peaks only a few weeks of the year?
Perhaps historian Jack Maguire explains it best. He once wrote: "The bluebonnet is to Texas what the shamrock is to Ireland, the cherry blossom to Japan, the lily to France, the rose to England and the tulip to Holland."
Bluebonnets resonate among proud-of-our-heritage Texans, said Flo Oxley, director of plant conservation and education at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
"You see the bluebonnet and you say, 'Spring is coming,' " Oxley said. "That's a good sign. It's a hopeful sign. It's the beginning of a new season."
Bluebonnets symbolize an idyllic time when the weather's just right and people are itching to get outdoors.
"Everything is bright and colorful," said Sandy Anderson, chairman of Ennis' annual Bluebonnet Trails. "Put on a pair of jeans and get a white shirt and sit in the bluebonnets. It's invigorating."
The Ennis blue bonanza, which lasts through April, features a three-day festival and more than 40 miles of bluebonnets, attracting tens of thousands of visitors.
Members of the Ennis Garden Club drive around town, eyeing the best bluebonnet patches and sharing those details with tourists.
Despite reports that this year's bluebonnet crop might be less than spectacular, Ennis officials say the flowers are plentiful and should peak in time for the Bluebonnet Trails Festival on April 17-19.
Last week, visitors from Colorado, Arizona and Wisconsin dropped by the Ellis County town.
"People want to go out in the country and relax and enjoy the beauty," said Gina Rokas, tourism director for the Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Under the current stressful times, it couldn't be a better year to do that."
Bluebonnet visitors typically spend about $1 million around town each April, city officials said.
Ennis shop owners like Betty Glaspy see green in the blue. The April foot traffic at her store, Interior Ideas, is nearly triple what it is during a normal month, while business doubles at her restaurant, Wildflower Cafe.
"We get more exposure," Glaspy said. "It's an opportunity for people to shop, and they may come back and shop later. ... They'll look around the city."
Bluebonnet items are popular at her downtown store, which also sells antiques, gifts and accessories. Custom vases holding artificial bluebonnets are a big seller. Note cards with bluebonnet prints are popular. A local artist's bluebonnet paintings are for sale.
In Washington County, between Houston and Austin, phones start ringing in January with questions from bluebonnet fans, said Lu Hollander, a spokeswoman for the county's Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors' Bureau.
About 10,000 people visit the two-day bluebonnet festival in Chappell Hill, a town with just a few hundred residents.
In Austin, bluebonnets are one of the main draws at the Wildflower Center, Oxley said. One family from Scotland once wrote in the visitors' log that they came to Texas specifically for the bluebonnets.
A few years ago, when the bluebonnets weren't as lush as they normally are, the Wildflower Center's receptionist fielded phone calls from disappointed flower fans.
The pink evening primroses were spectacular, the receptionist said reassuringly.
That didn't seem to satisfy anyone.
So pity the primrose, the Indian paintbrush, the winecup they should be stars in their own right. But they're no match for the bluebonnet, "the diva," as Oxley puts it.
The flower's special place in Texans' hearts spans more than a century.
In 1901, the bluebonnet was named the state flower, beating out the cotton boll and cactus. The flowers were likely given their name because they were reminiscent of Texas pioneer women wearing sunbonnets.
These days, schoolchildren across the state read The Legend of the Bluebonnet, Tomie dePaola's tale based on Comanche Indian lore.
The story features a girl, She-Who-Is-Alone, who helped end a drought and famine by burning her cherished warrior doll and scattering its ashes across the ground. The next morning, blue flowers and rain covered the land.
"Every spring," dePaola wrote, "the Great Spirits remember the sacrifice of a little girl and fill the hills and valleys of the land, now called Texas, with the beautiful blue flowers."
Texas bluebonnets are featured in poetry and song and grace many a painting. W.A. Slaughter, who worked in North Texas before his death in 2003, became known for his bluebonnet art.
"I don't know why I started doing bluebonnets," Slaughter told Texas Monthly in a 1997 profile. "I suppose there is just something so appealing about a field of blue."
But nothing beats the real deal: Watching bluebonnets live and in color.
Anderson has taken pictures of her children, and now her grandchildren, in the azure flowers.
Oxley, of the Wildflower Center, gets sentimental about bluebonnets.
After a trip to Ecuador, as her plane arrived in Houston, Oxley saw bluebonnets popping up in strips of earth between the runways.
She started to cry.
"I was home."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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