En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
2 ratings

Tuesday - March 11, 2008

From: Chicago, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Seeds and Seeding, Wildflowers
Title: Bluebonnet seeds north of Chicago
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Hi My husband is originally from Texas - we now live north of Chicago. Last year he bought a whole bunch of Blue bonnet seeds from a company that said they would grow in our area... I planted enough seeds to probably populate an acre with no luck...were we ripped off or is there a secret to growing these beautiful flowers that I am not aware of!? thanks so much ...Sarah W.


We'll start with the basics: Go to this Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center "How-to Article" on Bluebonnets. There are six species, all of which are considered the Texas State flower:

Lupinus havardii (Big Bend bluebonnet)

Lupinus perennis (sundial lupine)

Lupinus plattensis (Nebraska lupine)

Lupinus subcarnosus (Texas bluebonnet)

Lupinus texensis (Texas bluebonnet)

Lupinus concinnus (bajada lupine)

Of these, only Lupinus perennis (sundial lupine) naturally occurs in Illinois. On this USDA Plant Profile for the sundial lupine, you can scroll down to the map of the U.S, click on the outline of Illinois, and it will show you the counties where the plant occurs naturally. That doesn't mean they will only grow there, but it is proof that you can grow them in the Chicago area. The sundial lupine has a little more white in it than the Southern lupines, but it is still an official state flower of Texas, so it's okay

There are probably several problems in the non-productivity of your seeds. Who knows which species of bluebonnet were the originators of the seeds you purchased? You also probably have no idea how fresh they were. If you read the propagation information in the article on bluebonnets, you will find that the seeds need to be scarified, or put in boiling water, or some other technique to break that tough coat. In Texas, they are considered a Winter annual, seeding out at the end of the bloom season in about May or June, going underground during the hot summer, and beginning to put out the first flat rosettes in December or January, starting to bloom by early March. So, we always suggest that seeds be planted at about the same time the natural distribution is going on. The sundial lupine is considered a perennial, and the propagation suggestion is that seed be planted in the Spring. Since it gets a whole lot colder in Chicago than it does in Austin, that sounds like a good idea. The roots will hide from the cold underground, and new plants should come up, both from the roots and whatever seeds the plant dropped in the Summer.

Now, the question is, where do you get seeds that you can depend on being a bluebonnet that will survive in Illinois? We found two companies that provide seed in Illinois, both specializing in Midwest native plants, and both with websites and phone numbers. They should understand why you are looking for the specific bluebonnet, and hopefully be able to provide you not only with the right seed but with instructions on when and how to plant them. We really do hope you will be able to plant a little bit of Texas for your husband.


From the Image Gallery

Big bend bluebonnet
Lupinus havardii

Sundial lupine
Lupinus perennis

Nebraska lupine
Lupinus plattensis

Sandyland bluebonnet
Lupinus subcarnosus

Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

Annual lupine
Lupinus concinnus

More Wildflowers Questions

Smarty Plants on Rohelís saxifrage
May 11, 2005 - Hi, can you help? Do you know what is a plant named: Rohelís saxifrage? "Bulgaria - Cenral Balkan National Park - Kozya Stena (Chamois Wall) Reserve was established on December 22, 1987. With an a...
view the full question and answer

Should I thin my bluebonnet seedlings in Austin, TX
October 20, 2009 - It is October, and we have hundreds, maybe thousands, of bluebonnets sprouting at Eilers Park. The seeds are from plants we installed last year. They look like they should be thinned. Should we thin t...
view the full question and answer

Reducing Allergens in Yards and Gardens
January 31, 2012 - What are some allergen-free native plants to Central Texas that thrive in the soil and can survive in the weather?
view the full question and answer

Flowering native plants for Evanston IL
July 12, 2009 - What flowering, native plants would be suitable for a backyard garden in Evanston Illinois?
view the full question and answer

Sowing additional wildflower and grass seeds on steep hillside
January 30, 2006 - Mr. Smarty, we recently moved to Hot Springs, AR. We have about a 1000 sf hillside area too steep to plant with shrubs etc. We had wildflower seeds scattered last May in this area and the flowers we...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center