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

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Friday - April 30, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Best of Smarty, Propagation, Seeds and Seeding, Wildflowers
Title: How and when to harvest bluebonnets.
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

A previous answer mentioned harvesting bluebonnet seeds by pulling up the whole plant when the seed pods turn brown. Two clarifications - when do the seed pods turn brown as these plants are hard to find with no flowers so need to know how long I have to remember where they are before being able to harvest. Also, do I need to pull the whole plant as suggested or can just the pods be harvested. Thanks!

ANSWER:

Lupinus texensis (Texas bluebonnet) seeds ripen in Central Texas between mid-May and mid-June. 

It's usually pretty hard to miss seeing bluebonnets that are going to seed since the most often rise above most of the surrounding vegetation and they make the area where they're growing rather messy-looking and unkempt.  In some cases, later-flowering plants like Coreopsis and Indian Blanket can obscure them.

Many people pull their bluebonnet plants as they are yellowing or turning brown and hang them upside down to dry in a place where the falling seeds (ejected, actually) can be gathered.  When the seedpods are fully mature and dry, they split open along a suture and the small, hard seeds are ejected quite some distance - a clever natural strategy for spreading the seed to new areas.

You can pick only the seed pod of your bluebonnets, but you'll want to wait until they are dry before doing so.  By waiting, you run the risk of the seedpods already being empty by the time you're ready to harvest.

If you simply wish to have another bluebonnet display in the same location next year, just let your plants go to seed naturally and mow or otherwise remove the dead plants afterward.  Since bluebonnets form nitrogen-fixing nodules on the roots, leaving the roots intact will improve the soil.  Alternatively, you can pull the plants to collect the seeds and later compost the plants to help create a really rich soil amendment.

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

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