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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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Monday - January 17, 2011

From: Stanford, CA
Region: California
Topic: Seasonal Tasks, Seeds and Seeding, Wildflowers
Title: Raising bluebonnets in Stanford CA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I'm a Houston girl now living in Northern California (Stanford). I would like to know if I need to adjust my growing timing for lupinus texensis? Mostly, I want to know when I should actually put the seeds in the ground. Thanks from out West.

ANSWER:

Sorry, you can lead a seed to dirt, but you cannot make it grow. Lupinus texensis (Texas bluebonnet) is endemic to Texas, although there has been some success in growing it in Florida, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Inside every seed there are millennia of genetic coding that say "grow here, not there." For more information, see our How-To Article on Bluebonnets.

There are so many different factors that cause this that some have probably not been identified yet. From our Native Plant Database on the Texas bluebonnet, here are the Growing Conditions:

"Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Dry
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Limestone/chalky, Sandy Loam, Limestone-based, Calcareous, Sandy, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Caliche"

Even though the Texas bluebonnet is an icon of Texas, there are many parts of that state, including Houston, where it does not voluntarily grow as you will see from this USDA Plant Profile map.

So, much as we would love to know that our beautiful state flower was growiing in fields in California, we don't want to raise your hopes. If you are in the mood to experiment, and have a small space in which to do it, you could try getting some seeds, putting them in a sunny space in October, and see what happens. They are very particular about their dirt, fix nitrogen in the soil and, generally speaking, do not grow where bluebonnets have not grown before.

On the other hand, it would be more satisfying, or at least less frustrating, to grow wildflowers native to California, including 38 members of the Lupinus genus, some of which look very like the Texas version. You probably need to decide if you want to make a statement or make a garden.

Some members of the Lupinus genus native to the Santa Clara County area:

Lupinus bicolor (Miniature lupine)

Lupinus excubitus (Grape soda lupine)

Lupinus latifolius (Broadleaf lupine)

Lupinus nanus (Ocean-blue lupine)

Of the pictures below, the first 3 are early stages of the Texas bluebonnet, in case you get it to grow. The last 4 are of lupines similar to Texas bluebonnets native to the Santa Clara County area:

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

Texas bluebonnet
Lupinus texensis

Miniature lupine
Lupinus bicolor

Grape soda lupine
Lupinus excubitus

Broadleaf lupine
Lupinus latifolius

Ocean-blue lupine
Lupinus nanus

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