Flora Fact: The Ice Cream Flower
Graceful Texas bluebells are beautiful and hardy.
By Jason Singhurst
Last July, a friend and I were fly-fishing from kayaks between Martindale and Staples in Central Texas. Texas was in the middle of an unrelenting drought, so most rivers were barely trickling, but the San Marcos River was flowing faithfully. We caught and released a few Guadalupe bass, Rio Grande perch and sunfish, then pulled over to admire a few patches of Texas bluebells growing in the seep gravels.
While I marveled at this resilient plant blooming in the driest of summers, I couldn’t help but daydream about a big bowl of Blue Bell ice cream to cool me down. In 1930, the Brenham Creamery Company changed its name to Blue Bell Creameries in honor of the Texas flower. Under the right climate conditions, bluebells can still be found flourishing in fields around Brenham.
Showy Texas bluebells (Eustoma exaltatum ssp. russellianum and ssp. exaltatum) are also known as prairie gentians. The flowers are borne on fleshy blue-green stems that range from 1 to 3 feet tall. The amazing array of 2- to 3-inch bell-shaped flowers occurs in blue, purple, pink, white and yellow. The bluebell is a short-lived perennial (two to five years) that reseeds itself. In some places, this glitzy plant has declined — folks cannot resist picking it.
The richly colored Texas bluebell is considered to be one of the state’s most beautiful wildflowers. Blue Bell Creameries is named after the native plant.
Bluebells are deer-resistant, except when their flower buds are periodically nipped. In cultivation, they make excellent cut flowers for floral arrangements. The Japanese have been cultivating bluebells for decades, and many varieties are sold commercially. It was reportedly Lady Bird Johnson’s favorite flower.
In West Texas, look for bluebells along the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park, around springs and in cienegas. In South Texas, you can see them along salt marshes, saline lakes, salt flats and in wetlands on the backside of dunes at Mustang Island State Park or Padre Island National Seashore. In Central Texas, bluebells grow along the edge of spring-fed streams and rivers and in overgrazed meadows. Bluebells can be found in isolated prairies in the Sam Houston National Forest. In the High Plains, you will spot them along the Canadian and Red rivers.
There is no doubt that the Texas bluebell, which graces our landscape during the hottest time of year, is among the hardiest of Texas wildflowers. So enjoy this extraordinary plant whether you’re getting wet along the Texas coast or rivers, or just cooling off with a bowl of ice cream.