Native Plant Focus: Texas Bluebell
Eustoma exaltatum ssp. Russellianum
Try to think of one thing that wildflowers and ice cream have in common. Not so easy, is it?
Texas’ native wildflowers need the summer heat to survive just as many of us depend on a scoop of cold, delicious ice cream to get us through a summer afternoon. But there’s only one wildflower that has influenced a nation of ice cream lovers more than any other. An enchanting specimen that at one time was so abundant across the Texas prairie that a large creamery located near Brenham decided to adopt its name in 1930. This native beauty is the Texas Bluebell.
Where to find it
Ranging southward from Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota to new Mexico, Texas and Louisiana, the Texas Bluebell (known also as Showy Prairie Gentian or Prairie Gentian), is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Texas wildflowers. Sadly, in Texas, the plant’s range has decreased dramatically over the past century. The upright, showy blue to purple bell-shaped flowers are so attractive in cut flower arrangements that admirers have over-picked it, drastically reducing the number left in nature to produce seed capsules. Today, locating Texas Bluebells in the wild requires a focused effort. In our local area, some of the isolated prairies within Sam Houston National Forest provide limited viewing opportunities.
Easy care & adaptable
With blue blooms emitting a natural iridescence and a velvety texture, the two-inch bell-shaped flowers stand upright on deep blue-green stems and leaves covered with a waxy bloom. Texas Bluebells thrive in moist sandy or sandy loam soils and are most likely to be found along the edges of creeks, streams, or drainage areas. This perennial plant develops a long taproot to access the required moisture from deep within the soil. While it prefers full sun, the Texas bluebell will grow in part shade. During periods of rain, the beautiful blue blossoms will close and will re-open when the sun emerges. The plant is heat tolerant and continues to produce blooms during the summer when other wildflowers are past their prime.
In the home landscape, Texas Bluebells are perfect for the edges of water or rain gardens, in ornamental beds, borders or cutting gardens. They’re easy to maintain and have no known serious insect or disease problems. If you’re incorporating Texas Bluebells, consider beginning with young rosettes; starting from seed can be challenging.
As a native plant, the Texas Bluebell offers a number of benefits for the environment. Birds are attracted by its tiny black seeds while hummingbirds, butterflies and bees enjoy the nectar and pollen. Since bees are attracted to blue flowers, the major pollinator for this plant is the metallic green sweat bee, whose long tongue is able to reach the nectar deep within the large flower. Metallic green sweat bees are one of the most prolific native bees in local yards and gardens.
Providing habitat for native bees is an important role for homeowners. The University of Texas offers some excellent tips for improving native bee habitat.
Growing native Texas Bluebells and creating enhanced native bee habitat in your own landscape will support restoration of this stunningly beautiful blue flower. Bluebells will begin their bloom cycle in June and continue blooming throughout the heat of the Texas summer. Visit a local native plant retailer now to establish these rewarding plants in your own garden.