If there's one photo more common on Texas mantles than that of the kids standing next to Paisano Pete, it would be the one of the kids squatting reluctantly in a field of Texas bluebonnets. Every spring, families line the highways, tip-toeing through the medians, all risking life and limb to capture that annual bluebonnet portrait. It's a Texas tradition. In fact, I think it may be the biggest reason Texas highways were designed with shoulders.
But rarely, if ever, will you see anyone plucking one of those bright blue flowers for their scrapbooks. Why? Well, right alongside those distinctive blossoms grows a curious weed — a familiar mantra that crops up every year, as it has for generations. "It's illegal to pick bluebonnets! It's the state flower!" Every Texan has heard it, and most will argue the point, some quite vehemently.
For much of my life, I too would recite the same bit of knowledge. It had been a part of my belief system since I first heard it from my friends back in the 2nd grade. But, you know, 8-year-olds don't make the most reliable reference tools. (If they did, I'd still believe swallowed chewing gum digests in your stomach for 7 years.)
But is it true? Is it really illegal to pick bluebonnets?
"The answer is no," reads a press release from the Texas Department of Public Safety, the agency that encompasses the highway patrol and whose job it would be to enforce such legislation. "There is no law against picking our state flower."
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will give you the same answer. Bill Powell with the Public Information Office told Texas Twisted, "There is no legislation against picking wildflowers. It is, in fact, not illegal to pick wildflowers." And that includes bluebonnets. "It's an urban legend," he said.
Like most urban legends, this one is rampant, especially on the Internet. A Google search revealed a number of weblogs proclaiming statements like "It's illegal to pick [bluebonnets] and they drill that into your head as a child."
An online quiz written by an elementary-school teacher offered the same sentiment, replete with exclamation marks: "It is illegal in Texas to pick Bluebonnets!!"
Even a presumably reliable Texas A&M University Web page reads, "Here in Texas it is very illegal to pick bluebonnets along the freeway and the authorities are stringent in adhering to those rules," although I'm still unclear on what "very illegal" means.
Yet dozens of phone calls to various state officials all resulted in the negation of any such bluebonnets laws.
The TxDOT Travel Division receives enough queries on the subject each year that they've compiled an information sheet. Joe Slocum, voice of the TxDOT Travel Division's Wildflower Information Hotline and fan of Texas Twisted, shared this passage: "From a purely legal standpoint, there is no law currently existing which establishes picking wildflowers as a criminal offense."
Tela Mange, spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, confirmed the statement. "It's bad karma to pick them," she said, "but it's not illegal." She added, "I know at least one state trooper who says it's state law … and every time we run into each other, I hand him a law book and say, 'Come on, show me.' And he's not able to find it."
Mark Klym with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was yet another to counter the unsubstantiated anti-picking edict. "No such law, no such law. ... People feel that because it is the state flower, it's got some special protection. All that being appointed the state flower does is gives it some kind of special recognition."
He added, "The armadillo is our [state] small mammal. Well, it's perfectly legal to hunt armadillos." His point being that becoming a state symbol doesn't include any kind of preservation protection. After all, when the honor of state dish was awarded to chili, just imagine how such a thing would have affected the cracker industry. Continued ...