Some symbols immediately conjure up thoughts of the Lone Star State, like the longhorn, bluebonnets, or cowboy boots. However, onions, pumpkins, and lizards do not! Surprisingly, all of these choices, and dozens more, have been adopted by the State Legislature as official symbols of Texas.
Most historians believe the trend of adopting state symbols was inspired by the “National Garland of Flowers” display at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The colorful presentation was made up of representative blooms requested from all of the states, requiring some soul searching on the part of each state’s leaders on which flower to send. The movement towards adopting official state flowers, birds, trees, and more seemed to emerge shortly after that!
The Official Flower of the Lone Star State
The Texas Legislature decided to select its first official symbol, a state flower, in 1901, but it was no easy task. Three primary contenders made the short list. One legislator lobbied for the open cotton boll, which he called the “white rose of commerce,” since cotton was king at the time. Another legislator, John Nance Garner of Uvalde,who would later become U.S. Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt, wanted to select the colorful flower of the prickly pear cactus to represent the state since it was so resilient. It was ultimately not selected, but because of Garner’s enthusiasm for the prickly plant, he was forever known as “Cactus Jack.” John Green of Cuero nominated the bluebonnet (Lupinus subcarnosus), or buffalo clover, and a bill designating it as the state flower of Texas passed legislation. Governor Joseph D. Sayers made it official on March 7, 1901. The influential Society of Colonial Dames in Texas whole-heartedly supported this choice.
Unfortunately, the botanical details (specifically which species of the flower would be used) of the selection were a bit confusing, and a debate began that would last the next 70 years. There are several varieties of bluebonnets around Texas and supporters of each cultivar debated the merits of each until March 8, 1971, when a resolution was approved. The legislature selected the popular bright blue flower Lupinus Texensis, and “any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded,” meaning that all species of bluebonnets technically count as the state flower. Contrary to popular lore, it is not illegal to pick bluebonnets, so picking a few from a roadside is probably fine. But since it is illegal to damage state property or “rights-of-way,” so digging up clumps of the flowers or driving over them should be discouraged!
One of the earliest Texas symbols selected was the northern mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), which became the state bird in 1927, with wide support. Mockingbirds have extraordinary singing skills and reportedly mimic up to 200 songs of other birds as well as insects, amphibians, and even some mechanical noises. According to the official text of the bill, the mockingbird “is found in all parts of the state, in winter and in summer, in the city and in the country, on the prairie and in the woods and hills, … is a singer of distinctive type, a fighter for the protection of his home, falling, if need be, in its defense, like any true Texan.”
The Official Texas Dog Breed
At first glance, the Blue Lacy, the official Texas Dog Breed that was adopted in 2005, may seem like an odd choice since most people have never even heard of them. The breed’s history, however, is truly Texan and dates back to the 1800s. Brothers Frank, George, Edwin, and Harry Lacy moved to the outskirts of Marble Falls from Kentucky in 1858 and decided to breed a variety of dog that was specifically suited for the hunting and herding needs of Texans. According to information recorded by the Lacys, the ultimate species they developed is a mixture of coyote, greyhound, and scenthound, and is officially recognized by the American Kennel Club. The Blue Lacy is an intelligent, devoted dog that has a natural herding instinct and can be easily trained for everything from hunting to herding. They are sleek, medium-sized animals, usually with short gray fur and a patch of white on their chest and occasionally their paws.
The State… Dinosaur?
The name of the official dinosaur of Texas was changed ten years after its initial adoption. In 1997, Texas selected Brachiosaur Sauropod, Pleurocoelus as the official state dinosaur since it had been found in the state. However, in 2007, paleontologists re-examined the fossilized bones and footprints found on the Jones Ranch, near the City of Paluxy in Hood County, and determined that it actually was an entirely new species. They named the dinosaur Paluxysaurus Jonesi after the town and ranch where the fossils were found. It is estimated that this dinosaur species was about 112 feet long and 20 to 30 feet high at the shoulder, and may have weighed in at anywhere from 50 to 60 tons. In 2009, a resolution was passed to amend the name of the official Texas dinosaur to reflect the new information.
A Unique Journey to Official Status
A variety of different individuals, clubs, civic groups, and legislators have initiated nominations for Texas symbols over the years, but each one has traveled its own unique journey to adoption or rejection. Cowboy boots, for example, were designated as the official footwear of Texas in 2007 when the efforts of a seventh-grade social studies class paid off. The students and their teacher, from the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Houston, gathered historical information about the significance of boots in Texas and made a heartfelt plea to their local legislator to represent their nomination. The bill passed easily in the House of Representatives, but surprisingly, almost failed in the Senate. Nevertheless, after an almost year-long process, the bill was passed
From the early 1900s to today, over 60 official Texas symbols or designations have been selected by the legislature. In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott approved twelve new ones including some obvious choices that were a long time coming: the cowboy hat is now the official hat of Texas and the term “Lone Star State” is the official nickname. There were also some more obscure choices, including the City of Jasper as the official Texas Butterfly Capital, the western bumblebee as the pollinator, and the Gulf Coast shrimp won in the crustacean category. Bringing the state into the technological age, Abbott also approved some official hashtags: #Texas as the hashtag of the state, #Texastodo representing Texas tourism, and #Txlege for the Texas Legislature.
To see a list of all official Texas symbols and designations, visit https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/abouttx/symbols.html.