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What’s more potent: a Texan’s pride for the Lone Star State or an Aggie’s affection for the school they think so grand? In 1982, both these passions converged to transform the iconic bluebonnet, Texas’ state flower. Just four years before the state celebrated its 150th birthday, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist Dr. Jerry Parsons was called upon to create a state flag made of bluebonnets for the San Antonio Botanical Garden. “Being naïve, I said, ‘We’ve already got a third of it done!’” he remembered.

While the blue portion of the flag was straightforward to achieve and small populations of white bonnets were identified, the red hue presented a challenge. Parsons enlisted the help of fellow wildflower enthusiasts, including then-Bexar County extension horticulturist Greg Grant ’84 ’86, to hunt for the elusive but existent pink variant of bonnets, from which they could obtain seeds to produce red blooms.

As the pair worked on isolating the pink variety, weeding out lighter color strains and developing darker shades in a process called recurrent selection, Grant noticed a peculiar blue tinge to some of the darker flowers. “They looked a bit like the color maroon,” he said. “I thought, ‘Let’s select out not for red, but for the color maroon. It’s Aggies that matter!’”

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The years of isolation required to purify the color strain meant that red phlox flowers were used in lieu of red bonnets during the sesquicentennial. When the maroon variety seen here was developed 20 years later, Parsons continued selecting darker forms from the pink strain to get red, ultimately unveiling the flag of bluebonnets in 2003.

Today’s maroon bluebonnets require special care and attention for propagation, as their coloration relies on recessive genes that can easily be overridden by the flowers’ natural hue if not meticulously isolated. While Parsons admits their shade isn’t quite as dark as Aggieland’s official maroon, they nonetheless give off no shortage of Aggie Spirit in Texas A&M University’s Gardens on West Campus, where visitors can marvel at their blooms from mid-March to May every spring.

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  • Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor
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