In Bloom This Week: Texas Bluebells

My favorite Texas wildflower is blooming in the little scrap of wetland we call Meadow Marsh. We’re lucky to have the native Texas bluebells, Eustoma exaltatum, aka blue gentian, prairie gentian, and blue marsh lily. They truly are exalted, and for me, the loveliest of all our Hill Country wildflowers. The medicinal use of these plants began some 5,000 years ago, to treat inflammations, fever, and digestive disorders.

Our gentians are having a good summer because of the lovely rain we had in the spring. If you’re driving along a country road and see them, take a photo, please. Don’t try to dig them up–they don’t transplat well. And if you take the seeds, take only a few, to give the plant a chance to reproduce itself in the place where you found it. They’re not on the “rare” or “endangered” lists, but they’re truly hard to find because their habitat is being destroyed by development.

Oh, and blue gentians are unrelated to gentium blue (also called crystal violet), a chemical dye that also has medicinal uses. Confusing, yes.

On the writing desk this week: the last pass through a Dahlias mystery set in the blistering summer of 1935 in little Darling, AL, beseiged by an arsonist.

The hot issues that year were political: FDR had just signed the Social Security Act, the New Deal was under constant attack from the right, and Senator Huey P. Long (who had recently escaped impeachment on corruption charges and was under investigation by the U.S. Senate for vote fraud) was raising a ruckus with his “Every Man a King” campaign.

There were tragedies: the Labor Day Hurricane destroyed several Florida Keys and killed hundrds of veterans working on the new Overseas Highway. Comedian Will Rogers and renowned aviator Wiley Post died in an Alaska plane crash. Huey Long died, as well, in a mysterious shooting in the Louisiana state capitol.

The 1935 news wasn’t all bad. Little House on the Prairie (by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane) was published, as was T.S. Elliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night. Fred Astaire was at the top of the 1935 pop charts with “Cheek to Cheek” (from the movie Top Hat, with the amazing Ginger Rogers). The overworked child star Shirley Temple hit a box-office bonanza with five (!) movies. And our mothers discovered a handy new product. Tampons came on the market, although they often had to be sold under-the-counter. (Of course, it wasn’t long before somebody discovered an unintended use for them.)

The book is called The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker. The manuscript goes to the copy editor in a couple of weeks. You should have it in April or May, 2022.

And yes, there will be a new China Bayles mystery. It’s called Hemlock. It will be available in print, ebook, and audio on September 7, 2021.

Reading note.  Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves.Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate


31 comments on “In Bloom This Week: Texas Bluebells

  1. Like you, I was born in Illinois and also lived in Texas Hill Country (near Dripping Springs) for years. I even also do cross stitch so I look forward to reading your blog but have never posted before. Unfortunately the Texas heat got the better of me and I ended up moving at the beginning of 2020 to Minnesota. While there are many beauties of nature here, I do miss seeing the bluebells and blooming cactus in the spring. I’m looking forward to all the upcoming books, I love all your work.

  2. I love our Texas Bluebells. I have a few scattered on my land in west Texas, near Abilene. I also love reading your books, they are a lovely read; especially like the Cottage Tales books. Met you in Houston, Murder By The Book, a few years ago.

  3. I cannot wait for China to reappear. The Dahlias will be a 2022 delight, too. Thanks, Susan! So glad you are enjoying one of your favorite flowers. Arizona is experiencing another extreme drought coupled with high temperatures. A wildfire rages about 30 miles from us and has ravaged over 34,000 acres of some of Arizona’s prettiest canyons. So very sad to witness such destruction.

  4. You’ve given a lot to look forward to, Susan. Thanks! The thought of a new Darling Dahlias is exciting!

  5. I have happy memories of discovering the blue bells when visiting Independence and Brenham over the years. Seeing them in bloom was a special treat. The wild flowers that bloomed in Fort Worth had nothing like them to offer. It took me a long time to associate the blue bells with my favorite ice cream made in Brenham. Yes, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. So glad I can buy it here in Santa Fe.

    • We’re Blue Bell ice cream fans, too, Janet–missed them when they were out of commission a few years ago. Working on a gallon of buttered pecan this week.

  6. I remember a postcard my grandmother sent me. The picture was a field of bluebells. She and my grandfather were living in Brownwood. A few years later, they moved to Los Angeles to live with us, as is often necessary as folks become less well. That worked out to my advantage. I was able to spend time with them most days after school. She told me about Juneteen.

  7. I used tampons ‘off label’ … per my husbands Dr.s recommendation. My husband used oxygen due to pulmonary fibrosis caused by years of pipe/cigarette smoking. The tubes that led from the tank to his nostrils would irritate the little vessels and delicate lining of his nose…also the oxygen was cold. He would get raging nosebleeds ( he was on a blood thinner for a heart problem). I was told to soak the tampon in Afrin and pack his nose. I have to admit, the first time I did it and he was walking around with a little string hanging out of each of his nose holes…I doubled over laughing and told him females finally got revenge. He is gone now and I miss him…we were quite a team.

    • Who knew! That must be the same thing that Vicki is talking about (below).Sounds so painful–hope he could smile about it too. And what a blessing it is to be able to say that you and your partner were “quite a team.” Sadly, not all marriages work that way.

    • Vicki, see Dee’s comment above–something I didn’t know but will remember, just in case. I do remember, though, that my mother (who was born when Taft was in the White House) would not allow me to use tampons as a young girl–told me I shouldn’t use them until I was married. I hope times have changed . . .

  8. Oh thank you for the nice close up pic of your Texas bluebells! I have only seen pictures of them flowering over a field or roadside at a distance. Which looks quite pretty, but now I see that they are unique and I do like them! Up here in the PNW, June brings our native foxglove and tiger lilies which brings back memories of horseback rides on logging roads in our Cascade foothills.
    A little detour here, must tell you how much I have been enjoying your Cottage Tale series! I will admit that I dipped into them because I was a little China Bayles starved and well… you had written them and I have this 3 year old grand niece that I might want to read stories to …. so I began to listen to the Cottage Tales while I was knitting. So glad I did! As with everything you do, I love all of the details and finishing touches. I may never get to the Lakes District, but I some how feel like I have been there, in a rather special way. Thank you!

    • Sandy, I love the narrator of the Cottage Tale audio edition: Virginia Leishman She is perfect for that series; her narration brings the animals to life in ways I could never imagine. A narrator can (but doesn’t always!) add new dimensions to a book. Virginia does that, and I’m very grateful.

      • Oh yes, Virginia Leishman does a superb job of bringing the stories to life! She is terrific. As are you in creating these tales. Of course like everyone is saying, I am looking forward to your other new books, too! But, these Cottage Tales have been just what I needed to keep me happy in the mean time.
        Oh man! Buttered Pecan or Vanilla?!?! They both sound delish! I could never allow myself to bring a gallon home!!😎

  9. Awesome book news — can’t wait! And I love that you have those gorgeously wonderful bluebells. Enjoy Father’s Day and summer!

    • Thank you, Beth. The blue bells won’t last long–but then we’ll have sunflowers to enjoy. The hotter it gets, the more they thrive.

  10. Okay, now I NEED to know of the alternate use for tampons. Trust a writer to hook me with a buried sentence. Please share.

    • Oh, funny, Patricia! Sorry–you’ll just have to wait for that alternate use. It’s a spoiler.

  11. So happy to hear about a new China Bayles! I’ve been a fan for many years (saw you in Beaumont years ago). I always brought your books along when we went to my husband’s dads in Burnet. I think I have all of them!

    • Beaumont–yes. Bill was with me that trip, if I remember right. I miss the book talks and it’s always good to hear from people who remember the event.

    • Yes, indeed–and much appreciated. Some years it’s too dry for them. That’s the thing about wildflowers vs garden flowers. They’re much more independent. 🙂

  12. I love bluebells. wish I could grow them here in Connecticut.

    1935 was an important year for me because I was born on Saturday, September 7th. It was notable because my doctor had taken his wife to the movies for the first time in many weeks and he was called out around 8 PM to deliver me. For a long time I felt guilty about ruining their evening. 🙂

    • Wonder what movie they’d gone to see–lots of good ones that year. Call of the Wild (Clark Gable); Mutiny on the Bounty (Gable and Charles Laughton); Steamboat Round the Bend (Will Rogers’ last film). And Judy Garland signed her first film contract, at age 13. I hope your doc got to enjoy another evening at the movies!

  13. I always wanted to see the Texas bluebells in person. When my son was stationed at Fort Hood we scheduled a visit with him during bluebell blooming season. When we got to Texas a lack of rain had played havoc with the wildflowers. But…ever optimistic I kept an eye out. Reward: one (1) tiny wilted little stem with blue flowers at the base of a telephone pole on a city street.

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