Bluebonnet seeds are ripe when the pods turn brown and you can hear the seeds inside rattle.

May 6th, 2009
Saving Bluebonnet Seeds

I had a question recently on gathering bluebonnet seeds: how do you know they are ripe? It’s pretty easy to tell. When the shells turn brown, tap the shell. If you hear the seeds rattling inside, they are ripe. However, wait too long and the shell will explode when you tap it, throwing seeds everywhere. Lying in a field of bluebonnets on a hot May day, listening to seedpods pop is a classic Texas summer pastime.
photo: bluebonnet seeds
Ripe bluebonnet seeds open with a pop and a twist to disperse their seeds.

If you want to start bluebonnets in a new spot, you can cut whole ripe stalks (like the one above) and let them seed themselves in their new home. This is the easy-going natural method of seeding, great for wild areas. It might take several years to get a good stand going. That’s because bluebonnet seeds have coats of different thicknesses. Some wear thin and sprout the first year. Others take several years. This is a survival tactic to ensure that all the seeds don’t sprout at once, only to be lost to bad weather.

photo: bluebonnet seeds
Bluebonnet seeds ripe versus unripe. The green ones are NOT ripe and will rot if you try to plant them.

People tend to want all their seeds to sprout together, so commercial seed providers sometimes wear down the coat with an acid bath. People who gather their own seeds gently sand the outer coat down a little, just enough for water to soak in. I don’t do any of these things. Don’t need to. After a couple of years of growing bluebonnets, I’ve always had too many sprouts each fall. Individual plants (which contain multiple flowers) grow like small bushes to about 18 inches tall and two feet in diameter. In a small garden, you don’t need very many. I deadhead them to encourage more flowers and only let the best go to seed.

When you’re ready to clear out the bluebonnet plants, don’t pull them out by the roots. Cut them off at ground level. The roots are covered with nodules containing nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Not only are bluebonnets beautiful, they enrich our soil.

ripe larkspur seed
The same seed-saving advice holds true for larkspur (pictured above), nigella, and poppies. Wait until the pods are brown and the seeds are hard enough to rattle when you shake the pods.

If you have meadow plants in your garden, letting them go to seed means letting the garden look a bit messy for a few weeks. You’ll quickly understand why the word “seedy” means shabby and squalid. The payoff is a hundreds of free self-sown plants next year.