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Gardening: Bluebonnets Image

The sago palm has become a very popular landscape item. Pups or suckers are a wonderful source of new plants.

Photo Credit: Margie Jenke

BLUEBONNETS: TO PICK OR NOT PICK—that is the question

By Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

April 25, 2007

Question: You discussed bluebonnets in one of your recent columns. Is it illegal to pick bluebonnet flowers along Texas highways?

Answer: The answer is no! The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is called upon to clarify this matter on an annual basis. In fact, the Public Information Office of DPS issued such a clarification on their web site ( dated April 2, 2007.

The press release was titled “DPS says: Don’t pick the bluebonnets!” which probably does not help alleviate the confusion. However, their press release goes on to state “. . . there is no law against picking our State Flower. However, there are laws against criminal trespass—so make sure you’re not on private property when you stop to take your annual kids-in-the-bluebonnets photo.”

I know many folks might argue the point in spite of the fact that those charged with enforcing such legislation (if it did exist) state that there is no legislative basis for it. Urban legends tend to have a life of their own and it does not help that we are often told from school age on that it’s illegal to pick our state flower. Neither does it help when many other sources (including the Internet) continue to fuel this misconception.

Yes, bluebonnets are accorded special status as our state flower but that status does convey special preservation or protection. When you think about it, our state fruit is the Texas red grapefruit and we eat it. Our state tree is the pecan and we eat pecans. Our state mammal (small) is the armadillo and we try to do a lot of things to it when it becomes bothersome.

I say that the all-things-in-moderation concept applies here. As the DPS press release notes: “There are laws against damaging or destroying rights-of-way and government property—so pick a few flowers, but don’t dig up clumps of them and don’t drive your vehicle into the midst of them.”

Question: My sago palm has several suckers along its base. Can I use the suckers to grow more sago palms?

Answer: Yes you can. But first things first, most people don’t realize that the sago palm is not a palm at all, but belong to a group of very primitive plants known as cycads. Secondly, the suckers are also known as “pups.”

The sago palm has become a very popular landscape item. Pups or suckers are a wonderful source of new plants. Removing and planting the pups that appear on and around the parent plant is really quite easy. Pups may be loosely attached to the mother plant and can be easily popped off or they can be more firmly attached and require a little more effort to remove.

Pups can be removed at any time, but mid-spring to early summer is probably best since plants are actively growing. Pups should be removed before they get too large. For easiest removal and best results, the enlarged "bulb-like" stem of the offset should be less the 4-5 inches in diameter. Larger offsets should be left on the parent plant as it will develop into a branch and may eventually produce more offsets.

As noted earlier, some pups may be loosely attached and can easily be popped off from the parent plant with a gentle tug. Moderately attached pups may be separated from the parent by using a large sharp knife such as a butcher knife or a machete. The knife or machete should be used to gently pry the offsets off the main trunk. Be sure to use the sharp edge/tip toward the offset, not the parent plant, when applying sideway pressure. Some cutting may be required of the tough vascular material that provides water from the parent plant. However, do not make chopping cuts, as this can be harmful to the parent plant and to the pup. For larger size pups, utilizing a sharp pruning saw to cleanly separate a pup from its parent plant is recommended.

Set aside for 4-to-5 days to allow the cut area to “heal” or callus over. Pups are then planted in pots with a well-draining potting mix. Place pups into pot so that about 1/3 of the bulb is into the soil. Keep the plants in semi-shade until well rooted, which may take several months. For best results, match the size of the pup to a pot only slightly larger. Doing so makes it easier to water correctly. Move pups up to the next size pot, but never overpot a pup as they will grow faster if you keep them in pots only slightly larger than the root system.

Plants may be grown as container specimens or may be planted in the landscape. While most sago palms tolerate full sun and are grown in full sun, they look better when grown in partial shade. Once they are planted in the landscape, sago palms have very few pest problems.

Two notes of caution: 1.) Sago palms can become quite large with a leaf span of over 6 feet in diameter. Choose an area which will allow ample room for future growth and is not located next to walkways (unless you wish to deter relatives or neighbors from visiting your abode) or near mail boxes (unless you’re looking for a way to stop delivery of those bills), and 2.) Sago palms are armed with sharp spines so wear a good pair of leather gloves when working with this plant.

Question: Do I have to paint the pruning cuts where limbs have been removed on my trees?

Answer: It’s hard to change old habits but pruning paints are now known to be of little value. In general, pruning paints have not proven to provide the tree any protection from disease or insects. The one notable exception to this guideline is in regard to a disease known as oak wilt. While oak wilt is a serious problem in the Hill Country region of Texas, it has not occurred in our growing area. In essence, the use of pruning paints is only a feel-good thing for you and not the tree.

Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County Extension Office of Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at

Note: Picture update.

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