Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

April in December

with 25 comments

Indian Paintbrush Flowering 2457

Who would’ve believed it? A wildflower that we expect to find blooming in Austin on April 22 was blooming on December 22; that’s when I found this Indian paintbrush, Castilleja indivisa, on the northern embankment of Loop 360 near the Arboretum. Overnight rain had quickly given way to the first dawn-to-dusk clear day we’d had here after two mostly overcast and wet weeks, so out I went in the morning and again a few hours later, when the red that you see here proved to be not only my last find of the afternoon but also the most surprising. If this Indian paintbrush and several others of its kind likewise flowering a few feet away were confused about the season, we’re the beneficiaries of their confusion.

For more information about Castilleja indivisa, including a state-clickable map showing where in the south-central United States this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2011 at 5:10 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Amazing find, Steve. They really are lovely flowers and what a bonus to find one so deep in the year.

    Steve Gingold

    December 24, 2011 at 6:00 AM

    • Yes, I was amazed — and delighted. Definitely something to lie down on the ground and look up to, which I did, though I had to struggle to keep nearby poles and wires out of the picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 6:05 AM

      • Thanks, Steve. Being on the ground and looking through the viewfinder at strained angles with my peripheral vision made it hard for me to tell what background details were showing up, so, as usual in our digital age, I took a bunch of pictures and just threw away the ones where wires had ended up visible. There was no way I could’ve used a wide-angle lens there, but I have managed to in other places in this part of town, though it can be hard. The macro lens makes it easier to isolate subjects, but even with that lens, as you pointed out, it can be hard when I’m in town.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 24, 2011 at 6:42 AM

      • Nice job isolating the flower with all those distractions nearby. That’s getting more and more difficult and is one reason I don’t do as many landscapes around here. It’s now almost impossible to get a very wide view of anything without houses, towers, factories or something in the picture….and now even for a small landscape or flower shot.

        Steve Gingold

        December 24, 2011 at 6:22 AM

  2. Wow!!! That’s pretty incredible. What a lovely Christmas gift.

    Agnes Plutino

    December 24, 2011 at 6:52 AM

    • You who know our native plants so well can appreciate how rare the find was, Agnes. As for a Christmas gift, the red and the green fit with the occasion, don’t you think?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 7:12 AM

  3. Absolutely perfect for the Holidays! Thank you . It appears as though there is a blue screen behind the flower and you staged it! Amazing photograph.

    Bonnie Michelle

    December 24, 2011 at 7:19 AM

    • Yes, the bright blue sky was a great background to highlight the bright red of the paintbrush. (Someone asked in a comment once if I ever use artificial backdrops and I said that I never do.) Only in the last few overcast weeks has that clear blue been rare here, which is why I was so eager to take advantage of it. Sure enough, yesterday and today went back to being gray.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 7:37 AM

  4. You’ve been doing great still finding things to photograph! Great job on the flower.


    December 24, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    • Thanks, Nancy. The paintbrush was a real surprise, but that same morning I also found several not-really-unusual wildflowers that will make their way into these pages in the days ahead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 7:48 AM

  5. An unusual end to an unusual year. These are so lovely, but my surprise was at all the color variety on the USDA site. I always think of red when I think of Indian Paint Brush, never yellow, orange, or cream. There was even a bicolor pictured! Thanks for this loveliness, Steve. ~ Lynda
    (The USDA site should really hire you to take their photos. )


    December 24, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    • Yes, a welcomingly floral end to the year. And yes, this species of Indian paintbrush, though most often red, has a cream-colored variant that I see fairly often; other colors are rare, at least in my experience. We also have a less common species here, Castilleja purpurea, which in spite of its name comes not just in a violet variety but a yellow and an orange one too.

      As for the USDA hiring me to take pictures for them, if you can arrange it I’ll give you a commission.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 11:20 AM

  6. Ahhh … the beauty of Christmas in the South. Thanks for sharing this image. The colors sure jump off the page!


    December 24, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    • Happy jumping! From what you wrote I take it you’re up north; you’re always welcome to visit here when you can’t stand winter any more.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 7:13 PM

  7. I see we in New Hampshire aren’t the only ones experiencing crazy weather. I found a dandelion blooming on the same day you found your Indian Paintbrush. Very strange for New England.

    New Hampshire Gardener

    December 24, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    • Yours is one of two reports about out-of-season plants I’ve received so far in response to this Indian paintbrush picture. Strange goings-on, but welcome. I have to wonder what the rest of the winter will be like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 9:06 PM

  8. and I thought forsythia blooming here in southern vermont earlier this month was disconcerting. how often would you say this happens?


    December 24, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    • It’s hardly the norm, but it does happen from time to time. For example, this past January I found some fresh goldenrod flowering. What’s unpredictable is which species will be the opportunistic one. Your forsythia in such a northern latitude seems on a par with Indian paintbrush this far south.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 7:17 PM

  9. Wow, that is beautiful! Often the out season flowers I see are a bit ragged from the frost , but this one is so perfect!


    December 24, 2011 at 7:18 PM

    • Thanks, Kateri. A couple of posts back I mentioned that although I was still finding a few wildflowers, some of them looked bedraggled. But then on the 22nd I found several very healthy kinds of wildflowers, which I haven’t shown yet, and the way-out-of season Indian paintbrush shown here. A cold front came through, but the temperature is still no lower than the 40s and we’ve gotten more rain, so I wonder if any more species of wildflowers will take the chance to come visiting.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 9:14 PM

  10. What a beauty! It’s a late summer flower here! Happy Holidays!


    December 24, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    • Yes, an unexpected dash of saturated red, just right for the season. Happy holidays to you too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2011 at 9:18 PM

  11. […] red plants are Indian paintbrush, Castilleja indivisa, which you saw in a picture of either a very late or a very early one that I found on December 22, coincidentally on Loop 360, although a different part of the highway. […]

  12. now this is one crazy unusual appearance!!! So many times the out of season surprises look less than perfect; but not this one! Gorgeous!


    February 8, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    • Crazy unusual it was, but pristine, as you couldn’t help noticing. It made my day, and now it seems to have made yours more than a year later.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2013 at 8:28 AM

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