Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Blue curls, but not true blue

with 48 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Yesterday you saw the still-white buds of Phacelia congesta, colloquially called blue curls, as I photographed them on February 9 at the edge of a lot in an otherwise mostly developed part of northwest Austin. A nearby plant had advanced farther, so now you get to see the curls as well as some opening and fully open flowers, and to observe the progression of color from left to right. I’ll add that this is another of those many cases where some people have used the word blue to describe what for me is clearly violet or purple. What’s not clearly discernible is the line in our imagination that separates the world of animals from the world of plants; one crossover comes from the curling buds of this species, which have earned it the alternate colloquial name caterpillars.

In the United States, Phacelia congesta is found primarily in Texas, with a little spillover into New Mexico and Oklahoma; you can see that at the USDA website, where the Texas map implies a presence in Mexico as well.

For those among you who are interested in the craft of photography, points 1, 2, 4, 9, and 14 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s image.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2012 at 5:47 AM

48 Responses

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  1. I love the blue and swirl in this image! 🙂

    Nicole Ftacnik Photography

    February 17, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    • On the old Roy Rogers and Dale Evans television show they used to sing “Happy Trails to You,” but I’ll change it to “Happy Swirls to You.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 17, 2012 at 7:08 AM

  2. Great photo,,

    Ali Radwani

    February 17, 2012 at 6:01 AM

  3. Magnifique!


    February 17, 2012 at 6:43 AM

  4. It’s a marvelous shot-you picked its rhythmic curl inwards : )


    February 17, 2012 at 6:46 AM

  5. Lovely lines and symmetry, sally


    February 17, 2012 at 7:26 AM

  6. Great details !


    February 17, 2012 at 7:29 AM

  7. Unbelievable!


    February 17, 2012 at 8:18 AM

  8. Gorgeous!


    February 17, 2012 at 9:38 AM

  9. Hi Steve .. I love your photos – I look at them all and admire Nature at its best … life is amazing – have a great weekend .. cheers Hilary


    February 17, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    • It’s been raining lightly here on and off, with more of the same forecast for the weekend. If it keeps up, we may have a better floral spring this year than last. Translation: more wildflower pictures. I’m glad you’re enjoying them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 17, 2012 at 12:14 PM

  10. Stunning image.


    February 17, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    • Thanks, Edith. Although I’ve photographed this species before, I never took one with the composition that this latest picture has.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 17, 2012 at 12:16 PM

  11. very nice 🙂

    Sonali Dalal

    February 17, 2012 at 10:31 AM

  12. Beauitiful colors, beautiful capture. It is a case that blue doesn’t make you feel blue!


    February 17, 2012 at 10:52 AM

  13. It is happening!

    Bonnie Michelle

    February 17, 2012 at 11:51 AM

  14. i really enjoy your wildflowers

    dianne - life as i see it

    February 17, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    • It’s true that the majority of the pictures I’ve shown are of wildflowers; we have a lot of them here in Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 17, 2012 at 1:33 PM

  15. Judging by your previous photo, I would never have expected to see this, an old field friend from Southern California! When last I saw the lady she was growing in abundance and had completely turned an acre lot “not quite blue.” Looking at the zone for Phacelia congesta suggests that the lovely field was planned planting and an import! Beautiful! ~ Lynda


    February 17, 2012 at 7:04 PM

  16. Great photo, Steve, I love the spiral.


    February 17, 2012 at 9:17 PM

  17. Hi. The photo shows a sort of time-lapse… as the eye goes from the tip of the raceme to the most mature flower, you can see the sequence of development! Beautiful photo. Jane

    jane tims

    February 18, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    • Thanks, Jane; you put it well. Your description reminds me of those types of drawings (made famous by Escher) that show one thing morphing into another, only in this case the artist is nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 18, 2012 at 9:26 AM

  18. Wow. So beautiful. No words at all.


    February 18, 2012 at 8:17 AM

  19. Is that ever gorgeous!


    February 18, 2012 at 10:01 PM

  20. Simply beautiful!!!


    February 20, 2012 at 10:44 AM

  21. Nifty plant!


    March 2, 2012 at 11:32 PM

  22. […] Gaillardia pulchella. The violet-colored flowers in a couple of places to their left are blue curls, Phacelia congesta, which are having an excellent […]

  23. […] plants there, too, even if the wind and the overcast sky made photographing them difficult. From the blue curls that grow in Austin I knew that the flowers shown here must be a relative, and after looking through botanical sources […]

  24. […] From February 9, 2012, at the intersection of York Blvd. and Stonelake Blvd., here are some blue curls buds, Phacelia congesta, beginning to open. If you’d like to see what the flowers look like when they emerge, you can check out a post from a week later. […]

  25. Nearly missed this one, which would have been a shame because I love this plant. It looks purple to me as well. I remember being in 4th grade (or thereabouts) and having a heated debate with my science teacher, who seemed to be quite confused about the subject. Also confused pink for red…I think we were doing pH. Ah, well.
    Really, on some level, everything is connected, and certainly the line between vegetable and animal does get blurry here and there. And of course if the right caterpillar does come along, it and the plant will become one in short order 🙂


    March 5, 2015 at 11:21 PM

    • This picture from three years ago is now an oldie but goodie. And welcome also to the It’s Purple Not Blue Club.

      I remember my fourth grade teacher too (we didn’t have different teachers for different subjects back then, except for gym); her name was Miss Tarbox (honest), and I don’t remember disagreeing with her about anything. If you were doing pH in 4th grade you were more advanced than we were.

      I like your observation that “if the right caterpillar does come along, it and the plant will become one in short order.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 6, 2015 at 12:07 AM

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