Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Red paint comes in all colors

with 15 comments

Castilleja purpurea var. purpurea Flowers 0097

When my clever friend Roy Halliday and I were still teenagers, he came up with the idea for a paint company that he would name The Red Paint Company, and whose motto would be “Red paint comes in all colors.” Ah, those were the days.

And why, you might wonder, am I bringing that up now in a nature photography blog? It’s because there’s a native wildflower in Texas that botanists have classified as Castilleja purpurea, commonly called prairie paintbrush. You’ve probably recognized that purpurea means ‘purple,’ but the problem is that the species comes in a trio of main colors with many additional subtle shades, so botanists have split the species into three varieties. The one you see here is Castilleja purpurea var. purpurea. Say ‘purple’ twice, even in Latin, and there’s no doubt about which color we expect to see.

I took this picture along US 84 near the town of Coleman, Texas, on the way back from Lubbock to Austin on April 17th. It rained on and off, but luckily there was a pause in the vicinity of this town and I spent probably an hour taking pictures in two roadside locations.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 18, 2014 at 5:59 AM

15 Responses

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  1. I wonder whether it is common to see the three subspecies co-occurring in the same place? Or whether color expressions are responses to micro-environment and they occur singly in any individual place? Beautiful (as usual) color. D

    Pairodox Farm

    May 18, 2014 at 7:02 AM

    • At this spot I saw the purple and I think some orange, but no yellow. Earlier, on the other side of town, I’d found some of the yellow by itself. In Austin I rarely see the purple or the yellow, so I was glad for a chance to observe them near Coleman. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen all three together. Stay tuned for more on this in the next two posts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 18, 2014 at 7:10 AM

  2. Purple once, purple twice….this is definitely the flower for me today, dressed as I am in purple T shirt and purple trousers. I approve of double colour. And I would have enjoyed shopping at the Red Paint Company, purely on the basis of its motto.


    May 18, 2014 at 8:25 AM

    • Purple once, purple twice: we could say it’s doubly nice. Add your double purple garments and we’re up to quadruple. And you can still shop at a Red Paint Company of the imagination, no money needed, satisfaction guaranteed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 18, 2014 at 8:50 AM

  3. Oh, this is exciting! On the Sunday I was traveling Brazoria County, just south of Nash Prairie I found some discrete stands of what I assumed to be weird Indian paintbrush – Castilleja indivisa. The flowers were yellow and orange, though, and didn’t look quite like the paintbrush I know and love. Now I wonder if they weren’t color variations of the Castilleja purpurea you’ve shown here. How appropriate that their common name is prairie paintbrush.


    May 18, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    • The maps I’ve checked don’t show the orange variety of prairie paintbrush in Brazoria County, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Several times I’ve found plants in counties not shown on the botanical maps. The very fact that the paintbrush you saw looked different to you is good evidence that it was indeed prairie paintbrush. On Tuesday I’ll be showing a picture of the orange variety, and that may help you decide.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 18, 2014 at 11:21 AM

  4. I have just become a permanent shopper in the Red Paint Company in the clouds of imagination~ great place you have there! 🙂 Love the purple purple paintbrush. We don’t have that one here, what a treat.


    May 18, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    • It’s a treat for me too, Melissa, because I rarely get to see the purple paintbrush, even though it’s native in central Texas. Over the next two days I’ll fill out the main divisions of the genus.

      As for the Red Paint Company, I’m glad to hear you’ve become a virtual shopper in the multi-hued clouds of your imagination, where no bills ever come due.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 18, 2014 at 11:25 AM

  5. They are very nice, and the photo too.


    May 18, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    • I’m pleased that you appreciate both, Bente. I was fortunate that the rain stopped for a while so I could take dozens of pictures at this wonderful roadside site.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 18, 2014 at 5:12 PM

  6. Fantastic flower. Closest we have around here, in appearance that is, would be Liatris spicata.
    I always smile when I see a v. the same as the species. 🙂

    Steve Gingold

    May 18, 2014 at 3:50 PM

  7. Another gorgeous photo of whatever colour you may wish to call it: rose, pink, purple etc. It doesn’t matter as the eyes delight in it just as it is.

    Mary Mageau

    May 19, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    • Well said, Mary: color names are highly variable, and the flowers neither know nor care what we call them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 19, 2014 at 7:04 PM

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