Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Pink and blue

with 32 comments

Did you know that as recently as the first part of the 20th century people in the United States took pink to be the appropriate color for boys and blue the appropriate color for girls?

For aeons before then, firm against all sociological winds, the pink flowers of the Mexican buckeye tree (Ungnadia speciosa) had been standing out against blue skies on sunny days. They’ve kept doing so since then, as they did on March 14th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and they’ll keep on doing so for aeons to come.

In contrast, or you might say un-contrast, here’s a picture of Mexican buckeye flowers on the same tree but with no blue showing at all:

UPDATE. When I did exact Google searches for “against all sociological winds” and “against sociological winds” I got no hits, but I did get 160 hits for “sociological winds.”

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2018 at 4:49 AM

Posted in nature photography

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32 Responses

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  1. What a beautiful blue sky you have there! The article on pink and blue was very interesting. I occasionally come across different perceptions of colour in Germany, not in terms of gender necessarily, but certainly in the culture and language.


    March 29, 2018 at 5:59 AM

    • Yes, it was a gloriously clear spring day, unlike those we’ve been having this week.

      Does an example come to mind that you could give us of a different German color perception?

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2018 at 8:12 AM

      • Well, I worked with an orange text book in school for many years and every German called it the red book, while students with other ethnic backgrounds called it orange, like me. Also, blue means drunk in German, and only recently is associated with sadness. 😉


        March 29, 2018 at 1:26 PM

  2. And that was the case elsewhere, including the practical fashion of boys in dresses. Also I have recently read a NZ memoir in which the author mentions that for his first day at school his mother insisted on styling his hair in ringlets. Apparently it was the proper thing to do.
    I expect you will know that the Madonna is often depicted wearing a blue mantle, and something blue is part of the traditional attire of a bride. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Something_old Blue is so much more feminine than pink.


    March 29, 2018 at 6:07 AM

    • I wasn’t aware that artists often showed the Madonna wearing a blue mantle. The article at


      offers several examples and also the statement (without a source) that “the color blue symbolized purity, virginity, and royalty.”

      I wonder whether researchers have done experiments with infants to see whether they show preferences for certain colors, not just blue and pink, and if so, whether the preferences differ between boys and girls.

      In 2002, linguist and developmental psychologist Steven Pinker published “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.” He provided evidence that in many ways we are not born with minds that are like blank slates. Academicians and politicians who for ideological reasons want to believe in an infinitely malleable human brain have been criticizing Pinker ever since the book’s publication. If you’re interested, you can watch a 24-minute talk by Pinker at


      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2018 at 9:06 AM

      • Pinker’s the one who introduced me to confirmation bias. Much of his work’s beyond me, but it certainly is fun to see various opponents attempt to take him on. Jordan Peterson’s another one whose work I appreciate, and who’s currently being dragged over the coals. I thought this response to his work was a good read.


        March 29, 2018 at 10:14 PM

        • Some of the discussions in his older books like The Language Instinct delve deep into linguistics. His last two books, including the just-released Enlightenment Now,


          don’t seem to be as technical. That hasn’t kept them from being controversial, regardless of the fact that they’re in fact full of documented facts. (Did I get fact in there enough?).

          While I’ve known about Steven Pinker for a couple of decades, I only recently came across Jordan Peterson (and Quillette itself) through this article:


          Just the other day I happened upon the good article you linked to.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 30, 2018 at 7:18 AM

      • I am sure there are studies on infant colour preferences. And the findings will be argued over by different researchers. As for the blank slate theory I would say my children were proof that babies are far from blank slates at birth. My daughter, in particular, had her own ideas from day one. Or so it seemed.


        March 30, 2018 at 5:29 AM

        • Thanks for your anecdotal confirmation of Pinker’s observation. Elsewhere he asked what people who dispute that observation are known as. His answer: “childless.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 30, 2018 at 7:21 AM

  3. The winds are a’blowin’, that’s for sure, but regardless, this is an effusively beautiful bloomer. That is interesting about the infant colors. I did know about the blue for women representing purity, but pink on boys is a surprise.
    I would have to agree with Pinker that we are not born with blank slates for brains, but they are certainly able to change. I watched both my son and daughter carefully when they were babies and was tickled to see that right from the beginning the boy acted like a boy and the girl acted like a little pinup. I’ve also read that our species is evolving rapidly as a result of technology. From my genetics class this seems unlikely, and yet~
    I just did a google search and sure enough, I found quite a few articles on the subject. Odd.


    March 29, 2018 at 10:18 AM

    • “I watched both my son and daughter carefully when they were babies and was tickled to see that right from the beginning the boy acted like a boy and the girl acted like a little pinup.” In the talk, Pinker points out that anyone who has had two children knows how different they can be. Elsewhere he makes the case that on average the two sexes show differences in interests and priorities. If you’re interested and have some time, you can watch him make his case at [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n691pLhQBkw].

      It’d probably take some generations, perhaps quite a few, to determine whether technology has changed the human species. Foolhardiness doesn’t seem likely to be on its way out, given the large number of people I observe distracted by devices while driving. And a lot of people who are physically present aren’t mentally present, at least not fully, given the way their devices frequently call their attention away from the people and things physically around them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2018 at 11:28 AM

  4. Lovely contrasting colours in the frame! And look that small green bunch of tender foliage!!!


    March 29, 2018 at 10:56 AM

    • I caught the flowers just in time. As you pointed out, the first foliage was just beginning to emerge, and that meant that the flowers would soon be fading.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2018 at 11:29 AM

  5. That blossom is beautiful!

    Not sure that pink for boys and blue for girls was true of all countries, may just the USA or parts of it? I first became aware of the reverse (pink for girls and blue for boys) in the 1960s. My friends and I certainly weren’t dressed in pink and I didn’t know boys dressed in blue. Also, in the UK at least, in the war and immediate post-war years, people wore fairly sombre colours for everyday wear, and only bright colours occasionally. Earlier times… boys in sailor suits (dark blue and white, probably) and girls – I don’t know for sure – it would have depended on the fabric available (and dependant on salary – if any) and dyes available. I usually play very safe when I colour early photos of children’s clothing.


    March 29, 2018 at 11:05 AM

    • You raise a good question about which countries or parts of countries underwent the “pink for boys and blue for girls” trend. I suspect someone has done that research. The reverse, pink for girls and blue for boys, is what I grew up with in New York after World War II. I’ve heard that the postwar years in the UK were economically difficult because the country was essentially bankrupt after all those years of war. What you say about people wearing somber colors then accords with that.

      I understand why you’d play it safe when coloring early photos of children’s clothes. Given the way everything is so heavily documented now, future researches will have an advantage when wanting to know how things were in eras from the latter 20th century onward.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2018 at 11:54 AM

  6. Nice Steve! Always enjoy your images and the information you give us!

    Reed Andariese

    March 29, 2018 at 5:46 PM

  7. Wonderful blossom and a fascinating post and comments. I favoured blue myself (and still do) though after having two boys my mother was determined to smother me in pink! With my own children I tended to go for bright primary colours regardless of the sex.


    March 29, 2018 at 6:50 PM

    • Good for you for choosing blue. Beyond that, I’m glad to hear you went your own way in preferring bright primary colors. Ever since I saw first-hand how colorfully the indigenous people in Guatemala dress, I’ve not understood why people in our culture tend to dress in so comparatively dull (and often uncomfortable) a way. Instead of a suit, give me something colorful and comfortable. On the rare occasions when I do have to wear a suit, I also wear a colorful tie from Guatemala.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2018 at 6:59 PM

  8. Although I saw Mexican buckeye only in a book on my recent jaunt, I did see more redbud that I could have imagined existing in the wild. After years of seeing it primarily as a landscape tree, it was a surprise to see it scattered about in the hill country, and the pink flower and blue sky combination was as lovely as what you show here. It’s interesting that the pinks of both trees are so vibrant; they’re a far cry from the pastel pink that decorated my childhood bedroom, and seem far more attractive. Oddly, both pink and blue aren’t on my list of favorite colors: greens, whites, and yellows are more to my taste.

    There is a little blue/pink mystery on Highway 35, near Bay City. The Teneris Corporation has built a huge pipe manufacturing facility there, and construction’s been going on for some time. Every time I drive by, I laugh at the porta-potties that are arrayed around the property. Some are blue, and some are pink. My culturally-conditioned assumption has been that the blue are for the men and the pink for the women. The next time I pass by, I’ll have to stop and see if I can find someone to confirm my suspicion.


    March 29, 2018 at 10:28 PM

    • You’ve got your sociological work cut out for you when you go out and investigate those “outhouses.” Do let us know whether your assumption turns out to be true.

      Like you, I primarily see redbuds in town, where people have obviously planted them. My across-the-street neighbor now has a young one. Ten years ago we drove from Austin to Iowa at a time in the spring when the redbud flowers here had already fallen. As we got further north, spring receded toward winter. In the vicinity of Kansas City we saw more flowering redbuds than I’ve ever seen, before or since. It sounds like your recent experience was similar. With the coast and the Edwards Plateau both at your disposal, you’re getting the best of two botanical worlds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 30, 2018 at 7:54 AM

  9. Wonderful images Steve … and yes I did know about pink and blue fashion 😃


    April 4, 2018 at 10:32 PM

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