Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

More Texas red oak

with 29 comments

Among the last displays of colorful fall foliage in Austin each year is that of the Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi, as seen here from Great Hills Park on December 15th. (The oaks are young and slender; the large trunks are from other kinds of trees.) Now it’s two weeks later and I’m still finding some red Texas red oak leaves, including a few in our back yard.

Sensorily and psychologically it seems that red is the most fundamental color, and it’s a truism of linguistics that the first color word a language creates is the one for red. The Indo-European language root representing the color red has been reconstructed as *reudh-, which is still recognizable thousands of years later in native English red and ruddy. Red-related words English has acquired directly or indirectly from Latin, which is a cousin of English, include rufous, rubeola, ruby, rubidium, rubicund, rubefacient, rubella, robust, rouge, roux, and russet. (If you’re puzzled about robust, it’s based on Latin rōbur, which designated a type of red oak tree; robust conveys the strength of that tree rather than its color.) From Greek, also a relative of English, comes the erythro– in technical terms like erythrocyte and erythromycin.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2020 at 4:39 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

29 Responses

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  1. I like the colour changes in autumn.
    Interesting to learn about redness.


    December 30, 2020 at 5:25 AM

    • Even in the warm autumns of Austin we have our color changes, the Texas red oaks being among the most pronounced.

      German relatives of English red include rot and rötlich.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2020 at 7:12 AM

      • Yes.
        At the university I learned that there were some sound shifts. And when you know them you notice that there are a lot more similarities between English and German.


        December 30, 2020 at 4:53 PM

        • You said it. Coincidentally, this afternoon my wife and I were out driving and ended up going along a street called Weiss Lane. I pointed out to her that it’s the German word for white, and added that many German words with ss have their counterparts in English words with t, like essen~eat, dass~that, Strasse~street, Fuss~foot.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 30, 2020 at 5:19 PM

  2. I like “rubicund” because it sounds like a hybrid of red + rotund. I always see an image of Mr. Pickwick, round and red-faced. I like red oaks, too, but for some strange reason, they’re relatively scarce in the Finger Lakes region, even though there’s lots in the rest of the state.

    Robert Parker

    December 30, 2020 at 7:34 AM

    • Your first two sentences make me think of rubicund applying to chubby cherubs or babies. I’m also reminded of the phrase “crossing the Rubicon.” I’ve driven on bridges over the Red River that forms a large part of the border between Texas and Oklahoma; you might say I’ve crossed the Rubicund.

      As for the scarcity of red oaks in the Finger Lakes, perhaps it has to do with soil types in the region. And the red oaks in New York must be a different species, because the one in this post makes it no further north than Kansas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2020 at 8:13 AM

      • The first thing that crossed my mind when I read Rob’s comment was ‘crossing the Rubicund.’ The river you mentioned can be red enough to deserve the phrase.


        December 31, 2020 at 7:09 AM

  3. We’ve been planting red oaks for years now, hoping to have a nice future crop of acorns for the wildlife to enjoy. But the red color in autumn and into winter is a benefit to the landscape. It’s lovely how long we get to enjoy the bold color when everything else turns brown. The detail on the second image – little barbed points, tiny holes in the leaves, and small notches are all quite interesting. I wonder how many people ever pay close attention to a single leaf?


    December 30, 2020 at 7:41 AM

    • Happy future harvest from your red oak plantings. The red oaks usually provide the last color from trees in Austin each year, while on a smaller scale I’m still seeing dewberry leaves turning red. I think you’re right that few people ever pay close attention to a single leaf—but then we could extend that to almost any object. I’ve long thought that the saying “I know it like the back of my hand” isn’t true to life. I’ve wanted to see the results of an experiment in which people are told to put their hands behind them and then asked to describe the backs of their hands. My guess is that hardly anyone would be able to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2020 at 8:22 AM

  4. I always learn something new here, Steve!

    That red oak leaf on the black background is striking!

    Lavinia Ross

    December 30, 2020 at 9:42 AM

    • I learn new things here, too. Some of them come from doing the research for a post, and others from people’s comments.

      Black works well to isolate such a colorful subject. In my part of town I’m often able to aim toward shaded woods for a dark background, as I did here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2020 at 10:07 AM

  5. My red oak leaves are all down now, save the one little tree that some squirrel planted. It has bright red (like your photo!) leaves and they stay on for quite a long time. Some day, it will be a gorgeous, mature tree!


    December 30, 2020 at 11:58 AM

    • That’ll be a gorgeous mature oak tree, indeed. How many years do you think it’ll take to reach that stage? The few leaves in our back yard, perhaps also planted by squirrels, have barely gotten off the ground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 30, 2020 at 1:34 PM

      • It’s now about 5 feet. I discovered a couple of years ago, it’s in a garden, west facing. There were these bright red something-or-anothers in the decidedly non-red shrub. It had several “trunks” which I left for a couple of years. Last winter I pruned to what I think (or maybe it’s really, believe) to be the main trunk. It will be a beauty some day.


        December 30, 2020 at 1:50 PM

  6. Wow, what a beautiful oak is the red oak. I find the Quercus family a marvel to behold, and appreciated this TX beauty. Thanks for the red info, too, Steve.

    Jet Eliot

    December 30, 2020 at 11:59 AM

  7. Brilliant!!

    Birder's Journey

    December 30, 2020 at 8:28 PM

  8. Beautiful rich vibrant red. Happy New Year!

    Ms. Liz

    December 31, 2020 at 3:37 AM

  9. Red is the color I think that most of us respond readily to. I find that images with red a key element often get the greater responses.That is certainly true when it comes to autumn foliage.

    Steve Gingold

    December 31, 2020 at 4:11 AM

    • That’s more evidence to confirm the linguistic truism about red being the most fundamental color. As you said, we readily respond to red.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2020 at 8:14 AM

  10. I think the shape of the leaves is as charming as the color. They’re not a part of our woods, of course, but I was lucky enough to see a few while visiting the hill country. Most of the leaves there had fallen, but that’s not always a bad thing, as your first photo demonstrates. A little space can help to highlight the leaves that remain, and let their color shine even more.


    December 31, 2020 at 7:15 AM

    • The various species of oak come with so many differently shaped leaves. I wonder if each shape confers some advantage, of if it’s just the way things played out randomly in the genes as the species evolved.

      Yes, the falling away of leaves affords us a better view of those that remain, and of underlying branch structures (which I took advantage of yesterday in a bare bald cypress).

      Changing gears, your last sentence reminded me of Hair‘s “Let the sun shine in.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2020 at 8:20 AM

  11. How nice that you’re still finding those pretty leaves. Don’t you think red is the first color to get a name in languages because of blood? And I wonder if blue is often not far behind, because of the sky. Then again, yellow is pretty important, because of fire. One could go on and on and I’m sure many linguists have done just that.


    January 2, 2021 at 8:01 PM

    • I like your hypothesis about red being the first color to get a name because of blood. That never occurred to me, and I wonder if any linguists have proposed it as a reason. I did some brief searching just now but didn’t turn up anything relevant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2021 at 9:01 PM

  12. Appropriately named … that’s a lovely red leaf!


    January 5, 2021 at 1:13 AM

    • Though I’ve previously taken red oak pictures like the first one, this may have been the first time I’d isolated a red oak leaf.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 5, 2021 at 6:16 AM

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