Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Beyond its accustomed time

with 27 comments

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is an early-spring wildflower in central Texas. Individual plants don’t always know that, as evidenced by today’s portrait from June 14th along Capital of Texas Highway. In case you’re not familiar with paintbrushes of the floral kind, let me point out that the bright red elements are not petals but bracts, which is to say modified leaves. The actual flowers in this genus are pale and small, and therefore inconspicuous.

As with other recent pictures you’ve seen here, this one shows the effects of a ring flash and a small aperture (f/18), one consequence of which is the darker-than-life sky color.


Did you hear about the appropriately named Zaila Avant-garde, who was indeed the avant-garde, i.e. winner, in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee? In the linked video she describes being interested in getting an education as a gate-opener. Good for her for saying so!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 12, 2021 at 4:38 AM

27 Responses

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  1. Bracts you say! I never knew that. We have these here in NV too. The other day I saw pink ones! That was a surprise.


    July 12, 2021 at 5:58 AM

    • A bract, in fact, getting in on the act, so now you have another surprise following your discovery of the pink paintbrushes near you. This Texas species also occasionally produces a color other than red:

      Cream paintbrush

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 12, 2021 at 6:46 AM

  2. There are early adopters and apparently some late adopters.

    Steve Gingold

    July 12, 2021 at 7:21 AM

    • Speaking of which, it’s looking like Canon has adopted mirrorless camera bodies as successors to the EOS 5 line we’re both in. My 5DSr is six years old, so I’ll be confronting the changeover before you will.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 12, 2021 at 7:33 AM

      • I likely will not be contemplating an upgrade unless the camera fails or I win the lottery (which I rarely play). I am fairly satisfied with the Mark IV and the ability to boost the files through enhance gives me plenty of pixels to wrangle. I follow a few very good and successful photographers on YouTube and cannot believe how often they not only switch cameras but even total systems. If you are going to print as large as a living room wall I can understand wanting the huger data counts but still… I imagine a few of them are comped for mentioning their new systems which probably drives many to purchase new ones. At this stage of my life I am not looking to drop thousands unnecessarily so only by absolute need will I be doing so. Lenses are another topic.

        Steve Gingold

        July 12, 2021 at 8:31 AM

        • Some photographers are much more gear-heads than we are. With your 5D IV you’re set for years, but I don’t know how long my six-year-old 5DSr will hold out. One advantage of eventually upgrading is that Canon keeps improving the dynamic range of its sensors. I believe your newer 5D IV beats my camera in that category. Although Canon has been adding to its lenses for the mirrorless line, our existing lenses will work on mirrorless bodies with an adapter. At the same time, if Canon is switching to mirrorless bodies, it’s likely any new lenses the company develops will be for those bodies and not for ours.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 12, 2021 at 1:00 PM

          • I realize that Canon will be putting their R&D into more modern equipment so do not expect to replace my 70-200 Mark II etc. with anything with a higher number. I have had images published using the 5D II so expect that when the opportunity arises the Mark IV files will more than suffice. I do have insurance on my stuff so should something happen to any of the lenses or camera I will be able to replace them. Other than that I figure I am good for a while.

            Steve Gingold

            July 12, 2021 at 6:42 PM

        • Me too – the Mark IV will have to last a long time for me! I can’t throw money around on any unnecessary gear and I do hate waste, so I hope it’s set for a long life!

          Ann Mackay

          July 13, 2021 at 5:49 PM

  3. Great shot of the Indian paintbrush, a flower quite common in our alpine regions. What is a ring flash, Steve?

    Peter Klopp

    July 12, 2021 at 9:31 AM

  4. It seems that paintbrushes bloom all summer long, at least in Colorado. Their bright orange/red always adds a pretty touch of color.
    I heard an interview with the young lady you mentioned and I had to smile when she listed all the potential professions she would like to pursue in the future, possibly all at the same time. Good for her, she is a smart young woman.


    July 12, 2021 at 7:02 PM

    • I think your high altitude and cooler temperature foster the growth of paintbrushes through the summer. Here in Texas we get the occasional strays in summer and once in a while even in winter.

      Anyone who so cheerfully promotes education is okay in my book.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 12, 2021 at 8:03 PM

  5. ! Indian paintbrush! Okay, I will not get carried away with this. I am actually embarrassed to say that I did not try them this year. I certainly intend to though!


    July 12, 2021 at 7:11 PM

  6. You beat me to posting the paintbrush again. They’ve been more than occasional at the Brazoria refuge; I’ve never seen so many in June and July. They’ve been a reminder that I never posted some of my favorite paintbrush images from the spring, let alone some of the floriferous fields I found. I need to do that before autumn rolls around.

    It’s interesting how your flash brought out the orange in the flower, making it appear more like another Castilleja species I’ve seen in the hill country — probably C. lindheimeri.


    July 13, 2021 at 5:51 AM

    • I seem to remember a comment of yours somewhere else recently mentioning that your part of the state has been kinder than usual to paintbrushes this year, and now you’ve confirmed it. All the better for you. Who knows: maybe you’ll get snow in July.

      Ah, the “problem” of taking so many photographs that we can’t show all the good ones in our blogs. At my 2020–2021 picture-taking pace I soon fall far enough out of season that I hesitate to post “old” pictures from more than a month ago. As for Castilleja, my area has the purpurea complex, including var. lindheimeri, but they’re way less common than indivisa and I’ve never found one out of its traditional season.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 13, 2021 at 6:11 AM

  7. Fascinating about what appear to be flower petals actually being leaves of a sort. Makes me wonder how many other instances of this I might have seen and not known it. Nature never stops surprising me, there’s always more to learn.

    Todd Henson

    July 14, 2021 at 10:37 AM

    • Always more to learn, indeed. Bract seems to be a shape-shifting botanical term that gets applied to many structures that evolved from leaves. You’ve made me wonder if a website exists showing all the different types of bracts that are known to exist.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2021 at 10:44 AM

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