Red and Blue ~ Those Texas Hues

Indian Paintbrush

Perhaps a true appreciation for Texas’s size requires leaving its cities and taking  time to roam among its unincorporated areas and settlements. Many places carry names even most Texans never have heard and, depending on your chosen spot to roam, the appearance of the land can vary wildly.

Last weekend, I chose to roam north and somewhat west of home, in the territory generally referred to by coastal dwellers as North of I-10.  Among its unfamiliar settlements — Burleigh, Sunny Side, Monaville — unbroken swaths of familiar wildflowers covered the land, unseen by flower-seekers cruising the primary highways. Sometimes, red Indian paintbrush served as the primary attraction; elsewhere, bluebonnets held sway. Occasionally, the flowers combined in a single field, creating an extraordinary sight.

Even the most skilled photographers can’t truly capture the glow of these flowers, or the bluebonnets’ fragrance. But if you enlarge each photo, you may get a glimpse of their wondrous beauty; I wish you had been there to see it.


Bluebonnets with perennial rye grass (Lolium perenne)


Comments always are welcome.

81 thoughts on “Red and Blue ~ Those Texas Hues

  1. It is true of anywhere you might live. Leave the cities behind and get out into the hinterland and you will discover the kind of joy you hardly imagined possible.

    1. That certainly is true. It’s one reason I’m pleased to find more individuals and groups dedicating themselves to providing natural ‘islands’ inside our cities. Given a taste of nature, perhaps people will begin wanting to experience even more. Of course, so many people want to experience bluebonnet beauty in the spring that our highways can become extraordinarily crowded with sight-seers and photo-takers. That’s a good reason to roam even farther, and seek out these more isolated spaces.

    1. In the right light, and with a certain density of flowers, I’ve seen paintbrush and bluebonnets combine into a sea of purple. I’ve not seen it often, but on one occasion my mother was with me, and she talked about the experience for years; it was that memorable.

    1. It was glorious. As it happened, I came across a woman at a gate of the bluebonnet-covered field shown in the second, fourth, and fifth photos, and she gave me permission to roam at will. It was a wonderful experience — and I’ll be showing another discovery from that field that delighted me beyond words.

      1. My experience has generally been that landowners are happy to let people come in and photograph their wildflower displays. One exception came last week, when I pulled off US 290 in hopes of photographing a good mixed colony of bluebonnets and paintbrushes. The residents were sitting on their front porch, so I held up my camera and gestured in the direction of the wildflowers. Instead of letting me in, the people waved me off.

        1. Given what I saw along the short stretch of 290 I drove on Sunday afternoon, from Chappell Hill to Burton, I can imagine one reason those homeowners may have waved you off. The number of cars lined up along the roadside while people tromped through the flowers for their photos was remarkable. Bob mentioned his bookings for wildflower portraits in the past, but a professional portrait is a far cry from the hordes of selfie-obsessed camera phone toters roaming today. Many (most?) are less concerned with the flowers than with the number of their social media hits. Granted, there still are the fond parents and loving couples among the bluebonnets, but they seem to be a decreasing percentage.

        2. I just noticed this: “I must tell you while I think of it of camping near a little town named Oswego [presumably Kansas] in company with some folks from Brenham, Texas; they were going to Arkansas…” As to why someone would leave Brenham, this line from the TSHAonline article about the town struck me: “Despite the 1867 yellow fever epidemic, the burning of commercial buildings by federal occupation troops during Reconstruction, and destructive fires in 1873 and 1877…” I might have moved on, too.

  2. As I, too, found wildflower displays like these scattered here and there, I couldn’t help thinking that two centuries ago they wouldn’t have been intermittent but would have covered vast, unbroken areas across the land for many miles. Now that’s something I’d love to have seen but no one will ever be able to again.

    1. That’s one reason I cherish the correspondence I have between my gr-gr-grandmother and a friend from her Texas prairie years. I just pulled it out to check the dates; they camped together in Texas c. 1867-1870, while the correspondence is from 1881, when the women lived in Kansas and Iowa. Clearly, they experienced such sights, and my grandfather enjoyed them. The Mrs. Crooks who was corresponding with my grandmother asked, “How is Mr. Crowley? does he sigh for Texas when the cold north winds blow and the snow and ice is plenty? Is it hard to wean him from the land of sunshine and flowers?” It surely would be hard to wean me from this land of sunshine and flowers!

        1. Yes. They’ll go to the museum in my grandparents’ town. The museum has an arrangement with the state that if the museum has to close for any reason, all of its holdings will go to the state historical society.

    2. I imagine “amber waves of grain.” Can you picture that? Waves of grain all ready for harvesting. America, the land of plenty had to have been a sight to behold in Katy, back in the day. The pastures here are being plowed over for subdivisions. I sow packets of wildflowers in parts of our back yard now. This is the first year they have shown their appreciation–a sight to behold.

      1. The same thing is happening down here. My favorite wildflower field, one that I visited for years, has been sold, scalped, and now is in the process of development of some sort. I do think that a highway widening project is involved, too, but time will tell about that. Every flower seed that’s sown helps to stem the tide that’s rolling across the land — so good for you, and good for the little bit of heaven that will develop in your yard for the pollinators and birds — not to mention the other little critters who will show up.

  3. I love seeing those two colors mixed up together, all happy and beautiful. Those bluebonnets are especially gorgeous but the Indian Paintbrush add such a pop of color. How one can keep their eyes on the road when driving through like that is beyond me!

    1. I do have a hard time driving through such places; that’s one reason I keep to the country roads as much as possible. People are a little more forgiving of slower drivers. And, I stop a lot. My record may be the seven or eight hours I took to make a nine-mile loop. And sometimes I stop even if I don’t see anything particular from the road. There are a lot of hidden treasures in those ditches.

  4. Ah, Texas in the spring! As a professional photographer, this is the time of year that the phone was ringing off the hook with families booking portrait sessions in the bluebonnets…a Texas tradition.
    But, alas, here in Big Bend this is the second year in a row that no rain in the fall means no flowers in the spring! Not a bluebonnet in sight.
    Thanks for posting. At least we have nostalgia.

    1. There was a notable line of demarcation on this trip. Clearly, the eastern part of the state has received far more rain than the west. I wanted to visit the areas west of Gonzales that had been so rich in flowers in past years, but things were sparse, to put it kindly. I did find a few nice flowers of different species, but very few; there were none of the bluebonnet/paintbrush/butterweed spreads that I’d seen in the past. I was surprised to find so much larkspur, and I found my first-ever pink bluebonnet. Of course there will be a photo!

    1. Thanks so much, Judy. I’ve never been especially happy with my landscape photos, but this year I felt as though I did a little better, and I was pleased with these. As for the places I found, I felt as though I’d discovered a ‘secret garden.’ There was hardly anyone around.

    1. It was at that time, and it is in retrospect. These are such bold, bright colors — but there were more delicate flowers, as well. Selecting which to show is quite a challenge.

  5. Ah, Linda, these photos truly evoke Texas to me. How I wish I’d been able to see — and smell — these beauties! I suppose the next best thing is to enjoy them vicariously through you and the pictures. And what a big beautiful blue sky!! (Can’t tell I’m feeling nostalgic today, can you?!)

    1. Debbie, I thought about you when I was taking these photos. I was glad that I’d found some fields that I knew would please your bluebonnet-and-paintbrush loving heart! It was a gorgeous day — warm but not humid — and even the sky seemed happy to be arched over those flowers. I’m so glad Steve Schwartzman (who comments here and who lives in Austin) sent me a ‘heads up!’ note and got me focused on getting out and about.

  6. I haven’t seen either bluebonnets or paintbrushes in that concentration this year. Beautiful photos! I did walk along a trail yesterday with full-on pink evening primrose, with occasional dollops of yellow in the form of Engelmann’s daisies.

    1. The Engelmann’s daisies were just beginning to appear south of Schulenberg. I remember how glorious they were last year at the Fannin memorial in Goliad; I’m sure there will be more. Our pink primrose and Texas dandelions have exploded, but the real fun on this trip was finding some flowers I’ve never before seen, as well as some larkspur, fringed puccoon, and some sort of penstemon. I had a feeling when Spring arrived, it would fairly explode, and it surely has!

  7. Spectacular streams of colour flowing over the landscape, so awesome! I’ve shared a link to twitter. Slightly curious as to what the scattering of pale flowers are in the first photo.

    1. The bits of yellow you see at the lower left are Texas dandelions. They get their common name because of their similar appearance to the European dandelion, but they’re a different genus. The other light colored flowers are pink evening primrose. A friend and I went round and round for a couple of years until we realized that her common name for the primrose was ‘buttercup.’ I wrote about that here.

      1. Enjoyed the three links, thanks Linda, I love pink evening primrose. It came up in a gravelly area by the house at a place we used to own. Your Texas dandelion is a dainty member of that family!

  8. You are right – there wide open spaces and big sky make the flow of flowers even more impressive. I remember one particular spring years ago when the flowers were so abundant it looked like rivers flowing. (Now I’m really going to have to try and catch that purple blend! Never knew, but it should be obvious it can happen…if you are lucky to be in the right place at the right time for that rare show)

    1. Every time I listen to the Outdoors Show on the weekend, I laugh at the fishermen bemoaning this slow season. Everything from the wind to the mysterious ways of fish is working against them, and they make their frustration even worse by recalling the really good years. They sound for all the world like me, recalling how beautiful 2018 and 2019 — even 2020 — was. But this year’s beautiful, too. It just takes getting out and having a look around to realize it. I still can’t get those iris of yours out of my mind: sometimes our at-home beauty rivals anything “out there.”

  9. I don’t remember where I read “Wowsers” in response to an image. Maybe one of your previous posts, or Steve’s, or on Facebook, But it is an appropriate choice of words. What impressive swaths of floral pulchritude. My little clump of Virginia Bluebells is developing but hardly worth mentioning compared to those fields of Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes.

    1. Just remember: when your Bluebells are in full bloom, these will have begun to fade, or perhaps will be gone, and we’ll be envying yours. To everything there is a season, and all that. That said, it certainly is our season now; despite the negative effects of the drought in some areas of the state, this part was in pretty good shape. Well, ok — great shape!

    1. I knew I’d find flowers this spring, I just didn’t know if I’d be able to track down some really nice colonies of the traditional bluebonnets and paintbrush. Obviously, the answer is ‘yes.’ I found some other lovely spots, as well, filled with phlox, larkspur, and white prickly poppies — a pastel spring to go with this bright and bold one.

    1. You would enjoy it so much. Like California, there are times when the beauty’s almost overwhelming. I remember the same thing from Utah. Although it was a different environment, the alpine meadows around Salt Lake City would burst into the most glorious blooms in spring. The fact that the season’s are relatively short makes them even more special.

    1. On the other hand… I drove about three hours north to find some of these fields. If you drove three hours south, we almost could meet in the middle! And from what I’ve heard, there are some wonderful areas for flowers around you — especially east of the metroplex, in places like Parkhill Prairie. I’d love to get up that way sometime: maybe in the fall.

        1. It is. I went there first because it’s relatively near to where my gr-great-grandparents camped on the prairie, near Melissa, and I wanted to see some land that might resemble what they saw when they spent time there.

    1. Now, that’s amazing. I find a town I’ve never heard of, and someone I know lives there. What a world! You certainly do live in a beautiful part of the state — and now I understand why Brenham was such an easy drive to see wildflowers!

    1. If you’re in the Pattison/Monaville area, you surely know Repka’s Grocery. The next time I get up that way, I intend to make a stop. Their menu looks terrific — any time I can find a good crawfish pie, I’m happy!

  10. Nice combo. We have the paintbrush up here in the alpine areas, but alas, no bluebonnets. On the other hand, I seem to remember bluebonnets are in the lupine family, and those alpine areas do have some of those.

    But not fields the size you’ve found there. Must have been a heck of a sight.

    1. Our paintbrush is Castilleja indivisa; it’s fun to look at maps like this to see what other species are around in different parts of the country. And you’re right that bluebonnets are in the lupine family; the name of ours makes that clear — Lupinus texensis. One little fact I love is that the legislature eventually decided that every bluebonnet species would be considered our state flower, so even the ones growing in Big Bend or east Texas get to share in the glory.

      They are beautiful. For my nose, it takes some big fields to make the scent discernible, but I surely could smell them this trip, and it was great.

  11. You have fields of flowers. I finally have green outside my window as the tree there has finally leafed out. Perhaps spring has finally wandered in.

    1. At this point, I suspect anything that’s green rather than brown would be pleasing to your eye. The winds finally have laid here, at least temporarily, and a little fog is helping to ground the pollen; perhaps the Easter bunny will bring you blue skies and no wind. Of course, a little well-behaved rain would be good, too. I hope you and your flowers get it.

    1. That they are. Standing in the midst of such beauty, inhaling the fragrance (at least, of the bluebonnets) is a remarkable experience — one that people look forward to every year.

    1. Somehow, your comment reminded me of a story Annie Dillard tells about newly sighted people describing ‘color patches.’ That’s one way to see these: a patchwork of color across the landscape. They’re as heart-warming as a patchwork quilt can be for the body.

  12. I love photography but sometimes you really do have to be there to take it all in and fully appreciate a scene. That being said, though, I love your photographs and they do a great job helping me better appreciate what you saw. I do sometimes wonder how many of these scenes most of us miss because we don’t take those side roads we’ve never travelled before. Wasn’t there a poem about that?

    1. One thing a photo can’t communicate is the delicate scent of a bluebonnet field. For me, it takes a certain density before the fragrance becomes detectable, but on this trip I often experienced their light, sweet scent.

      As for those roads less traveled, one of their great benefits is the slower travel they allow. Many of our primary highways have wonderfully dense colonies alongside, due in part to an enthusiastic planting program by the highway department. But in the country, there are whole fields accessible, and little traffic; it feels far less dangerous to stop alongside the road, and no one fusses if you’re driving more slowly. Pull over, switch on the emergency flashers, be ready to show your camera to the ones slowing down to see if you need help, and there’s plenty of time to explore.

      Beyond that, the back roads offer a chance to meet and chat with people, and some of the best pie in the world’s in those nondescript cafés.

  13. The colors are amazingly vivid – your photographs capture them beautifully. I love spending time on back roads in search of new sights in nature. Here in the built-up Northeast that often means finding unexpected pockets of wildness in urban areas. And sometimes I get to go out where the land opens up more, woods and open meadows. That’s usually some form of conservation land, not privately owned open spaces.

    1. I was lucky to have a nice, bright day, without any particular humidity or haze, and I was fortunate to be able to put the sun at my back. It was terrifically windy, but these low-to-the-ground flowers weren’t especially affected; it all worked out well, and the colors do shine.For most of the year, many of these ranches and pastures appear fairly pedestrian, but in spring, the secrets that have been lurking underground explode in color.

      1. The colors don’t look like they were taken on a blue-sky day at all. And it looks absolutely still. I can imagine what the scene would look like on a dun or just grassy midsummer day – what a transformation.

  14. Spectacular photographs which leave no doubt they were taken in the Lone Star State!

    Thank you for providing us with a vicarious “wildflower” drive. It has evoked wonderful memories of our Texas years.

    1. As you well know, these flowers are so popular the trick can be finding fields that are both beautiful and not overrun with babies and brides — not to mention just folks out for their bluebonnet fix. I was exceptionally lucky this year, and managed to find some off-the-beaten track flowers that allowed a little wandering on foot rather than shooting over the fence. I’m grateful.

    1. I wish you could, too. There’s a reason Texans head for the fields in wildflower season; once you’ve seen them, you never forget them, and you want to see them again.

    1. When you get here, I can offer a personal guided tour, or plenty of suggestions; what fun that would be! You’re hardly short on beautiful vistas, but we do have some eye-pleasing landscapes.

  15. The pictures are beautiful, they transmit the sense of the power of the nature. I had to google bluebonnet for the italian translation, lupinoi selvatico and I learned it is a poisoning plant!
    Dangerous but very nice !

    1. The danger from our lupines varies from species to species. There is one Bluebonnet — Lupinus perennis — that has a reputation for being more toxic, but for the most part they don’t pose any threat to humans. You can touch them without any fear, and sniff their fragrance if you like. The biggest problem seems to be for cattle, which can suffer if they eat too many seeds. I don’t know anyone who’s tried eating them — we just like to look at them!

  16. Beautiful images and flowers. I had fun imagining the Texas landscape in the 19thC when you could be surrounded by bluebells and paintbrush.

    1. My maternal great-great-grandparents moved to the Texas prairie after the Civil War. Grandpa had spent much of the war in Texas, and apparently he liked it. I enjoy imagining them surrounded by these flowers; I have a bit of correspondence that mentions Grandpa’s special fondness for them, even after they moved back to Iowa. They’re just as beautiful now as they would have been then.

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