In praise of the colour blue
Sri Lanka blue magpie (Urocissa ornata), a gorgeous bird of the crow family (Corvidae), is restricted to a few rainforest areas in south-western Sri Lanka.
This Sri Lanka blue magpie in Sinharaja Forest Reserve is eating the red outer layer of a palm fruit. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This elderly woman, clad in blue, has displayed vegetables for sale at the road side, Amasra, northern Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beehives are a very common sight on the Greek island of Crete. These have been painted blue and white – the colours of the Greek national flag. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the wonderful Monterey Aquarium in California, huge aquariums, containing various jellyfish, are brightly illuminated, on a blue background. These pictures show purple-striped jellyfish (Chrysaora colorata) (top) and moon jellyfish (Aurelia). (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
On a silent summer night, on the island of Vorsø, Horsens Fjord, Denmark, common elms (Ulmus glabra) stretch their dead branches into the sky. These trees have been killed by Dutch elm disease, caused by the fungus Ceratocystis novo-ulmi. – Dutch elm disease is dealt with in detail on the page Vorsø on my mind. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blue anemones (Hepatica), also called hepatica, liverleaf, or liverwort, were named for their mostly three-lobed leaves, hepatica being derived from the Greek hepar (‘liver’). As the outline of the leaf resembles the human liver, followers of the Doctrine of Signatures claimed that they could be used for treatment of liver disorders. This is not the case, but the plant has been used to treat wounds, as an astringent, and as a diuretic.
This genus of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), which is native to Eurasia and eastern North America, has caused much confusion among taxonomists as to the number of species, which varies from seven to thirteen, depending on authority. Others treat these plants as members of the genus Anemone, which, together with the genus Pulsatilla, is dealt with in detail on the page Plants: Anemones and pasque flowers.
The genus includes the following species, subspecies, and/or varieties:
Hepatica nobilis var. nobilis (European hepatica, or blue anemone), found from Scandinavia and the Baltic south to Italy and the Balkans.
H. pyrenaica = H. nobilis var. pyrenaica (Pyrenean hepatica), the Pyrenees and northern Spain.
H. transsilvanica (Romanian hepatica), restricted to mountains in Romania.
H. falconeri, montane forests of Central Asia.
H. asiatica = H. nobilis var. asiatica, central and eastern China, Korea, and south-eastern Siberia.
H. henryi, central and western China.
H. yamatutai, restricted to Mount Emei Shan, Sichuan Province, China.
H. insularis, southern Korea.
H. maxima, endemic to Ulleung-do Island, Korea.
H. japonica = H. nobilis var. japonica, Japan.
H. pubescens = H. nobilis var. pubescens, central Honshu, Japan.
H. americana = H. nobilis var. obtusa (round-lobed hepatica), eastern North America.
H. acutiloba = H. nobilis var. acuta (sharp-lobed hepatica), eastern North America.
Large growth of European hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. nobilis), Knisa Mosse, Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
European hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. nobilis), eastern Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana), Clement Farm Conservation Area, Massachusetts, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Colourful Chinese tiles, Topkapı Sarayi (Topkapi Palace), Istanbul, Turkey. Construction of this wonderful palace began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II (1432-1481), commonly known as Mehmed the Conqueror. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the past, the white-tailed blue robin (Myiomela leucura) was regarded as belonging to the thrushes, but recent DNA studies indicate that it is in fact a flycatcher of the family Muscicapidae. It is distributed from the Himalaya eastwards across Southeast Asia, with an isolated population, subspecies montium, in the lower mountains of Taiwan.
This species lives in dense forest and bamboo growths, feeding on the ground. Male and female have a very different plumage, the male being dark blue with pale-blue forehead and wing coverts, and a black tail with a large white spot at the base of each side, while the female is brown with a whitish throat, its tail being similar to that of the male.
This male white-tailed blue robin was photographed in a dense thicket in Dasyueshan National Forest, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Eight species of rollers, of the genus Coracias, are colourful birds, displaying bright blue or turquoise on various parts of their body. They are often perched on a prominent branch, or a fence post, scanning the surrounding landscape for prey, which includes various invertebrates, and small vertebrates such as lizards, snakes, frogs, rodents, and young birds. Most of the species live in sub-Saharan Africa, with one species in Europe and western Asia, one widespread Asian species, and one species in Sulawesi.
The Eurasian roller (Coracias garrulus) breeds in eastern Europe and south-western Asia, with a disjunctive population in extreme southern France, Spain, Portugal, and north-western Africa. The winter months are spent in Africa, the Iberian and North African populations migrating to West Africa, from Sierra Leone east to Cameroun, while eastern populations migrate to southern Africa. This species has declined rather drastically in most of its breeding area. Threats include hunting during migration, especially in Oman, where thousands are killed for food. In many places, trees have been removed, giving way to modern agricultural practices, robbing the roller of potential nesting sites and perches for hunting, while pesticides have reduced its food sources.
Eurasian roller, photographed in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, in early April, when the north-going migration of this species takes place. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis) has a wide distribution, from Iraq and the Arab Emirates, eastwards along coastal Iran and the entire Indian Subcontinent, including Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands, to Southeast Asia. It is very common in India, where several states have chosen it as their state bird.
A gorgeous Indian roller takes off from a thicket in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) is rather common in open woodland and savanna in eastern and southern Africa, from Ethiopia south to South Africa, and thence west to Namibia. It is easily identified by its lilac breast.
In this picture from Kruger National Park, South Africa, a gust of wind ruffles the plumage of a lilac-breasted roller. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male lilac-breasted roller, bringing food to his mate, who greets him by calling. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Abyssinian roller (Coracias abyssinicus) breeds across the African Sahel zone, south to Cameroun, Central African Republic, northern Zaire, northern Uganda, and northern Kenya, and is also found along the southern Red Sea coast on the Arabian Peninsula, and along the Nile River, almost to the Egyptian border. Its outer tail feathers are very long and thin.
Abyssinian roller, Waza National Park, Cameroun. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The purple, or rufous-crowned, roller (Coracias naevius) is less colourful than the other rollers of this genus. It is very widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, excepting the West African rainforest belt and extreme southern Africa. Its preferred habitat is dry savanna, and its breeding season varies from place to place, possibly linked to recent rains.
Purple roller, Lake Bogoria, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
One among numerous wall paintings, made by a retired soldier in a suburban area in Taichung, Taiwan, which, for this reason, has been dubbed Tsai Hung Tsun (‘Rainbow Village’). – More pictures of this art work are shown at Culture: Folk art in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The black-naped monarch (Hypothymis azurea), of the monarch-flycatcher family (Monarchidae), has a very wide distribution, found in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Southern China, and Taiwan. No less than 23 subspecies have been described. The male is bright blue with a distinctive black patch on the crown and a narrow black stripe across the throat, while the female is dull-blue with brownish wings, lacking the black markings of the male.
In Taiwan, the black-naped monarch, subspecies oberholseri, is quite common in forests in lower parts of the country. This male was feeding in a dense growth of trees in a city park in Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The narrow-leaved, or cowslip lungwort (Pulmonaria angustifolia), is similar to common lungwort (P. officinalis), but has narrower leaves and sky-blue flowers. It is native to central and eastern Europe, but is nowhere common.
Narrow-leaved lungwort, photographed in Denmark, where it is extremely rare, growing on a single coastal bluff in northern Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Manhattan, New York City, by night, seen from Brooklyn Bridge. – To commemorate the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which were destroyed during a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, two blue laser beams are cast into the air, six months later, on the original location of the towers. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Coccocypselum is a genus of the madder family (Rubiaceae), easily identified when in fruit, displaying bright blue or purple berries. This genus is native to Central and South America, and the West Indies.
Coccocypselum hirsutum may be identified by its hairy fruits, here photographed in Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal, Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), named for its blue crown, wings, and upper tail, is a widespread breeding bird in Europe, from northern Scandinavia southwards to Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey, and from the British Isles eastwards to western Iran. In Siberia and Central Asia, it is replaced by a near relative, the azure tit (C. cyanus), which is a very rare guest in Europe. The blue tit in northern Africa and the Canary Islands, which was formerly included in C. caeruleus, is now regarded as a separate species, named C. teneriffae.
This blue tit is removing small bits of decayed wood from its nesting hole in an elder (Sambucus nigra), Nyord, Møn, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Primroses, or cowslips, genus Primula, are distributed in temperate areas of the Northern Hemisphere and in Temperate South America. This genus probably originated in the Himalaya, where no less than c. 70 species grow. The name cowslip is interpreted in various ways. According to some authorities, it is a corruption of the Old English word cuslyppe, meaning ‘cow dung’. This probably refers to the favoured habitat of several primrose species, namely cattle grazing grounds. Others claim that the word is a corruption of cow’s leek, derived from the Anglo-Saxon word leac, meaning ‘plant’.
Read more about primroses on the pages Plants: Primroses, and Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
With its broadly bell-shaped flowers, Primula wollastonii differs significantly from most other species of the genus. It is found in central and eastern Nepal, and southern Tibet, between 3,600 and 4,900 m altitude.
Primula wollastonii, Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gaily coloured houses, Valparaiso, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the past, the grandala (Grandala coelicolor) was regarded as belonging to the thrushes, but recent DNA studies indicate that it is in fact a ground-living flycatcher of the family Muscicapidae. The plumage of the gorgeous male shows an almost iridescent hue of blue.
From a stone in a mountain stream in the Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal, this male grandala would alight and flutter about butterfly-like to snap an insect, before returning to its vantage point. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The five-striped blue-tailed skink (Plestiodon elegans) is distributed in southern China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the southernmost islands in Japan.
Immature five-striped blue-tailed skink, photographed on Bagua Shan, western Taiwan. Adults do not have a blue tail. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Swinhoe’s pheasant (Lophura swinhoii) – also known as Taiwan blue pheasant – is endemic in the mountains of central Taiwan, where it is quite common. It is named after British biologist Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877) who, in 1860, became the first European consular representative to Taiwan. He discovered many new species, and four mammals and 15 birds are named after him.
Male Swinhoe’s pheasant, Dasyueshan National Forest, Taiwan. To lure this gorgeous bird closer, many Taiwanese photographers strew maize or other food near roads or trails, often causing it to become remarkably tame. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Puya is a genus of large plants of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), restricted to the Andes Mountains and mountains of southern Central America.
Gorgeous blue flowers of Puya coerulea, encountered in Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rampions (Phyteuma), of the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), comprising about 25 species, are distributed in most of Europe, east to Ukraine, and south to Morocco. The flowers of almost all species are various shades of dark blue.
Betony-leaved rampion (Phyteuma betonicifolium), Tavetsch Valley, Graubünden, Switzerland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) is a large, stout antelope, found in parts of northern India. The name nilgai, which is Hindi for ‘blue cow’, refers to the slate-coloured, slightly bluish coat of the male, and to its similarity to the sacred cow. For the latter reason, the nilgai is protected by devout Hindus and has thus escaped the fate of many other animals in India, which are on the brink of extinction, such as tiger (Panthera tigris), lion (Panthera leo), and blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra).
Nilgai males, drinking from a waterhole in Sariska National Park, Rajasthan, north-western India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) is native to most of Europe and northern Temperate Asia, and it has also become naturalized in parts of North America. The generic name is from the Greek echis, meaning ‘viper’, referring to the shape of the flower, with the long, red stamens sticking out like a viper’s tongue.
Formerly, it was believed that this species could be used as a cure for snake bite. British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) says about this: “It is a most gallant herb of the sun; it is a pity it is no more in use than it is. It is an especial remedy against the biting of the viper, and all other venomous beasts, or serpents; as also against poison, or poisonous herbs. Dioscorides and others say that whosoever shall take of the herb or root before they be bitten, they shall not be hurt by the poison of any serpent.” (Pedanius Dioscorides (died 90 A.D.), was a Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist, author of De Materia Medica (five volumes dealing with herbal medicine).
The name bugloss is from the Greek, meaning ‘ox tongue’, referring to the rough surface of the leaves. In Swedish, the name of this species is blåeld, meaning ‘blue fire’, alluding to the wonderful blue colour of the flowers, which, when many plants grow together, does resemble ‘blue fire’.
Common viper’s bugloss, growing on a gravelly beach on the Swedish island of Gotland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common viper’s bugloss, photographed on the Danish island of Bornholm. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many houses in the town of Taplejung, eastern Nepal, are painted blue. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The gorgeous butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea), also called Asian pigeon-wings or bluebell vine, is a native of the southern Arabian Peninsula and Tropical Asia, and has been widely introduced elsewhere as an ornamental, including Africa, Australia, and America. It was first named Lathyrus spectabilis by Swedish naturalist Pehr Forsskål (1732-1763), in Yemen, during the Royal Danish Expedition to Arabia 1761-1767. Later, it was renamed Clitoria ternatea by Forsskål’s mentor, the famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné. Nobody can doubt what he was referring to!
This plant is widely utilized in traditional Ayurvedic medicine for various purposes, including as an anti-depressant, a tranquilizer, and a sedative. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used for female diseases due to its similarity to the female reproductive organ – a typical example of the Doctrine of Signatures, whose followers claim that the Great God made all plants, so that humans would recognize the usage of them.
In China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, the flowers are used as a natural food colouring.
The fascinating, albeit short, life of Pehr Forsskål is related on the page People: Pehr Forsskål – brilliant Swedish scientist.
Butterfly pea, photographed near Kenting, southern Taiwan (top), and near Mysore, Karnataka, South India. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In former days, bluestarts, or bush-robins, were regarded as small thrushes, but recent DNA analyses have revealed that they are in fact ground-living flycatchers of the family Muscicapidae. The most widespread species is the common bluestart (Tarsiger cyanurus), found from eastern Europe across Siberia, south to Japan and the Himalaya.
This picture from Sagarmatha National Park, eastern Nepal, shows a male Himalayan bluestart (Tarsiger cyanurus ssp. rufilatus), by some authorities regarded as a separate species, T. rufilatus. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Iris is a genus of wonderful plants, comprising 250-300 species. They are named after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, presumably because of their colourful flowers. Other species of this attractive genus are presented on the pages Plants – Mountain plants: Himalayan flora, and In praise of the colour yellow.
Some American species of Iris are called ‘flag’, including northern blue flag (Iris versicolor), here photographed in Pawtuckaway State Park, New Hampshire. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Tuaregs – also known by various other names, including Kel Tamasheq, Imuhagh, Imazighen, or Itargiyen – are a large group of Berber peoples, living in the western half of the Sahara Desert, south to Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. The Tuaregs have often been called the Blue People, because they dye their clothes with indigo, the blue colour of which stains their skin.
I met this Tuareg south of Arlit, Niger. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blue trumpet-vine (Thunbergia grandiflora), also known as Bengal clock-vine or sky-vine, is a huge climber of the acanthus family (Acanthaceae), growing to a length of 20 m or more. It is native to South and Southeast Asia and China, but has become widely naturalized elsewhere. In parts of Australia, it is regarded as a serious invasive.
In Spanish, this plant is called Emperatriz Eugenia, named for Doña María Eugenia Ignacia Augustina de Palafox y KirkPatrick (1826-1920), wife of French Emperor Napoleon III and known as Eugénie de Montijo in French.
The generic name was given in honour of Swedish botanist and physician Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828), a pupil of Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné. Thunberg is mainly known for his botanical work in South Africa and Japan.
A near relative of blue trumpet-vine is black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata), which is described on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
Blue trumpet-vine, encountered on Peninsula de Osa, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Neither of the two North American ‘blue’ herons, the great blue (Ardea herodias) and the little blue (Egretta caerulea), are really blue, but have a bluish tinge to their plumage. They are both widely distributed, the great blue from Alaska south to extreme north-western South America, while in North America, the little blue is restricted to the United States east of the Rockies, but is found further south than the great blue, south to Peru and Brazil.
Great blue heron, feeding on a grassy plain in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, Santa Ana Mountains, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Little blue heron, Everglades National Park, Florida. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Schizanthus hookerii is a beautiful plant of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), also called butterfly flower, fringe flower, and poor man’s orchid. The flowers of this genus, which is native to Chile and Argentina, are pollinated by bees, bumblebees, and wasps.
Schizanthus hookerii, Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gossamer-winged butterflies (Lycaenidae) is a very large butterfly family with over 4,500 species worldwide, constituting more than 20% of all known butterfly species (excluding moths). Traditionally, the family is divided into a number of subfamilies, of which the blues (Polyommatinae), is the largest.
Male common blue (Polyommatus icarus), feeding in thrift flowers (Armeria maritima), Fanø, Denmark. A hovering fly is seen in the foreground. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common tit (Hypolycaena erylus), sucking sweat from my finger, Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cow-wheat (Melampyrum), comprising c. 40 species of parasitic plants in the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae), are distributed in arctic and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, south to Spain, Turkey, and China, and the Carolinas in America.
The generic name is from the Greek melampyron, of melas (‘black’) and pyros (‘wheat’), referring to the black seeds, which somewhat resemble wheat grains. An ancient belief has it that the seeds, when mixed with wheat and ground into flour, tended to make the bread black. In the Middle Ages, it was also believed that the seeds were capable of being converted into wheat, supposedly because of the sudden appearance of these plants among wheat, planted on recently cleared land. Cows and sheep readily eat these plants, hence the name cow-wheat. (Source: M. Grieve, 1931. A Modern Herbal. Jonathan Cape, here taken from botanical.com)
In his Cruydeboeck (herb book), Flemish physician and botanist Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585) tells us that “the seeds of this herb taken in meate or drinke troubleth the braynes, causing headache and drunkennesse.”
Popular names of the wood cow-wheat (Melampyrum nemorosum) include natt-och-dag (‘night-and-day’ in Swedish) and Ivan-da-Marya (‘Ivan-and-Maria’ in Russian), both names referring to its striking inflorescences, with yellow flowers and bright purplish-blue bracts. This species is mainly a plant of eastern Europe, found from Denmark, Germany, and Italy, eastwards to north-western Russia.
Wood cow-wheat, growing along a hedge on the island of Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Iznik tiles are decorated ceramics, named after the Turkish city of Iznik, situated just east of the Marmara Sea, where these exquisite ceramics were produced, mainly between the late 1400s and the late 1600s. They were decorated with cobalt blue and other colours under a colourless, transparent lead glaze. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iznik_pottery)
While waiting for customers in his shop, situated in the Kapalıçarşı (‘Covered Market’), or Büyük Çarşı (‘Grand Bazaar’), in Istanbul, Turkey, this man is reading his newspaper. His tiles and other ceramics are clearly inspired by the famous Iznik tiles. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Obviously, the paintings on these gas bottles in Istanbul are also inspired by the Iznik tiles. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The red-legged honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus), a small bird belonging to the tanager family (Thraupidae), is distributed from southern Mexico south to Peru and central Brazil.
Male red-legged honeycreeper, feeding in flowers of blue porterweed (Stachytarpheta frantzii), Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The theme on the local banner of the Swedish island Öland is identical to the official heraldic coat of arms of the island, dating back to c. 1560: a blue sheet of bunting, depicting a golden stag with red antlers, tongue, and hooves, and wearing a red collar – a symbol of Öland as a royal hunting area.
This Öland banner was fluttering in the wind outside a farm in the village of Gillsätra. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blueberries comprise 21 bushes of the genus Vaccinium, of which 20 are indigenous to North America, one of these, the European blueberry, or common bilberry (V. myrtillus), growing on acidic soils in western North America, parts of northern Asia, and across Europe. Finally, the Korean blueberry (V. koreanum) is restricted to Korea and the neighbouring Liaoning Province of China.
Picking delicious blueberries is a popular pastime in many parts of the world, in this case European blueberry, or common bilberry, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Nilgiri Mountains constitute a part of the Western Ghats, a mountain range, which stretches most of the way along the west coast of India, from Goa south to the southern tip of the subcontinent. The highest point in the Nilgiris, Dodabetta, reaches a height of 2,637 m. The name Nilgiri is from the Tamil nila (’blue’) and kurinji, which is the name of a blue-flowered plant of the acanthus family (Acanthaceae), Phlebophyllum kunthianum, which only blooms at intervals of 12 years, but so profusely that entire mountain slopes become bluish. By the British, nilakurinji was corrupted to nilgiri, which means ’blue hill’ in Hindi, i.e. more or less the same meaning.
Bluish morning mist envelops a eucalyptus plantation in the Nilgiri Mountains, but, as the text above relates, this is not the reason why these mountains got their name. – Eucalyptus is described on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Towards the end of the 1800s, a narrow-gauge railway track was constructed, heading out from the small town of Mettupalayam in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India. This railway leads up through the Nilgiri Mountains, terminating at the hill station Ootacamund (Ooty). Over a distance of 46 km, the terrain rises from c. 300 to c. 2,200 m altitude, the tracks passing through 16 tunnels, and across 31 larger and c. 200 smaller bridges. The lower mountain slopes are covered in tropical monsoon forest, and this area is full of waterfalls. Above c. 1,400 m, the forest gives way to plantations of tea, pines, and eucalyptus. This steep railway is operated by a small blue steam train, the Nilgiri Mountain Express.
In this picture, the Nilgiri Mountain Express is puffing its way up into the Nilgiri Mountains. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The gorgeous African pitta (Pitta angolensis) breeds in tropical forest in several areas of West Africa and in south-eastern Africa, from central Tanzania south to Moçambique. The south-eastern populations are migratory, spending the southern winter in Uganda, Kenya, and the Central African Republic.
Bright blue rump feathers of an African pitta, Rondo Forest, southern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blue morning-glory (Ipomoea nil) – also called ivy morning-glory due to the shape of its leaves – is probably native to Mexico or Central America, but has been introduced to most warmer parts of the world, where it has become naturalized in many places. Flowers of this species are various shades of blue, with a white funnel. It can be told from similar species by the base of its calyx, which is hairy.
Read more about this species and other members of the morning-glory family on the page Plants: Morning-glories and bindweeds.
This picture is from Taiwan, where blue morning-glory is very common. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blue morning-glory, entwining a species of mugwort (Artemisia), Lower Marsyangdi Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Blue Nile originates in Lake Tana in the Ethiopian Highlands, from where it makes its way c. 1,500 km to Khartoum, in the Sudan, where it joins the larger White Nile. The name Blue Nile is in fact a misnomer. During the summer monsoon, this river washes down huge amounts of soil from the highlands, which turns its water almost black. In a local Sudanese language, the word for black is also used for blue, so, in reality, the river should be called ‘The Black Nile’.
The first written account of the Blue Nile is from 1565, when a Portuguese, João Bermudes – who called himself Patriarch of Ethiopia – provided a description of the Blue Nile Falls, Tississat, in his memoirs.
Incidentally, to many Christian Ethiopians, the Blue Nile is identified as the sacred river Gihon, one of the four rivers flowing out from the Garden of Eden, as related in Genesis, 2:13.
The great Tississat Falls on the Blue Nile, Ethiopia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) is a striking bird, displaying crescent-shaped white wing-patches, black flight-feathers, and a bright blue patch of naked skin around the eye. Despite its specific name asiatica, meaning ‘from Asia’, this dove is a New World bird, distributed in south-western United States, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Presumably, Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, who named this bird Columba asiatica in 1758, was told that the type specimen originated in Asia. The generic name was introduced in 1838 by French ornithologist Charles Bonaparte (1803-1857), 2nd Prince of Canino and Musignano, in honour of his wife Zénaïde (1801-1854).
White-winged dove, photographed near Tucson, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Gentians proper, Gentiana, are a huge genus, comprising c. 360 species. It used to contain c. 635 species, but certain authorities, such as the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group System (APG IV), split out c. 23 species of fringed gentians (Gentianopsis), with ciliate margins to the petals, and c. 250 species of dwarf gentians (Gentianella), which, as opposed to Gentiana, are without scales or lobules between the corolla-lobes, while some species have hairs or lobes in the throat.
Members of these genera are distributed almost worldwide, found in Europe, north-western Africa, Asia, the Americas, eastern Australia, and New Zealand. The flowers of most species are various shades of blue, while others are purple, violet, mauve, yellow, white, or, rarely, red. The four or five petals are usually fused, forming a trumpet-, funnel-, or bell-shaped flower.
The name gentian derives from King Gentius, who ruled in Ancient Illyria 181-168 B.C., and who allegedly discovered the medicinal value of the yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea). Its medicinal usage is related on the page Traditional medicine.
The following 6 pictures show various blue gentian species.
The marsh gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe) grows in marshes and moorlands, from southern Scandinavia south to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Albania, and Bulgaria, and from Britain east to Russia and the Caucasus. Formerly, a blue dye was made from the flowers of this species. Incidentally, it is the host plant of a species of butterfly, the Alcon blue (Phengaris alcon).
Marsh gentian, photographed on the Danish island of Fanø, Jutland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Clusius’ gentian (Gentiana clusii) is distributed in montane areas of southern Europe, in the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Apennines, the Jura, the Black Mountains, and the Carpathians. It was named after Charles de l’Écluse (1526-1609), also called Carolus Clusius, a Flemish physician and botanist, who was among the first to study the Alpine flora. Clusius’ gentian is very similar to another gentian, G. acaulis, but as opposed to that species, it does not have green stripes inside the corolla, and it prefers to grow on limestone, whereas G. acaulis is predominantly found on acid soils.
Clusius’ gentian, Col du Bous, Dolomites, northern Italy. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its specific name implies, Gentiana ornata is a beautiful species, found in the Himalaya, from central Nepal east to south-western China. Like many gentian species, it is flowering late in the year, from September to November.
Gentiana ornata, photographed at an altitude of c. 4,200 m, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Short-leaved gentian (Gentiana brachyphylla) is quite similar to the more common spring gentian (G. verna), but as its name implies, its leaves are very short, only about 1 cm. This species has a wide distribution in southern Europe, from the Spanish Sierra Nevada and the Pyrenees, east across the Alps to the Carpathians, found at altitudes between 1,800 and 3,100 m.
Short-leaved gentian, Grossglockner area, Austria. The plant with pink flowers is purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dwarf gentians, of the genus Gentianella, can be told from other gentians by their flowers, which have lobes or tufts of hair in the throat, and no scales, or lobules, between the corolla-lobes. G. moorcroftiana is distributed in the western parts of the Himalaya, from Pakistan east to central Nepal. It is very common in the drier landscapes of Lahaul and Ladakh, northern India.
Gentianella moorcroftiana, observed near Lake Deepak Tal, Lahaul, India, at an altitude of c. 3,800 m. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fringed gentians, of the genus Gentianopsis, are identified by their ciliate margins to the petals. The common fringed gentian (G. ciliata), is distributed in southern Europe and western Asia, east to Caucasus.
Common fringed gentian, photographed near Col d’Aubisque, Pyrenees, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Jamaica vervain (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis) – also called blue porterweed, blue snakeweed, bastard vervain, or Brazilian tea – belongs to the vervain family (Verbenaceae). It is native throughout the Caribbean, but has been introduced to many other parts of the world and has become naturalized in numerous areas.
This Jamaica vervain is making its way up through a fern leaf, near Nanzen Lake, Kenting National Park, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea), formerly often called Mexican elderberry (S. mexicana), is a deciduous shrub, which can grow to a height of 9 m. In spring, it displays an abundance of butter-yellow flowers, followed by purplish-blue berries in autumn. It grows up to an altitude of 3,000 m, in a variety of habitats, including river valleys, woodlands, and exposed slopes with access to water. It has a very wide distribution, from British Columbia south through much of western United States to north-western Mexico, with scattered occurrence in Oklahoma and Texas.
Many indigenous tribes used the berries of this plant for food, and a number of herbal medicines were produced from the wood, bark, leaves, flowers, and roots. The wood was also used to make pipes and musical instruments, such as flutes and small whistles. A dye was made from the berries.
Blue elderberry is named after its whitish-blue berries. – Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Meconopsis is a genus of gorgeous poppies, comprising c. 43 species, almost all of which are found in China and the Himalaya. This attractive genus, popularly called Himalayan poppies, is related in depth on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
A number of Meconopsis species have blue petals. Two of these are presented below.
Meconopsis simplicifolia is easily identified by its largely undivided leaves. This species is found from Nepal east to Bhutan and south-eastern Tibet, here photographed in the Gokyo Valley, Khumbu, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Meconopsis aculeata grows between 3,000 and 4,200 m altitude, from Pakistan east to Uttarakhand, northern India, and extreme south-western Tibet. This picture is from Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, Jerdon’s leafbird (Chloropsis jerdoni), living in the Indian Subcontinent, was regarded as a subspecies of the more widespread blue-winged leafbird (C. cochinchinensis), but differs in morphology, lacking the blue flight feathers of the latter.
This male Jerdon’s leafbird, which can be told from the female by its black throat and blue moustachial stripe, was caught in a mistnet to be ringed, near Mysore, Karnataka, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Baby blue-eyes (Nemophila menziesii) is a gorgeous member of the borage family (Boraginaceae), native to near-coastal areas of western United States and Mexico, from Oregon south to Baja California. This plant is widely cultivated as an ornamental and comes in many colour varieties. The specific name was given in honour of Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), who participated, as surgeon and botanist, in an expedition around the world on board HMS Discovery, under the leadership of Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798).
Baby blue-eyes, Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, Santa Ana Mountains, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The flowerheads of chicory (Cichorium intybus) unfold in the morning, after which they turn, always pointing toward the sun, until around noon. They then wither. A German name of the plant is Wegwarte (’waiting at the road’). A legend has it that the chicory is a transformed virgin, standing at the road side, looking for her sweetheart, turning this way and that.
You may read more about chicory on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Close-up of a flowerhead of chicory with a male long hover fly (Sphaerophoria scripta), Djursland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) is a widespread finch of Europe, western Asia, and north-western Africa. In most subspecies, the male is a pretty brownish-red, but in the Canary Islands, three subspecies are a much subtler reddish – rather bluish. Furthermore, another species of chaffinch, the aptly named blue chaffinch (Fringilla teydea), is found on the island of Tenerife – and nowhere else.
Male blue chaffinch, photographed in pine forest on the slopes of the Teide Volcano, Tenerife. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Condensed exhaust from a jet plane draws white lines across a bright blue sky behind smoking chimneys of a fish smokehouse, Hasle, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bluewing, or wishbone flower (Torenia violacea), is a pretty flower of the family Linderniaceae. This species has a very wide distribution in warmer parts of Asia, from India east to southern China and Taiwan, and thence south to Indonesia.
This picture is from Taiwan, where bluewing is very common on the lower mountain slopes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bright blue T-shirt of this salesman in Pandoh, Himachal Pradesh, northern India, stands out against the subtler colours of the vegetables and fruits around him, including bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, eggplants, and potatoes. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blue-grey tanager (Thraupis episcopus), of the tanager family (Thraupidae), is common in open woodland, gardens, and cultivated areas, from Mexico across Central America, south to Bolivia and northern Brazil.
This blue-grey tanager is feeding on a fallen great morinda (Morinda citrifolia) fruit, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Larkspurs (Delphinium) are a genus in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), identified by their irregular flowers, which have five coloured sepals, the upper one with a large, back-pointing spur, and four inner petals, of which the upper two have nectar-producing spurs that are enclosed in the larger spur.
A large growth of the dark-blue Delphinium kamaonense, Langtang National Park, Nepal. A species of aster is also seen. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan, north-western India, was founded in 1459 by Rajput Prince Rao Jodha. The Old Town is aptly called ‘The Blue City’, as most of its houses are painted a light blue. Originally, these blue houses were inhabited by Brahmins, and their colour indicated that here you could ask advice about disease as well as religious issues. Furthermore, the blue paint contains copper oxides, which keep termites at bay.
Blue houses in Jodhpur. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This fishing vessel is in dock, to be furnished with new paint, Wushe Fishing Harbour, north-eastern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sheep’s-bit (Jasione montana), which belongs to the bellflower family (Campanulaceae), is found in Temperate Europe and western Asia. It grows in rather arid areas, such as dunes and heathland.
Sheep’s-bit and sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), growing among coastal rocks on the island of Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Myosotis is a genus of about 74 species with predominantly pale-blue flowers, belonging to the borage family (Boraginaceae). Its common names include forget-me-not and scorpion grass. The name forget-me-not was first used in English by King Henry IV in 1398 – a direct translation of the German word Vergissmeinnicht. A German legend relates that a courting couple was walking along the bank of the River Danube. The young man noticed some beautiful blue flowers, growing in the water near the shore, but as he waded out to pick them for his darling, he was swept away by the strong current. Before he disappeared, he managed to shout: ”Forget me not!”
Water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides), photographed on the island of Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blue pine (Pinus wallichiana) is distributed in montane areas from Afghanistan and the Himalaya eastwards to south-western China. The name of this pine stems from its needles, which have a bluish tinge. In Nepal, honey dew from aphids living on the needles is eaten as candy.
This species is presented in detail on the page Traditional medicine.
Early in the morning, blue pines stand out as silhouettes against the snow-clad peak of Annapurna II (7,937 m), central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bellflower genus (Campanula) includes more than 500 species, found in temperate and subtropical areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with the highest diversity around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. The common and generic names, as well as the name of the entire family, Campanulaceae, is due to the bell-shaped flowers of this genus, from the Latin campanula (’little bell’).
In this picture, the widespread bluebell (Campanula rotundifolia) grows among red fescue (Festuca rubra) in the Hagestad Nature Reserve, Skåne, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This blue glassy tiger (Ideopsis vulgaris), of the monarch subfamily (Danainae), is feeding in flowers of a species of boneset, Eupatorium schimadae, north-eastern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The blue waterlily (Nymphaea caerulea), often popularly called Nile lotus or sacred blue Lily-of-the-Nile, is distributed in most of eastern Africa, from Egypt south to South Africa.
The generic name is from the Greek nymphe (’nymph’). According to legend, a water-living nymph was deeply in love with the powerful hero Heracles (in Latin called Hercules), who, however, did not return her love. She languished and died, and from her body rose the beautiful waterlily.
An abundance of blue waterlilies, covering the surface of a pond near Tanga, northern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Fountain in front of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, or Sultan Ahmet Camii, Istanbul, Turkey. This marvellous building, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, was constructed between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Sultan Ahmet I. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The name of borage (Borago officinalis), which has given name to the entire family Boraginaceae. is possibly from the Arabic ʾabū min al-ʿaraq, meaning ‘father of sweat’, which, like the specific name officinalis, refers to the medicinal properties of this species. Its leaves and flowers are excellent in salads. The leaves, which have a cucumber-like smell and taste, are also eaten as a vegetable, or used in soups.
The medicinal usage of borage is dealt with on the page Traditional medicine.
Borage is very common on the Greek island of Crete, where these pictures were taken. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The great Buddhist Bodhnath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal, decorated with numerous Tibetan prayer flags, on which mantras are printed. These flags are always placed in the following order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. When they flutter in the wind, the mantras are dispersed into space, for the benefit of humankind.
You may read more about stupas and prayer flags at Religion: Buddhism.
From the great Bodhnath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal, the all-seeing, blue eyes of the Buddha survey the surroundings. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blue Mesa is an area in Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, which consists of thick layers of grey, blue, purple, and green mudstone, deposited approximately 220 million years ago.
Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Redstarts (Phoenicurus) are a genus of birds, belonging to the flycatcher family, Muscicapidae. Formerly, this genus contained 11 members, but following DNA analyses of two species of the genus Rhyacornis and one species of the genus Chaimarrornis, these are now included in Phoenicurus.
Occupying a wide range of habitats, such as forest clearings, shrubberies, and villages, the blue-fronted redstart (Phoenicurus frontalis) is the commonest among the ten species of redstart, which have been encountered in the Himalaya.
Male blue-fronted redstart, observed in the Annapurna area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded March 2017)
(Latest update June 2019)