In praise of the colour red
Illuminated wooden bridge, leading out to the Ngoc Son Temple in the Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Blood lilies (Scadoxus), comprising about 9 species, are highly toxic members of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), native to Africa and Arabia. They have been utilized to extract poison for fishing and for arrows, and they also contribute components to traditional folk medicine. Other common names include ball lily, fireball, oxtongue lily, poison root, and powderpuff lily.
The gorgeous Scadoxus multiflorus is native to the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, and to the major part of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal eastwards to Somalia and thence southwards to South Africa. It is also found in the Seychelles.
Scadoxus multiflorus, photographed in Matobo National Park, Zimbabwe. In the lower picture, a white-legged black beetle is feeding in a flowerhead. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The native area of the beach almond (Terminalia catappa), also known as country almond, Indian almond, Talisay tree, and umbrella tree, is unknown. Today, this species is widely distributed in most tropical and some subtropical areas of the world, growing in a wide range of habitats. Three of its popular names stem from the similarity of its fruits to those of the true almond (Prunus amygdalus), but the two species are not at all related, as beach almond belongs to the family Combretaceae, whereas the true almond is in the rose family (Rosaceae).
More winter leaves of beach almond are shown on the page Autumn.
Gorgeous winter leaves of beach almond, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A close relative of beach almond is Terminalia orbicularis, a small tree, which may grow to a height of 8 m. this species, which is found in a rather limited area of eastern Africa, from Ethiopia southwards to Kenya, is easily identified by its wine-red fruits, adorned with a broad membrane all the way around.
Fruit of Terminalia orbicularis, Shaba National Park, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Spider monkeys (Ateles) are a genus of seven species, belonging to the family Atelidae. They are found from southern Mexico southwards to Brazil, living in the upper stratum of tropical forests. These monkeys are characterized by their disproportionately long limbs, which have given them their name, and their long, prehensile tail, which is used as a fifth limb.
Six subspecies of Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), also called black-handed or Central American spider monkey, are distributed from south-eastern Mexico eastwards to Panama.
Spider monkeys, and many other monkeys and apes, are presented in depth on the page Animals: Monkeys and apes.
This red-bellied spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi ssp. frontatus), also called black-browed spider monkey, is feeding on coffee-like fruits, Tortuguero National Park, Limón, Costa Rica. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Common glasswort (Salicornia europaea) is one among 15 species of this genus of the cockscomb family (Amaranthaceae), which are native to Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. They are mainly coastal, growing in fine-grained mire, which becomes exposed at low tide, in salt marshes, and among mangroves. Inland, they are also found in salt marshes.
Common glasswort is edible, raw or cooked, often steamed and coated in butter or olive oil. Due to its high content of salt, it must be cooked in plenty of water, and no salt added.
The generic name Salicornia is probably from the Latin sal (‘salt’), which refers to the habitat of these plants, and cornu (‘horn’), referring to the tip of the shoots, which somewhat resembles a horn. Other common names include pickleweed, picklegrass, and marsh samphire, the latter believed to be a corruption of the French name (herbe de) Saint-Pierre, meaning ‘St. Peter’s herb’. In North America, Salicornia virginica is occasionally sold under the names sea beans, samphire greens, or sea asparagus.
Common glasswort often turns various shades of red in autumn, like these, photographed in salt marshes on the island of Langli, western Jutland, and on the Mols Peninsula, both in Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Another member of the cockscomb family is quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), which was first cultivated in the Andes about 5,000 years ago, in the beginning as animal feed, and for human consumption at least 3,000 years ago, at Lake Titicaca. (Source: A. Kolata 2009. Quinoa: Production, Consumption and Social Value in Historical Context. Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
Its seeds are rich in protein, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals, in greater amounts than in many other grains. The name quinoa is derived from Quechua kinwa or kinuwa.
To the Incas, this crop was sacred, called chisoya mama (‘mother of all grains’). Traditionally, the Inca emperor was the one to sow the first seeds of the growing season, using ‘golden implements’. (Source: H. Popenoe 1989. Lost crops of the Incas: little-known plants of the Andes with promise for worldwide cultivation. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.)
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Andes, they refused to acknowledge the qualities of quinoa, calling it ‘food for Indians’. They even forbade its cultivation at one point, and the Incas were forced to grow wheat instead. (Source: D.W. Gade 1999. Nature and culture in the Andes. University of Wisconsin Press)
Fruits of quinoa often attain various shades of red. – Taichung, Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
North of Palaiochora, southern Crete, my companion Lars Skipper and I encountered this flock of goats, which were busy consuming a mountain of tomatoes. Presumably, the market price this day was too low, so the goats might as well eat them.
(Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The canna lily (Canna indica), of the family Cannaceae, is also known by other popular names, including Indian canna, Indian shot, African arrowroot, edible canna, and Sierra Leone arrowroot. Despite these names, this plant is native to Central America, the Caribbean, and the major part of South America. Due to its beautiful flowers, which come in the colours red, orange, and yellow, it is widely cultivated elsewhere in warmer countries, and it often becomes naturalized. The fruits are capsules, to 3 cm long, with a knobby surface. They contain many black, very hard seeds, which resemble shotgun pellets, hence one of the common names, Indian shot.
For thousands of years, this species has been a source of food for various indigenous peoples, including the Mayans. The tubers are edible, raw or cooked, and their high content of starch make them suitable for baking. Today, the leaves are used in Mexico to wrap around pastries, such as tamales, and in the Far East they are wrapped around sticky rice, which adds a unique flavour to it.
The name Canna indica is probably a misnomer. In Brazil, one of its popular names is cana-da-índia (‘cane of the Indians’, alluding to the slender, cane-like stem). This name may have confused Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, when he named this plant in 1758.
Flowers of the original wild form of canna lily are quite small. This one was encountered in a draining canal in Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Close-up of the wild form, escaped near Nanya, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Initially, canna lily fruits are green, later turning dark. – Jiali Shan, Lion’s Head National Scenic Area, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cultivars of the canna lily have much larger flowers than wild plants. This growth on Bali, Indonesia, was photographed early in the morning. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Indian and Nepalese women love colourful garments. Seven examples are shown below.
Slender girl in a red sari, Seventri, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Four women, one wearing a bright red sari, walk in single file, carrying heavy loads on their head, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dressed in colourful saris, these village women are on their way to attend Hindu New Year at a temple in Charbhuja, Rajasthan, dedicated to the monkey god, Hanuman. – Some Hindu festivals are described on the pages Religion: Hinduism, and Travel episodes – India 1991: Attending Hindu festivals in Rajasthan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Whatever Indian village women are doing, they always bring their baby along. This woman has been collecting firewood in the scrub forest in Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This brightly dressed village woman is spreading manure in a field near Sauraha, southern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
New Zealand cedar (Libocedrus bidwillii) is a conifer, which is restricted to New Zealand, where it grows in temperate rainforests at altitudes between 250 and 1,200 m. This species is listed as near-threatened, and, apart from logging, the main threat is from browsing Australian brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), which may sometimes kill cedars. This introduced pest is presented on the page Nature: Invasive species.
New Zealand cedar was named in honour of British botanist and explorer John Carne Bidwill (1815-1853), who investigated plant life in New Zealand and Australia, discovering several species new to science. In 1851, while marking out a new road in Queensland, Bidwill got lost and was without food for eight days. He eventually succeeded in cutting a way through the scrub with a pocket hook, but never properly recovered from starvation, and died in March 1853, 38 years old. (Source: Serle, P. 1949. Bidwill, John Carne (1815-1853). Dictionary of Australian Biography. Angus & Robertson)
Bark of New Zealand cedar is often reddish. These trees were photographed in Tongariro National Park. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Red is a colour found in flags of many nations. A number of examples are shown below.
The flag of Denmark, called Dannebrog, is red with a white cross that extends to the edges of the flag. It holds the world record of being the oldest continuously used national flag.
An old legend relates that this flag fell from the sky during the Battle of Lyndanise in 1219, when the Danish King Valdemar II (1170-1241), called Valdemar the Victorious, together with his Christian German allies, fought against pagan Estonian tribes. The crusading army camped at Lyndanise and built a castle there, named Castrum Danorum, by the Estonians called Taani-linn (‘Danish town’), later abbreviated to Tallinn.
On June 15th, the Estonians attacked the Danes near the castle, advancing from five different directions. The Danish crusaders were completely surprised by the attack and were only saved by a counterattack from their Wendish vassals. Tradition has it that when the Danes were in dire need, Dannebrog fell from the sky and gave them renewed hope.
However, two Danish Middle Age historians, Christiern Pedersen (c. 1480-1554) and Peder Olsen (died 1570), both mentions, independently, that Dannebrog fell from the sky during another battle in Estonia, at Fellin, Sakala, in 1208 – a battle of much less importance than the battle at Lyndanise.
Årsdale Mølle is an old Dutch type windmill on the island of Bornholm, Denmark. On the day, when this picture was taken, the mill was put into work for the benefit of tourists, and strings had been tied to the wings, decorated with tiny Danish flags. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This type of Dannebrog, observed on the ferry between the town of Gudhjem, Bornholm, and the islet of Christiansø, is a postal flag, with a depiction of the Danish royal crown and a post horn in the upper inner square. It denotes that this ferry carries mail to the inhabitants of Christiansø. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Vietnamese flag is bright red, with a large yellow star in the centre. It was created in 1955 and used during an uprising against the French rulers. The red colour symbolizes the blood that was shed during the uprising, whereas the star represents the five main classes in Vietnamese society: intellectuals, farmers, workers, business people, and soldiers.
In this picture, a Vietnamese flag is seen behind a tree in Hanoi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The American flag, popularly called Stars and Stripes, has 13 horizontal stripes in red and white, representing the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from England in 1776 and formed the first states in the United States. The 50 stars represent the present 50 states in the union.
The other flag in the picture below, displayed in Charleston, South Carolina, was used by the rebels during the American Revolution. It depicts a coiled rattlesnake and a text, saying Don’t Tread on Me.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The flag of Taiwan, or, as the country is officially named, the Republic of China, is also called ‘a Blue Sky, a White Sun, and a Wholly Red Earth’.
Any sane Taiwanese calls his or her country Taiwan, so why keep the old name, which was imposed on the country by Chinese invaders?
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The local flag of Tyrol, a federal state (Bundesland) in western Austria, has a white and a red bar, and in the centre a coat of arms with a red eagle on white background. This flag has been in use in the early 19th Century.
The flag of Tyrol and scented geraniums (Pelargonium), Virgental, Tyrol. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Turkish flag is red with a white crescent and a white star. It is identical to the flag of the Ottoman Empire, which was adopted in the late 18th Century and acquired its final form in 1844.
Turkish flag and flowers outside an inhabited cave, which has been carved out of eroded tuff rocks, Göreme. central Turkey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the picture below, a bust of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, birth name Ali Rıza oğlu Mustafa (1881-1938), founder of the Republic of Turkey and its first president 1923-1938, can just be glimpsed behind a collection of Turkish flags, stretched across a street in Istanbul.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Cambodian flag has three horizontal bands, two narrower in blue and a broader one in red, which has a depiction of the famous temple complex Angkor Wat. This flag was officially adopted in 1993 as the national flag.
(Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tristerix aphylla is a bright red parasitic mistletoe, which is partial to two cactus species of central Chile, copao (Eulychnia acida) and quisco (Echinopsis chiloensis). The seeds of this parasite are dispersed by the Chilean mockingbird (Mimus thenca), which, after eating the fruit, often deposits the seeds on the spines. When a seed sprouts, the seedling may grow up to 10 cm to reach the stem of the cactus, where it will attach itself. (Source: llifle.com/Encyclopedia/CACTI/Family/Cactaceae/7067/Eulychnia_acida)
Other species of mistletoe are described on the page Plants: Parasitic plants.
Tristerix aphylla, growing on the trunk of a copao, Valle del Encanto, Ovalle (top), and on a quisco, south of Vallenar. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bush-shrikes are an African group of passerines, living in forests and open woodland. They were formerly lumped with the true shrikes in the family Laniidae, but have now been moved to a separate family, Malaconotidae. This family contains bush-shrikes (Malaconotus, Telophorus, Chlorophoneus, and Rhodophoneus), tchagras (Tchagra and Bocagia), boubous and gonoleks (Laniarius), puffbacks (Dryoscopus), and the brubru (Nilaus afer).
The four-coloured bush-shrike, formerly named Telophorus quadricolor, is now regarded as a subspecies, nigricauda, of the widespread gorgeous bush-shrike (T. viridis). Subspecies nigricauda is restricted to coastal forests of Kenya and Tanzania.
A gorgeous four-coloured bush-shrike, beating its wings, Rondo Forest, southern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The scarlet black-headed gonolek (Laniarius erythrogaster) is distributed across the Sahel zone, from Cameroun eastwards to Ethiopia, and thence southwards to Kenya and northern Tanzania, with an isolated occurrence in Rwanda and Burundi. The specific name is from the Greek erythros (‘red’) and gaster (‘belly’).
This black-headed gonolek was encountered in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cordyline fruticosa is an evergreen palm-like plant of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae), known by a number of common names, including ti plant, palm lily, cabbage palm, and good luck plant. This species grows to 4 m tall, having a fan-like cluster of leaves at the tip of the slender trunk. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental, and a large number of varieties with coloured leaves have been created, varying from ruby-red to red to green, or a mixture of the three.
This plant, under the name of ti, is of great importance to certain animistic religions of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and many Pacific Islands. Read more about this subject on the following website: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordyline_fruticosa.
Gorgeous ruby-red leaves of Cordyline fruticosa, photographed in Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
“Roses are red, violets are blue…” – After being used, these bright red roses have been thrown into a gutter in Hanoi, Vietnam. Sic transit gloria mundi! (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The red campion (Silene dioica), also known as red catchfly, is a beautiful member of the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae), which was formerly known as Melandrium rubrum. This plant is distributed from northern Scandinavia and Ireland southwards to the Pyrenees, Italy, and the Balkans, and eastwards to western Russia. It has an isolated population in the Caucasus, and a scattered occurrence in Iceland, Spain, and western Siberia. It has also been introduced to North America. In northern Europe, it is very common, growing in shrubland, woods, along roads, and among rocks.
The generic name refers to the Greek woodland god Silenus, whose name is derived from the Greek sialon (‘saliva’). Silenus was often depicted covered in a sticky foam. The connection is that the female flowers of red campion secrete a frothy foam, which captures pollen from visiting insects. The specific name dioica is the feminine gender of dioicus, from the Greek dis (‘twice’) and oikos (‘house’), thus ‘two houses’, referring to the fact that the plant has male and female flowers on separate plants. The former name Melandrium is derived from the Greek melas (’black’) and aner, genitive andros (’adult male’), referring to the dark (male) stamens, whereas rubrum is Latin, meaning ’red’.
On the Isle of Man, Britain, the plant is called blaa ny ferrishyn (‘fairy flower’) in the Gaelic, and traditionally there is a taboo against picking it. (Source: A.W. Moore 1924. A Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect. Oxford University Press)
Red campion, growing together with common nettle (Urtica dioica), Nature Reserve Vorsø, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Red campion is very common on the Danish island of Bornholm, where this picture was taken. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Red campion, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the wonderful Monterey Aquarium in California, huge aquariums, containing various jellyfish, are brightly illuminated, on a blue background. This picture shows Pacific sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sarcoscyphaceae is a family of cup fungi, many of which are brightly coloured. The gorgeous scarlet elfcup (Sarcoscypha coccinea) is widely distributed across the globe, whereas S. austriaca, confusingly also called scarlet elfcup, is restricted to Europe and north-eastern North America. These two species are almost identical. S. austriaca can sometimes be identified by the hairs along the edge, which are twisted, whereas they are straight in coccinea. In northern Europe, both species emerge late in winter or early in spring, coccinea growing in drier forests, austriaca mostly in humid areas, notably along forest streams.
Another wonderful member of this family is Cookeina tricholoma, which is easily recognized by the long, white hairs. This species is widely distributed in tropical forests around the world.
Sarcoscypha coccinea, eastern Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sarcoscypha austriaca, growing along a forest stream, Funen, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cookeina tricholoma, encountered in Bicol National Park, Luzon, Philippines. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
True bugs, of the order Hemiptera, are called ‘true’ bugs to distinguish them from other groups of insects – and some arthropods, for that matter – which people often refer to as ‘bugs’. True bugs are a very large group of insects, with around 75,000 species worldwide. They are very diverse, but have one thing in common, namely piercing mouthparts with which they suck juice from plants or, in some cases, from other animals. Their mouthparts are contained in a beak – a so-called rostrum – which is usually held underneath the body when not in use. True bugs are often found in large congregations, densely clustered on stones, walls, or elsewhere.
Many species of true bugs are various shades of red, often with black markings. Four of these are shown below.
Mating pair of a species of true bug, possibly of the genus Dindymus, Brahmagiri Mountains, Karnataka, India. They belong to the family Pyrrhocoridae, popularly called red bugs or firebugs, which contains more than 300 species. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
True bugs, probably of the family Pyrrhocoridae, congregated on a leaf, Helambu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Nymphs and a few adults of Arocatus nanus, clustering on a gravestone, Taiwan. This bug belongs to Lygaeidae, a huge family with about 60 genera. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The cinnamon bug (Corizus hyoscyami) belongs to the family Rhopalidae, called scentless plant bugs, comprising 18 genera with more than 200 species. The cinnamon bug is found in most of Europe and in north-western Africa. This one, sitting on a flower-head of creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense), was photographed in Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
As its name implies, the Natal grass (Melinis repens) is native to South Africa, while it has been introduced as an ornamental, or unintentionally, to many other parts of the world. At maturity, its inflorescence is coated in white, silky hairs.
These pictures are from Taiwan, where Natal grass is very common, often growing along roads or in abandoned plots, here in an abandoned parking lot in the city of Taichung. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The greatest diversity of the poppy family (Papaveraceae), comprising 42 genera with altogether c. 775 species, is found in temperate and subtropical areas of the northern hemisphere, with very few species in the tropics. Most members of this family are herbs, a few being shrubs or small trees.
Two groups of plants, which were formerly regarded as separate families, are now included in the poppy family, namely Fumariaceae, which includes corydalises, fumitories, and bleeding hearts, and Pteridophyllaceae, with only one genus and one species, Pteridophyllum racemosum, found in Japan. – You may read more about fumitory on the page Plants: Plants in folklore and poetry.
Many genera of the poppy family have gorgeous flowers, including true poppies (Papaver), Himalayan poppies (Meconopsis), and horned poppies (Glaucium). Himalayan poppies are presented in depth on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
A large number of species in this family, especially in the type genus Papaver, have red flowers.
As its name implies, the corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is a cornfield weed. It used to be very common in Europe, but has declined drastically in later years, due to more efficient farming methods, using herbicides.
In 2005, on the island of Öland, Sweden, I encountered this barley field, full of corn poppies and long-headed poppies (Papaver dubium). The field may have been organically cultivated. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The corn poppy can be identified by its dark red colour, and by the black-and-white blotches at the base of the petals. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Long-headed poppy (Papaver dubium), which has paler red flowers than the corn poppy, is widely distributed in Temperate Eurasia, often found in large numbers on recently abandoned fields or along newly established roads.
These long-headed poppies have taken root along a house wall in the town of Sandvig, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A seed of long-headed poppy has sprouted in a mole hill in a lawn, Funen, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Prickly-headed poppy (Papaver argemone) is a native of Temperate Eurasia, eastwards to Ukraine and the Caucasus, and in North Africa. Like the corn poppy, this species has black blotches at the base of the petals, but it is a much more delicate plant, with stiff hairs on stem and fruit.
Prickly-headed poppy in Skåne, Sweden (top), and in central Jutland, Denmark. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Papaver apulum is found in south-eastern Europe and the Middle East. It is very common in western Turkey, often forming large growths.
In these pictures, Papaver apulum grows among the Ancient Greek ruins at Troy. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) has a circumpolar distribution, mainly found in arctic and northern temperate areas, confined to mountains near the southern limits of its occurrence. Incidentally, the Greek generic name Arctostaphylos, as well as the Latin specific name uva-ursi, mean ‘bear-grape’, which of course refers to the bright red berries. Traditionally, these berries have been utilized as folk medicine. Certain American tribes used the leaves as an antiseptic in urinary tract problems.
Fruiting bearberry, growing among moss, Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, Oregon, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Curved-leaf glass tree (Dracophyllum recurvum) is a small shrub of the heath family (Ericaceae), which is very variable, growing up to 1 m tall at lower altitudes, but being a prostrate shrublet at higher altitudes, sometimes less than 5 cm high. It is easily identified by its curved leaves, which are 1-4 cm long, and often red at higher altitudes. This species is restricted to subalpine and alpine areas in the volcanic Central Plateau of the North Island, New Zealand.
Red leaves of curved-leaf glass tree, Tongariro National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a gorgeous species of spurge, which is a native of Mexico, but has been introduced as a garden and house plant all over the world. The name poinsettia was given in honour of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779-1851), the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1825.
In Mexico and Guatemala, poinsettia is called Flor de Noche Buena, meaning ‘Flower of the Good Night’ (i.e. Christmas Eve). In Spain, it is known as Flor de Pascua (‘Easter flower’), while in Chile and Peru, it is called La Corona de los Andes (‘Crown of the Andes’).
From the 17th Century, Franciscan monks in Mexico included the plant in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern was said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, while the red color represented the blood of the crucified Jesus. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poinsettia)
Bright red bracts of poinsettia, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The red-and-yellow barbet (Trachyphonus erythrocephalus) is aptly named, as its plumage is predominantly red and yellow. This gorgeous bird is found in East Africa, from South Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia, southwards to northern Tanzania. Its feathers are used ornamentally by several tribal peoples, including the Masaai.
Red-and-yellow barbet, Shaba National Park, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The word pitaya covers edible fruits of several genera of Mexican cacti, whereas pitahaya usually refers to the sweet and delicious fruits of various species in the genus Hylocereus. Mainly three species are cultivated: white-fleshed pitahaya (H. undatus), which has red-skinned fruits with white flesh, red-fleshed pitahaya (H. costaricensis, also known as H. polyrhizus) with red-skinned fruits, containing red flesh, and yellow pitahaya (H. megalanthus), which has yellow-skinned fruits with white flesh.
In English, Hylocereus species have many names, including night-blooming cereus, strawberry pear, belle-of-the-night, Cinderella plant, and Jesus-in-the-cradle. In Chinese, they are called 火龙果 (‘red dragon fruit’).
A plate of white-fleshed pitahaya, photographed in Taiwan, where several Hylocereus species are commonly cultivated. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
To Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1778), also called Carl von Linné, a species of climbing lily was so magnificent that he named it Gloriosa superba. Common names of this fantastic species include flame lily, climbing lily, glorious lily, and tiger claw. This plant, which is distributed over huge areas of Tropical Africa and Asia, was formerly placed in the lily family (Liliaceae), but has now been moved to the family Colchicaceae. It is highly poisonous, having been utilized to commit murder and suicide, and to kill animals.
Glorious flowers of Gloriosa superba, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Numerous plant species attain red foliage at some point in their life cycle. Young leaves of many species are bright red, signalling a high content of toxins, compared to green leaves. Thus, they are rather unpalatable to insects and are often avoided by them.
In arctic and temperate areas, most broad-leaved trees and bushes shed their foliage in autumn. Before falling, the leaves turn various colours, often red. In subtropical areas, a number of trees also attain red foliage, mostly in the winter months.
A large number of pictures, depicting plants with red foliage, are shown on the page Autumn.
Young leaves of Campbell’s maple (Acer campbellii) are bright red. This large tree grows in forests and shrubberies in the Himalaya, between 2,100 and 3,600 m altitude. It is distributed from western Nepal eastwards to Myanmar, and thence northwards to the Chinese provinces Yunnan and Sichuan.
Young leaves of Campbell’s maple, photographed in the Annapurna area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The red-legged, or grey, cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi) occurs along South American coasts, from Peru southwards to Chile, and in the Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. The specific name was given in honour of Joseph Paul Gaimard (1793-1858), French naturalist and naval surgeon, whereas the generic name is from the Greek, phalakros (‘bald’), and korax (‘raven’), where bald refers to the white crown of a related species, the great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), during the breeding season.
The great cormorant and other cormorant species are presented on the pages Nature Reserve Vorsø, Fishing, and Silhouettes.
This pair of red-legged cormorant were photographed at Chanaral, Chile. They are in breeding plumage, displaying their bright red lores. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The huge scarlet macaw (Ara macao), which can grow to a length of 80 cm, including its long tail, is a gorgeous species of parrot, native to forests of Latin America, from southern Mexico southwards to Peru and Brazil.
Scarlet macaw, eating fruits of a tree, near Capo Matapalo, Peninsula de Osa, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sloanea ampla is a tropical tree of the family Elaeocarpaceae, which grows to 30 m tall, found in montane forests between Mexico and western Panama. Its Spanish name is peine de mico (‘monkey comb’), referring to the spiny fruits.
Fallen fruit of Sloanea ampla, displaying its bright red, fleshy aril, Santa Elena Cloud Forest, Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Mankind has utilized red iron oxide as dyeing pigment for thousands of years, known from e.g. the cave paintings of southern France and northern Spain. The knowledge that metal oxides are often found in pits, containing sulphurous ore, is also very old. The well-known ‘Swedish-red’, so common on wooden houses in Sweden, originated in copper mining in Falun, Dalarna. After being dried, the mud from the mining gives a yellow colour, which, after being heated, turns red.
In a letter to the manager of the construction at Stockholm Castle, King Johann III (1537-1592) notes that he should purchase ‘rust lead’ or ‘pit bran’, as the king wanted all roofs of his castle to be painted red. In Sweden, in the 1600s, it was still unusual to paint your house, and tar was mixed with the colour pigments to conserve the wood.
During the 1700s, industrial production of the red pigment started in earnest. From 1764, the dye was produced at the Falu Gruva in Falun, and in the 1800s, it became increasingly common for laymen to paint their houses with it. In 1861, 900 tons were produced, and in the 1900s, production varied between 1000 and 2000 tons.
In 1992, the Falu Gruva closed down after more than a thousand years of pit-mining – only production of the red dye continued. In 2012, about 500 tons of pigment was produced, corresponding to 1,900,000 liters of ’Swedish-red’ paint. (Source: falurodfarg.com/om-foretaget/det-finns-bara-en-falu-rodfarg)
Below, five pictures of ‘Swedish-red’ buildings are shown.
Farm house, Gillsätra, Öland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dilapidated barn, Washington, New Jersey, United States. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Stensjö By, north of Oscarshamn, Småland, Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
House in Valparaiso, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Farm house, northwest of Kalmar, south-eastern Sweden. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Persian silk tree (Albizia julibrissin) is a small tree in the subfamily Mimosoideae, of the huge pea family (Fabaceae). It is native to large parts of southern Asia, from the Middle East eastwards to China and Japan, but is widely cultivated elsewhere. The generic name was given in honour of an Italian nobleman, Filippo degli Albizzi, who introduced this species to Europe in the 18th Century. The specific name is a corruption of the Persian gul-i abrisham, from gul (‘flower’) and abrisham (‘silk’), thus ‘silk flower’.
Stamens of Persian silk tree are reddish. In this picture from New Plymouth, New Zealand, masses of fallen stamens cover most of the ground. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Idesia polycarpa is a tree of the willow family (Salicaceae), found in montane areas of China, Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. In Taiwan, between December and February, this tree displays an abundance of red berries, which draw birds like a magnet, including vivid niltava (Niltava vivida), Taiwan barbet (Psilopogon nuchalis), and Taiwan thrush (Turdus niveiceps), which was formerly regarded as a subspecies of the widely distributed island thrush (T. poliocephalus).
Idesia polycarpa, Dasyueshan National Forest, central Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Piggy banks for sale in a shop in the Old Town, San José, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata) is native to sub-Saharan Africa, from Sierra Leone eastwards to Ethiopia, and thence southwards to Angola and Zambia. Due to its wonderful flowers, it is widely cultivated in almost all warmer parts of the world. The pollen and stamens are popular food items among many bird species, among others the Asian black bulbul (Hypsipetes leucocephalus), see below.
African tulip tree, Tunghai University Park, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Formerly, the black bulbuls of Mainland Asia were regarded as subspecies of the Malagasy bulbul (Hypsipetes madagascariensis), but most authorities now recognize two separate Asian species, the Asian black bulbul (H. leucocephalus), which is widely distributed, found from north-eastern Afghanistan along the Himalaya to Indochina, China, and Taiwan, and the square-tailed bulbul (H. ganeesa), which is restricted to montane areas of South India and Sri Lanka.
The Asian black bulbul is predominantly black, or slate-black, bill and gape are bright read, and the feet are orange. Sometimes, white-headed morphs are seen. The specific name leucocephalus is from the Greek leukos (‘white’), and kephalos (‘head’), so this species must have been described from a white-headed specimen.
Asian black bulbul, of the Taiwanese subspecies nigerrimus, Tunghai University Park, Taichung. Bill and gape of this species are bright read, and the feet are orange. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black bulbuls, drinking from a stream, Tunghai University Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Black bulbul, feeding in an African tulip tree flower (Spathodea campanulata), likewise in Tunghai University Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Himalayan subspecies of Asian black bulbul, psaroides, differs from other subspecies by being pale slate-grey, and having a grey cheek-patch. This bird was photographed in the Kabeli Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the old days, the Vietnamese traditional dress, called ao dai (‘long shirt’), was worn by both sexes, today only by women. It consists of a tight-fitting silk tunic, worn over trousers.
Wearing a bright red ao dai, this woman is being photographed, standing in an archway near Lake Hoan Kiem, Hanoi. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Saxifragaceae is a worldwide family, containing about 80 genera with c. 1,200 species. By far the largest genus is Saxifraga with around 450 species, distributed in Asia, Europe, North America, and the Andes Mountains of South America. The highest diversity is found in alpine areas. Several species are presented on the pages Plants – Mountain plants: Flora of the Alps, and Himalayan flora.
Literally, the generic name means ‘stone-breaker’, from the Latin saxum (‘rock’) and frangere (‘to break’). You might think that the name would refer to the fact that many saxifrage species grow in cracks in rocky areas, but presumably it indicates the medicinal usage of one or more species in the treatment of kidney stones and the like.
Saxifraga brunonis is a most characteristic species, easily identified by its numerous red runners. It is widespread in the Himalaya, found from Kashmir eastwards to south-western China, at altitudes between 2,400 and 5,600 m.
Saxifraga brunonis, photographed after a heavy monsoon shower, Upper Rolwaling Valley, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In former days, the eastern half of North America held more than 13,000 covered wooden bridges, most of which were constructed in the 1800s. The covering was intended as a means to prolong the life-span of the bridge, which, without covering, would deteriorate after only 10 to 15 years.
Many of the covered bridges are truss bridges, a structure of connected elements usually forming triangular units. A lattice bridge is a type of truss bridge, where a large number of small planks are placed diagonally to form a lattice.
About 1,500 covered bridges have been preserved in the United States. Some are presented on the page Culture: Bridges.
Hart Bridge is a wooden lattice truss bridge from c. 1864, 52 m long and 4.6 m broad, spanning the Housatonic River, West Cornwall, Connecticut. This bridge was constructed of timber from red spruce (Picea rubens), and wooden pegs, or trunnels, were used for joining the timbers.
Hart Bridge spans the Housatonic River, Connecticut. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In the Himalaya, there are no less than c. 45 species of bramble, or raspberry (Rubus), of the rose family (Rosaceae). Their fruit is highly distinctive, being a globular head on the domed tip of the flower-stalk, consisting of fleshy carpels, among which numerous nutlets are situated.
Most Himalayan species are large, rambling, prickly shrubs, while a few are creeping, unarmed shrublets. Nepalese raspberry (Rubus nepalensis), which belongs to the latter group, is very common at altitudes between 2,100 and 3,200 m, from Uttarakhand eastwards to Sikkim, creeping along the ground in open forests and along trails. In this habit, it resembles the circumboreal cloudberry (R. chamaemorus), but has bright red, delicious, slightly sour fruits.
Nepalese raspberry, photographed near the village of Gul Bhanjyang, Helambu, central Nepal, together with a species of spikemoss (Selaginella) and Cyanotis vaga, a blue flower of the dayflower family (Commelinaceae). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In certain fishing communities in southern Taiwan, people still celebrate the so-called Boat Burning Festival, a Daoist festival, during which a complete wooden boat is built, only to be burned as an offering to the god of diseases, Wang-yeh, hoping that he will spare the people of the plague and other dreadful diseases. In former times, the burning boat was pushed out to sea, ceremonially carrying the diseases away, but this practice has now been abandoned, and the boat is burned on land.
Daoism is described in detail on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.
During a Boat Burning Festival, celebrated in the village of Jiading, near Kaohsiung, this pilgrim carries fake swords across his back. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The claret cup cactus (Echinocereus triglochidatus) is distributed in the Mohave and Great Basin Deserts of western United States. – This species and many other cacti are presented in detail on the page Plants: Cacti.
The scarlet flowers of claret cup cactus seem almost too delicate to survive in the harsh environment of the Mohave Desert, here photographed in Joshua Tree National Park, California. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Choughs, of the genus Pyrrhocorax, are jet-black members of the crow family (Corvidae), identified by their brightly coloured bill and feet, and by their calls, which have given them their English name. The red-billed chough (P. pyrrhocorax) is a bit larger than the Alpine, or yellow-billed (P. graculus), with a longer, red bill. Both species are widely distributed in Europe, northern Africa, and Asia, the red-billed in Morocco, Spain, Ireland, Wales, France, the Alps, Italy, the Balkans, the Middle East, and large parts of Central Asia, with an isolated population in the highlands of Ethiopia.
The Alpine chough is presented in detail on the page In praise of the colour yellow.
These pictures are from Nepal, where the red-billed chough is very common, often seen feeding in newly ploughed fields. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Red Cretan tulip (Tulipa doerfleri) is restricted to Crete, where it is rather common.
Red Cretan tulip, photographed in a meadow east of Spili, Crete. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A red drink, called karkade, is produced from the bright purplish-red, fleshy calyces of roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), and also a very healthy jam, containing lots of anthocyanins. In Nepal, the calyx is eaten raw or pickled, and in Europe and North America it is used as food colouring. In various African and Asian countries, the green leaves are eaten as a spicy vegetable, and bast is produced from the stem fibres. Roselle is much utilized in folk medicine, which is related in detail on the page Traditional medicine.
The place of origin of this species is not clear, and today it is cultivated worldwide in tropical and subtropical areas. The largest producers are China and Thailand. The name roselle is from the French, a diminutive of rose, referring to the red calyx, which, with a bit of imagination, resembles a small rose.
In Taiwan, where these pictures were taken, roselle is commonly cultivated. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Freshly picked roselle fruits, displaying the fleshy calyces. – Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Soft brome (Bromus hordeaceus) is a grass species, which is native to Europe and northern Asia, and has also become naturalized in many other places, including North America, where it is known as bull grass or soft cheat.
In this picture, fruiting spikes of soft brome cast long shadows on a fisherman’s shed near Roskilde Fjord, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii), which is also called Pacific strawberry tree, is found along the North American Pacific coast, from British Columbia southwards to California. The specific name honours Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies (1754-1842), who participated, as surgeon and botanist, in an expedition around the world on board HMS Discovery, under leadership of Captain George Vancouver (1757-1798). On this trip, Menzies collected many plant species, among others Pacific madrone.
A fallen leaf of Pacific madrone, showing ‘autumn’ colours, Salt Point State Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This sculpture outside a Hindu temple near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, depicting a temple guardian, has been adorned in his ears with Chinese hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), supposedly as an offering, or maybe as mere decoration. – Hinduism is dealt with in detail on the page Religion: Hinduism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The bracts of red ginger (Alpinia purpurata) are bright red, whereas the flowers are white. This species is native to Indonesia, New Guinea, and Polynesia, but has been introduced as an ornamental to most warm countries of the world.
Red ginger, Peninsula de Osa, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Hobart’s red glider (Cymothoe hobarti) is a Central African Nymphalid, found in lowland forests from Central African Republic and Zaire, eastwards to Kenya and Tanzania.
A gorgeous male Hobart’s red glider, basking on a leaf in Kakamega Forest, Kenya. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A unique landscape is found in Bryce Canyon National Park, southern Utah, United States, displaying spires, towers, and other fantastic figures in brilliant red and yellow colours. The local Paiute people called the figures ’The Legendary People’, and, according to their mythology, they were people, turned into stone by the wizard Coyote. (You may read more about Coyote on the page Animals: Dog family).
The first white settler here was Ebenezer Bryce, whom the national park is named after. He grazed his cattle on the plateau above the gorge and had an entirely different opinion about this magnificent landscape: “A hell of a place to lose a cow.”
The figures are shaped by rivulets and rain water, eroding the soft sediment along the edge of a fault. This erosion caused many tiny gorges to emerge, through which the sediment could be washed out more quickly, leaving only ‘fins’ of harder material, filled with holes and cracks. As the park is situated at a high altitude (c. 2300 m), the climate is harsh. In the holes and cracks, rain water freezes and expands, eroding away even more sediment. Only the hardest material remains, often shaped to the strangest forms. In American, these figures are called hoodoos.
This ’forest’ of colourful rock columns in Bryce Canyon National Park was shaped by the eroding forces of water and frost. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The genus Rhododendron is huge, comprising c. 1,025 species worldwide. In the Greek, rhododendron means ‘rose tree’. It seems that to the ancient Greeks, the flowers clusters of certain species resembled roses, but the two genera are not even distantly related, as rhododendrons belong to the heath family (Ericaceae).
Below, pictures of 6 species with bright red flowers are shown. Many other species of these beautiful plants are presented on the page Plants: Rhododendrons.
Rhododendron arboreum is the largest among c. 100 species of rhododendron in the Himalaya, growing to 15 m tall. This species is very common in the Himalaya, and in March-April, when it is flowering, parts of the forest show a reddish or pinkish tinge, stemming from millions of flowers. The intensity of the red colour of the flowers decreases, as you move higher, and near the upper limit of its distribution, you sometimes encounter trees with white flowers. This tree is the national plant of Nepal, called lali guras (‘red rhododendron’).
Flowers of Rhododendron arboreum, covered in raindrops after a monsoon shower, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
From a distance, Rhododendron barbatum is quite similar to R. arboreum, but a closer look at it reveals distinctive glandular bristles on its leaf-stalk, and its pinkish bark peels off in thin, cinnamon-coloured flakes. This species is very common in the Himalaya, often forming pure stands at altitudes between 2,400 and 3,600 m. It is found from north-western India eastwards to Bhutan.
Rhododendron barbatum, Tharepati, Langtang National Park, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhododendron thomsonii is a smallish bush, growing in open areas, preferably near streams. This species is easily identified by its red calyx and wax-like flowers. It is distributed between eastern Nepal and south-eastern Tibet.
Rhododendron thomsonii, Ghunsa Valley, eastern Nepal. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhododendron delavayi is a beautiful species, distributed in south-western China, south-eastern Tibet, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, and mountains of northern Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Rhododendron delavayi, photographed in the Wumeng Shan Mountains, Guizhou Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) is native to the Appalachian Mountains, from Pennsylvania and Ohio southwards to Georgia and Alabama. Due to its gorgeous flowers, it is widely cultivated elsewhere.
This flame azalea in Maudsley State Park, Massachusetts, is an escape from earlier cultivation. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Flowers of the major part of the 30 Taiwanese rhododendron species display white, pinkish, or violet colours, but those of Rhododendron oldhamii are a warm red. This species is found almost down to sea level, while most of the other species grow at higher altitudes in the central part of the country.
Rhododendron oldhamii, photographed on the lower slopes of Wuwowei Shan Mountain, near Guguan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Reddish moss, growing on a rock wall, Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Shwedagon is a gorgeous pagoda in Yangon, the capital of Myanmar. Especially in the evening, many local Buddhists come to this shrine to pray, give offerings, or participate in cleaning the platform, which surrounds the pagoda.
You may read more about pagodas on the page Religion: Buddhism.
To praise the Lord Buddha, red candles are ignited at the Shwedagon Pagoda. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This leaf of a species of knotweed (Polygonum), observed in Dasyueshan National Forest, central Taiwan, has been attacked by fungi, causing colourful spots to form. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rock-jasmines (Androsace) are closely related to primroses (Primula), but can be told from that genus by their very short corolla-tube (a tube, formed by the petals). This genus contains about a hundred species, distributed across cooler areas of the Northern Hemisphere, with no less than 73 occurring in China.
Rock-jasmines are ubiquitous in the Himalaya, with c. 23 species, most of which grow at high altitudes. Some species are mat-forming, like this Androsace muscoidea, photographed in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Ourisia ruelloides, also called O. poeppigii, is a member of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), which is native to the Andes Mountains of Chile and Argentina, up to an altitude of about 1,600 m. In Spanish, this gorgeous plant is aptly named La flor de las cascadas (‘waterfall flower’), as it grows along fast-flowing streams.
Ourisia ruelloides, photographed in Parque Nacional Conguillio, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The seed-heads of this grass, growing near Lago Atitlan, Guatemala, appear red in the setting sun. the volcano in the background is San Pedro (3020 m). – Our adventures in Guatemala are related on the page Travel episodes – Guatemala 1998: Land of the Mayans. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
There are about 110 species of Fuchsia shrubs, the vast majority found in South America, a few in Central America and Mexico, and also some in the Pacific, as far west as New Zealand. The flowers of most species are various shades of red, orange, or purple, while some species are white or yellowish. In many species, the sepals are bright red and the petals purple – colours, which attract the hummingbirds that pollinate the flowers.
The first Fuchsia species was described from the island of Hispaniola by a French monk and botanist, Charles Plumier (1646-1704), during his third expedition to the Greater Antilles 1696-1697. He named this new genus after German botanist Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566), who wrote a book about herbal medicine, published in Latin in 1542. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuchsia)
Today, Fuchsia species are commonly cultivated all over the world as ornamentals. This one was seen in Dingle, western Ireland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elders (Sambucus) is a genus of about 27 species of smaller trees, shrubs, or large herbs, distributed mainly in temperate and subtropical areas of the Northern Hemisphere, whereas on the Southern Hemisphere they are restricted to parts of Australia and South America. Previously, this genus was classified as belonging to the elder family (Sambucaceae), but was then moved to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). However, recent DNA analyses have revealed that, in fact, it belongs to the moschatel family (Adoxaceae).
The generic name is from the Greek sambuca, the name of an ancient string instrument of Asian origin. The wood of elder was presumably used in its construction. The name elder is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld (’fire’). In those days, the hollow stems of elder were used to kindle a fire.
Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) is easily identified by its bright red berries. This species has a very wide distribution, found in Europe, northern Temperate Asia, and across northern North America. It grows in various habitats, such as open forests, along rivers, and in other open areas, generally in moist conditions.
Bright red fruits of red elderberry, Gavarnie, Pyrenees, France. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Many areas on the Colorado Plateau in south-western United States are brilliantly coloured in red, yellow, orange or violet, mixed with more subtle brownish or blackish colours. The gorgeous red colours are often caused by various iron ore, which has come into contact with oxygen in the air. In some places, entire desert landscapes have been dyed reddish, including the so-called ’Painted Desert’ in Arizona. Dark grey and black colours mainly stem from organic material.
Painted Desert was named due to the brilliant colours, caused by oxidized iron ore. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The gorgeous red passion flower (Passiflora vitifolia) is found in Central America and north-western South America, from Nicaragua southwards to Peru. It is also cultivated in the Caribbean because of its fragrant fruit. Due to its red colour, it is often pollinated by hummingbirds.
The specific name vitifolia refers to the shape of its leaves, resembling grape vine leaves, while the name passion flower is linked with the Passion – the last days of the life of Jesus Christ. According to legend, a passion plant wound up the cross, on which Jesus was crucified, its leaves providing coolness and shade for the dying man.
Another legend has it that it was Spanish 15th Century missionaries, who first interpreted the unique physical structure of the passion flower as symbols connected with the Crucifixion. The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles, excluding Peter who denied Jesus three times after his arrest, and Judas who betrayed him. The many filaments are regarded as representing the crown of thorns, and the pistil either the cross or the Holy Grail. The three stigmas represent the three nails, and the five anthers beneath them the five wounds of Christ (four from the nails and one from the lance, piercing his side). The pointed leaves were said to represent the Holy Lance, and the tendrils the whips used in the flagellation of Jesus. The three bracts beneath the sepals were seen as symbols of the three Marys, who were present, when Jesus died, while the blue colour of many passion flowers is seen as Virgin Mary’s blue dress.
Red passion flower, Reserva Nacional Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In former days, the red slug (Arion rufus) was confined to southern Europe, but it was widely introduced to northern Europe by monks during the Middle Ages.
Red slug, creeping down a log, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Selling colourful dyes at a market, Sonpur, Bihar, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The genus Castilleja, commonly known as Indian paintbrush or prairie-fire, counts about 200 species, most of which have brilliant red flowers and bracts, while a few are orange, yellow, or violet. These plants are native to the western parts of the Americas, from Alaska southwards to the Andes, with one species, C. pallida, found across Siberia, southwards to the Altai Mountains and westwards to the Kola Peninsula.
These parasitic plants, which belong to the broomrape family (Orobanchaceae), obtain part of their nutrients from roots of other plants. The flowers of some species are edible, and were formerly consumed by various native tribes, but as these plants tend to absorb and concentrate selenium in their tissue, roots and green parts can be very toxic. (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castilleja).
Below, pictures of five species from the western United States are shown.
Desert paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa, also called C. angustifolia) is quite common in arid areas, from the Pacific States eastwards to Wyoming and Colorado, and from northern Idaho southwards to the Mexican border.
This desert paintbrush adds a splash of colour to the bleak desert environment in Monument Valley, Arizona. The rock formation in the background is called Elephant Butte. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Coast paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) is native to the Pacific States, from Washington southwards to Baja California, growing on slopes along the coast, and also a little inland.
Coast paintbrush, Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park, Santa Ana Mountains, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Monterey paintbrush (Castilleja latifolia) is endemic to a very limited area along the Californian Pacific Coast, from San Francisco Bay southwards to Monterey, growing in coastal shrub and on sand dunes.
Monterey paintbrush, photographed in Garrapata State Park, south of Monterey. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Woolly paintbrush (Castilleja lanata) is widely distributed, from California eastwards across Arizona and New Mexico to Texas.
Woolly paintbrush, Pinnacles National Park, California. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bracts of Texas paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) vary from bright red to reddish-purple, while the flowers are white or green. This species is endemic to Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma.
Texas paintbrush, Gilchrist, Texas. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Columnea consanguinea, of the gloxinia family (Gesneriaceae), is a woody herb, growing to 1 m tall. The specific name, meaning ‘with blood’, refers to the red blotches on the underside of its leaves. This species has a rather limited distribution, found only in Costa Rica and Panama.
Columnea consanguinea, Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A chaitya is a sculpture, which depicts four Dhyani Buddhas (meditating Buddhas), seated back to back, their faces turned towards the four cardinal directions. – Read more about Dhyani Buddhas and chaityas on the page Religion: Buddhism.
Devout Buddhists have adorned this chaitya near the Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal, with red dye and a Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Traditional paper lanterns, for the major part bright red, adorn almost all Daoist temples in Taiwan. – Numerous pictures of such lanterns are presented on the page Culture: Lamps and lights. About Daoism, see Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.
Paper lanterns in a Daoist temple in the city of Taichung. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Song Bo Chin, a Daoist temple in the town of Ershuei. In Chinese mythology, the dragon is a symbol of power, strength, and good luck, and Daoist temples abound with images of these creatures. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This little Hindu girl in the city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, is wearing her finest dress, and a red ribbon is adorning her hair. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Docks and sorrels (Rumex) are a huge, almost worldwide genus of the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae), comprising about 200 species. Dock is an old term applied to various plants with large leaves, whereas sorrel is a brownish-orange to pale chestnut colour, referring to the brown fruits of this genus.
An old home remedy, if you are stung by a nettle, is to apply the juice of dock to the affected area, which will afford instant relief. An old rhyme says:
Nettle in, dock out.
Dock rub nettle out!
Water dock (Rumex hydrolapathum) is the largest among the dock species, growing to 2 m tall. It is found in wetlands all over Europe and western Asia, eastwards to north-western Himalaya.
Withering leaf of water dock, displaying gorgeous colours. It was observed at a lakeside near Roskilde, Zealand, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Bullfight, Sevilla, Andalusia, Spain. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Grasshopper among gravel, Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Sneakers, drying outside a door, Lugang, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This leaf, observed near Pokhara, Nepal, displays a multitude of colours. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
A huge sack of apples, adorned with red plastic flowers, is being transported by donkey to a market in Kabul, Afghanistan. The donkey is dealt with in depth on the page Animals: Animals as servants of Man. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Buddhist monks on their morning round to collect food from people, Bagan, Myanmar. – Buddhism is dealt with in detail on the page Religion: Buddhism. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Mating red-legged millipeds, Rondo Forest, southern Tanzania. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Colourful yards of cloth for sale in a market, Old Bagan, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Prettily arranged rose petals and daisies (Chrysanthemum) are displayed for sale, Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India. They are bought by Hindu pilgrims, who present them as offerings in temples. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is distributed over an enormous area, found in Eurasia, North Africa, North and Central America, Caribbean Islands, Hawaii, and New Zealand. In later years, it has expanded its breeding area further north in Europe. Previously, this species was only a late-summer visitor to Denmark and southern Sweden, migrating from further south. Today, however, it breeds in these areas, some individuals surviving the winter.
This newly hatched red admiral is feeding on a fallen apple, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Holi is a Hindu spring festival, celebrating the god Krishna, and the victory of good over evil – a gay festival, in which people, regardless of caste, pelt each other with red, yellow, purple, or green powder, or with water, dyed with powder. For this reason, Holi has been dubbed The Festival of Colours.
My own ‘colourful’ adventures during Holi are related on the page Travel episodes – India 1991: Attending Hindu festivals in Rajasthan.
In Charbhuja, Rajasthan, India, where this picture was taken, Holi lasts no less than 15 days. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Beardtongues (Penstemon) are a large genus of about 250 species of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), distributed across the entire North American continent, from Alaska and Canada southwards to Guatemala. One Asiatic species, which was previously called Penstemon frutescens, has now been placed in a separate genus, Pennellianthus. It is found in extreme eastern Siberia, southwards to Sakhalin Island.
The core area of beardtongues is the Southwest, especially the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Wyoming. One species here is the magnificent Utah beardtongue (Penstemon utahensis), which grows in shrublands and desert, from eastern California eastwards to Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.
This Utah beardtongue, photographed in Monument Valley, Arizona, adds a red glow to the otherwise bleak desert surroundings. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Lion sculptures are often seen outside Daoist temples in Taiwan, guarding the temple against evil forces. You may read more about such lions, and many other aspects of Daoism, on the page Religion: Daoism in Taiwan.
These lion sculptures, adorned with red ribbons, were photographed outside the Donglong Temple, Donggang, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Southern beeches (Nothofagus) are relatives of the beeches, constituting about 43 species, which are native to the Southern Hemisphere, in Chile, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and New Caledonia. Several species are dominant in temperate forests.
The silver beech (Nothofagus menziesii) is widespread in New Zealand, but is endemic to the country. The common name probably alludes to its bark, which is often whitish, especially in younger specimens. This tree can grow to huge dimensions, up to 30 m tall, and with a trunk diameter up to 2 m.
Red foliage of silver beech, Tongariro National Park. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Rhodophiala advena is a gorgeous member of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae), which is endemic to lower slopes of the Andes Mountains, central Chile.
Rhodophiala advena, Reserva Nacional Altos de Lircay, Chile. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This glass bowl has been heated in an oven, until it is red-hot. – Baltic Sea Glass, Bornholm, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Tillandsia is a huge genus of evergreen plants of the pineapple family (Bromeliaceae), comprising about 650 species. They are native to south-eastern United States, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America, southwards to central Argentina. These plants are often called air plants due to their tendency to cling to branches, telephone wires, and other ‘airy’ objects. Their leaves are covered with specialized cells, called trichomes, which are capable of rapidly absorbing rain water.
Young, reddish plants of a species of Tillandsia, Cordillera de Tilarán, Costa Rica. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Due to its gorgeous flowers, the scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), which is native to Central America, is widely cultivated as an ornamental. It has become naturalized in many places.
Scarlet sage, photographed in Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cranesbill (Geranium) is a huge plant genus of about 420 species, distributed throughout temperate regions, and also in mountains of the Tropics, with the core area around the eastern Mediterranean. The generic name Geranium is derived from the Greek geranos (‘crane’), in allusion to the long fruits of this genus, which resemble the bill of a crane. Thus, the English name is a direct translation of the generic name.
Shining cranesbill (Geranium lucidum) is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. It has also been introduced to North America as a garden plant and has become naturalized in many places, particularly along the Pacific, where it is regarded as an invasive.
After blooming, shining cranesbill often turns bright magenta. This plant was observed on the island of Bornholm, Denmark, growing in a crack on a rock face. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Young leaves of ferns are often red, later turning green. Two examples are shown here.
Fern leaf, hanging down from a bank in the Annapurna area, central Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Leaves of Woodwardia unigemmata, of the hard-fern family (Blechnaceae), Mingtsih, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Almost all crane species have naked red parts on the crown or in the face, sometimes also on the neck. Only the heads of demoiselle crane (Anthropoides virgo) and blue crane (A. paradisea) are completely feathered.
The Eurasian crane (Grus grus) is the most widely distributed crane species in the world, found from England, eastwards across the entire Siberian taiga to northern Mongolia and China, with small isolated populations in southern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, and Tibet. Subspecies archibaldi from Turkey and the Caucasus was described scientifically as late as 2008. Formerly, eastern Asian populations were regarded as a separate subspecies, lilfordi, but today most authorities consider these birds as belonging to the nominate race.
With a total population of nearly 700,000, the Eurasian crane is one of the most numerous crane species, only surpassed by the sandhill crane (Grus canadensis). In western Europe, breeding numbers have increased dramatically in several countries, including Sweden with 15,000 to 20,000 pairs, Germany with about 8.000 pairs, and Denmark with about 500 pairs. In 1998, the total number in Europe was estimated at 45,000 pairs, but this number has since increased significantly.
Pictures of various crane species are displayed in the gallery at Animals: Cranes. You may also read about cranes on the pages Travel episodes – China 2009: Among black-necked cranes, Animals: Sandhill cranes are a threat to Siberian breeding birds, and Silhouettes.
Eurasian crane, photographed at Lake Hornborgasjön, Sweden, which is visited by up to 10,000 cranes in March-April, resting here on their way to their breeding grounds. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In India, the sarus crane (Grus antigone) is connected with the Hindu goddess Baglamukhi, who has a crane’s head. This goddess is a master of black magic and all kinds of killing, using toxic substances.
Reaching a height of up to 176 cm, the sarus crane is the tallest among the cranes – in fact, it is the tallest flying bird of all. This species is divided into three subspecies: antigone, living on the plains of northern India and south-western Nepal, sharpii in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and gilli in northern Australia. It has become extinct in Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, it is threatened by draining, dam construction, overgrazing, poaching, and collecting of its eggs, in Australia by draining and cattle grazing.
Although the Indians revere this bird for religious reasons, it has declined drastically in later years due to draining, cultivation, urban development, industrial pollution, and an increased usage of chemical pesticides.
Today, the world population of the sarus crane is estimated at 15,000-20,000, with 8,000-9,000 in northern India.
Sarus crane, Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Originally, Capsicum species, variously known as green pepper, red pepper, chili, cayenne pepper, jalapeño, tabasco pepper, African pepper, or piri-piri, were native to Central America and northern South America, but today numerous varieties are cultivated in most parts of the world.
These plants have been utilized as food in Central America since at least 7500 B.C. Green or red fruits are eaten fresh, fried, or pickled, or as a vegetable in dishes. Dried or pounded fruits make popular spices like chili and paprika. The leaves are edible, widely used in Asian cuisines.
The name chili is the old Nahuatl name of the plant, whereas tabasco pepper is named after the Mexican state of Tabasco. In Spanish, jalapeño means ‘from Jalapa’, also called Xalapa, the capital city of Veracruz, Mexico. The name cayenne pepper stems from Cayenne, or French Guiana, from where this type was first introduced to Europe. Piri-piri, also written pili-pili, is Swahili for ‘pepper’.
The medicinal usage of Capsicum species is described on the page Traditional medicine.
To dry them in the sun, these Mewar people have scattered thousands of chili peppers in the desert sands of the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, north-western India, adding marvellous patches of crimson to the drab surroundings. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Close-up of chili fruits, Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Guizhou Province, China, is famous for its many varieties of chili, and the many ways of using them. In this picture, various types are for sale in the town of Qing Yen (‘Green Rock’), near Guiyang. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Boiled potatoes, sliced and dipped in chili powder, Guizhou Province. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Together with spiderhunters (Arachnothera), sunbirds constitute the family Nectariniidae, containing c. 145 species. Formerly, most sunbirds were lumped in the genus Nectarinia, but has since been divided into 15 genera. With their downward-curved bills, these colourful birds are adapted to feed on nectar (hence the name of the family), but they also eat fruit, insects, and spiders. Although they resemble the hummingbirds of the Americas, these two groups are entirely unrelated, the resemblance being an example of convergent evolution.
Africa holds a bewildering array of sunbirds, and they are also found in the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, southern China, Indonesia, New Guinea, and northern Australia.
The eastern miombo sunbird (Cinnyris manoensis) was formerly regarded as conspecific with the western miombo sunbird (C. gertrudi), under the name miombo double-collared sunbird. It is distributed in eastern Africa, from northern Zambia southwards to Zimbabwe and central Mozambique, living in a variety of habitats, including open woodland, savanna, shrubland, gardens, and parks.
Male eastern miombo sunbird, hanging head down in a tree, Chimanimani National Park, Zimbabwe. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Cladonia floerkeana, of the family Cladoniaceae, is widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere. It is known by several popular names, including gritty British soldiers, Devil’s matchstick, and Bengal matches, all alluding to its bright red sporangia, situated at the end of a short stalk. In the old days, uniforms of British soldiers were bright red, and matchstick heads were also often red.
Bright red sporangies of Cladonia floerkeana, Jutland, Denmark. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) is a small gull, which is widely distributed in Arctic seas, breeding in colonies on steep rocks or cliffs, where each pair builds a nest, consisting of plants and seaweeds, on a narrow ledge. As a breeding bird, this species is found southwards to the Kuril Islands, southern Alaska, Newfoundland, the British Isles, and France, with scattered colonies in Portugal and Spain. In winter, it disperses to a huge area in subarctic and temperate seas.
The generic name is derived from the Icelandic name of the bird, rita, whereas the English name was given in allusion to its call. The specific name is from the Greek tridaktulos (‘three toes’), referring to the fact that this species is missing the small, back-pointing fourth toe, which most other gull species possess.
In North America, this species is called black-legged kittiwake to differentiate it from its near relative, the red-legged kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris), which breeds on small islands in the far northern Pacific.
Kittiwake colony on Rauðanupur (‘Red Cliff’), northern Iceland. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The natural range of the Monterey pine (Pinus radiata) is limited to a few locations in Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo Counties, central California, and two islands, Guadalupe and Cedros, off the west coast of northern Baja California, Mexico. In its natural range, it is seriously threatened by an introduced species of fungus, the pitch canker (Fusarium circinatum).
Elsewhere, however, this tree has been planted extensively, especially in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Kenya, South Africa, and the island of Tristan da Cunha.
Red trunk of Monterey pine, Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Area, New Zealand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) is a very common breeding bird in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar. It has been introduced to many other parts of the world and has become invasive in several Pacific countries, including Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, and Hawaii. It has also established itself in parts of southern Arabia, New Zealand, the United States, and Argentina. It is considered to be among the world’s one hundred worst invasive species. (Source: Lowe et al., 2000: 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Species: A Selection from the Global Invasive Species Database. The Invasive Species Specialist Group, IUCN)
Other species of bulbul are described on the page Animals: Birds in Taiwan.
Resting in a tree-like spurge of the species Euphorbia antiquorum, which grows in front of a ruined pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar, this red-vented bulbul clearly shows, why it got this name. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) is a finch-like bird, belonging to the family Cardinalidae. This gorgeous bird is widely distributed in the Americas, from south-eastern Canada through the eastern half of the United States, southwards through eastern Mexico to Belize and northern Guatemala. It is also found in Arizona, south-western New Mexico, and north-western Mexico, but is lacking in western and southern Mexico. It lives in a wide variety of habitats, including scrubland, forests, gardens, and around wetlands. The common and scientific names refer to the red colour of the male, which resembles the colour of the red robes and cap, worn by cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.
This male northern cardinal is resting atop a spiny saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) in Arizona. The saguaro and many other cactus species are presented on the page Plants: Cacti. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Male and female northern cardinal, visiting a bird feeder, Long Island. The female is less colourful than the male, but is still a pretty bird, with red beak, crest, wing patches, and tail. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Aboriginals of India are small people, many of Australoid descent, who have been living in the forests for thousands of years. When the Dravidians, and later the Aryans, invaded India, these tribal peoples were driven into remote areas. Many still live in the states of Odisha (Orissa), Chattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh. In 2001, the tribal population of Odisha was estimated at 8 million, which constitutes about 22% of the total population of this state.
More pictures of Indian tribals can be studied in the gallery at People: Tribals of India.
This tribal vendor at the Sabari River, Odisha, is selling coconuts and various flowers, including Chinese hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) and marigolds (Tagetes), which are presented as offerings in a local Hindu temple by pilgrims. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Indian cobra (Naja naja) is sacred to Hindus, revered as a god, Naga.
Offerings of rice and red dye have been placed on this Naga sculpture in Kathmandu, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded June 2016)
(Latest update April 2020)