Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Optical Mixing by Eastern Redbuds

5/3/23 Green Lake neighborhood

One morning on my walk through the Green Lake neighborhood, I spotted a tree with such tiny, tiny blossoms that they formed a transparent lavender haze. I didn’t have lavender in my bag, so I tried mixing blue and pink – but I ended up with a blue and pink tree (at right).

A few days later, I was walking in Maple Leaf when I spotted the same type of tree. This time I mixed my cherry blossom pink pencil with dark purple, and I got much closer to the hue I saw – from a distance (below).

Looking more closely at the blossoms this time, I saw that they aren’t lavender at all; their orchid-like shape is made of pink and cool magenta petals. Using colored pencils, I’m always fascinated with optical mixing effects that result from transparent layers of color. This tree, that the PlantNet app identified as an Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), is one of nature’s examples of optical mixing. From a distance, all those tiny dots of pink and cool magenta blend together into lavender.

5/6/23 Eastern redbud, Maple Leaf neighborhood

5/6/23 orchid-shape blossoms

By the way, I’ve tried a bunch of plant ID apps, and PlantNet is the first one that gets more hits than misses. (Some apps are so bad that the suggested identifications might as well be random.) If you like to know what plant or tree you’re sketching as I do, this free app is worth using. 


  1. I love the optical mixing for the color of the flowers! I need an app like that. I seem to never know the kind of tree or plant I'm looking at.

    1. This app is really easy to use! Just snap a closeup photo of the flower or leaf, and "share" to the app. It suggests potential matches, and it's usually right on the first try.


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