Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Texas thistle as butterfly attractor

with 18 comments

Swallowtail butterfly on Texas thistle; click to enlarge.

Once upon a time in Texas we had water. Some say, and memory confirms, that it was as recently as 2010. On May 4 of that year, thanks to a tip from native plant enthusiast Agnes Plutino, I found myself in a luxuriant field of wildflowers in the old Union Hill Cemetery on FM 1460 in Williamson County about five miles north of downtown Round Rock. The man who was accustomed to mowing the cemetery had been persuaded—and praise be to him—to let this prairie parcel revert to its natural state, which in last year’s rain-rich spring meant that it was covered with wildflowers. The yellow was from a dense colony of Engelmann daisies (Engelmannia peristenia); the red was from some firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella). Those two types of flowers and an occasional Texas thistle (Cirsium texanum) attracted insects and other animals, including a swallowtail butterfly and me. Put my body in a place like this, now and later.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Technical note: this was one of those times when I used my Canon 100 mm f/2.8 IS lens not as a macro but as a moderate telephoto. Walking through the field to get closer would probably have scared the butterfly away, and taking time to change to a more powerful telephoto might have meant that the butterfly would finish and fly out of range. I did what I could with the macro I’d been using for close-ups, which fortunately focuses to infinity.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 3, 2011 at 4:29 PM

18 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Lovely subject :)


    July 3, 2011 at 7:41 PM

  2. Beautiful! I also wish your landscape looked like that this year. I know it has been a tough spring and summer for Texas and much of the southwest!


    July 3, 2011 at 10:32 PM

    • Thanks for the good landscape wishes. Last spring and the one before it were excellent, so we can’t complain too much (except we do).

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 3, 2011 at 10:48 PM

  3. so lovely. what a great capture. like the way the butterfly & thistle serve as the focal point with the sunny, summery background!


    July 4, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    • Thanks, Terry. May 4 is indeed a summery time in Texas, even if the season doesn’t arrive for many other parts of the country till late the next month. Sometimes I’m fond of off-kilter photographs that have the center of attention far from the center.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 4, 2011 at 7:49 AM

  4. Beautiful photographs with very helpful information in the text – I can be sure to learn much here! I have a tendency to photograph too many things that I have little or no knowledge of whatsoever and little time to look things up ;) I think a daily visit to your neck of the woods will help me out, no doubt!


    July 4, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    • Thanks, Lu. It’s hard for this lifelong teacher to stop teaching, so I’m glad you find the information helpful (and the photographs attractive). Even after 12 years of photographing native plants, I still come across my share of things I can’t identify, so there’s always plenty more to learn.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 4, 2011 at 7:42 AM

  5. And whilst your close-ups are indeed stunning (I particularly like the colours of the texas thistle flower for example) the flower and butterfly here give a great point of interest, but the wider angle and the fabulous impressionist background are perhaps the stars of the show? I’m not sure – whatever the reason that it appeals, I think this is a lovely photo.


    July 11, 2011 at 6:41 PM

    • Thanks for your comment on stunning close-ups, especially of the Texas thistle, which others have appreciated as well. I’m also glad that you like this swallowtail-with-wildflowers panorama. The main reason you don’t see more wildflower meadows like that in these pages is that 2011 has brought Texas one of the worst droughts in decades, and I’ve primarily been posting recent pictures. I’ll periodically dip into my archives to show some of the dense wildflower displays for which Texas is noted. That’s what I did by posting this picture, which is from the spring of 2010, when we had plenty of rain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 11, 2011 at 8:22 PM

  6. Steve,
    I love all of your posts. They’re amazing to look at and read. You are a definite triple threat: A fantastic photographer, blogger, and botanist! Thanks for that post!


    August 7, 2011 at 10:11 AM

    • Thanks, Taylor. I’ll take credit for the photographer and blogger, but I wish I’d taken at least one course on botany so that I’d know more about the subject. Now, if someone asks me about etymology rather than entomology, I’m on more solid ground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 7, 2011 at 10:22 AM

  7. You’re welcome! Ohhh okay I wasn’t sure what word to use. Thank YOU, Steve!


    August 7, 2011 at 10:25 AM

  8. […] post is only the fourth to deal with a butterfly. The other three showed a panorama of a swallowtail on a thistle in a meadow of wildflowers, then a closeup of a two-tailed swallowtail on clammyweed, and finally a monarch on a rain-lily. In […]

  9. […] photographed this Texas dandelion at the old Union Hill Cemetery in northeastern Round Rock on April 2. The prairie wind was blowing (from right to left, as you see […]

  10. This really is surreal, like the butterfly was put in front of a green screen then you added the flowery background in! It’s really great; I like the contrast in colors between the dark butterfly and the purple thistle versus the yellows, reds, and greens of the background.

    I hear you on the macro lens as a sort of telephoto. I’ve done this before with pretty great results. Good tip for those who don’t know this.



    January 27, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    • The only green screen was from the chlorophyll of all these plants’ leaves.

      I still often use my versatile 100mm telephoto as what people call a walkabout lens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 28, 2014 at 6:20 AM

      • Ha ha! Nice response. :-D

        I’m in need of a telephoto and plan to pick one up fairly soon…hopefully. I’m really quite excited as the macro like you said is a nice alternative but I know it does not compare.



        January 28, 2014 at 7:32 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,417 other followers

%d bloggers like this: