Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Texas thistle as butterfly attractor

with 22 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

22 Responses

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  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

  11. As I have been reading your “tips” (2015-09-29) it strikes me that many of your beautiful wild flowers are sold in our garden centres and eventually die because the climate is wrong: Helenium, Coreopsis, Gaillardia…


    September 29, 2015 at 6:52 AM

    • I’m not a gardener, but I occasionally hear from some who’ve succeeded in growing the genera you mentioned in places far outside their native habitat. My orientation is toward showing plants that grow on their own in places where they’ve presumably evolved and adapted to local conditions. For some plants, that region is quite limited, while for others it can be thousands of miles.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 29, 2015 at 7:30 AM

      • Your helpful links to USDA maps tell me I’m stretching my luck to grow them on Canada’s east coast. I know you shoot wildflowers- seeing them in their native habitat tells a lot about what growing conditions they need or at least prefer.


        September 29, 2015 at 7:46 AM

        • Some native plants have proved remarkably adaptable and now grow across much of North America, the common sunflower being a prime example. From that evidence, it seems you might succeed with the related species you mentioned, although the Asteraceae is an enormous family and includes plants with very different attributes.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 29, 2015 at 8:10 AM

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