Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for July 9th, 2011

Camphorweed bud and flower

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Bud and flower head of camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris.

The Texas thistles are mostly faded now, but in spite of the drought other flowers have come into their own. Yesterday I went back to Austin’s old Mueller Airport, which ceased functioning as such in 1999 and began to get redeveloped in around 2004. Since the last plane landed there twelve years ago, multiple times that number of native plant species have returned. One that was prominent on yesterday’s visit was Heterotheca subaxillaris, commonly called camphorweed.

To give you a sense of scale, the bud at the top of the picture that’s beginning to open is perhaps a third of an inch (roughly one centimeter) across. If you take a close look at that bud, you’ll see one characteristic that sets camphorweed apart from many of its relatives in the DYC clan (that’s the exasperated acronym for “darn yellow composites,” a reference to all those yellow daisy-type flowers that can be hard to distinguish): each of the pointy bracts that surround the base of the bud is outlined in dark red.

And now I have a deep metaphysical question for you: when does a bud cease to be a bud and begin to be a flower? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that the object in the lower portion of the photograph is no longer a bud; it’s still a flower (in the conventional sense of the word), but it’s fading. Its rays are conspicuously curled up, and its disk is beginning to dry out.

Regardless of the stage of flowerness of the plant, another distinctive characteristic of this species, and the one for which it was named, is the pleasant camphor scent imparted to the fingers of anyone touching the plant. I wish I could send that to you over the Internet, but this time technology fails me.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(You can visit the USDA website for more information about Heterotheca subaxillaris, including a clickable map showing the many states where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 9, 2011 at 10:18 AM

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