Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for August 8th, 2011

Ghosts

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Seed head remains of a sunflower, Helianthus annuus; click for more detail.

I’ve long been intrigued by the “ghosts” that many flowers leave behind after they’ve gone to seed, have faded, and been subjected to the elements. The most common effects are to dry out, become crisp, and turn shades of brown, gray and black. Though death is the destination for all, each species has its characteristic ways of getting there. One native plant whose final forms have fascinated me is the sunflower, the earlier stages of which have been the subject of more posts in this column than any other species so far. Today’s picture shows what can become of a Helianthus annuus seed head as it begins to deteriorate. The empty chambers are good news: the seeds that were there have all gone in search of places to grow.

For those familiar with Austin, I’ll mention that the location was a pond on the east side of Mopac between Loop 360 and US 183. I’d noticed—oh, the same old story!—that vegetation on the embankment all the way around the pond was recently mowed to the ground, leaving a barren ring of earth. But that was the view from a distance, and I’ve learned that a closer look can still reveal things that have survived; in addition, all the plants right at the water’s edge seemed intact, perhaps because the mowers couldn’t easily reach them without getting their machines stuck in the mud. In any case, I went to the site on the morning of August 5 and spent a couple of hours taking pictures, today’s being one of the fruits of that visit. Because of our continuing drought—another same old story—the sky has been mostly clear every day, and I was enchanted by the rich, deep blue that I saw reflected in the pond, which thankfully hasn’t dried up. That shade of blue also happens to be, on a color wheel, approximately the opposite of the orange-brown of the sunflower remains, and therefore an ideal complement.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 8, 2011 at 6:00 AM

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