Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 13 comments

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

13 Responses

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  1. Love the picture and the caption! Thanks for the idea…now I have one more thing to look out for on my walks.


    August 8, 2011 at 7:36 AM

  2. […] it to a different use in the service of linking yesterday’s photograph to today’s. If yesterday’s rounded flower head was old and belonged to a sunflower, the spherical one shown today was fresh and belonged to a […]

  3. […] found the sunflower remains pictured in a post earlier this week near the shore of a pond a couple of miles from where I live in Austin. Another plant there that […]

  4. The colors are amazing, and I like the contrast between the shades of blue and the golden shades of the seed head. The seed head seems to be itself an alive flower.


    December 12, 2011 at 5:41 AM

    • Thank you for your comments. Like you I was fascinated by the contrast between the colors, and like you I can see dead things as having a life of their own.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 12, 2011 at 6:05 AM

  5. Love it! I also have some pictures of the flowers where the canal water became their background. I may post them one day. 🙂


    December 17, 2012 at 11:19 PM

    • I’m glad you like this dose of compositional and tonal minimalism. If you’re pleased with your canal pictures, then you should go ahead and post them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 18, 2012 at 6:58 AM

  6. This is beautiful! The rich colours do complement each other very well. I’m just glad that Nature takes over again, wherever Man has been with his mower!


    January 11, 2013 at 11:36 PM

    • I was at this site a couple of weeks ago and it had been heavily mowed again, alas. Luckily the mowers can’t destroy my photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2013 at 8:46 AM

  7. Very sharp!


    January 27, 2014 at 10:25 PM

  8. […] river or lake, that body of water can become a mostly neutral background; an example of that is the seed head of a sunflower by a pond. Shooting horizontally, especially with a long lens, can also produce a different effect; with […]

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