Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Something there is…

with 22 comments

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” wrote Robert Frost, but today my lament begins “Someone there is that doesn’t love a wildflower.” Readers who have been following this blog since at least August 1 may recall that in my post for that day about a colony of snow-on-the-mountain plants that was growing tall and healthy but hadn’t yet flowered, I wrote: “I’ll go back to this location in late August or September, and if no one has cut the plants down I’ll report on what they look like when they’re all brightly bracted.”

You can probably tell where I’m going with this: when I returned on August 20 to that location—a park!—I found that the mowers had indeed destroyed almost all the stands of plants in the large colony, along with a mound of sunflowers. We’re in the middle of the worst drought in most people’s memory, and here was one native plant that had managed not only to survive but even to thrive in spite of the heat and the lack of water. But “No,” said the mower men “we can’t have a park covered with tall wildflowers. We’d much rather have a barren, parched, broken, dusty field of stubble.” (If you insist on a dose of sadness and indignation, click the brown thumbnail to see how the same patch of ground that bore the plants in the August 1 photograph looked on August 20.)

As if to taunt me, the mowers had spared a few snow-on-the-mountain plants standing close to the edge of Brushy Creek Lake, a tiny remnant of the wildflower field that should have been. Why the destroyers left those few plants I don’t know, but the lucky survivors let me show you a current picture of snow-on-the-mountain plants when they produce their beautiful white-fringed bracts and little flowers:

Snow-on-the-mountain, Euphorbia marginata; click for more detail.

Now imagine what an acre largely covered with these flowering plants would have looked like.


Update on August 31: Two days ago I e-mailed the director of the parks district that includes Brushy Creek Lake Park, explaining what had happened and pointing him to this post. The next day he called me and said that after my e-mail he went out to the park and confirmed the details for himself. He said that he has issued new orders: from now on, the large meadow in the park will be mowed only once a year, probably in late November. If a situation should arise that a mower thinks might warrant mowing at another time, that person will have to get permission from the director or assistant director.

Let’s hope that the new policy goes forth as planned, and that no mower chooses to ignore it or claims after-the-fact ignorance of it following another act of devastation.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2011 at 5:55 AM

22 Responses

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  1. I feel your pain! It all seems so senseless! Maybe that’s the role of wild flower bloggers – to raise awareness. I think most people are oblivious to wildflowers, and just take for granted that the preferred condition of any field is a monoculture of grass clipped to two inches. Even if that means reducing it to stubble.


    August 27, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    • Thanks for commiserating. It does seem so senseless: how anyone could prefer the scene in the brown picture to the scene in the next photograph is beyond me, but some people obviously do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2011 at 7:34 AM

  2. Makes your heart sick – and we won’t get any more blankets for that mowing job…


    August 27, 2011 at 8:08 AM

    • Yes, it was sickening to see the colony destroyed. I keep thinking that maybe I should have tried to prevent it from happening.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2011 at 8:16 AM

  3. Breaks your heart, eh? Lady Bird Johnson is rolling over in her grave…



    August 27, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    • I wish the people in charge of Brushy Creek Lake Park could learn to follow Lady Bird Johnson’s example.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2011 at 9:29 AM

  4. Steve, sometimes the public works guys just need to spend more time on their riding mowers and they’ll cut down anything in their path until quitting time. And I’ve had a bear of a time explaining the concept of “habitat” and that wildflowers are part of that and not “weeds”.

    I’m enjoying a look at your Texas wildflowers, from up here in Pennsylvania.


    August 27, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    • Thanks for the explanation, Bernadette. You’re right that the concept of habitat doesn’t readily inhabit some people’s minds.

      I couldn’t help noticing the inadvertent play on words with “bear of a time” coming from the writer of a blog entitled Portraits of Animals, which is just one word away from Portraits of Wildflowers. I’m glad you’re enjoying the look at Texas wildflowers—or what remains of them after the drought and the mowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2011 at 11:32 AM

  5. Oh my goodness! That’s horrible!

    Don’t the people in charge have any decent education? Some gardening / landscaping / biology or ecology training?


    August 28, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    • Yes, it is horrible. I’m afraid that your question “Don’t the people in charge have any decent education?” answers itself, and the actions of those people speak louder than any denials or excuses they might offer when challenged. I think all the people in the Native Plant Society of Texas, of which I’m a member, have had similar experience with mowers. I can tell you that I’ve heard plenty of stories to that effect. See the next post (August 29) for one more insight into how the mowers view the world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 28, 2011 at 1:32 PM

      • Keep taking pictures, showing them, informing people and cooperating with like-minded citizens. It takes time, but it works.

        Over here [in Germany], elections can be lost on environmental issues by now — and it did start by people protecting trees or small biotopes in their neighbourhood and teaching kids about ecology.


        August 28, 2011 at 2:35 PM

      • Thanks for your encouragement. I have been talking to like-minded people about the destruction of the snow-on-the-mountain in Brushy Creek Lake Park, and I’ll let readers of this blog know if we manage to make progress in warding off future depredations.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 28, 2011 at 2:48 PM

  6. […] I’ve mentioned so many times in these pages over the past 13 weeks. Those of you who read the post on August 27th about the mowing down of a large stand of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia marginata, may be pleased […]

  7. […] has made an appearance several times in this column: expectantly on August 1, disconsolately on August 27, wistfully for the two days after that, and with renewed hope on September 4 (and I hope […]

  8. […] native plant called snow-on-the-mountain, Euphorbia marginata. You first saw this species flowering on August 27 and had a closer look at its flowers and bracts on August 28. You also saw snow-on-the-mountain in […]

  9. […] August I reported on the massacre of snow-on-the-mountain plants in Cedar Park, and that wasn’t the first such incident, so nothing of this sort surprises me. […]

    • The guys on the mowers have no idea what they are destroying. They are doing their job, it has to start with education. Head of departments and City officials are the people who need to be educated about our Texas treasures, then they can provide guidance to the mowing crews.


      February 8, 2012 at 11:10 AM

      • The higher up in the chain of command, the better, as you point out. In this case I eventually spoke with the head of the parks department in that town; we’ll see if his mowing policy change works as it’s supposed to this year. In the latest instance, on February 8, 2012, I’m still trying to reach the person in charge.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 8, 2012 at 11:38 AM

        • Is it Williamson County or City of Round Rock/Cedar Park? I am in construction and I might be able to find out the best person to talk to.


          February 8, 2012 at 12:06 PM

      • This was Cedar Park, Kathy, and I think I resolved the situation with the parks director there last year.

        The February 2012 situation involves TxDoT in Austin, and I’m still waiting to hear back from one of their offices.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 8, 2012 at 12:20 PM

        • Wish I could help, I don’t know anyone with TxDot anymore.
          Steve, I missed your presentation at the NPSOT meeting, I was ill that night. I would like to personally invite you to my ranch for NPSOT field day In March and/or before if you would like. You would not believe how many flowers are already coming up. It should be a beautiful Spring. Please let me know if you would like to come out. My ranch is about 40 minutes North on 183, lots of riparain areas as well as uplands.


          February 8, 2012 at 12:34 PM

      • Thanks, Kathy, for the invitation to your ranch. It sounds great, and March seems like a good time, especially since you report so many flowers already coming up. I’ll be back in touch.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 8, 2012 at 12:47 PM

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