Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A closer view

with 11 comments

As I mentioned in the last post, although the mowers at Brushy Creek Lake Park cut down the dense snow-on-the-mountain colony in the park’s meadow shortly before the plants had a chance to flower, the destroyers left a few stray individuals at the fringe of the colony close to the lake. Those plants did complete their development, and you can see the flowers in this lake-backed closeup of part of one plant.

Or you may think you see the flowers, but this species, Euphorbia marginata, isn’t quite what it appears. From a distance, and even from closer up, many people assume that the long, tapering, white-fringed structures with green running down the center are petals, but those are actually modified leaves called bracts. Most people who make it past that illusion assume that the “scallops” of the white collar at the center of each flower group are the petals, but that also turns out to be false. The five (if none have come off) would-be petals are actually gland appendages, together making up what is generally called an involucral cup, more specifically known in this family as a cyathium. No, the real flowers are the nondescript, pale yellowish-green little things at the center of each scalloped ruff, hardly what we normally think of as flowers. But in spite of our misconception the plant seems to have no trouble with its own conception and manages to get fertilized and produce seeds in abundance—at least if the mowers don’t fall prey to their conception of these plants as weeds and cut them down before they can flower.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2011 at 5:54 AM

11 Responses

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  1. That was a nice write-up Steve. I’ve never seen this plant, so I’m delighted to be able to experience it through your efforts. We have a plant sporting “false” flower parts up here in NH – bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). It fools most people with its sepals.


    August 28, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    • And I’m delighted to be able to show it to you. I have the impression that there are quite a few plants with “false” flower parts, like the Cornus canadensis that you introduced me to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 28, 2011 at 8:48 AM

  2. So wonderfully described; very educational. You are a terrific teacher and photographer! I wonder if the mowers were told to leave ‘some flowers to seed’ or if it was just difficult to mow along the creek.


    August 28, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    • Thanks, Cindy. My years as an explainer, i.e. teacher, led me to prize clarity, which is also a virtue in photography.

      I’m still trying to find out why the colony was mowed down, but no one has returned the three messages to two parks departments that I left over the course of a week. If I ever do manage to speak with someone, maybe I’ll learn why some plants were spared. Cynical me usually assumes in cases like this that the mowers couldn’t easily get to the plants that survived; it’s common to see survivors next to poles, along fences, and in other hard-to-get-to places.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 28, 2011 at 9:14 AM

  3. People’s concept of beauty differs so much… the mowers likely thought they were ‘just weeds’. The flowers are beautiful, succulent leaves and sepals pretending to be flowers! We have several Euphorbia, but snow-on-the-mountain only grows as a garden flower, as far as I know. A seaside spurge (E. polygonifolia) grows on Briar Island in Nova Scotia, where my ancestors came to Canada via shipwreck! Jane

    jane tims

    August 28, 2011 at 6:20 PM

    • You’ve anticipated what I’m going to report in tomorrow’s post, Jane.

      I’m glad you find these flowers beautiful too. I just looked up Euphorbia marginata on the USDA website and was surprised to find that it has been found growing as far northeast as Quebec, so perhaps you will run across some in your part of the world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 28, 2011 at 8:51 PM

  4. […] of its species grew, including the one shown here. If you compare this photograph to the picture of snow-on-the-mountain posted on August 28, you’ll see that snow-on-the-prairie has longer and narrower bracts; its […]

  5. […] had several posts about snow-on-the-prairie and snow-on-the-mountain, two similar species of Euphorbia whose common names refer to the plants’ conspicuous white […]

  6. So pristine and unique flower!


    October 10, 2011 at 7:37 AM

  7. […] 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 a few posts after […]

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