Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What wonders the white overshadowed

with 16 comments

Last time I left you and a question hanging: beneath the canopy of a colony of snow-on-the-prairie plants, Euphorbia marginata, what were more than a dozen little patches of purple? Today’s close-up of one of those patches reveals it to be a sort of purple pineapple. Here is a case of what botanists call convergent evolution: two unrelated species of plants come to resemble each other in some characteristic way. You are looking at a flower head of Eryngium leavenworthii, commonly called eryngo, but sometimes also known—and who could blame anyone for the name?—as false purple pineapple.* This purple “pineapple,” whose leaves and crown end in spines that can easily get into your skin, turns out to be a member of the family that includes the Eurasian food plants parsley, fennel, celery, dill, anise, cumin, caraway, coriander, and carrots. But the inedible eryngo is native to the Great Plains of North America, and one way that it distinguishes itself from the tropical pineapple, other than its color and much smaller size, is by the presence of protruding stamens, some of which you can see near the base of the core of the “pineapple” that is actually a flower.

For more about eryngo, including a clickable map showing where the species grows, you can visit the USDA website.


* Update on September 15.  I’m beginning to think that the “sometimes also known” refers to me and me alone. I expect I conflated eryngo’s pineapple-y appearance with “false purple thistle,” a phrase that other people have indeed called eryngo because of its spines.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2011 at 5:57 AM

16 Responses

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  1. Stunning!

    Marcia Levy

    September 6, 2011 at 6:00 AM

    • I’m glad you’re impressed. If you come to Austin one of these Septembers, you can see this in person.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2011 at 6:54 PM

  2. “Stunning” was exactly my first response too! This is an incredibly powerful and evocative image! Thanks very much for sharing the beauties of nature with us. As the forest fires rage in Bastrop, I am remembering the beautiful images you took at Bastrop State Park and at Buescher State Park, back in the 70s (and no doubt many times since then too!). You bring so much beauty into the world by your presence, Steve. Merci Beaucoup!


    September 6, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    • It’s great that you like this picture so much, Ariana. I’m happy to share the beauties of nature with you and everyone else.

      The fires still raging in some parts of central Texas are terrible. Once the one in Bastrop is over and the land cools down, I may go over and have a look. Some plants respond well to fire and spring up with renewed vigor afterwards. I remember the pictures from the 70s there, which wouldn’t have been possible without your collaboration.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2011 at 2:05 PM

      • I read in the newspaper today that most of Bastrop State Park has now burned. I’m eager to see what will spring from the ashes next spring.

        Steve Schwartzman

        September 7, 2011 at 6:56 PM

  3. I love these and if I remember from my days working for the wild food plant gatherer, the stems of these eryngo are edible when they are young – like celery. I have never had the chance but if I found some I would try them. He fed me an amazing assortment of things.

    I love the color of them. A whole field of them blooming is so lovely. They look good in flower arrangements as well.

    Nancy Wederstrandt

    September 6, 2011 at 10:51 AM

    • I’m glad you recognized them, Nancy. I hadn’t heard about the young stems being edible. You’re right that a whole field of them is a sight to behold, but unfortunately because of the drought I’ve found only a few at a time, and not many such groups. And yes, they add a welcome amount of color to dried floral arrangements.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2011 at 2:10 PM

  4. Beautiful flower!

    Yesterday I thought it looked a bit like a thistle or maybe a burr. But it is something else altogether.


    September 6, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    • It is, isn’t it? If you thought this plant looks like a thistle, you’re not alone. Eryngo’s spines certainly make people think of thistles, and if you walk into one you’ll feel like you walked into a thistle as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2011 at 2:14 PM

  5. my goodness! ‘Convergent evolution”..i am always learning something new on your blog, as well as enjoying the stunning pictures….I then thought of convergent evolution in relation to humans in relationship..


    September 7, 2011 at 6:38 PM

    • Thanks for your comment on the pictures, Lilith. I keep learning too; it’s fun, isn’t it? Your idea of applying the concept of convergent evolution to humans in relationship is a clever one. Let’s see where it leads you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2011 at 6:51 PM

  6. this is a fabulous plant, especially the larger leaf armor on top of the flower ball! great picture!


    September 10, 2011 at 9:32 PM

  7. […] Indonesian phrase means ‘purple pineapple.’ The search engine popped up a post about eryngo. Did the searcher know enough English to read the text and understand that what looks like a purple […]

  8. Man I have a ton of these on my land


    September 1, 2014 at 8:35 PM

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