Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Skeleton-plant flower center

with 20 comments

Lygodesmia texana: click for greater detail.

Where yesterday’s photograph presented a horizontal, external view of the architectural base of a flower head of Lygodesmia texana, today’s photograph looks at the center of the flower head from above. This member of the sunflower family is often called the skeleton-plant because its slender and rising stem lacks obvious leaves. Another characteristic of the species is that its stamens tend to arc over and create a sort of cage above the center of the flower head. For more information about Lygodesmia texana, including a clickable map showing the states in the United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA websiste.

I made this photograph on August 29 at Austin’s Elisabet Ney Museum, whose grounds are being restored to a native prairie. As has been the case all this week, today’s photograph is one of twelve that are currently on display at the museum.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 28, 2011 at 5:43 AM

20 Responses

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  1. A very fine photograph Steve, very fine indeed.


    September 28, 2011 at 6:28 AM

  2. Do you ever wonder what that looks like to the insect it is meant to attract? It’s beautiful to our eye – wonder what a bee sees?


    September 28, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    • Yes, I have thought about things like that, Dawn. I’ve seen photographs taken in ultraviolet light, which some insects can see, that make the flower look rather different. In this case I’ve conjectured, physically rather than visually, that the loose “cage” makes it more likely that any insect that ends up inside will hit some of the overhanging stamens when it flies away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 28, 2011 at 7:27 AM

  3. Wow this is beautiful!! Amazing work, like always!!


    September 28, 2011 at 8:02 AM

  4. Beautiful photo! The museum proves good taste displaying it.


    September 28, 2011 at 11:57 AM

  5. Congratulations on your museum display – what a nice accomplishment and well-deserved given the beauty of your photographs that you have been posting here. I especially love this photo because of the color and the delicate details of the stamen cage.


    September 30, 2011 at 6:59 AM

    • I appreciate your comment about the pictures that have been appearing here, Shelly. As for these stamens, we can say that their cage captivates you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 30, 2011 at 7:57 AM

  6. I love it! Congratulations on the exhibit. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the photos that you are displaying at the museum. It’s a great honor for you.



    October 1, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    • Thank you, Nancy. For those of you who can’t come to the museum, it (or at least this facet of it) comes to you here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 1, 2011 at 7:42 PM

      • That’s a great description of exactly what you’ve done!


        October 1, 2011 at 8:25 PM

  7. Absolutely beautiful. Very graceful structure.


    October 5, 2011 at 12:12 PM

  8. […] with it you’re welcome to look back at abstract views showing the base of a flower head and a close-up from above of a flower head’s center; that second image will show you the structures that cast the shadows visible at the bottom of […]

  9. Beautiful.


    July 25, 2014 at 6:31 AM

  10. That’s an interesting observation you made in your description about the cage that the stamens form. I was sorting through photos tonight and thought the same thing when I came to a skeleton plant photo.The Aries-shaped “hooks” at the end even seemed to be holding things together.

    Here’s what’s confusing me. i’m used to thinking of stamens and pistil as entirely separate structures, as they are with flowers like lilies.That doesn’t seem to be true, here. I think what’s going on is similar to what I found when I looked up chicory, where each floret is a complete flower with a fused stamen tube and a pistil. But I’m not sure.

    I do think I figured out a reason for the Aries shape. One article about chicory said:

    “Out of the tip of each stamen, fine, paired filaments grow. These are the two branches of the style. They carry with them a whitish powder. This is the flower’s pollen… The pollen is generated inside the stamen tube and as the style grows up through it, it collects pollen and brings it out into the light of day…. The styles continue to grow out of the pollen tubes, [until the] flower head has reached its maximal unfolding.”

    The continued growth could lead to that increased curving of the styles. One thing is certain — flowers are a whole lot busier than I realized.


    August 16, 2016 at 10:21 PM

    • I believe chicory is pretty similar to the skeleton plant. What you quoted from that article does seem to match the structure I’ve observed on a skeleton plant flower head, with each style emerging from a tube made of five fused stamens. As is the case with some members of the sunflower family, the skeleton plant produces only ray flowers, of which the styles and stamen tubes are necessarily a part. I haven’t come across anything that explains why the style splits into two parts, but I’ve read explanations of how twining vines manage to twine (they don’t have muscles, after all). Apparently the cells on the outside of the curl grow faster than those on the inside. That could explain the curling of each half of the split style.

      I say all these things tentatively because I know so little about plants. Where is that introductory botany course I never had?

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 17, 2016 at 7:04 AM

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