Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Acalypha too

with 40 comments

Acalypha phleoides

As I was finishing up on the afternoon of November 8 at the Arbor Walk Pond in north-central Austin, luxuriating in my flower-covered Acalypha, the sky began to clear a bit in the west, beckoning me home. So I faced that way, but not yet taking any step toward home, got down low, put my head to the ground, and struggled with my camera to line up a single flower stalk against its now-light-filled fellows behind it. Of the poles, wires, and buildings adjacent to the expressway bordering the site, I need say no more, except that I managed to keep them out of my viewfinder and so created the undisturbed view you find here.

For more information about Acalypha phleoides, including a state-clickable map showing where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

For those interested in the art and craft of photography, points 1, 2 , 6 and 12 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s picture.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 19, 2011 at 5:10 AM

40 Responses

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  1. Hi Steve. Here we have Three-seeded Mercury (A. rhomboidia) but it is only found a few places and I have never seen it. Thank you for introducing me to this species. Your photo has great background. The flower reminds me of a bit of fluff. Jane

    jane tims

    November 19, 2011 at 6:05 AM

    • You’re welcome, Jane; it’s an exchange, because only yesterday did I learn about A. rhomboidea. Apparently A. phleoides is more interesting pictorially, so I feel fortunate to have it here: definitely fluffy, as you point out. There’s another feathery species in Austin, A. radians, and in my picture at


      you can compare its female flowers to the ones in today’s photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 8:32 AM

  2. What an unusual flower–don’t think I have ever seen anything quite like it. I love how you describe your antics to get this photograph–sounds like a good part of my photog experience, too.
    It worked well, this is surely a stand out flower specimen.

    Bo Mackison

    November 19, 2011 at 6:57 AM

    • Thanks, Bo. These flowering Acalypha stalks are only a few inches long, but getting in close, thanks to the antics you and I go through, provides a fulfilling — i.e. filling the frame of the picture — vision. I hope you don’t end up with as many prickly things in your skin as I do: it’s one of the occupational hazards I accept in return for a satisfying image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 8:42 AM

  3. Wow! What a beautiful photo and description. Thank you. I’ve a yard full of Three-seed Mercury which grew and bloomed beautifully through our record heat this past summer. It has continued to do well on into the fall. Another native drought tolerant plant to add to the list of ground covers for our area. I had some come up in a pot where it got to looking ratty. Cut it way back (in the heat of the summer) and it came back and bloomed nicely.

    Agnes Plutino

    November 19, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    • You’re welcome, Agnes. From what you say, it was a good year for the species, in spite of the drought. This would indeed make a good ground cover. I’m glad you’ve got a yard full of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 10:01 AM

  4. Steve, your pictures are absolutely exquisite! I enjoy looking at your shots every day! Thank you!!!

    Renee Voss

    November 19, 2011 at 7:40 AM

  5. Thank you for the introduction to this plant. The color is beautiful and the top reminds me of pomegranate seeds. 🙂


    November 19, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    • I’m glad to introduce you. I can see the resemblance to pomegranate seeds, now that you mention it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 10:11 AM

  6. So very worth the effort. This is so lovely – sweet colours, shimmering bokeh.

    Cindy Kilpatrick

    November 19, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    • And I like your description of it, Cindy. I hadn’t paid much attention to this species before, but conditions were right for a royal treatment that afternoon.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 10:15 AM

  7. Love it! Looks like it should be on a Christmas card!

    Bonnie Michelle

    November 19, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    • I hadn’t thought about that, but the colors are right. It could be a floral Christmas candle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 10:52 AM

  8. I am in love with this picture. Pink on pink! I feeling like letting out a “squee!!” and clapping. Sometimes too much pink looks garish, but the use of the close-up feature blended the intensity of the background down perfectly so that you can see the red on the plant.

    Ann M. Skowronski

    November 19, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    • Happy pink on pink, indeed. I like your exuberance. I don’t think I’d ever taken a picture like this one, so I was happy with it too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 7:37 PM

  9. I do enjoy the gentle pun-ishment you inflict on us here – e.g., the play of “too-two” in the title.

    The closeup reminds me less of fluff than of the 1960s artificial Christmas trees, when the technology was new and white and pink shredded cellophane branches were everywhere.

    Your story of capturing this image reminds me of a passage from Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life”. She tells the tale of a photographer who every year “brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment. Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles: bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack.

    At length he turned to the young man: ‘You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I put it on the bad stack. Why do you like it so much?’

    The young photographer said, ‘Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.'”


    November 19, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    • It takes a writer like you, Linda, to have noticed the play on words in the title. At least you labeled the pun-ishment a gentle one. (I’ll add the surprising tidbit that the English words to and too are historically the same word.)

      I wouldn’t have thought about the artificial Christmas trees of the 1960s, but I’m glad you found an association from your experience.

      Back in the late 1970s I wrote to Annie Dillard, and she answered. She said, if I remember correctly, that the two groups of people who wrote to her most often were photographers and doctors. The story of hers that you mention is apropos, even if in my case it was an inverted and miniature version of the mountain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 7:44 PM

      • I wasn’t even looking, and there it was – the pink tinsel Christmas tree.

        Shall we all have a chorus of “Deck the halls with pink acalypha”?!


        November 22, 2011 at 8:29 PM

      • I’m impressed that you made this connection. (Sorry for the delayed reply, but I just discovered that Akismet had treated your comment as spam, and I didn’t see it till now.) Your suggestion of “Deck the halls with pink acalypha” conveniently coincides with my first hearing of Christmas songs on television a few minutes ago (so the delay served the interests of coincidence).

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 27, 2011 at 9:42 PM

  10. Funny, because I was going to say it looks very Christmas-y, like your other commenter did. And thank you for the sycamore tree ID on my blog the other day.


    November 19, 2011 at 3:55 PM

    • The colors are certainly Christmas-y, aren’t they? As for sycamores, I love their bark; I’ll have to include a picture of one in a future post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 7:47 PM

  11. Incredible picture – what a great display of colors and textures. I love it. Each time I think you can’t do something better, you do it.



    November 19, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    • Thanks so much, Nancy. I was pretty happy with this picture, but I’ll admit that the challenge to keep coming up with good and novel images is daunting. Wish me luck.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 19, 2011 at 10:22 PM

      • Nah, you don’t need luck. This is like anything else – the harder you work, the luckier you get. I don’t work at my photography like you or my husband, but I’ve still seen my eye improve a lot with taking so many more photographs this year. You & him work hard at what you do and it shows.


        November 19, 2011 at 10:28 PM

      • You’re right that I’ve put in a lot of time on my photography this year, and that increases the likelihood of coming across photo-worthy plants and little creatures; it also, as you say, gives me ever more practice. I still have to wonder what I may have missed on a different path, or in a different part of town from the one I went to, or on a day when I stayed home altogether. If only I could be everywhere at once.

        Steve Schwartzman

        November 20, 2011 at 6:23 AM

  12. I have learned to love my camera’s LCD monitor which can be turned and twisted to obscure angles. It is a blessing, if you like to avoid neck twisting or suffer from critterphobia. It makes photos like these a lot easier.


    November 20, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    • I have occasionally done what you’ve suggested, but I find that for critical focus and framing I’m strongly drawn to the viewfinder. After more than four decades, I’ll admit that I’m a creature of habit in that way. Also, while my EOS 7D does have what Canon calls Live View, the LCD in this model doesn’t come out and doesn’t swivel.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 20, 2011 at 10:59 AM

  13. That’s a gorgeous flower! I’ve never seen anything quite like it.


    November 20, 2011 at 10:39 PM

  14. Yet another weird and wonderful flower I have ever seen! I feel the flower is ready celebrate a festival. It has got all that marvel!!!


    November 22, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    • I’m glad you find it weird and wonderful, Firas. I do too, and I’m ready to celebrate this plant and this picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 22, 2011 at 1:19 PM

  15. I wish I’d found you in 2011…when I was a young and naive botanist in bud, I saw a record of this plant in my county. Dutifully I went out and hunted. And searched. Finally some soul took pity on me and told me it isn’t found in my region…Clicking on the USDA map I see it isn’t in Illinois, period! Wonder why it appeared in that record? In any event, it is nice to see it here. I know sometimes you wonder if there isn’t a new way to present plants, but I want you to know that what you are doing is extremely valuable.


    April 6, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    • I’m happy to hear you find value in what I’m doing, Melissa. I approach this blog primarily as a photographer, as you’ve picked up in my continuing quest for novel ways to portray things. At the same time, I’ve been a teacher for more than four decades, so that part of me wants to convey information about the subjects of these posts. To do so, I’ve had to put in time on research, in the course of which I’ve learned some basic botany. Unlike you, I never had a single botany course, but I wish now that I had.

      Acalypha phleoides is a small plant, and the real height of everything in this picture was just a couple of inches. A macro lens can make little things look gigantic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 6, 2015 at 8:53 PM

      • Yes, it was an amazing photo and I was well aware of the contortions you had to go through to get it! You have renewed my determination. Too often I get home and am disappointed by the photos I took out in the field. Too squeamish to get down for a horizontal view. Icky down there, sometimes, buggy, muddy, thorny…but I’m going to push myself.
        Thank you for the teaching and for the inspiration.


        April 7, 2015 at 10:29 AM

        • You’re welcome for the inspiration. What you say about icky, buggy, muddy, thorny, etc., is true (especially in Texas), so for years I’ve been carrying a mat with me. It can’t eliminate the things you mentioned, but it reduces their effect on my skin.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 7, 2015 at 5:40 PM

          • I thought about your mat the last time I was out in the field, in fact, and cursed myself for forgetting to bring one.


            April 8, 2015 at 10:39 AM

  16. Wow! 🙂 🙂


    April 10, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    • I remember taking this one too, and it remains among my favorites. I still go to this site from time to time, but the margins of the pond have been heavily mowed and there aren’t as many native plants to photograph as there were a few years ago. That said, there’s still always something there worth taking pictures of.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 10, 2015 at 9:13 AM

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