Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 25 comments

Click for better color and greater detail.

Sorry, Northerners, but as of December 9th I was still finding wildflowers in Austin, including two species that I’ve learned to look for this late in the fall at Mt. Bonnell, and that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anywhere else. One is Acourtia runcinata, known as peonia or featherleaf desert peony, which I found almost touching the concrete of a stairway at this popular tourist destination that provides a vista over the Colorado River. The last time I remember coming across this little member of the sunflower family, it was coincidentally alongside a different concrete stairway at Mt. Bonnell, and I have the feeling that no other visitor paid any attention to the flowers either time. Today’s picture looks straight down at the peonia flower head, which Eve finds ribbony enough that she fantasizes using one as an ornament atop a gift package (and isn’t such an imagination a gift in its own right?).

In the United States, Acourtia runcinata grows natively only in Texas, and even then only in the southwestern half of the state, as you can confirm at the USDA website.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 12, 2011 at 5:25 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Beautiful flower photo..!!


    December 12, 2011 at 6:05 AM

  2. It appears to be floating in space. . .

    Bonnie Michelle

    December 12, 2011 at 7:23 AM

    • With the cloudy day and therefore wide camera aperture, details of the ground have faded away, and maybe that contributed to your sense that the flower head is floating in space. I’m glad I floated past that stairway last Friday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 12, 2011 at 7:39 AM

  3. I can see Eve’s point: this one does look like ribbons! Beautiful shot, Steve!


    December 12, 2011 at 7:30 AM

    • Thanks, Steve. You and Eve, plus the Steve who’s writing this sentence, see eye-to-eye on this one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 12, 2011 at 7:40 AM

  4. I love your blog for the reminders of Texas. Lived in Kerrville for 11 years, daughter works in Houston.
    Been to Austin many times, know the lay of the land and can picture your descrptions. Thank you!
    Now in Seattle – how I miss the TX sun!

    Barbara Hoffmann

    December 12, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    • I often mention locations so that people familiar with Austin will be able to see the pictures in context. If it’s any consolation to you, Barbara, almost every day for at least the past week has been overcast here, so we’re getting our own little dose of the Pacific Northwest.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 12, 2011 at 2:42 PM

  5. No need for apologies to us northerners. Such a beautiful photograph is a particularly welcome sight this time of year!

    Susan Scheid

    December 12, 2011 at 8:34 PM

  6. Great photo! I really need to find a way to live there during this time of year! What great subjects you find!


    December 12, 2011 at 9:46 PM

  7. I’m a little jealous you are still finding flowers, but at least you are sharing!


    December 13, 2011 at 6:04 AM

    • That’s why I felt I should begin the post with the word sorry. Still, I’m happy to share.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 13, 2011 at 6:18 AM

  8. When I first saw the name Peonia, I was reminded of a favorite garden flower from childhood, the peony. But this flower looks nothing like those, so I went exploring. Lo! If I have it right, might this be a cousin of the lovely aster, Symphyotrichum subulatum? Both belong to the subclass Asteridae, and this certainly looks more like an aster than a peony!

    If I’m not careful, I might begin learning things here. 😉


    December 15, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    • You raise some good questions here, Linda. When it comes to names, the “popular” or vernacular ones are often at odds with the scientific ones. For example, the bush known as cenizo, which is widely planted in the state and which you probably have seen near the coast, is also called Texas sage, even though it’s not any kind of sage. In looking at pictures of the garden flower we know as the peony (which is from Asia), I see that some varieties of it look rounded and “fluffed up” and are violet or magenta in color; those descriptions are vaguely like the wildflower shown here, so I’m guessing that that resemblance led to one of the wildflower’s vernacular names. Notice that the other name, featherleaf desert peony, attempts to distinguish the wildflower from the similarly named garden flower.

      And yes, Acourtia runcinata is a cousin of the aster, which means it’s also a cousin of the sunflower and many other things that grow in Texas. In the picture above, note the fused stamens that are so common in many members of the sunflower family. You can see that feature in frostweed and Mexican hat, for example.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 15, 2011 at 10:30 PM

  9. So beautiful. I am speechless… Thank you dear Steve, with my love, nia


    December 16, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    • It is a pretty little thing, isn’t it. It’s not very common in Austin, so I’m glad when I get to see it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 16, 2011 at 11:27 AM

      • So lovely, especially its colours, I haven’t seen this one before… But I know in your land there are so many wild flowers… Thank you I am learning now through your photographs. with my love, nia


        December 16, 2011 at 12:09 PM

      • I’ve been at this for 12 years and I’m still learning a lot too. I suspect that few people in Austin have ever seen this species of wildflower.

        Steve Schwartzman

        December 16, 2011 at 12:14 PM

  10. From this distance (;) ) it is very peony-like. And, like Eve, I think it would make a beautiful gift package ornament.


    June 16, 2015 at 1:51 AM

  11. […] little ribbons. Ribbony wildflowers I’ve shown in these pages include Engelmann daisy and peonia. The most recent example I came across is this camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) in the […]

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