Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Color and curl

with 25 comments

Prairie flameleaf sumac; click for greater detail.

Not a beauty parlor, unless it’s nature’s own. My last outing of the season to photograph prairie flameleaf sumac took place on the beautifully clear afternoon of December 22 (after a morning at the Mueller Greenway with the wildflowers still blooming there), and it took me back to the thankfully undeveloped lot next to Seton Northwest Hospital from which I first brought you a picture of the changing of the colors back on November 12. The young tree you saw then followed the natural course of things and lost its leaves within a few days, but other flameleaf sumacs on the property, following their own calendars, took their turns at turning colors later in the season. Now, on December 22, the last of them were doing so, and I was lucky enough to see them on a day of blue sky illuminated by the warm light, both in hue and in 65° air temperature, of the late afternoon almost-winter sun.

If the color in the title of today’s post is obvious, the characteristic curl is less well known, but you see plenty of it in this photograph. Why the compound leaves of Rhus lanceolata curl and curve this way I don’t know, but I never get tired of seeing them do it. Notice here how the leaf arcs wrap around a little blue hollow near the center of the photograph.

Taking one thing with another, I think this is a good picture to wrap up 2011 with, and it’s my way of wishing all of you a colorful 2012.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 31, 2011 at 5:18 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Brilliant! Nice to see some color this time of year.


    December 31, 2011 at 6:24 AM

    • Thanks. In the past few days I’ve noticed a little bit of subdued color in a few sumacs that still have leaves, but nothing impressive anymore. The trees that I photographed on the 22nd were the last brightly colored ones I saw.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2011 at 7:35 AM

  2. Well done Steve. Happy New Year to you too.


    December 31, 2011 at 7:07 AM

  3. A “crowning glory” for the year! Given the circular shape, I imagined Mother Nature wearing it – autumn’s diadem, perhaps.

    Happy New Year – may your subjects be plenty, and the light good!


    December 31, 2011 at 8:10 AM

    • So nicely (coronally?) put, Linda: autumn’s diadem.

      I’d reply to your second sentence with the nautical equivalent — if I knew what it is. Maybe I can adapt a Mendelssohn title and wish you a fair sea and prosperous voyage, both literally and in the world of letters.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2011 at 8:33 AM

      • You came very close to the traditional phrase – “fair winds and following seas”. For the merchants of old, those conditions often did lead to prosperity, with swifter voyages and fewer sunken ships, so Mendelssohn’s pairing is perfectly reasonable.

        And I appreciate the good wishes.


        January 2, 2012 at 10:39 AM

  4. Lovely colorful and festive plant to end the year. Thanks for all the beauty you have shared with us this year. I’ve learned so much and meet so many new plants in your pages. Happy New Year to you and yours.


    December 31, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    • Thanks, and the same to you, Dawn. I’m pleased to hear that you’ve found beauty and knowledge in the world of nature in central Texas and in these pages. There’ll be more in 2012, which is to say tomorrow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2011 at 9:18 AM

  5. I also want to thank you for the inspiration you provide to others including me! My daughter will be moving from Dallas to Austin this spring. I know she will love the area!

    Bonnie Michelle

    December 31, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    • You’re certainly welcome, Bonnie. If your daughter has the same interest in plants that you do, she’ll be able to see first-hand some the things that have appeared — and are yet to appear — in these pages. I imagine that in Dallas she already has, given that many Austin species flourish there too. And if you visit her in Austin, especially in the spring or fall, you’ll get to see them for yourself.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2011 at 9:29 AM

  6. It is a scrumptious image to wrap up the year. Although I don’t get by or take the time to comment as often as I’d like, and I don’t know if 2012 will grant me any more time (they say to be careful what you wish for), I do want to thank you for sharing your beautiful images and knowledge here, and to wish you continued inspiration in the coming year.


    Cindy Kilpatrick

    December 31, 2011 at 10:06 AM

    • Thanks, Cindy. It takes appreciative readers, too, so I’m glad you’ve been able to check in as often as you have. I’ll do my best to offer up a stream of scrumptious images in 2012—in fact I wore my boots into that stream to take more pictures just the other day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2011 at 10:29 AM

  7. What wonderfully radiant colours, and I love the curls. Best wishes to you for 2012!

    farmhouse stories

    December 31, 2011 at 1:03 PM

  8. And a brilliantly colorful 2012 to you too, my friend! So glad I’ve met you and have this great haven for learning and enjoying the extravagances of wildflower beauty.


    December 31, 2011 at 9:35 PM

    • Thanks, Kathryn. What you said reminds me of a line by the Surrealist writer André Breton: “La beauté sera convulsive ou ne sera pas.” “Beauty will be convulsive or will not be [at all].”

      A happy and convulsive 2012 to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 1, 2012 at 1:47 AM

  9. Super shot Steve…the sumacs are one of my favorites to photograph in the fall. Well done indeed!!!


    January 1, 2012 at 1:47 PM

  10. Happy New Year to you and your family!!!


    January 1, 2012 at 1:48 PM

  11. Is this the same sumac as we have up here, Steve? This is just how I saw this plant in the fall as I would go riding through the countryside on my horse. A plant I never noticed any other time of the year made itself known every fall. Beautiful photo.


    January 7, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    • My guess, Leslie, is that you have Rhus copallina, which is a closely related species. Have you ever painted it? If so, it would be fun to compare renditions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2012 at 1:58 PM

  12. […] of you who visited this site last autumn saw a few pictures of the seasonally colorful leaves of prairie flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata. Here’s a closeup from September 3 of this year […]

  13. […] long been fascinated by the way the rachis (central axis) of each compound leaf* tends to curve in the species of flameleaf sumac I’m familiar with from Austin, and that curving is apparent in this genus-mate as well. Many of you may be familiar with Rhus […]

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