Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sycamore seed ball

with 23 comments

As you learned last time, on December 28th I wandered along a stretch of a once-again-happily-flowing creek in my northwestern part of Austin. After photographing algae and bubbles (and inadvertently myself), I walked upstream and found a sycamore tree that had produced some of its characteristic seed balls. These start out hard and firm but eventually, in a way that’s reminiscent of cattails with seeds attached to fluff, they loosen to the point that a touch—be it of a hand or of the wind—causes them to unravel. That’s what you see happening here, illuminated by a shaft of warm light filtering through the surrounding woods and contrasting with a trace of blue sky that managed to make it through in the background.

If you’d like to be reminded of how majestic sycamore trees can be when their white bark shines in the sun, just have a look back at the post from December 23. To learn more about sycamores, you can visit the website of The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. To find out the many places in the eastern United States where sycamores grow, you’re welcome to consult the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 3, 2012 at 5:10 AM

23 Responses

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  1. Once again you’ve captured the essence of “unraveling”!

    Bonnie Michelle

    January 3, 2012 at 6:23 AM

    • I remembered Jane Tims’s recent comment about using the word unravel in this context, which reinforced my own liking for the word here. I’m glad you like it too, Bonnie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2012 at 8:15 AM

  2. The contrast between the “hard”, almost pinecone-like exterior of the ball and the feathery seeds is striking. The seeds look almost alive, like some strange insect that’s ready to fly on its own, rather than just drift with the wind.


    January 3, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    • I agree, the contrast is striking; the early stage in no way predicts the later one. Like you, I’ve seen the triangular seed formations as insects (though as dead ones when they end up in the water of a creek).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2012 at 8:20 AM

  3. Super shot Steve and the background works perfectly. Well done!!!


    January 3, 2012 at 10:24 AM

    • Thanks, David, especially for appreciating the background. There have been times when I’ve been tempted to say that the three most important things in photography are background, background, background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2012 at 10:52 AM

  4. Our neighbors had a beautiful sycamore when I was young, and I’ve admired the form, the trunk, and those great Sputnik orbs ever since. And I am exceedingly (no pun intended) fond of seed heads, pods, cases, and the like. So this is a very welcome sight indeed. Lovely.


    January 3, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    • A descriptive phrase, Kathryn: “Sputnik orbs.” Have no fear of being thought seedy when you admit that you’re exSeedingly fond of seed heads, pods, cases, and the like. Today’s picture and the recent one of the cattail confirm that I am too, though I haven’t shown as many pictures of that sort as I might have. I’ll try to include more of them this year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2012 at 12:52 PM

  5. Beautiful picture!!


    January 3, 2012 at 1:23 PM

  6. I think what’s so impressive about this picture, other than the glorious colours, is the sense of movement, the unravelling of the seed ball to release the seeds to float away.


    January 3, 2012 at 5:05 PM

  7. Oh this is so beautiful! 🙂 Thank you for stopping by at my little blog 😉


    January 3, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    • And thanks for visiting from London. Stop by whenever you’d like a few minutes in a warmer clime.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 3, 2012 at 5:52 PM

  8. Great shot! It’s remarkable how trees like this have evolved such a terrific system for spreading their seeds

    Nick the Editor

    January 4, 2012 at 5:44 AM

    • Yes, it is, and I find it fascinating that plants that are quite different can resort to similar methods.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2012 at 6:21 AM

  9. I love the detail.


    January 4, 2012 at 6:48 AM

    • I’d be lost without my macro lens (and once in a while I get lost even when I have it with me).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2012 at 7:06 AM

  10. wow it looks amazing 🙂 like something you would find in a Final Fantasy game. You Should submit this to National Geographic or something man, this is really amazing.


    January 6, 2012 at 2:58 PM

  11. […] with Mexican devilweed and many another member of the sunflower family, as well as cattails and sycamores, our native grasses also produce varying amounts of fluff when they go to seed. Most prominent […]

  12. […] the time that 2011 gave way to 2012, you saw the seed ball of a sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, beginning to come apart. As the rain falleth on the just and the unjust […]

  13. […] you’d like a retro-bonus, you can go back to a post from two years ago and have a close look at what one of these seed globes looks like when it comes undone. You can also revisit the remnants of a seed ball in a creek alongside a sparkling array of […]

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