Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Rattan fruit

with 26 comments

Rattan vine fruit and colorful leaves; click for more detail.

Berchemia scandens, the woody rattan vine that can strangle a tree, has surprisingly small fruits: each is only about a quarter to a third of an inch long and looks like a tiny grape. Behind the little cluster of them shown here you see two of the plant’s leaves illuminated by a shaft of late-afternoon sun that made its way through the darkling woods.

To learn more about the formidable rattan vine, and to see a map showing where in the southeastern United States it thrives, you can visit the USDA website. For those of you interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 4, 5, 8, and 12 in About My Techniques apply to today’s photograph.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 11, 2012 at 5:04 AM

26 Responses

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  1. Love the clarity of the berries in opposition to the leaves.

    Bonnie Michelle

    January 11, 2012 at 6:29 AM

    • Thanks, Bonnie; I’m pleased that you appreciate that opposition. Being so close to the cluster of fruits meant that everything else was going to be soft and out of focus. The fact that the leaves were lit up was a bonus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 11, 2012 at 6:40 AM

  2. The juxtaposition of the colors is really beautiful. Are the grapes edible to animals?

    Mind Margins

    January 11, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    • I’m glad you find the colors nicely juxtaposed. I didn’t know the answer to your question but an online search turned up these statements: “Fruit eaten by a number of bird and animal species.” “The tiny flowers appear in the spring, followed by the fruit, a bluish-black oblong drupe that is a favorite of many birds.” I also found a site that claimed the fruit is poisonous for people—not that I was tempted to eat any.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 11, 2012 at 10:14 AM

  3. I’ll definitely hop over to see what your technical insights were for this shot. Mine: “Whoa, coo-wull!”

    It would be hard to replicate all of the positives of this photo in an artificial way, so I’ll trust that the situation offered some of the gifts and you were simply smart and skilled enough to capture them! Bonnie’s recognition of how powerful the focus on the fruits is in making the image pop is absolutely right. MM’s assertion of the color juxtaposition’s beauty, too: the orange-and-blue complement is incredibly energizing and again, emphasizes the focal point perfectly. Then there’s the halo effect of having a warm-toned hazy ovoid presence framing the sharp main subject, and the near-centering of that subject offset just a little by a secondary subject hovering off center to create a little tension. Sheesh! About the only thing I think you could even *afford* to change in this piece is the cropping of it, and that choice is of course one of the things that personalizes the image (though it’s one of the things I love to monkey with in my own work, if I like a shot enough to try variations). What a wonderful image indeed.

    As for the plant itself (oh yeah–that was the point, wasn’t it!), is this any relative of the Rattan used in weaving and furniture making and so forth, or only a *nominal* cousin? I can imagine that a woody vine might offer long fibers useful enough for such a craft, but that doesn’t prove anything. The glaucous bloom on the fruits makes me think of Oregon Grape, but the leaf is far from it. Plants. Endless intrigue, no? At least as much as photography and visual design!


    January 11, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    • Maybe I should add “Whoa, coo-wull!” to my list. Thanks for your insights, Kathryn. The only thing I think could be considered artificial in this picture is the use of flash. I tried a few pictures without it but there wasn’t much light and the large apertures that I had to use didn’t allow enough depth of field to many of the fruits in focus as the same time. With flash I could stop down to f/10 and keep most of the fruits sharp. At the same time, the happily sunlit leaves were far enough away that they stayed pleasantly blurry. (You may have noticed a second cluster of fruit still farther away and therefore even less distinct.

      I’d thought about using the word glaucous but you beat me to it. As for the two rattans, I wondered about that too, so before I posted this article I did some checking because I didn’t want to say something incorrect. According to Wikipedia, the rattan of furniture is “is the name for the roughly 600 species of palms in the tribe Calameae, native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Australasia.” On the other hand, the woody rattan vine here in Texas is a member of the Rhamnaceae, or Buckthorn family, and therefore seems not to be related. My guess is that based on the tough stems of the rattan palm, people applied the word to the tough American vine. I’ve checked in several sources but haven’t been able to confirm my guess. If I do, I’ll post an update.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 11, 2012 at 3:24 PM

  4. Wonderful shot Steven. I love the intense colors and the DOF. Well done.


    January 11, 2012 at 1:42 PM

  5. Hi Steve. Funny how I never really thought of rattan furniture coming from a vine. I learned a new thing today :). I don’t have pictures to show, unfortunately, but on Main Street of my town a trumpet vine swallowed a big oak tree and much of the house/clock repair business next to it. Amazing. It was a beautiful sight when the vine was in bloom.


    January 11, 2012 at 5:23 PM

  6. Love the contrast with the orange background.


    January 11, 2012 at 10:48 PM

  7. Nicely composed to highlight the fruits! Great shot!


    January 11, 2012 at 11:06 PM

  8. Interesting plant!


    January 12, 2012 at 1:10 AM

    • It is, but luckily for your trees in Montana they don’t have to worry about getting strangled by it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2012 at 9:09 AM

  9. Love how you used the leaves as a back drop for the fruits. well done indeed!!!


    January 12, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    • Thanks, David. In “About My Techniques” I mentioned that sometimes I think the three most important things in photography are position, position, position.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2012 at 3:50 PM

  10. Wonderful shot, the colors are amazing!!


    January 15, 2012 at 2:41 PM

  11. It’s so amazing how the yellow leaf makes the fruits stand out!

    Pablo Buitrago

    January 28, 2012 at 11:50 AM

  12. Thanks to your blog I have now discovered that we have own version of supplejack here http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/supplejack This ridiculously long link http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=pnnHgcasN-cC&pg=PA380&lpg=PA380&dq=rattan+vine+texas&source=bl&ots=Vn5PiMGfSw&sig=SXWiNgMdEXCXPbZfGe9_Q2BoMPg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Z5AKU6K3F8WrkAWOsYGIDg&ved=0CFcQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=rattan%20vine%20texas&f=false gives an explanation of how the rattan vine of Texas can be used for weaving. The berries are very attractive; such a pity they are not edible.


    February 23, 2014 at 6:26 PM

    • It’s good to hear that you have a supplejack of your own in New Zealand, but bad that non-native animals have greatly preyed on it.

      I own a copy of the book about Texas plants that you linked to, but I hadn’t ever noticed that our native rattan can be used for weaving. Seems like it would take plenty of boiling to make it supple.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 24, 2014 at 7:32 AM

      • Yes, I liked the heading ‘coil and boil’. That book looks like a great resource.


        February 24, 2014 at 6:01 PM

  13. […] go ahead and fry it, but I think the rattan vine, being woody, is too tough for me to […]

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