Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 9 comments

Chamaesyce; click for greater detail.

I’m on record as having written that “One man’s weed is another man’s wildflower—and I’m that other man.” That said, I’ll grant that some species strike even me as weedier-looking than others. More of us than not probably use the term weed to describe a plant that springs up in the cracks in sidewalks or the edges of roads, or alongside (and even inside) dilapidated buildings, or on pieces of land that have been abandoned or disturbed. But of course the fact that a plant springs up in such places is a sign of how resourceful and adaptive that species is.

The genus Chamaesyce, in the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family, includes species that people incline to think of as weeds. I came across multiple occurrences of one member of this genus when I visited the Mueller Prairie Restoration on the east side of Austin on November 16, 2011. Although I figured I was right about the genus of the plants, which grew 2–3 feet tall, the species eluded me, so I sent some photographs to Joe Marcus at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, who quickly answered: “It appears to be Chamaesyce hypericifolia, a tropical weed that is native from far south Texas to Brazil but now spread throughout much of Texas. It and C. nutans are very similar and I’m not sure I can say for certain which it is.” As the thorough Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas points out: “Because pubescence, stipule, fruit, and seed characters are critical in determining species of Chamaesyce, a hand lens is essential.”

Although my macro lens could have served that purpose, determining exactly which species of Chamaesyce I was looking at wasn’t and isn’t critical for this column, where pictures are the primary thing. So look at today’s picture: weedy or not, isn’t there something charming about the chaos of all these stalks in such close company? This strikes me as a magenta or fuchsia counterpart to the chartreuse Mexican devilweed stalks you saw a closer view of recently, even if the Chamaesyce isn’t as “strictly erect” a plant as the Chloracantha.

Tune in next time for such a different view of this Chamaesyce that you’d hardly guess it’s the same plant.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 25, 2012 at 5:08 AM

9 Responses

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  1. Well… I think I would have a hard time living with this one. However, it does have nicely colored stems.
    ~ Lynda
    PS: Looking forward to the next view on this one, because you always have a way of surprising us. 😉


    January 25, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    • Yes, the color is what appealed to me too. As you noted, you’ll have a better chance to appreciate that in the next post, and also in the one after. (In the text above, I added your word fuchsia from a comment you made two posts back.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 25, 2012 at 9:12 AM

  2. I’ve always thought of a ‘weed’ as a plant not wanted. So a delphinium springing up in the middle of a rose garden could be considered a ‘weed’, regardless of its beauty. A rose growing in your Chamaesyce bed may not be very welcome, either. (smile)


    January 25, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    • A good analysis, Lance. And who knows how welcome I was to the Chamaesyce when I intruded into its world to take my pictures?

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 25, 2012 at 9:14 AM

  3. “One man’s weed is another man’s wildflower”, awesome quote!
    Nicely done Steven, this “mess” if I could call it like this is very beautiful and eye-catchy.

    Pablo Buitrago

    January 25, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    • Glad you like the quote, Pablo; I think it was about four years ago when I first wrote it down, though it was probably in my head before then. I’m also pleased that you like the “mess” that this plant creates. I don’t think you’ll find tomorrow’s view messy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 25, 2012 at 3:13 PM

  4. […] post showed a view from several feet away of Chamaesyce hypericifolia or Chamaesyce nutans, in either case a plant that many people are […]

  5. When I was young and had long hair, this is exactly what it felt like in the morning. Except not in such cool colors.

    Am I remembering correctly that the Euphorbs are one of the most numerous and wildly diverse families in the entire plant spectrum? The next photo *does* look more like what I associate with Euphorbias from my limited experience of them.


    January 26, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    • As far—long?—as your hair goes—grows—that’s nothing that a scissorless year and some reddish dye couldn’t restore and render more colorful than ever before.

      And yes, you’re right: the Euphorbia family is enormous. I’ve read that in some parts of the world its members are thorny and fill the same sort of botanical niche that cacti do in the American West.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2012 at 5:19 AM

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