Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Gaura galore-a

with 63 comments

Driving yesterday morning on Mopac, one of the two north-south expressways in Austin, I though I might have glimpsed a native wildflower called gaura on the slope to my right, but at car speed, and with invasive wild mustard beginning to come up in many places, I couldn’t tell for sure what I’d seen. A little while later I came back to the area and parked on a side street so I could walk over to the embankment. Sure enough, I did soon find one and then another flowering gaura plant, Gaura coccinea, and the more I walked, the more of them I found: all in all there must have been dozens along a stretch of a few blocks. So, like the Engelmann daisy and the coreopsis of the last few posts, here’s another springtime species that is blooming at least a month before its typical time. And unlike those, this one doesn’t look at all the worse for wear in its early flowering.

Gaura flowers have a very pleasant fragrance and a curiously complex structure, only the latter of which I can bring you here. As the four white petals age, they turn rosy, something you can also see in this photograph. What you can’t see is the EMS vehicle that pulled over on the access road near me when I was lying on the ground taking my pictures; someone in the heavy traffic passing by had called 911 to report what apparently looked like a man who had collapsed on the embankment. Whoever you were, you meant well, but shouldn’t you maybe have pulled over to investigate first? The EMS driver seemed amused when I told him I was photographing wildflowers. Yes, the things we endure for our art.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 2, 2012 at 5:09 AM

63 Responses

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  1. What an interesting flower.


    February 2, 2012 at 5:19 AM

  2. Just love this! The color and detail are gorgeous!


    February 2, 2012 at 7:06 AM

  3. Great story! Your efforts certainly paid off: what a stunning wildflower, with so many features to capture the eye. I’ve often had passers-by inquire about my well-being when they see me sprawled out on the ground (they often can’t see or don’t notice my camera in hand). Recently, I had an entire group of curious young teenagers come stretch out on the sidewalk and take a look right along with me. They gazed into ice formations in a puddle as if for the very first time. FUN!

    Lemony (Gr)Egghead

    February 2, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    • Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one. I think your story outdoes mine: if there’s a next time for me, I’ll invite the EMS driver to follow the example of those teenagers and come lie on the ground with me to have a good look at the wildflowers. I may yet turn more people into gaura-lovers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 8:06 AM

  4. I thought I would be reading this was from your archives! Last week when I was photographing the Barberry berries I had Maddie on leash and when a bus went by she bolted pulling me down the embankment onto the road. The bus driver stopped so embarrassing! Fabulous photo!

    Bonnie Michelle

    February 2, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    • I can’t blame you for assuming it was from a later season in a bygone year: the picture is a gift from our way-advanced spring (the forecast for this afternoon is high 70s). So you’ve had your aid-offering encounters too; maybe we should start a club.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 8:47 AM

  5. Well, that’s a first!!! Or is it? Maybe you need a flag that reads in bold letters “Photographer at work”…or a safety vest so they’ll think you are a Txdot worker or a trash picker-upper or something.

    Agnes Plutino

    February 2, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    • Unfortunately that wasn’t a first. One of the times this past October when I went to photograph the great rain-lily colony near Camp Mabry [for those of you outside Austin, that’s a National Guard installation], several police cars showed up; somebody had called to report a spy was taking illicit pictures of the military base. And when I was photographing by the side of a road near an apartment complex in my neighborhood a couple of years ago a woman called the police because she thought a voyeur was prowling around. I had an idea similar to yours: carry a sign saying “I’m OK” that I could prop up near me. But I’m already burdened with enough stuff when I go out, so I’ll just have to wait and see what the next encounter will be about.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 9:03 AM

  6. Really lovely photo, Steven, and very entertaining story about the EMS (as well as your recent comment on the police cars and being reported as a voyeur)! I’m surprised I haven’t had anyone call EMS, police, etc., as often as I’ve been sprawled out on the ground in a garden, park, etc. Things are already blooming in your neck of the woods, huh?


    February 2, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    • Thanks, Cindy. You’re fortunate that you haven’t had one of these close encounters of the emergency vehicle kind. Too bad your visit to Texas couldn’t have been a month later, because lots of things are beginning to happen; I’ll show some more of them in the next posts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 10:03 AM

  7. Just a beautiful photograph. They look like butterflies to me. I hadn’t any clue that they had a fragrance. (Somehow saying they smell just didn’t sound right ^^


    February 2, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    • Yes, I can see butterflies (and coincidentally I did photograph a butterfly near by). These gauras are small flowers, and that may be why they’re not better known. I suspect that even people who do look at them don’t usually get close enough to sniff them. I made a point of doing that yesterday so I could confirm the pleasant scent. Your comment about choice of words reminded me of the lines by the musical satirist who goes by the name of P.D.Q. Bach: “My bonnie lass she smelleth, Making the flowers jealouth.” I hope those of you out there for whom spring is nowhere close to arriving yet won’t feel jealouth at seeing all these wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 10:15 AM

  8. Very pretty, Steve. Great photo. 🙂


    February 2, 2012 at 10:58 AM

  9. Love the photo and the colors – amazing:)


    February 2, 2012 at 11:21 AM

  10. I have to say that I’m very jealous of the colors of your area!

    Pablo Buitrago

    February 2, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    • We do have excellent wildflowers, but I imagine that in Colombia you must have lots of fabulous native species too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 12:22 PM

  11. Spectacular !!! I haven’t had any EMS or police question me yet, but I am often watched rather intently. I just go about my business and after awhile they move off. Must be the tripod that gives them the hint.


    February 2, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    • Thanks, David. You’ve pointed out a downside to not using a tripod that I’ve never heard anyone mention till now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 1:43 PM

  12. I have at least 7 Gaura in my perennial garden way up here in the Interior of British Columbia. They over-winter very well, enduring temperatures of -25C. Indeed, on the labels they indicate that the Gaura is native to Texas. It is a wonderful plant, and blooms profusely from early summer right through to October. It comes in white, light pink and dark pinks like the example you’ve so beautifully taken here. I of course presume that the varieties I grow have been bred and domesticated to the ‘nth’ degree. But I loved seeing this photo, even though you almost ended up in an ambulance getting it for us!


    February 2, 2012 at 1:47 PM

    • The native species here are adapted to endure the heat, but I had no idea that gaura could stand the kind of cold you’re talking about (and that I certainly couldn’t tolerate). Maybe that resistance is a byproduct of all the breeding you mentioned. In any case, I’m glad you get to see them way up there in Canada.

      I featured a pretty different native species of Gaura back in September, if you’d care to follow that link and take a look.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 2:13 PM

  13. So much intricacy in such a small bloom. Lovely.

    Susan Scheid

    February 2, 2012 at 9:05 PM

    • That intricacy is one of the things that fascinate me about this wildflower. Welcome to the G.S.A., or Gaura Society of America.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2012 at 9:51 PM

  14. Your posts are just saturated with your passion for flowers, Steve. Richness beyond measure! It’ll be late April before the Yukon thaws enough for the first wildflowers to push their way through the snow. But oh boy, when they do, I’m going to be out there trying hard to show them the same appreciation that you show yours. Thank you for giving me something to look forward to!


    February 3, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    • If I can inspire you to portray your Yukon wildflowers appreciatively then I’ll have done my job. I’m sorry, though, that you still have to wait almost three months.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 3, 2012 at 9:45 PM

      • Nothing like a little time to whet one’s appetite…


        February 3, 2012 at 9:49 PM

  15. You take beautiful pictures.

    Connie T

    February 3, 2012 at 10:37 PM

  16. So much beauty just underneath our eyes. Very nice capture. As they say, choose only one master, nature!

    Bogdan D Photography

    February 4, 2012 at 11:13 AM

  17. Sometimes I’m very familiar with the flowers you photograph. Sometimes I wonder why I’ve never seen one. Such was the case with this pretty guara, so I went snooping to see what a whole bushful might look like.

    In the process, I discovered a possible reason the commenter above, from BC, may have so many varieties available. From a very informative post, I gleaned this: “Most…breeding and propagation has been based on G. lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’, introduced by the talented folks at the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery in Medford, Oregon, in 1994. According to the article, it wasn’t until about 1980 that breeders became interested in the flowers, but there are several colors available now.

    Here’s the link to the guara post.


    February 4, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    • You’re not alone in not being familiar with the wildflowers in the genus Gaura. The species shown here is slender and delicate, which is why I couldn’t be sure when I drove by that that’s what I’d glimpsed, and why many people probably overlook it. The Tvetens have this to say in Wildflowers of Houston about G. lindheimeri: “The largest-flowered and showiest of the gauras, white gaura forms extensive colonies in open fields and along fencerows throughout the Houston area.” So it seems that now that you know about gaura, you’ll get to see it.

      Back in September I featured a native gaura that’s on the opposite end of the size scale for individuals: downy gaura can grow as tall as a person. Perhaps you’ve seen it without knowing what it is.

      Thanks for your link to the article. I didn’t know that so many cultivars have been developed. I noticed in the article that G. coccinea, the species shown above, has worked its way onto noxious weed lists in several states—which lets me say again that one person’s weed is someone else’s wildflower.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 4, 2012 at 1:34 PM

  18. This is a stunning photo. I keep returning to it.


    February 5, 2012 at 11:10 AM

  19. Just like fireworks, this flower! I agree with you about the 911 call. People live so much in fear these days. Still, this made me laugh. 🙂


    February 5, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    • We have similar imaginations on this: you spoke of fireworks, and I once compared a gaura flower to an explosion.

      I’m glad the 911 story made you laugh, and also that the driver of the EMS ambulance wasn’t annoyed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2012 at 2:22 PM

  20. Beautiful flower, Steve! Makes me wish summer was here…

    Anne Jutras

    February 5, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    • The high temperature here of 82° (27°C) this past week would qualify as summer by Canadian standards, even if the calendar claims it’s the heart of winter.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 5, 2012 at 3:36 PM

  21. In the midst of my vegetable garden I have planted a trap garden. It contains my herbs and wild roses mostly, but I do add many cut flowers as well. This gaura in its hybridized form is the exception. It grows tall and bushy next to my musk rose… giving for all the world the impression of faeries in flight.
    ~ Lynda
    (Oh, and my bees love it too!)


    February 6, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    • PS: I’m glad you didn’t cause an accident!


      February 6, 2012 at 7:10 AM

      • I hadn’t thought about an accident, but that’s one more thing to think about: I’ll probably have to limit my lying on embankments of busy roads.

        Steve Schwartzman

        February 6, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    • You’re the second person who has mentioned the hybridized form, which I’ve now seen, but only on the Internet. The native species shown here stays slender and doesn’t get more than 2 or 3 feet tall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 6, 2012 at 7:59 AM

  22. They *are* wonderful flowers, and I can’t believe I never checked to discover that they were sweetly-scented. Must rectify that. Meanwhile, I can enjoy this great shot. I know that the butterflies and sweetness and faeries and delicacy are much more graceful descriptors, but when I first took a gander at this photo I saw a diva with either long fake lashes or long fake nails. Or just possibly, a big diva hat with feathers. What can I say, gaura just has a nice flashiness that I find irresistible.


    February 6, 2012 at 8:44 PM

    • You have such a great imagination. I can see the diva now that you’ve alerted me to her, but I wouldn’t have otherwise. In return, I’m glad to have alerted you to the fragrance of this gaura, and glad to hear you’ll experience it when you can.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 6, 2012 at 10:28 PM

  23. […] dozens of flowering gaura plants, of which you saw one on February 2: mowed […]

  24. Stunning! My first thought was long painted fingernails.

    Sheila T Illustrated

    February 8, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    • Your vision matches Kathryn Ingrid’s a few comments earlier. You two saw something that I never did.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 8, 2012 at 10:00 PM

      • I saw the fingernails also. Those would be the kind of display that a glammy fingernail shop might have in the window to show off extensions. I can actually visualize a movie that has an alien looking like a Bratz doll, all dressed up for an interplantetary event. The pale skin and long nails, with the other colors could be part of her ensemble. Or the pinkish “skin” and “nails” to the left could comprise another hand.


        April 2, 2012 at 7:08 AM

      • I meant interplanetary, not interplantetary. Accidental wordplay with “plant”, maybe.


        April 2, 2012 at 7:11 AM

      • Make that three visions of fingernails, with yours morphing into an extended fantasy. I wish you could sell your vision to the fashion industry or to Hollywood. If you draw or paint, or if you have a friend who does, you could parlay your vision into an illustration.

        I like the wordplay, conscious or un-, of interplantetary. It reminds me that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a feature called “Ask Mr. Smarty Plants.”

        Steve Schwartzman

        April 2, 2012 at 7:31 AM

  25. […] part of the highway. The pinkish-white flowers are gaura, Gaura coccinea, a species you saw a portrait of from February 1, before mowers cut down all the early wildflowers on Mopac and other Austin […]

  26. […] hear more about next time. As I recall, the color in the background came from some nearby gaura plants that were […]

  27. I only sprawl on the ground in the wilderness areas, so no one will call an emergency vehicle, thanks for the story, love the flower too, MJ


    May 7, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    • That event has made me leery of lying down in a place with lots of people around, but sometimes I find a subject in that sort of place that I’d hate to pass up. I’ve thought of making a cardboard sign I could put near me saying “Photographer at work” or “I’m OK,” but that would be one more thing I’d have to lug around with me. In any case, welcome to the intricate flowers of gaura.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2012 at 3:14 PM

  28. Ha! That is very funny. Perhaps the driver was torn between being late to a meeting and being a good Samaritan. It appears he struck a balance.


    September 3, 2013 at 8:26 AM

    • It’s funny, but I’m sorry to have diverted an EMS crew. Someone might really have needed help. Your hypothesis about the person striking a balance is a good one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2013 at 1:50 PM

  29. I’ve lived in central TX over 10 years and just saw these for the first time a few days ago. Found them growing in a field near my neighborhood. Took me forever to ID them since the ones I saw were maybe 1.5′ high at most, and the Lady Bird Johnson native database has them listed as a perennial (which is a ‘well duh’ on my part, since perennial Gaura are a common nursery offering in drought-prone areas; I just didn’t realize Gaura were native around here) – I have it in my head that all the wildflowers I see around here are annuals.

    There’s a great field that’s out-of-the-way enough that it shouldn’t prompt any calls from passers-by or local residents – it’s on the north end of Wells Port Drive, right before it tees into Grand Avenue Parkway. East side of the road, and just south of a big office building / parking lot. About a third of it has been mowed already, for reasons that escape me – if you’re going to leave some to bloom, why not leave all of them? So the rest of the field might not be there for long, despite being full of Blanketflower and yellow flowers that aren’t brown-eyed Susans (no idea yet).


    May 17, 2016 at 2:22 AM

    • Most of our species of Gaura are rather short and slender, and their flowers are small enough that I think people generally don’t notice them or even think of the plants as weedy. I find the flowers quite interesting—and also hard to photograph because their parts are small and go in different directions.

      Thanks for your tip about that field. It’s just a few blocks from the field on the west side of I-35 that I recently featured, first with a close-up from this year


      and then with a flowerful landscape from two years ago:


      That field is immediately south of Gold Star Cabinets. Unfortunately the land there continues to get built on and isn’t likely to survive many more years.

      As for why mowers would cut down part of a field of blooming wildflowers, well, mowers have only one purpose, and that’s to cut everything to the ground and make it devoid of anything interesting. I’ve said plenty of disparaging things about mowers here over the past five years—and with good reason.

      The yellow flowers you’ve seen might well be greenthread:


      Steve Schwartzman

      May 17, 2016 at 7:19 AM

      • Ah, I know that field! I used to see foxes there before the new buildings went up. :/

        If you go a little further south on Wells Port from the location I mentioned, you’ll see a sign for Mills Pond on the west side of the road (more prolific parking along Rick Winery, one street to the north). If you follow the trail from the east side of the dam further south, it will go over a bridge and open up into a big field full of wildflowers. It’s part of the park system, so will never be developed.

        And yep, the yellow flowers are Greenthread.


        May 17, 2016 at 2:16 PM

        • I just got back from photographing along the Austin-Round Rock border and made a point of stopping by the Wells Port field on my way home. I saw what you said about one-third of it having been mowed. I’m afraid the mowers will be beck to finish the rest, so I took a few pictures of the wildflowers while I was there.

          Thanks for your second tip. I’ll try to check out Mills Pond and the nearby field of wildflowers soon.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 17, 2016 at 6:14 PM

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