Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 19 comments

Click for greater sharpness.

When Costco came to Austin about a decade ago, the designers of the project spared some of the trees on the property, which now stand on what have become several raised islands of earth floating, during business hours, in a sea of cars in the large parking lot. It was on one of those islands last October that I found and photographed a rain-lily flower that was opening after some much welcome rain. On February 1 of this year, after I spent time on the west side of Mopac taking the pictures you’ve been seeing on and off for the past ten days, I stopped at the Costco, which wasn’t in my neighborhood when it was built but is now (we moved). There I was happy to see, scattered about on one of the raised islands in the parking lot, a couple of dozen little wildflowers known as silverpuff, for the dandelion-like puffball that typically develops when the seed head matures.

Chaptalia texana, as botanists know this small plant, is one of those species in the sunflower family whose flower heads, each about an inch long in this case, typically remain constricted and don’t open up into something looking like a daisy.* In addition, this is one of those local members of the sunflower family, like the four-nerve daisy, that’s covered with down, as you see here. You’re also seeing the typical nodding posture of one of these flower heads, which can droop a lot farther and end up pointing straight down (why can’t we say “end down pointing down”?).

Like some of the other species I’ve reported on recently, this is another one that was flowering at least a month before the normal beginning of its bloom period. Austin is at the northeastern edge of silverpuff’s range, as you can confirm at the USDA website. And if you’re interested in the craft of photography, you can confirm that points 1, 2, 4, 6, and 14 in About My Techniques apply to today’s image.


* Bob Harms has conjectured that there are actually two species of Chaptalia involved here, one whose flower heads open a fair amount and another whose flower heads stay mostly closed.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 11, 2012 at 5:47 AM

19 Responses

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  1. Great shot!


    February 11, 2012 at 7:35 AM

    • The fact that this was on one of the raised islands meant that for once I didn’t have to crouch or lie on the ground, but I did have to lean against the not-so-comfortable stone wall that surrounded it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 11, 2012 at 8:07 AM

  2. Looks like a beautiful but very shy flower, unwilling to fully open up!

    Hindupur Avinash

    February 11, 2012 at 8:40 AM

  3. You’ve opened my eyes to looking for little plants in unusual places. Walking into work yesterday I noticed a small plant pushing up between two bricks at the edge of the walkway. I stopped to take a second look and just appreciate the effort that must have taken. Thanks.


    February 11, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    • You’re welcome, Dawn. Little out-of-the-way places may be out of the way to us, but every sort of terrain and location has its willing colonizer(s). Good for you for noticing your small plant yesterday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 11, 2012 at 8:58 AM

  4. Beautiful detail as usual. I like finding interesting plants in unlikely places, as you did here. And as far as I know, we don’t have anything like that up here (according to “Global Compositae Checklist” this genus’ northernmost range is the southern US), and offhand, I’m hard-pressed to think of any flowers with a similar constricted head. Always fun to see something new.


    February 11, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    • As you show in your blog, the delight is in the details (I prefer my alliteration to the common one involving the devil), and often in finding those details in unexpected places

      Another Compositae genus here that has constricted flower heads is Brickellia, which I haven’t yet shown any pictures of; perhaps you have a species of it up north. Or if you get to the point where you can’t stand winter any more, you can always visit Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 11, 2012 at 10:33 AM

  5. I love plants with *furish cover on them. If they have scent they are doubly wonderful to caress. When you photograph your finds and then tell us where you found them it is strange to imagine such delicate and lovely little flowers growing in “islands in a parking lot,” along embankments, or in cracks of other man-made places. Often I think I would like to see the bigger picture and know more about the surroundings of your finds. Then my sensibilities kick in and I realize that knowing would spoil the beauty of it all.
    Thanks for not spoiling it! ~ Lynda
    (*I made it up ~ it seemed to fit)


    February 11, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    • I find there’s a certain magic that comes from presenting these plants in the way I so often do, almost “disembodied.” I’ve thought many times about showing an overview to give context to a closeup, but I’ve never followed through because the larger view in most of these cases would have been mundane, and often downright unappealing (like a warehouse parking lot, in the case of today’s silverpuff). In fact some of the approaches I discuss in “About My Techniques” are designed to make the background and human traces that I see at the scene disappear from the resulting photograph, which to my mind is better off for shedding all that ambient clutter. I’ll grant that it’s a selective viewpoint, and not a “realistic” one, but I like transforming the ordinary into something special. One exception is panoramas of wildflowers, which we may even get some of this spring; there I pick a good vantage point and photograph the whole scene.

      Hey, “furish” seems okay to me, and I don’t hear any objections from this silverpuff, either. (As far as I’m aware this species doesn’t have a noticeable scent.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 11, 2012 at 12:01 PM

  6. I love the drama in your photographs Steve and this is no exception!


    February 11, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    • Just call me the playwright of macro photography, David. I was able to get this silverpuff when it had sunlight on it but the the ground beyond was in the shadows of the trees.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 11, 2012 at 3:00 PM

  7. It’s a pretty little thing! Amazing, isn’t it that it found a place to grow in the middle of all the development!


    February 12, 2012 at 12:07 AM

    • A pretty little thing it is. Your comment reminds me of the song by Dolly Parton: “Wildflowers Don’t Care Where They Grow.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2012 at 7:19 AM

  8. […] gas at my neighborhood Costco, the place that has already brought you pictures of a rain-lily and silverpuff. Because of that history of small native species on the raised earth islands in the store’s […]

  9. […] characteristic of both of these Tetraneuris species (and we recently saw a similar fuzz on silverpuff, their not-so-close sunflower family relative). For more information, and to see a state-clickable […]

  10. […] you remember the silverpuff, Chaptalia texana, that I found in the parking lot of my neighborhood Costco on February 1? Today’s picture, from March 5 on the property of native plant aficionados Pat […]

  11. […] A picture that came to you five weeks ago from the parking lot of my neighborhood Costco showed Chaptalia texana, called silverpuff. This diminutive wildflower seems to have two local varieties (or possibly species), one whose flower heads stay mostly closed, as you saw back then, and another whose rays emerge and can even fold back. This latest picture is obviously a close encounter of the second kind, courtesy of the wildflowers growing on the property of native plant lovers Dale and Pat Bulla in northwest Austin. […]

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