Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Keeping to the straight and narrow

with 7 comments

Click for greater sharpness.

In most cases the pads of the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmannii, are roughly oval or elliptical, but it seems that in 1906 botanists were made aware of a variety of the species near San Antonio whose pads are long and relatively narrow. This being Texas, the shape of the pads reminded people of a cow’s tongue, which is why the variety is now classified as Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis, where that last word means ‘having the form of a tongue.’

Because of its unusual shape, this variety has since been grown in other parts of Texas and even other states. It also has sometimes sarcastically been given another name, “lawyers tongue,” to which you may or may not add your assent, but to which I’d certainly add an apostrophe.

It was on August 24, 2011, when I was out looking for early occurrences of snow-on-the-prairie near the Austin-Pflugerville boundary line, that I found the specimen shown here, with its one dark red tuna peeking out at the upper right. In order to get this view I had to make my way gingerly through a stand of poison ivy, then crouch down carefully and aim upward to frame the cactus against that morning’s clear blue sky. That’s typical of the risks we run and the contortions we go through for our art—just another day in the life of a nature photographer—but you don’t see any of the hazards in the resulting image.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 16, 2012 at 1:29 PM

7 Responses

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  1. Aside from the magnificent photograph (such a commonplace over here!), I had a good laugh at this:

    “lawyers tongue” [to which you may or may not add your assent, but to which I’d certainly add an apostrophe].

    Susan Scheid

    February 16, 2012 at 10:29 PM

    • I thought I’d replied to your comment, Susan, but somehow it seems that I didn’t. So from three months into the future, I’ll say that I’m glad to have given you a good laugh. My father started out as a lawyer, but he never had a high opinion of most of the people in the field, including most judges. And I’ll add that my father did know how to use an apostrophe.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 6, 2012 at 5:49 PM

      • Your father was a wise man, indeed! I was up at Buttercup Farm here, last look before I fly off to Wales. Had reason to think of you quite often as I attempted to photograph true wild flowers. I didn’t succeed, and, more to the point, I suspect a lot of what grows wild here is actually something that was introduced!

        Susan Scheid

        May 6, 2012 at 6:24 PM

      • Ah, so you haven’t quite flown off to Wales yet. That means I can still say Bon Voyage.

        You’re right that a lot of species have been spread around to places far from where they started out. When I grew up on Long Island, everybody had dandelions and clover in their lawns. Only decades later, here in Texas, did I learn that both of those are of Eurasian origin. On the other hand, the majority of species are still native.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 6, 2012 at 9:40 PM

  2. Your caption says to “Click for greater sharpness.” No thanks. It’s sharp enough!
    ~ Lynda


    February 17, 2012 at 5:54 AM

  3. […] the foreground, notice the so-called cow’s tongue prickly pear, a variety that was found a little over a century ago near San Antonio and has been cultivated in […]

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