Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Possumhaw revisited

with 19 comments

Possumhaw; click for greater detail.

As you first saw in these pages about two months ago, one of the colorful joys of winter in central Texas is the fruit of the possumhaw, Ilex decidua. Now that the end of February has arrived, some of the possumhaws are beginning to leaf out again, and that’s what you see in this picture that I took on today’s date in 2011. Once the leaves come out, the bright red fruit will fall off and not be replaced till late in the fall or early winter (assuming that birds haven’t already eaten it all, which I’ve seen happen).

Another thing you’ll notice toward the lower right in this photograph is Tillandsia recurvata, or ball moss. It’s an epiphyte, a type of plant that lives on another for support but that isn’t parasitic on its host; the ball moss gets what moisture and nutrients it needs from the rain and the air.

For more information about Ilex decidua, and to see a state-clickable map of the places in the southeastern United States where this tree grows, you can visit the USDA website. Likewise for Tillandsia recurvata. For those of you interested in photography as a craft, points 3, 5 and especially 8 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s picture: flash fill revealed the textures on the undersides of the branches and the ball moss, which otherwise would have been lost in shadows.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 25, 2012 at 5:32 AM

19 Responses

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  1. Hi Steve. Ilex is beautiful no matter the species. Those berries are spectacular. I like the contrast of the moss ball. Nice post. Jane

    jane tims

    February 25, 2012 at 5:55 AM

    • Thanks, Jane. Your comment prompted me to check the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and I found that it lists 13 species of Ilex. The only ones I’m familiar with are the two that we have in central Texas: possumhaw and yaupon.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 25, 2012 at 6:17 AM

  2. Parecen como puentes de hidrógeno.
    Que buena Steve!!

    Pablo Buitrago

    February 25, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    • You’ve got a good imagination there: I would never have seen the tiny red fruits as atoms that are undergoing attractions and bonding, but now that you’ve mentioned hydrogen bridges I can see them. And of course the branches formed bridges above me as I looked upward at the possumhaw.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 25, 2012 at 2:48 PM

  3. How are you keeping the red from overloading the sensor? It seems that every time I shoot red, it blooms and just runs together.



    February 25, 2012 at 11:34 PM

    • Good question, Nancy. I take all my photographs in what’s called RAW mode, where the camera sensor records data but the computer within the camera doesn’t process the data and doesn’t turn it into a jpeg file. When I’m ready to process a picture, I open its RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), which presents me with a histogram showing the distribution of the colors in that image. ACR shows me whether any color is “blown out,” which is to say oversaturated. As you pointed out, an image like today’s is likely to show that the reds are too saturated. In that case I use one or more of the adjustment sliders in ACR, especially the one called Recovery, to reduce the saturation. Sometimes a small adjustment will do the trick, and other times I struggle to bring the saturation down. Once in a while a RAW file is so overexposed that nothing can save it, but that doesn’t happen often, because if I suspect a scene is going to cause trouble I set the camera to underexpose somewhat.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2012 at 6:57 AM

      • Thanks for the detailed reply! This would be a good one to practice out on the deck with some purchased flowers and see if I can make it work now. I don’t use raw due to the volume of pictures I take, but I’m certainly capable of doing it. Thank you so much.



        March 3, 2012 at 6:54 AM

      • I’m with you when it comes to volumes of pictures. I just ordered another external hard drive 50% larger than my previous largest one.

        Steve Schwartzman

        March 3, 2012 at 8:01 AM

  4. Ya just can’t beat red against the blue!! Great image.


    February 26, 2012 at 10:25 AM

  5. Is that an adaptation of the old coral snake verse I see? I’m laughing at that – “red and yellow, kill a fellow” was the first bit of verse I learned when I came to Texas.

    I just copied your explanation of RAW shooting to put in my little “things I need to know about photography” file. Some day I may get a little more serious, and since my Elements 6 now supports RAW with a plugin – well, a little messing about never hurt anyone. And I’ve never found such a good, clear description.

    And the possumhaw is beautiful, too.


    February 26, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    • Yes, when I added the third and fourth lines I thought about the coral snake verse; it may take someone from Texas to recognize that. As for RAW, I suspect that there must be many step-by-step online tutorials for Elements that could walk you through the process.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 26, 2012 at 5:59 PM

  6. This is an amazing contrast of color! Ilex decidua is on my list of lovelies for my garden. ~ Lynda


    February 28, 2012 at 2:22 PM

    • Yes, the vivid colors drew me to this. I hope you get to plant one of these trees in your garden.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 28, 2012 at 2:25 PM

  7. […] You know, the stuff you see hanging in long strands from the trees in movies about the Old South. It doesn’t grow in Spain and it’s not a moss: so much for truth in advertising. Known by botanists as Tillandsia usneoides, it’s an epiphyte, a plant that finds physical support on a tree or other plant or even an inert structure but isn’t a parasite. This is a section of a Spanish moss in a colony of them that I encountered in the preserve behind the Austin Nature Center on February 22. (A smaller relative, ball moss, Tillandsia recurvata, made a cameo appearance in the recent picture of a possumhaw beginning to leaf out.) […]

  8. […] time was that, like all the other possumhaws I’d been seeing around town, and even more than the one I showed on February 25, this one was already well on its way to full […]

  9. Wow…what a gorgeous photo ! I would love to have that in February !

    Inspired and pretty

    May 29, 2012 at 9:49 PM

    • Possumhaw is one of the delights of winter here. The bright red fruits really stand out and brighten things up. By the time the fruits fall off, flowers are already coming out, so there’s no gap in color.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2012 at 9:52 PM

  10. […] in these pages was in a barely visible bit part, overshadowed figuratively and literally by lots of bright red possumhaw fruits. Ball moss grows in Mexico and in parts of the southern United States, as you can confirm on the […]

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