Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

In memoriam: huisache

with 29 comments

I used to live on the east side of Austin, slightly north of what was then Mueller Airport. Behind a convenience store across the street from the airport’s northern boundary was an undeveloped lot, and it was there that the colors of a flowering huisache first caught my attention. It was a venerable tree, one of those with several large trunks that leaned so far outward from the center that they became horizontal and then in several places arced downward somewhat.

In December of 2000, when Austin had one of its rare ice storms, the weight of the accumulated ice bent the huisache’s branches much farther down, even onto the ground:

Click for greater size and detail.

The picture makes it look as if the storm destroyed the tree, but it rebounded after the ice melted, and by the time spring came the huisache looked (and smelled) like its normal self, all covered with yellow-orange puffballs.

Now come forward from December 13, 2000, to March 23, 2012: inspired by all the other huisaches I’d noticed flowering around Austin this spring—two of which you’ve seen here recently—I drove over to my old neighborhood. First I photographed some huisaches that I was aware of that had soon grown up on the old airport property when it was left to itself after the new airport opened; yes, these are fast-growing trees. Then I pushed on to the convenience store, where I was suddenly saddened to see that the property behind it is now a construction site, and a building is springing up where my huisache had sprung up years earlier. An ice storm didn’t kill the tree, but development did.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2012 at 5:45 AM

29 Responses

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  1. What a shock that must have been, and so sad. No matter the tree’s resilience to nature, nothing stands in the way of progress. I have no doubt that they saw it as a weed.
    ~ Lynda


    March 25, 2012 at 6:35 AM

    • It was a shock, Lynda. I used to think of that tree as “my” huisache, because it was just down the street from where I lived. It’s a sadness I’ve experienced many times, whenever I find that yet another site on which I once took beautiful pictures has been built upon.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 8:19 AM

  2. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot – Joni Mitchell Ahhh progress –

    • An excellent matching of the song line to the situation. The title of one of Joni Mitchell’s albums could describe my mood, too: Blue.

      Here’s what Joni Mitchell is quoted as saying in an article by Robert Hillburn: “I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart … this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 8:27 AM

  3. An all too common ending. I call them my “once upon a time” stories. Way too many…

    Agnes Plutino

    March 25, 2012 at 7:28 AM

    • You’ve been involved in native plants longer than I have, Agnes, so you must have more “once upon a time” stories than I do. We’ll have to get together and commiserate.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 8:29 AM

  4. Development has killed a lot of things in nature………………Homo sapiens is the most invasive species the earth has…………its worst subspecies is Homo insapiens Limbaughensis, I think.

    John Mac Carpenter

    March 25, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    • Perhaps nature will take its revenge if the creek floods the property after an especially heavy rainfall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 8:31 AM

  5. Hi Steve .. as Agnes says an all too common ending – it’s not just the tree – it’s all the reliant habitats and species …. if only humans realised. Tarmac and plastic … both oil – need I say more. Flora and Fauna are amazing at how they can adapt and rejuvenate .. but to a JCB digger – nothing … it’s pure annihilation.

    Have a better Sunday .. Cheers Hilary


    March 25, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    • Yes, an all too familiar ending, as Agnes and you and I and doubtless many other readers have witnessed so many times. But as you also said, plants and animals can adapt, at least if they’re not killed outright.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 8:38 AM

  6. It’s sad and unfortunate the fate of the Huisache! I am very fond of trees myself!


    March 25, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    • You must see more birds in trees than anywhere else by far. You’d rarely have one without the other.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 8:40 AM

  7. Unfortunately, that’s usually the story.


    March 25, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    • It usually is, but once in a while a tract of land has gotten saved from development. A couple of years ago some properties adjacent to Great Hills Park were sold for back taxes. When word got out, neighbors organized a campaign and raised enough money to buy the land back and donate it to the city so it could be added to the park. It’s the only success of that type I’ve ever been personally involved with, but I’ve heard of others. Unfortunately they’re all too rare.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 9:43 AM

      • Steve, one of my customers as a graphic designer (which is what I do for a living) is a land conservation organization which specializes in assisting local individuals and organizations conserve pieces of property that are “important” for stormwater/landslide mitigation, ecological/biological protection and just local character. It’s amazing what can happen when people take it into their own hands with help from knowledgeable organizations.


        March 25, 2012 at 9:55 AM

      • Thanks for bringing that up; I should have mentioned land conservation organizations, of which there are some in Texas too, of course. It’s good that you have first-hand experience with one.

        Steve Schwartzman

        March 25, 2012 at 11:11 AM

  8. Glad you survived the shaggy monster to report the tale!

    Spider Joe

    March 25, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    • Interesting how you saw this as a shaggy monster. Perhaps your affection for spiders conditioned you to see it that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 9:47 AM

  9. Beautifully put — and it breaks my heart to no end. I live in an area where conservation efforts are consistently slaughtered in the face of seemingly dubious development run amok…in an area home to flora and fauna unique to the entire planet (the Everglades), nonetheless. But even when one tree goes down in a suburban yard for no reason…. WHY?! “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” -John Muir


    March 25, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    • Since I started photographing native plants in 1999, I don’t think a year has gone by that I haven’t seen the destruction of a natural place where I’ve wandered and taken pictures. Thanks for the quotation from John Muir, which is an apt one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2012 at 11:16 AM

  10. It’s very sad and happens all too often here, too.


    March 25, 2012 at 11:20 PM

    • Unfortunately that seems to be the case everywhere, especially in rapidly growing cities like Austin and Phoenix.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 26, 2012 at 4:54 AM

  11. An appropriate photograph showing the toll Mother Nature can have upon herself. But it is also symbolic of our “war” against her. Thanks, Sally


    March 26, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    • I’ve often thought about how capricious nature is: lightning, ice and drought kill some trees but not others. This one survived nature but not people.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 26, 2012 at 4:37 PM

  12. A beautiful photograph and terrific story about surviving the ice storm. Sorry to hear it had such a sad ending. Perhaps it’s a bit of an allegory to larger problems facing all of us.

    Brian Comeau

    March 27, 2012 at 9:01 AM

  13. Such a beautiful image and sad story about nature’s survival and human disregard.


    March 27, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    • As I was driving west of Austin today I passed another site where I took pictures of native plants a few years ago; that site, too, was under construction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2012 at 3:51 PM

  14. […] Yesterday’s post told you about a venerable huisache tree, Acacia farnesiana, that I used to enjoy visiting and photographing, but that I found out on March 23 had recently been destroyed to make way for a new building. That tree was growing close to a creek in northeast Austin called Tannehill Branch, which continues under the adjacent street and forms the northern boundary of Bartholomew Park. The creek also nurtures half a dozen well-established huisaches growing along it. Those trees offered—and being in a park will continue to offer—some consolation for the destroyed huisache; I spent the better part of an hour taking of photographs of them, including this one in which the nearest branches lean forward and in so doing create a ring of flowers surrounding the center of the tree: […]

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