Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

One last day with the Texas thistle

with 26 comments

The last few posts have brought you pictures of the Texas thistle, Cirsium texanum, which is among my favorite native wildflowers (I know, I seem to say that about most of them). I’ll let today be the last day—for the time being—that we with this species before moving on to others, of which there are so many.

This photograph brings back not only the caterpillarness of It isn’t easy being green but also the date and place of that picture: the cloudy morning of April 26 at Tejas Camp in Williamson County. What the dark areas on this tan caterpillar are, I don’t know, but they look ominous and probably don’t bode well for the bus they’re riding on. I’ve seen the darkened remains of many caterpillars this season, presumably the work of predators that lay their eggs on or inside the hapless larvae.

There’s only a vague resemblance in this picture, but my perfervid imagination keeps conjuring up an image of the Seattle Space Needle, which as far as I know has never been climbed by a caterpillar the size of King Kong.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 10, 2012 at 5:34 AM

26 Responses

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  1. Wow, that is so cool!! At first glance I thought it was just a really strange stalk on the thistle because he’s stretched so straight. Nice shot! 🙂


    May 10, 2012 at 5:49 AM

  2. Had to scroll up and down to understand. Weird, and nice.


    May 10, 2012 at 6:50 AM

    • Your reaction was similar to Cindy’s: you both used the word nice, and where she said strange you said weird.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2012 at 7:28 AM

  3. I find it odd that I can look at the victim er, specimen in your photo and feel sorry for it, yet know full well that in the summer I will be wishing a similar fate upon the hornworms and cabbage loopers who will move in on my vegetable garden. ~ Lynda


    May 10, 2012 at 7:14 AM

  4. I can’t help remembering this snippet from Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”:

    I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them…”


    May 10, 2012 at 7:27 AM

  5. Can’t help but notice the non-standard crop size on this one. To what extent do you typically crop the originals in some of these (I’m thinking of the great close-ups in this series on the Texas Thistle in particular) highly detailed close up shots?


    May 10, 2012 at 7:41 AM

    • A good question. I find myself cropping fairy often. Usually it’s minimal, to remove something unwanted at the edge of the frame or to make the subject stand out a little more. Occasionally I do some very elongated cropping. In this photograph it was to accentuate the verticality of the thistle stalk and the caterpillar (the rest of the frame showed just gray sky). I also do oblong crops horizontally in order to create a panorama, as in the recent view of prairie bishop’s weed and other wildflowers. In a case like that the cropping also serves another purpose: it lets me remove out-of-focus swaths in the foreground and background. My camera takes pictures 18 megapixels in size, so I can afford to throw some away and still have plenty of detail in what remains.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2012 at 8:44 AM

  6. I ran across the black caterpillar corpses whilst weeding the beggars lice from my yard. They are somewhat disturbing. I love the space needle effect and feel a bit sorry for the caterpillar. I will miss the butterfly.


    May 10, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    • Ah, so you’ve been seeing them too. They are a bit disturbing, aren’t they? That hasn’t stopped me from photographing some of them, but I’m not sure I’ll show any here. I’m also not sure what kind of caterpillar this is, whether of a butterfly or a moth; either way, there’ll probably be one less of them. I’m glad you could see the space needle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2012 at 8:58 AM

  7. Whoa! I thought that was the stem, I had to look closer to realize it’s a caterpillar!


    May 10, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    • You had the same reaction as Cindy in the first comment. It’s a good illusion, don’t you think? After posting the picture it occurred to me I could have cropped it to remove the lowest portion of the stem and make the illusion even stronger.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2012 at 11:00 AM

  8. This is really quite a spectacular shot. At first I thought the caterpillar was a bumpy part of the thistle.. he is so straight out.. very cool!

    Just A Smidgen

    May 10, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    • It seems that the caterpillar and thistle together created a better illusion than I realized. What fun.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2012 at 1:06 PM

  9. Oh cool. I had to really look to realize the caterpilar was there. The thistle looks very primitive! Cool photo.


    May 10, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    • I’m glad, after the fact, that so many of you are seeing the illusion of a thick thistle stalk.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2012 at 9:02 PM

  10. I too didn’t realize there was a caterpillar on the stem. Neat capture!! I wonder if the thistle is the horticultural version of a mediaeval weapon…


    May 11, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    • I guess you could see the Texas thistle as a botanical mace (the mace that’s a club, not the one that’s a seasoning).

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 11, 2012 at 2:39 PM

  11. The photo has an abstract quality. I didn’t think of a flower and an animal until I read the explanation. It seems more like a sculpture, maybe made of wood and something with glass in the background. Very elegant.


    May 13, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    • Thanks for finding this elegant and abstract. I’m certainly a fan of both qualities—when I can make them happen.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 13, 2012 at 5:54 PM

  12. Excellent composition!


    May 14, 2012 at 10:47 AM

  13. I have been sneaking peeks at the wildflower posts since my return, and now finally have a chance for a good long “scrute.” This is such a brilliant shot–and I also note, in your commentary, use of the word “perfervid,” which puts me in mind of shoreacre’s post about language. Perfervid is definitely a beauty for the list of underused words that mark a state of mind/being with precision!

    Susan Scheid

    May 16, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    • Welcome back to America and to these vicarious views of Texas. And happy scruting, to use your good coinage. Some might say my brain is more fermented than fervid, or more perverted than perfervid, but I’ll still stake a claim to perfervid—fervently.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 16, 2012 at 10:44 AM

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