Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The last ray

with 17 comments

Firewheel Flower Head with One Ray 6385A

O. Henry, who lived for almost a decade in Austin*, later wrote a wonderful short story called “The Last Leaf,” which I recommend if you’ve never read it or if you haven’t read it recently.** Today’s picture reminded me of that story because it shows the seed head of a firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, when all the ray flowers but one had fallen off. I took the photograph in Balcones District Park in north Austin on June 27, 2011, and I intended to include it in these pages last year when it was still a fairly recent sight, but the picture joined some others in getting lost in the shuffle of ever newer things that clamored for attention and insisted on getting posted first. Now that this year’s most recent post has shown you a large colony of firewheels becoming less fiery, there’s a good reason to show you the details in a close and isolated view of one firewheel at the stage where it’s no longer shaped like a wheel.***

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


* A writer named Coincidence turned out a true tale in which I’ve followed in the footsteps of O. Henry by having lived not only in Austin, but in New York, North Carolina, and, least likely of all, Honduras.

** In looking online for a copy of “The Last Leaf” that I could link to, I was dismayed—but not surprised—to find that although the story is only a few pages long, there are websites that summarize it for the benefit of students too lazy to read even that much.

*** I’m adding a footnote to point out that this post is the first in which I’ve ever included two footnotes, but by adding a third footnote I’m falsifying that message. Oh, paradox! Still, because three is usually a larger number than two, the gist of what I intended to say comes across even more strongly.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 13, 2012 at 5:38 AM

17 Responses

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  1. A flower comet – fantastic


    May 13, 2012 at 8:38 AM

  2. Nice… looks like the flower was holding on to the last petal just for… 🙂


    May 13, 2012 at 9:08 AM

  3. Here’s a link to another version of that great story, this one without the annoying little red underlines.

    All things work to good, as they say, and I’m quite happy you delayed posting this for a year. An explanation about all that will follow. In the meantime, I still can’t get over the magenta highlights in these flowers – I’ve never noticed them before. Another plus for the macro view.

    I’m a little worried about your statement that “three is usually a larger number than two”. I’m hoping that’s irony, or something. If not, I’m even more math-impaired than I thought.


    May 13, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    • The main reason I linked to that version is that a few of the things O. Henry mentioned are obscure, for example bishop sleeves. At the same time, some of the underlined references are so obvious I wondered why the editor bothered explaining them. Possibly this version was intended for people learning English or for young readers.

      I’m glad I could introduce you to the magenta highlights on the seed heads of this species. Sometimes those highlights form intriguing patterns, which I’ve occasionally photographed. I’ll look forward to hearing why you’re happy with the delayed posting of this picture.

      As for the arithmetical statement I made, it was just a bit of understated sarcasm that I couldn’t resist, so you needn’t worry about a worsening case of math-impairment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 13, 2012 at 10:35 AM

  4. I have been looking forward to this one since you posted the close-up a couple of days ago… I love these seedheads, and your photo is wonderful!


    May 13, 2012 at 1:03 PM

  5. It does look like a comet streaking past!!

    Just A Smidgen

    May 13, 2012 at 4:02 PM

  6. […] closeup of a single flower head. Next you saw two views of the following stage, as the plants were losing their colorful rays and turning into globe-shaped seed heads. Now here’s the next stage, in which the globes have […]

  7. Quetzal!


    May 14, 2012 at 10:45 AM

  8. The story and the picture are gems.

    • I’m glad to hear it. Every day I get to bring you a view from nature, but only occasionally a bit of literature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 AM

  9. […] in this case is Gaillardia pulchella, called firewheel or Indian blanket, at the stage where its seed head is beginning to dry out. Note the unusually sinuous stem leading to the spherical seed head. The orange patches in the […]

  10. […] the Rembrandt of rosinweed, the Miró of Mirabilis, the Titian of Tinantia, the Gauguin of Gaillardia, the Dalí of Datura, and the Monet of Monarda. You, too, can play the game and add other […]

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