Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

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with 27 comments

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And now, after a four-part foray into fields of bright wildflowers, we return to milkweed. When I stopped along E. 51st St. on May 14 to photograph the Liatris mucronata that had unexpectedly flowered there, I also found that a pod of antelope-horns, Asclepias asperula, had matured enough to pop open and begin casting forth its seeds. As you see in this closeup, the seeds are more or less flat but prone to curve and twist somewhat, so that they look a bit like minuscule potato chips. Silky fibers attached to the seeds let the wind easily carry off the little featherweight bundles.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2012 at 5:41 AM

27 Responses

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  1. Oooh this is one of those amazing photos where you just want to reach inside and feel the silky smoothness? I love it!! 🙂


    May 25, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    • Thanks for letting me know that you can feel the texture in this picture. The fluff in real life is as silky smooth as you imagine it. I speak from experience, and I’m thinking maybe you’ve experienced it with milkweed in your area.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2012 at 7:58 AM

  2. One of my most vivid childhood memories is looking for milkweed pods during the fall months. I loved to pick them closed, put them in a vase and wait in anticipation for them to open. Needless to say my mother was not as enamored by the experience! Thank you for the memories!

    Bonnie Michelle

    May 25, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    • Happy memories to you, Bonnie. Now that you’re the mother, have you thought of re-creating your memories by having your daughter in Austin gather a few antelolope-horns milkweed pods while they’re still around and sending them to you?

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2012 at 8:02 AM

  3. Great picture and yes the texture is just amazing!!!


    May 25, 2012 at 11:46 AM

  4. Beautiful – Have a Wonderful Weekend:)


    May 25, 2012 at 11:47 AM

  5. This is a fabulous photo! I love the seedheads just as much as the buds!


    May 25, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    • Milkweeds are native to the Americas, but I imagine there are Europeans who cultivate some of the species, so perhaps you’ll have (or have already had) an opportunity to see a sight like this. As I see it, the pods and silk and seeds aren’t at all predictable from the buds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2012 at 4:08 PM

      • I have never seen this plant anywhere in Europe, although it is apparently found here. Must look out for it!


        May 25, 2012 at 4:45 PM

      • There are many species of Asclepias, so even if you don’t find this one you might find another; as far as I know, all of them produce pods that contain silk attached to seeds.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 25, 2012 at 4:51 PM

  6. Milkweeds always make for a terrific photo! Nicely done.

    Rick Diffley

    May 25, 2012 at 2:53 PM

  7. Superb image – detail, colours, composition ….


    May 25, 2012 at 4:00 PM

    • Thanks, Louis. I was happy to come across this, my first open pod of milkweed this season. I’d been seeing still-closed pods for a few weeks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2012 at 4:09 PM

  8. What a beautiful shot! The purity and slight iridescence makes this look for all the world like nature’s fiber optic network.

    I still can remember the softness of the silk – where it’s thickest in the photo, it reminds me of my cat’s belly.


    May 25, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    • I’ll confess I was happy with this picture. I’d photographed milkweed fluff before, but never quite in this way. Usually I’ve had a horizontal orientation, but this pod was upright, so I knelt and turned the camera sideways. I like your description of this as “nature’s fiber optic network.” I’ve never though about a cat, but I’m reminded of the starbursts that fireworks make.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2012 at 10:04 PM

  9. Je retiens mon souffle de peur que tout s’envole 🙂


    May 26, 2012 at 4:37 AM

    • Val says that she’s holding her breath out of fear that everything might go flying away. Tu as raison, les petites graines emplumées bougent ou s’envolent dans le moindre souffle, le moindre vent. She’s right: these feathered seeds move or fly away with the least bit of breath or breeze.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2012 at 7:48 AM

  10. […] from its point of origin as intended, but not always with the best of landings. Before that you saw an array of seeds and fluff in their last minutes of contact with the pod that nursed them. The chaos of that release is in […]

  11. […] this view it’s not the antelope-horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula, that’s wispy, but the clouds. Seeing that we had a sky like that on the […]

  12. […] feature. Without having to go outside central Texas, I can point to Clematis drummondii and Asclepias asperula as examples from the buttercup family and the milkweed family, respectively, that likewise produce […]

  13. Happy to have been sent here again from your poverty-weed-fluff post. One of the great thrills of my trip to Kansas was finding some milkweed with fluff and seeds still attached. I can verify the truth of your comment to Val – they do fly away with the least encouragement, and giving them a little encouragement can be a great deal of fun!


    November 8, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    • And I’m happy not only that you’re commenting for the second time on this picture, but that you had a chance half a year later on the Great Plains to still see a sight like this. In addition to the milkweed and the “old man’s beard” that I mentioned in the post that brought you back here, I can add silverpuff, whose very name suggests that little bit of encouragement that children of all ages, including ours, are only to happy to give. Just two days ago I found a large group of silverpuffs in that stage, and although I could barely feel the air moving, the fluff was tossed about. Nature certainly knows something about aerodynamics.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2012 at 8:03 AM

  14. […] Yesterday’s post showed a mostly white anemone at the Riata Trace Pond on March 11th. Within a few feet of that flower I found another one that had matured to the point that its sepals had fallen away and its central column was coming apart. The seeds were blowing in the breeze, so I used a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second to stop most of the movement. Although I’ve showed anemones here several times, this is the first view of its seeds to appear in these pages. What I have showed here more than once that’s similar, if you overlook the pod, is the release of milkweed seeds. […]

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