Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not everything in nature is useful

with 16 comments

Click for greater clarity.

In the last post I showed the seeds and silky fibers that were being turned loose after the pod of an antelope-horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula, had split open. While photographing the spilled contents of the pod, I noticed that some of the seed-bearing fluff had gotten snagged on nearby plants, where it did neither species any good. You recognize that the other species 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 background came from other firewheels that were still flowering.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2012 at 5:42 AM

16 Responses

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  1. Profligacy, that’s what it is. I could tell you “Annie Dillard says nature is profligate”, but her extended metaphor from “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” is more fun. Your bit of fluff is a railroad engine!

    “Say you are the manager of the Southern Railroad. You figure you need three engines for a stretch of track between Lynchburg and Danville. It’s a mighty steep grade. So at fantastic effort and expense you have your shops make nine thousand engines…

    You send all nine thousand of them out on the runs. Although there are engineers at the throttles, no one is manning the switches. The engines crash, collide, derail, jump, jam, burn. At the end of the massacre you have three engines, which is what the run could support in the first place…

    You go to your board of directors and show them what you’ve done. And what are they going to say? You know what they’re going to say. They’re going to say: It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.”

    She goes on to offer the observation that it’s no better a way to run a universe. Maybe so, but it’s clear your little bit of fluff just jumped the tracks!


    May 26, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    • Thanks for A.D.’s extended profligacy analogy. In this case a locomotive strikes me as especially relevant, given the motivation of the feathered seeds to move in the least little breeze. I could also cast myself as a locomotive jumping the tracks of defined pathways to push through the underbrush in search of pictures, taking many, successful in far fewer. Now you’ve given me a rationale for my profligacy: I’m just imitating nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2012 at 8:08 AM

  2. Ah yes – the Indian Blanket flower head is wearing the Milkweed like an extravagant accessory. I saw that and thought of the silly hats ladies wear to the horse races. 🙂


    May 26, 2012 at 8:13 AM

  3. You have a great eye Steve! I imagine most people would never even notice something like this. I love finding beauty in nature. Hope you have a great weekend!

    Michael Glover

    May 26, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    • Thanks, Michael. I’ve been seeing this sort of thing on and off for some years, and with various species, so by now maybe I’m attuned to it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2012 at 9:13 AM

  4. This photo I like very much! 🙂


    May 26, 2012 at 11:45 AM

  5. They make a lovely pair… you have shown us the silky fibres in such beautiful clarity! Great! 😀


    May 26, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    • Danke. I, too, was intrigued by how well these two went together. I usually emphasize clarity, but there have been times when I’ve gone for impressionism instead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2012 at 1:38 PM

  6. It makes for a great photo, though.


    May 26, 2012 at 7:51 PM

  7. […] the last post you saw how a single seed of an antelope-horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula, gets carried away from its point of origin as intended, but not always with […]

  8. thanks for visiting, Steve. every week your photographs of wildflowers are beautiful and surprising. and I’m a sucker for fluffy seeds. extraordinary work this week, as always.


    May 28, 2012 at 9:59 AM

  9. […] In contrast to what you saw in different shades of red in this morning’s photograph, the wildflowers behind the sage shown here are Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheels and Indian blankets, which still had a widespread presence around Austin on June 1 when I made this picture. Some of them continue flowering even now, though many have shed their flowers and turned to globes. […]

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