Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bluebells and bundleflowers

with 48 comments

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On the 31st of May I went back to one of the three places on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin where I found bluebells in 2011. The site in question is a sump, and although it was pretty dry after a couple of weeks without rain, ample rain earlier in the season had caused the vegetation to grow up taller and denser than last year—so much so that I had to walk back to my car and put on a pair of hip-high boots to wade through the tall tangles of plants with some impunity.

One of the species that had flourished there was Desmanthus illinoensis, called Illinois bundleflower. Its flowers are small globes of cream-white filaments, one of which you see near the lower left. The “bundle” of the common name refers to each of the clustered masses of small curved pods; you see several of them, still green, mostly toward the right.

And of course you see the bluebells, Eustoma exaltatum, which are among the largest and showiest wildflowers we have in Texas. And of course they’re not blue.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 8, 2012 at 5:45 AM

48 Responses

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  1. Love the stormy sky background against the flowers 🙂


    June 8, 2012 at 6:42 AM

    • I don’t often get the chance to photograph stormy-looking skies or use them as a backdrop for something colorful. I say stormy-looking because although the wind started to blow and a few drops came down, there wasn’t any real rain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 7:03 AM

  2. Love this picture, with the clear foreground and some environment in the back. The light is also good, but you probably used a flash.


    June 8, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    • Right you are, Bente. The light from the white parts of the clouds was so bright that if I hadn’t turned on my flash the flowers and foliage in the foreground would have come out dark and without detail. Even with the flash, I had to struggle in post-processing to make everything work together.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 7:07 AM

  3. The bundleflower looks interesting. And I agree, the bluebells are not blue. But neither are they really bell-shaped! Love the stormy sky in the background.


    June 8, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    • The bundleflower is in the same family, the Fabaceae, as the huisache that you saw recently; both have flowers with similar structure.

      Many of the common names for plants are a stretch. I’ve usually commented on color discrepancy, but you’re right to question the “bell”: a bell that separated into petals would have a strange ring to it, I think. On the other hand, you could argue that the shape of the flower as a whole is rather bell-like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 7:20 AM

  4. Après le bouton, la fleur.
    Jolie photo avec ces fleurs qui colorent le ciel gris.


    June 8, 2012 at 6:55 AM

    • Oui, c’est ça. Quand j’ai vu ton commentaire sur la photo d’hier, celle-ci avait déjà apparu. J’ai eu rarement l’occasion de photographier des fleurs avec un ciel si menaçant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 7:28 AM

  5. These look just like Prairie Gentian, which has been hybridized as a garden plant. They are one of my favorite flowers, but they seem to have fallen out of fashion as a bedding plant. Too bad. They are so graceful looking!

    Steve, this photograph is stunning, the gray clouds are a perfect backdrop for the intense purple in the petals. ~ Lynda


    June 8, 2012 at 7:18 AM

    • Indeed, the bluebell is also called bluebell gentian and prairie gentian. The ones shown here are wild, but it’s easy to see why people would have created hybrids. From what you wrote, fashions come and go; I’ll add that this wildflower was quite popular in England in the 1800s.

      The dark clouds were a chance for a different sort of background than my usual one, but shortly after I took this picture the wind started blowing so hard that I had to call it a day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 8:35 AM

  6. I agree with Lynda’s comment about the effect of the gray background, and the bluebells are beautiful, if not actually blue.

    Jo Ann Abell

    June 8, 2012 at 7:31 AM

  7. We’re over three weeks without rain now. Those clouds are almost painful to look at.

    The bundleflower looks like it might be related to the Roemer’s mimosa (sensitive briar) that I found on Nash Prairie. The bloom is similar, and the leaves appear to be, too. (Note: Suspicions confirmed!)


    June 8, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    • I see you’ve confirmed your suspicion. By coincidence, I saw some Romer’s acacia flowers when I was driving home from the neighborhood supermarket a few minutes ago and made a mental note to try to go back to that spot. As for clouds, the ones in my photograph never did much of anything, and the ones over Austin this morning have likewise delivered only a few stray drops. Let’s hope they wake up and do what we expect of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 8:49 AM

  8. It was once explained to me that what I thought was purple was ‘so dark blue that it almost looks purple’.


    June 8, 2012 at 8:10 AM

    • Color names are notoriously loose, as we see with this wildflower and so many others. It seems to me that a dark blue would still be blue, but perhaps the person meant that it’s harder to tell blue from purple when they’re both dark. Science gets around the problem by measuring the wavelength of any given color, but our senses don’t work that way. Neither do our languages, with different ones drawing the dividing lines between colors in different places.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 9:23 AM

  9. I love bluebells. Your photo reminds me how much I miss Texas! 🙂


    June 8, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    • Maybe you can ameliorate your sense of loss by coming back and paying a visit. In the meantime, Asheville’s got some great scenery, and you can get to see a colorful changing of the leaves in autumn in a way that we here in Texas can’t.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 10:00 AM

  10. Magnificent !!!


    June 8, 2012 at 9:36 AM

  11. Absolutely superb composition and color. Incredible eye to pick this out.

    ken mac

    June 8, 2012 at 10:03 AM

  12. nice, love the calm before the storm feeling….shalom en theos…..jim

    • The feeling is there, but unfortunately we didn’t get the storm and the needed rain that would have come with it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 10:19 AM

  13. Wonderful photo

    Bill Hopkins

    June 8, 2012 at 11:32 AM

  14. Nice. I don’t think I have ever seen these in any of my normal outdoor haunts up in Williamson county. I might have seen some up in some fenced off fields up near Andice and Florence earlier this week, but I did not have my field glasses with me to confirm.

    Ryan McDaniel

    June 8, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    • The one time I remember seeing bluebells in Williamson County was about 5 years ago, when Palmer Lane had recently been extended northward. I was driving on it way up near 2243 and I found one bluebell plant flowering away by the side of the road.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 1:25 PM

  15. These remain one of my favorite Texas wildflowers (I have a giant list) if only because I sometimes don’t see them based on rainfall and where I happen to wander so for me they are a special treat when I find them. I first saw them in Austin growing near the 15th street overpass where it becomes Enfield Road. The stormy sky is just wonderful. Thanks for the fantastic picture.


    June 8, 2012 at 12:48 PM

    • I also saw that group along Enfield Road a few years ago. I remember that some broomweed was prematurely flowering there, too, and I took pictures of one in front of the other. I don’t know if someone planted the bluebells or if they were “authentic.” I don’t think anyone planted the broomweed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 8, 2012 at 1:30 PM

  16. The color in this photograph is so painterly. Lovely shot, once again.

    Susan Scheid

    June 8, 2012 at 10:41 PM

  17. Love the dark clouds in the background of this shot, Steve.
    They make the composition look really different and interesting.


    June 9, 2012 at 7:16 AM

    • I don’t often encounter such a menacing sky when I’m out photographing, so I did my best to take advantage of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 9, 2012 at 7:25 AM

  18. Stunning photo, Steve! I always like shots with dark clouds in the background; it is like having a giant sponged backdrop in the sky 🙂


    June 9, 2012 at 8:42 PM

  19. Wow, are those ever pretty!


    June 9, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    • And I got invited to photograph another group of them on private property this morning. They’re fun to play with, photographically speaking.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 9, 2012 at 11:41 PM

  20. […] Posted on this date last year: a panoramic view of a colony of bluebells in the same sump that I returned to this year for the recent picture of bluebells with stormclouds. […]

  21. I’ve not seen any bluebells on the October prairie, but there are gone-to-seed bundleflowers galore. I wouldn’t have had a clue, except one of my temporary neighbors said she thought it was a flower with “Illinois” in the name. That’s exactly what it is – Desmanthus illinoensis. It certainly does a neat job of packaging its seed. I think the buds and seed heads are especially interesting.

    It looks to me as though it’s kin to the sensitive briar, too. The alternate name of “prairie mimosa” was a clue!


    October 22, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    • The way the bundleflower scrunches its pods up into a cluster is downright strange, at least to me, but at the same time it fascinates me and I’ve photographed those bundles many times, both when they’re fresh and when they’ve dried out and turned brown. The plant’s compound leaves are a clue to membership in the mimosa clan.

      It’s good of you to have tracked down this old post to harmonize with your present prairie reality. As for bluebells, they flower from the late spring into the summer, so you wouldn’t find any in October, especially in cooler latitudes than those of central Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 22, 2013 at 8:53 PM

  22. […] pods form the bundles referred to in the common name. A post from the spring of 2012 showed some of these bundles when they were still green, but from farther away and playing a supporting role to the bluebell flowers that were then the […]

  23. I know that as I have time to explore your blog, I’m going to find names for most of the plants that elude me. Bundleflower was THICK along the county road nearest our place in Avery, until they came by and mowed. So good to see a native thriving.


    July 26, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    • The natives would have a lot less trouble thriving if the mowers wouldn’t keep mowing them down before they have a chance to produce seeds!

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 26, 2015 at 11:43 AM

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