Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Widow’s tears

with 21 comments

Click for greater clarity.

The last post showed a dayflower, Commelina erecta. At the bottom center of that picture, taken near Lake Travis on July 19, was an edge-on view of a keel-like green appendage called a spathe. For whatever reason, the spathe in this species fills with a clear liquid. A slight pressure on opposite sides of that appendage (provided by yours truly, following what I take to be a great Texas tradition) causes drops of the stored liquid to emerge near the vertex of the spathe, as you see in this sidelong look.

Those drops probably account for a colloquial name of this plant, widow’s tears. The most common name, dayflower, comes from the fact that the flowers last only one day, then turn to mush. In a comment on yesterday’s post, shoreacres pointed out a connection between the two names by quoting from the biblical book of Psalms, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” and pointing out that that amounts to a span of one day.

And if you’re willing to let your imaginations take flight, don’t you find that this spathe looks like the beak and eyeless head of some fantastic green bird?

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 16, 2012 at 6:09 AM

21 Responses

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  1. My imagination must be in tip top shape this morning because I definitely see the bird!! This is a beautiful capture :).


    August 16, 2012 at 6:15 AM

  2. I love this…beautiful Steven.


    August 16, 2012 at 8:16 AM

  3. Great capture.


    August 16, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    • To make things easier, I positioned the lens perpendicular to one of the relatively flat sides of the spathe. That way I didn’t have to deal with depth-of-field problems as much.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 16, 2012 at 2:20 PM

  4. Marvelous … Your posts are always so interesting…


    August 16, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    • I’m pleased that you find them so. There are so many curious things to learn about out there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 16, 2012 at 2:17 PM

  5. I really like this a lot! I definitely see the bird. Also I think there might be a reflection of a photog in that drop! 🙂

    Michael Glover

    August 16, 2012 at 10:20 PM

    • I’m glad you like it and can see the bird. From time to time I’ve found myself reflected in photographs over the years, so you may be right about this one, but I looked at a larger version and couldn’t tell.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 16, 2012 at 10:33 PM

  6. Une invitation au voyage dans l’imaginaire. Magnifique photo.


    August 17, 2012 at 3:54 AM

  7. What an expressive shot!


    August 17, 2012 at 2:59 PM

  8. I’ve just come in from a walk about and couldn’t find a single one of these beauties left. I’ll have to try producing widow’s tears once they’ve regenerated. The image is beautiful. Is there any purpose for the plant in the liquid that’s stored? Surely it’s not there simply for our amusement.

    I have a web acquaintance whose screen name is spathy. I’ve never thought about it, but I suspect now it may have been derived from the term “spathe”. He is quite the gardener, and works in a plant nursery.


    August 18, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    • Ah, too bad you couldn’t find a remaining dayflower to try out your lachrymose fingers on. Like you, I’ve wondered what purpose the liquid serves, but I’ve never come across an answer in anything I’ve read.

      As for your gardener acquaintance, maybe now you’ll be tempted to ask him if his screen name is based on spathe.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 18, 2012 at 3:06 PM

  9. Shoreacres linked me from my blog to here, because just the other day I posted a photo of what we call “spider wort”, which one of my readers said is also called “widow’s tears”, and here you are! And what a fabulous photo that is. I’m just enthralled by it. The colors, the texture, everything! Thanks for the information and tomorrow I shall go out and find some and see if I can make them weep. If I dare take a photo, it would never compare to the likes of your brilliant one above! (What a small blogging world it is!)

    Bayou Woman

    April 14, 2013 at 6:39 PM

    • Welcome, Bayou Woman; I recognize your screen name from comments you’ve left on The Task at Hand. Thanks for your favorable comments on this picture. I was certainly happy when I took it. (By the way, at


      there’s another picture of a widow’s tear falling.)

      Spiderworts are relatives of the dayflowers, but as far as I know spiderworts don’t store up liquid in a spathe the way dayflowers do. The picture on your blog that’s captioned as a wild spiderwort is indeed a spiderwort, not a dayflower—at least not in the usual sense of dayflower that I’m used to. When it comes to vernacular names, though, as opposed to scientific ones, there’s lots of regional and personal variation. And of course there’s always the possibility that someone has made a mistake and misidentified a plant.

      In any case, if you can find dayflowers that look like the ones with that name on my blog, do give their spathes a gentle squeeze and see if you can make them weep. I wish you lachrymose luck.


      Good luck in your lachrymose

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 14, 2013 at 8:30 PM

  10. […] might be suitable to submit to the magazine. The first old dayflower photograph I found was from a post in 2012, and in it I noticed that I’d taken the picture nine years earlier to the day. Ah, […]

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