Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Like little purple pineapples

with 33 comments

Click for greater clarity.

The flower clusters look like little purple pineapples, but they’re not. The leaves and bracts have sharp spines that might lead you to mistake the plant for a thistle, but it’s not. This is eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, a richly purple token of late summer and early autumn that turns out to be a member of the carrot family: surprise after surprise.

I photographed this eryngo on August 9 on a yet-undeveloped piece of prairie adjacent to Interstate 35 in northeast Austin. The barrel-shaped part of the inflorescence was about an inch high.

Eryngo grows primarily in the south-central United States, as you can see on the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2012 at 6:04 AM

33 Responses

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  1. Steve, these are beautiful and almost look as if they were spray painted! I grow a garden plant, with similar flower structure, that is a brilliant lavender blue. Thanks for the USDA link it is always appreciated.
    ~ Lynda


    August 26, 2012 at 6:29 AM

  2. Please add your picture to the USDA website! Theirs are pretty lame compared to this gem. Although this one at the wildflower center isn’t bad – shows the plant as a whole. Not that there could ever be much question about identifying this one; how many types of purple pineapples can there be out there?


    August 26, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. I’ve contributed a couple of hundred pictures to the Wildflower Center (mostly filling in gaps on their website) but I don’t know how the USDA gets its photographs.

      I like the way you referred to identification of this species: “how many types of purple pineapples can there be out there?”

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2012 at 9:04 AM

  3. We have those blue ones mentioned by Pixilated2 – or at least I have seen them planted in cultivated beds out here. I do like your purple flower – hard to imagine that is a member of the carrot family. Nature is filled with surprises.


    August 26, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    • The purple really stands out, both against the green of fresh foliage and the brown of dried-out plants (you’ll see that second contrast in a couple of days). As for surprises in nature, they abound—and may they keep doing so.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2012 at 10:25 AM

  4. Goodness, my favorite color! And thanks for all the information as well.


    August 26, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    • Happy favorite color to you. As for all the information, I think it’s due to the rare O-A-T-A-A-T gene I inherited from my father (Once A Teacher, Always A Teacher).

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2012 at 10:28 AM

  5. Fantastisch!!


    August 26, 2012 at 10:34 AM

    • It is a fantastic sight. In the spring of 1999 I first became aware of this species from a native plant field guide. That was too early in the year for the species to have appeared, and I kept wondering when I would ever see one of these strange plants for real. I still remember the place near Lake Georgetown where I finally came across one of them that summer. Since then I’ve looked forward to their reappearance every summer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2012 at 10:39 AM

  6. That’s very pretty. And I am surprised. I always thought Eryngium was related to thistle. Glad to learn it’s carrot family. I have a blue Sea Holly in my garden, which I think might be related.


    August 26, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    • From what I see on the Internet, sea holly is indeed an Eryngium. According to Shinners and Mahler, the genus includes 230–250 species from tropical and temperate areas of the world. A few are apparently edible, but I wouldn’t advise trying to chomp down on our purple eryngo; even handling it is hazardous to the skin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 26, 2012 at 12:39 PM

      • I don’t like prickly food, so I’ll just admire it from a safe distance!


        August 26, 2012 at 3:47 PM

  7. Another for my gallery lol!

    Bonnie Michelle

    August 26, 2012 at 3:51 PM

  8. This looks really sharp!

    Michael Glover

    August 26, 2012 at 10:44 PM

  9. What a bright, vivid color and a very pleasant shade too! Gorgeous photo!


    August 26, 2012 at 10:57 PM

    • There’s nothing else like this in central Texas. What fun to run across this species every summer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2012 at 6:01 AM

  10. Oh, I’ve come to this post backward… and see here that it’s not a thistle but it sure fooled me. What a stunning plant!


    August 28, 2012 at 7:22 PM

  11. Nature is full of surprises! The carrot family!!! Now that is a surprise! Your posts are always so interesting, but I must remember to come at them from the beginning. When things get busy sometimes I start going backward on posts I’ve missed.


    August 28, 2012 at 7:25 PM

  12. It does look spray-painted, it does resemble a pineapple and the leaves and bracts actually remind me of holly. But the carrot family? This may help to explain how those geniuses over at A&M managed to turn out a maroon carrot to match their school colors – the gene for the color was down there all the time, lurking in the pool.


    August 29, 2012 at 10:56 PM

    • According to a footnoted statement in Wikipedia, “Orange-coloured carrots appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century.” Before that, “the 12th c. Arab Andalusian agriculturist, Ibn al-‘Awwam, describes both red and yellow carrots; Simeon Seth also mentions both colours in the 11th century.”

      The carrot family, or Apiaceae, includes familiar aromatics like parsley, dill, fennel, celery, and cumin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2012 at 4:43 AM

  13. I like seeing this up-close. Your later post, where we see the bush itself and all those brown plants, to me this looks like giant lavender! How’s that for imagination?! Great photo.


    September 3, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    • Happy imagination to you. I’ve not seen lavender, though there’s an outfit in the Texas Hill Country about an hour west of Austin that grows a lot of it. As far as my nose can tell, eryngo lacks not only the pleasant scent of lavender, but any scent at all.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2012 at 6:04 AM

  14. […] you remember eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, the prickly plant that produces what look like little purple pineapples? On November 19th I came across the remains of a few eryngo seed heads near some flameleaf sumac, […]

  15. […] led to a post about eryngo, which looks like a small purple pineapple, if not a […]

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