Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Poverty weed fluff

with 10 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

And here’s a still later stage in the life of poverty weed, Baccharis neglecta, when the tufts of the previous picture have given way to seed-bearing fluff that gets dispersed by the wind. Notice the little “stars” that identify this species as a member of the sunflower family, even if poverty weed’s flowers look nothing like common sunflowers or any of the many other yellow daisies in the family.

Note also that this is an example of what biologists have called convergent evolution, in which two unrelated* plants or animals develop a similar 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 seed-bearing fluff.

It was on October 27th that I converged with the Bull Creek Preserve in northwest Austin to produce this picture.


* except insofar as all living things on earth are believed to have evolved from a common source

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2012 at 6:17 AM

10 Responses

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  1. I was surprised to see those star-shaped “fluff-holders” and never would have expected the sunflower relationship. What is that part of the plant called? Is “sepal” the right word for the little stars?


    November 8, 2012 at 8:02 AM

    • I believe that part is called the receptacle. You may want to check out this brief introduction to the sunflower family, also known as the Asteraceae or sunflower family. I think just about everyone is surprised to find that a plant like poverty weed belongs to this family, but in addition to the presence of a receptacle, a feature I’ve seen in the remains of so many daisy-type wildflowers in Austin, there’s the fluff that characterizes the seed heads of dandelions and other flowers that do more closely resemble sunflowers.

      The sunflower family is so large and diverse that botanists have divided it up into tribes. Baccharis is in the Astereae tribe, which includes camphorweed, gumweed, goldenrod, and asters, among other wildflowers found in Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2012 at 8:26 AM

  2. I love these series, showing the plant in all its guises. Like shoreacres, I would never have suspected that this is part of the sunflower family. I love the concept of “convergent evolution.” There’s a natural poetry in that, isn’t there?

    Susan Scheid

    November 8, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    • Yes, there is, and I like your phrase “natural poetry.” Thanks for letting me know that you like the miniseries of plants in their various stages. I just came back from three hours of photographing, and even though I have a zillion pictures of poverty weed, I took more. Whether I’ll use any of them here this year remains to be seen.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2012 at 12:47 PM

  3. Great disperser of seeds- this plant. Nice photo.


    November 8, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    • It is a great disperser of seeds. I was alongside some of these plants this morning and saw seed-bearing fluff all over the place, including on me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2012 at 3:52 PM

  4. That’s such a beautiful photo, even if it is a weed. 🙂


    November 8, 2012 at 7:32 PM

    • Well, just because farmers and ranchers gave it a name with weed in it doesn’t make it one. It’s a lovely, delicate bush that becomes especially attractive for a month or two in the fall, as you noted about today’s photograph. By the way, there are several dozen native plants in central Texas that have weed in their common name, and I have appealing photographs of all of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2012 at 8:29 PM

  5. […] The wind was sometimes brisk that morning, and it kept blowing plumed seeds from many nearby poverty weed bushes onto various other kinds of plants, including this one. Ah, […]

  6. […] in these pages of poverty weed, Baccharis neglecta, have highlighted the flowers and tufts and fluff that grace our central Texas autumns. Now, with the last picture and this one, both from the […]

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