Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 27 comments

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Here you see a humble first for these pages, Rivina humilis, known as pigeonberry and, based on the colors of its small fruits and its pink blossoms, rouge plant. How often do you see magenta and red together? And how often do you get asked a question like that (or like this)?

As was true for the last few pictures, I took this one on November 15th at the Spring Lake Natural Area in San Marcos.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 24, 2012 at 6:21 AM

27 Responses

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  1. This is a very pretty berry – lovely colours (and background again!). Do, as the name suggests, pigeons eat it? I am currently enjoying the rare pink/orange colour combination of the seeds and pods of the spindle tree, which is dotted all over the countryside here.


    November 24, 2012 at 6:44 AM

    • I couldn’t find anything about pigeons specifically, but the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says this about the small fruits: “They are a choice food for many kinds of birds.”

      It’s good that you also have a rare color combination to contemplate. I wasn’t familiar with the spindle tree but I went online and I see what you mean about the colors.

      As for photographic backgrounds, it’s often the case that the less detailed they are, the better. You’ve noticed that in many of my pictures I aim sideways, and in a direction for which the nearest objects beyond my subject are relatively far away. The result, when things work well, is a relatively neutral background like the one in today’s picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2012 at 7:11 AM

  2. Fantastisch in Form und Farbe!!


    November 24, 2012 at 7:21 AM

  3. They are so beautiful Steve… You print this and keep the photo outside your house, am sure you will have some birds visiting… 🙂


    November 24, 2012 at 7:43 AM

    • I wonder if people have done experiments to find out whether birds can be fooled by a picture of a plant. Would a bird that normally eats these fruits peck at them in a photograph, or could the bird tell from the two-dimensional nature of a picture that the fruits aren’t real?

      My computer is close to a window, and as I sit here I’ve occasionally had a squirrel on a nearby tree stare at me through the glass to try to figure out what I am, but so far no bird has shown any curiosity about me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2012 at 7:53 AM

      • Steve if am not wrong I have seen a couple of such videos on AFV (funny videos) – i.e. Birds getting fooled by flower pics on the window… Am sure it is worth an experiment


        November 24, 2012 at 10:16 AM

        • It wouldn’t surprise me that this has already been tried out. If people can be fooled, why not birds?

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 24, 2012 at 1:37 PM

  4. Not only is the color combination stunning, I never would have imagined it in nature. (I don’t know why – I keep getting surprised by the things nature does.)

    An unexpected side benefit of your post is that I finally identified a huge and equally beautiful plant that grows in one of the marinas I frequent. It also seems to be called pigeonberry, but it has a lovely combination of lavender flowers and yellow berries. It looks like the only commonality with Rivina humilis might be that pigeons like the berries.


    November 24, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    • One of the incentives to keep photographing in nature is that there’s no end of new things. No matter how many times I’ve photographed a given species, sooner or later I’ll see something about it that I never noticed before.

      It seems that various plants have been called pigeonberry, including one related to today’s subject that may be better known by the name pokeweed. As for the one in your marinas, which I wasn’t familiar with, I found this about it: “Duranta erecta is a species of flowering shrub in the verbena family, Verbenaceae, native from Mexico to South America and the Caribbean. In contrast, Rivina humilis is in the pokeweed family, Phytolaccaceae.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2012 at 8:15 AM

  5. I love your choice of the gray background rather than the blue sky you often use. It brilliantly enhances the color intensity of the berries.

    Bonnie Michelle

    November 24, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    • I’m fond of saying (half-seriously) that the three most important things in photography are background, background, and background. Usually that means a neutral background, and a clear sky‚ assuming I have a sunny day, is an easy candidate for that (which is why I spend an inordinate amount of time on the ground looking up). If I’m fortunate to find a horizontal view of my subject that shows something else relatively neutral in the background, I’ll gladly use it, as I did here, but there are a lot more distracting things on the ground than there are in the sky. By coincidence rather than purpose, today’s picture is the third in a row with a gray or brown background, and tomorrow’s will be a fourth.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2012 at 8:24 AM

  6. Love, love, love those colors. I’ve upholstered my headboard in a red/pink/magenta print and the rest of the bedding colors expand on that. Will have to be on the lookout for these berries – a photo might be just the thing for the wall!


    November 24, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    • How nice that you’ve used this very color scheme in your home. Since you’re here in Texas, there’s a good chance that you can find some pigeonberry plants. At this time of year the leaves tend to turn red, too, making for a pretty sight.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2012 at 8:35 AM

  7. Steve, these are so lovely!

    I have spent a little time looking for information on its common-to-the-South relative, the American pokeberry. Ours has black berries which make horrible stains on fingers and clothes. Strange but true, that although the plant is highly poisonous, recipes for wine, pie, salat, and some relatively new medicinal research abound! Beautiful to look at, but you won’t find me sampling, imbibing, nor touching without gloved hands from now on. Apparently, the plant secretes lectin from all parts of the plant which is a mitogen.

    “pokeweed mitogen (PWM)
    a lectin from the plant, Phytolacca americana, that produces B and T lymphocyte blastogenesis.”
    From: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Mitogens

    I wouldn’t mind a photograph of one like yours, but I think I will avoid the real thing in the future. 😉


    November 24, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    • Pokeberry (pokeweed) is one of the few native plants I remember from my childhood on Long Island. From what I’ve read, the young leaves can be prepared by boiling and draining water to make them edible, but I’d adopt your attitude, Lynda, and err on the side of safety. Another name for that plant and for the related pigeonberry shown here is inkberry, because people once used the juice, which certainly does stain, for ink. I guarantee that you can touch today’s photograph with no risk of turning your fingers red or purple.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2012 at 1:46 PM

  8. I have pigeon berry in my yard. It comes up in odd places but it tends to sprout in the semi-shaded areas. I must try to sow some berries where it is sunny and see if the plant will not be quite so lanky. A lovely picture with vibrant colors.


    November 24, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    • It’s good that you have it in your yard. I have to go some distance to see any. As you said, I often find it in semi-shaded places, where it seems happiest.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 24, 2012 at 3:18 PM

  9. What beautiful berries! The colors are striking!


    November 24, 2012 at 11:32 PM

  10. I love the vibrancy of those two colors together – each seems to make the other brighter! Great shot, Steve – was it tricky to expose?


    November 25, 2012 at 9:34 AM

    • No, it was a straightforward exposure. I didn’t even use a flash fill on this picture (though I did on most of the others that I took of the pigeonberry). I was so intent on the red that I didn’t really appreciate the magenta till I saw the image afterwards on my computer screen, and then I realized how well it played off the other color, as you pointed out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 9:43 AM

  11. Steve: Never has red and magenta looked so good. The berries look luscious, which of course leads me to ask: are they poisonous? If not, are birds attracted to them? Beautiful shot, as always!

    Susan Scheid

    November 25, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    • I’m glad you enjoy this unusual color combination, Susan. The fruit may look luscious, but the entire plant is toxic—at least for people; I believe some animals can eat them. We can still look and enjoy the view.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 25, 2012 at 6:07 PM

  12. Oh how lovely!!! (I so seriously need to play catchup around WordPress now that dull winter is upon us.) I have never seen red-magenta berries this color, that I recall. Yes I agree, the birds might well be fooled by a photo of this outside your home! LOL. If birds can be silly enough to repeatedly slam themselves into glass windows and doors, thinking their reflection is a rival (as cardinals have sometimes done here!), then why not try tricking them with a photo? At least they couldn’t hurt themselves… 🙂


    November 28, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    • It’s not dull winter in Austin yet, so for as long as I can I’ll keep providing interesting things for you to view during your bleak time of year. Although I’d photographed pigeonberries before, I’d never noticed how purplish the stalk is. There are always new things to be observed.

      Last year (but not this one) I was startled several times by a bird flying into the window a few feet away from where I was sitting at my computer (as I am now). Because of a large trees outside the window, each bird had to be coming at an angle, not straight on, so I assumed it was seeing a diagonal reflection of trees and sky and thought it could keep flying that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 28, 2012 at 2:27 PM

      • LOL! I’m not sure what our birds were seeing. But I think those silly cardinals thought they were seeing a rival bird. It was in May, both years that this was occurring. I thought the poor foolish things would kill themselves…

        Yes, there always are new details to be discovered. And what’s more, every year I seem to find new places (large or small), even around my neighborhood, to be explored. Would be great if I could get out and hike in the snow, but my arthritic feet prevent that…


        November 29, 2012 at 1:36 PM

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