Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Nonagonal possumhaw drupes

with 27 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Click for greater clarity.

I’m willing to bet that the phrase nonagonal possumhaw drupes has never appeared in print or even occurred to any human mind till now. Possumhaw, already strange, is the common name of a tree, Ilex decidua, that you’ve seen here several times. Drupe is a botanical term that means, in the words of the Macmillan Dictionary, ‘a fruit with a stone surrounded by a soft thick part covered with skin.’ Possumhaw drupes are so small (maybe a third of an inch in diameter) and numerous that most people would call them berries, even though technically they aren’t. As for nonagonal, it means ‘having the shape of a nine-sided polygon.’ I wouldn’t normally associate nonagons with possumhaw drupes because those fruits obviously don’t have nine sides, but my macro lens, which has a nine-bladed diaphragm, imposes nonagons on out-of-focus bright spots, which in this case are the possumhaw drupes beyond the one that’s in focus.

Now that you know all that—or in spite of it—I hope you’ll enjoy the abstract nature of this picture, which I took, like the last two, in Great Hills Park on January 18. And feel free to drop the phrase nonagonal possumhaw drupes into a casual conversation anytime you feel like it.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 21, 2013 at 6:20 AM

27 Responses

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  1. A nonagal possumhaw drupe
    is a wonderful sort of a fruit.
    It hangs in the air
    with no hint of a care
    and a luscious, rich color to boot!


    January 21, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    • Those nonagonal possumhaw drupes
      Are most often encountered in groups
      By a photographer who,
      Often without much ado,
      To his subjects most readily stoops.

      (And who,
      Like you,
      Just to have some language fun
      Stoops to a limerick or pun.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2013 at 8:28 AM

      • I cannot believe this (well, given the participants, actually I can). I was coming over to write a comment to the effect of “there’s got to be a poem in there somewhere,” and what do I see but two limericks! I’m no good at them, so I can only stand back and admire the handiwork here, not to mention the wonderful photograph! I love that your lens imposed nonagons on the background.

        Susan Scheid

        January 21, 2013 at 12:54 PM

        • My camera equipment sure can be imposing (as can the cost of some items). As with any machines, its impositions aren’t always for the best, but this one worked well. I saw the out-of-focus patches of red when I peered through the viewfinder and I was intrigued by them, but it came as a surprise to find the nonagons when I first looked at the picture on my computer screen.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 21, 2013 at 1:11 PM

  2. This is a stunning photograph. This and yesterday’s shot seem to be thematic with their single subjects and dramatic backgrounds. Although, I’m not certain that dramatic is the right term, but in each shot the background perfectly enhances the subject.


    January 21, 2013 at 7:36 AM

    • Thanks, Lynda. I’ll take having you call my pictures dramatic any time. As for the background, I’ve often thought that it can be as important as what’s in the foreground.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2013 at 8:32 AM

  3. Sweetly cunning and alluring–one single fruit with a chorus of companions.


    January 21, 2013 at 8:19 AM

    • And thanks for joining your single voice to the chorus of commenters in favor of these alluring little fruits.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2013 at 8:36 AM

  4. Gee whiz, I can not compete with the first two poets 🙂 but all I see is a round berry so I’m thinking that these botanists are referring to the pit or seed- whatever the case may be. I just know that these little boogers readily self seed in my yard but generally where I can not allow them stay. The color of your macro shot is so vibrant. Looks good enough to eat but Of course it is off limits to humans. I wonder if the Indians used the drupe/berry for anything.


    January 21, 2013 at 8:57 AM

    • In common parlance people would call these red things berries, but technically speaking each one is a drupe: ‘a fruit with a stone surrounded by a soft thick part covered with skin.’ A familiar example of an edible droop is a peach. In contrast, the botanical definition of a berry is (from the 1913 Webster’s): ‘A small fruit that is pulpy or succulent throughout, having seeds loosely imbedded in the pulp, as the currant, grape, blueberry.’

      Although people can’t eat possumhaw fruit, many kinds of animals can. Various Indian tribes used the leaves of the closely related yaupon as a tea and possibly an emetic (hence the species name Ilex vomitoria). I don’t know about the fruit of either species, but you can do some Internet searching.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2013 at 9:41 AM

  5. I’m not usually compelled to comment unless there’s a spider in the mix, but here you go: Wow! What a wonderful abstract piece. It’s fun to look at. I don’t want to stop looking at it.

    Spider Joe (@arachnojoe)

    January 21, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    • Thanks for your wow, Joe. Keep on looking as long as you like. And if I look carefully and count the number of possumhaw drupes, I think I see eight, which is the number of legs a spider has, so there’s an oblique connection to your usual domain—just in case you needed one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2013 at 10:16 AM

  6. I love that phrase “nonagonal possumhaw drupes” as much as the photo, and if I could get my tongue round it I’d use it all the time! Which leads to my question: are they edible for humans?


    January 21, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    • Unfortunately they’re not, so you wouldn’t want to get your tongue around them literally, but they’ll always be a treat for the eyes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2013 at 2:34 PM

  7. On dirait une boule de billard ! Ou alors ce qu’on appelle en France une “pomme d’amour”, une pomme recouverte de sucre rouge très brillant et qu’on trouve dans les confiseries des fêtes foraines. Vous avez ça aussi ?


    January 21, 2013 at 5:15 PM

  8. Fine image. And thought it was winterberry fruit! Silly me. Excellent color and exposure in what looks like bright light, cool OOF background shapes.


    January 21, 2013 at 7:03 PM

    • Actually another vernacular name for possumhaw is winterberry, so you may have been right. As for the light, I was in the woods, and because of the sunlight there were bright spots and shaded spots in close proximity, and they moved about as the breeze kept shifting the branches of taller trees above the lowly possumhaw. I did my best to catch the focused drupe when sunlight fell on it. I’d had background polygons before, as we all have, but I don’t recall ever getting red ones before.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 21, 2013 at 7:22 PM

  9. I love this image! So fun to look at. The first time I heard my botany instructor drop the drupe word, I was pretty sure I’d heard wrong. Drupe? DRUPE????


    January 23, 2013 at 4:49 PM

  10. that was a mouthful! and since i live in a nonagon, i rather liked it. 🙂


    January 27, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    • Do you really live in a nonagon, or is that a state of mind (which may or may not be the same kind of state as Texas)?

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 27, 2013 at 12:06 PM

      • no, our house is nine-sided – a bit like living in a huge gazebo. 🙂

        i have a photo of it at the bottom of my sidebar – or to see an aerial shot of it, in my ‘popular posts’ along the sidebar, also, there’s one called ‘it’s a nonagon, naturally’ that talks a little about the house.


        January 27, 2013 at 3:40 PM

        • I’ve seen octagonal houses, but I’ve never run across a nonagonal one till now. The photograph on your blog is proof of its existence. I’m familiar with the word enneagon, which you mention, but nonagon is a more common word for the same thing.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 27, 2013 at 7:24 PM

  11. […] not sure he ever got it. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t have to try to get nonagonal and drupe across to him, […]

  12. […] January and February and brighten those bleak months. Technically speaking, however, the fruits are drupes, not […]

  13. […] Another thing I saw on the grounds of the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, on June 20 was this tiny spider, the main part of which my 100mm macro lens resolved quite nicely. The morning sun in front of me lit up some strands of silk in the web while also causing the lens to create polygonal artifacts of light. Those nonagons have better definition than the red ones I showed you in 2013. […]

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