Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Some pointed questions

with 17 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Click for greater clarity.

It was when I got close to the prickly pear pad with a hole in it that I noticed close at hand the strange sight that you see here. It may make you ask now, as I did then, how this tiny dry leaf come to be impaled above these prickly pear glochids. I’d say the leaf was at most two-thirds of an inch long, and when I touched it I found that it was on there pretty tightly. I hardly even had to do that, though, because the differing angles of the spines that transfixed the leaf not only guaranteed that the leaf was now firmly attached, but also suggested it had been stuck there at a time when the spines were shorter and their tips closer together. I have to wonder, even at that earlier time, what could have held the tiny leaf firmly enough in place for the growing spines to be able to pierce it; or, alternatively, what could have pressed the leaf onto the developing spines with enough force to make one or several initial piercings. Could a spider have done the work in order to make a little hideout for itself, or might the visible silk only mean that a spider happened along later and took advantage of an already existing enclosure? Questions, questions.

Like the last photograph, this one came from a bluff above Loop 360 near the aptly named Bluffstone Dr. in northwest Austin on January 23.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 31, 2013 at 6:18 AM

17 Responses

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  1. What a fun capture. The only thing that seems certain is that the progression was “leaf first, spines second”. Beyond that, I wouldn’t hazard a guess, although I rather like the thought of a spider taking advantage of a temporarily-detained leaf.


    January 31, 2013 at 6:57 AM

    • It was fun to come across and be able to document this strange occurrence, and to present it to all of you as well. At the same time, I’m disappointed that I can’t tell what went on here. As you deduced, “leaf first, spines second.” The rest is silence.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2013 at 7:23 AM

  2. How funny… la toile d’araignée a du retenir la feuille et les piquants ont poussé! “to be or not to be, that is the question” lol..


    January 31, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    • My impression is that the spiderweb seen here is recent, so it wouldn’t have been there to hold the leaf in place earlier. What did hold the leaf remains a mystery. I’ve never seen anything else like this.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2013 at 9:13 AM

  3. What a capture. Those spines are h—. for sure. They can sure grab a fellow, er leaf that is.


    January 31, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    • I’ve had plenty or run-ins with prickly pear spines and glochids, and no doubt I’ll have plenty more, alas. That’s an occupational hazard for a nature photographer in Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2013 at 10:02 AM

  4. very cool little puzzling find. 🙂


    January 31, 2013 at 10:06 AM

  5. I suspect extra-terrestrial aliens had a hand in this. Did you check for pods in the area.
    Oh, in case you’ve missed me, my new blogs are now at “2clicksaway.wordpress.com” and “lightscatter.wordpress.com”. I’m soliciting help in getting these right and your (and everyone’s) opinion is vary valuable. Thanks.


    January 31, 2013 at 1:36 PM

    • Now why didn’t I think about aliens? That’s gotta be it.

      Readers who go to the first of Ken’s links will see that he’s wrestling with a mystery of his own.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 31, 2013 at 2:07 PM

  6. Observe, question, theorize. Awesome! Brilliant photograph!

    I’m now wondering what’s going on in my own back yard that I’m completely unaware of.

    Alex Autin

    February 2, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    • Thanks. I’m pleased that you like this enigmatic photograph. I, in turn, appreciate your trifecta of observe, question, theorize. I’ve often wondered, like you, what strange things are going on around me that I’m unaware of. In particular, I’ve wondered what I’ve not noticed on my photo outings. Too bad that a person can’t be everywhere all at once—and with an all-seeing set of eyes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2013 at 10:03 AM

  7. I’ve seen daffodils impaling last year’s partially decayed leaves – seems to me that the mere placement of the leaf via wind, followed by relatively still days while the thorns are emerging – would be enough to do the trick.


    February 2, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    • Thanks for your observation about daffodils impaling the previous year’s partially decayed leaves. I still wonder, though, what could have kept the little leaf in place, perched as it would have been in such a precarious place and subject to being blown away by the same wind that would have brought it there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 2, 2013 at 6:25 PM

  8. […] a comment a few days ago about the little leaf mysteriously stuck on the spines and glochids of a prickly pear cactus, Ken Bello suggested it was the work of […]

  9. […] was due to the spine’s growth as well, I don’t know, but I’m reminded of another strange feat of prickly pear penetration I encountered and presented here this past […]

  10. […] yellow. The fallen leaf shown below had even gotten impaled on a thorn from one of the trees, something you don’t see every day. (Look for the slender northeast-to-southwest shadow and you’ll be able to pick out the […]

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