Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Order becoming chaos

with 22 comments

Click for greater clarity.

Click for greater clarity.

If you’ve ever seen a mass of milkweed fluff loose on the ground you know what chaos is, but before that chaos there was order. Here you see some fibers that, though free except where they attach to their darker seed, still briefly hold the parallelism with which they were packed inside the pod that gave birth to them.

This is Asclepias asperula, known as antelope-horns, and it’s the most common milkweed in Austin. I’d never seen a pod with fluff still in it that had apparently survived intact through the winter and was finally coming undone as late as February 1; in fact the date was so unseasonal that when I first caught a glimpse of the fluff clustered on the ground some distance away I thought a furry or feathery animal had recently met its end.

As for location, this was on the right-of-way beneath the large power lines that cross a portion of my neighborhood to the west of Morado Circle in northwest Austin. Last spring, in a view a couple of hundred yards further west, you saw some fresh antelope-horns milkweed plants that were part of a resurgent wildflower meadow.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 12, 2013 at 6:17 AM

22 Responses

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  1. With all the talk about things coming into bud and bloom early, it’s intriguing to see something that’s lingered. Once again your camera captures something hard to see under normal circumstances – the lovely shimmer of light on individual strands of fluff.


    February 12, 2013 at 6:53 AM

    • Naturally I was on the lookout for springy things, so I was surprised to find such a long-lingering pod with fluff still present. The shimmer emanating from some of these strands is a good reason indeed to get close. Depending where the sun is, the little patches of light can be numerous, and with my current camera even nonagonal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2013 at 7:13 AM

  2. I love your pictures and explanations of the what it is, where you found it etc. I love any kind of milkweed since it is feeding the Monarch caterpillars. I’ve collected 2 shopping bags full of seeds last year, just to seed them on my property to feed them this year. I hope my plan works.


    February 12, 2013 at 7:19 AM

    • I hope your plan works, too. I’d love to see a whole field of milkweeds and the monarchs they’d support.

      As for all the explanations, I suppose they themselves can be explained as “Once a teacher, always a teacher.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2013 at 8:04 AM

  3. I have many photos of milkweed in many stages of its life cycle but this is new to me. Great shot.


    February 12, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    • Thanks, Ken. Now that you’ve seen this sort of thing in a photograph, I bet you’ll find it in nature before another year goes by.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2013 at 8:19 AM

  4. It’s good to know there are places where milkweeds are left to grow and seed. So many have been plowed under in the Midwest and the monarchs are paying the price.


    February 12, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    • The very fact that this genus is called milkweed tells you what a lot of people think of it and how they treat it. In November of 2011 the right-of-way where I took this picture and many other pictures in recent years got mowed to the ground, and I was worried about whether the plants would recover. Luckily they did, as you can see if you follow the link in the text. In fact the resurgent meadow was swarming with butterflies by the spring that followed the mowing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2013 at 8:44 AM

  5. Lovely lovely image, Steve. Truly.


    February 12, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    • Thanks, Lynn. This image is a bit different from other milkweed fluff pictures I’ve taken, so I’m happy with the novelty.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2013 at 10:42 AM

  6. So pretty! I’ve yet to see any of these in Austin but I live more south. Maybe I should head up north and check these natural beauties out (: Thanks for sharing!

    – Jonathan I http://styleoverstress.wordpress.com


    February 12, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    • I’ve seen antelope-horns milkweed south of the Colorado River as well as north, and also heading west of town on TX 71. It’s still too early in the season for normal flowering, but within a month I bet these milkweeds will be start coming out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2013 at 1:07 PM

      • Interesting! Well, I’l keep an open eye (: Thanks!


        February 12, 2013 at 2:18 PM

  7. Beautiful almost looked monochrome until I continued looking. Beautiful and thoughful photo.


    February 12, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    • I, too, observed that it was almost monochrome. Another photograph reminiscent of split toning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 12, 2013 at 9:48 PM

  8. Chaos is just a specialized kind of order.

    Thomas Peace (author)

    February 12, 2013 at 11:37 PM

  9. […] yesterday’s post you saw some fibers of antelope-horns milkweed fluff that were briefly still parallel, which is the way they’d been since they formed inside their […]

  10. […] armed—seed capsules, which I found on February 1 within sight of the place where I photographed the milkweed fluff you saw in the last two posts. I sat on the ground for some time right next to this plant, which […]

  11. […] the power lines right-of-way west of Morado Circle on February 1st, I found not only the pods and seed-bearing fluff of an antelope-horns milkweed, but also a couple of hundred yards away the almost completely spent pod of a milkweed vine. […]

  12. With the departure of the snow, I’m noticing all the opened milkweed seedpods along the roadsides and at the edges of my yard. It has me thinking about how they looked in July. They are such strange plants, oozing sticky bitter sap like Elmer’s glue when you try (always unsuccessfully) to pull them out of your garden. These strange, fleshy flowers, the color of bruises, trap nectar-seeking insects by the leg. When the butterfly or wasp pulls its leg free, it drags out the pollinium , a pollen-filled ankle bracelet. Smaller, frailer insects, such as ants, can’t extricate themselves, and they die like foxes in leghold traps.

    Tasha R. Giles

    February 16, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    • I appreciate your detailed, descriptive, and well-written comment. I’d read about the pollination method used by milkweeds and was amazed that they manage to reproduce that way, but the presence of so many milkweed plants carries a lot more weight than my initial skepticism. So, strange though they may seem or in fact be, they make great subjects for photography, and I look forward to their return each spring.

      Steve Schwartzman

      February 16, 2013 at 11:37 PM

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