Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The vanishing prairie

with 28 comments

Old Plainsman, Greenthread, Verbena, Firewheels 1663

Click for greater clarity and size and better color.

On April 28th, although I’d already photographed for hours, first in far north Austin and then on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville, I made a last stop—and what turned out to be a long one—on the west side of Interstate 35 south of Grand Avenue Parkway. The southern half of a large field there had become a construction site, but the northern half of the field lay still untouched and dense with wildflowers, most likely for the last time. It was Sunday, and no work was going on, so that freed me to wander in and take pictures. This is one of them, but I could show you others just as resplendent.

By now you’ll probably recognize these wildflowers. All are common in central Texas, all have been abundant this spring, and all have been regular visitors in these pages: old plainsman, Hymenopappus scabiosaeus; prairie verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida; greenthread, Thelesperma filifolium; firewheel or Indian blanket, Gaillardia pulchella.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 12, 2013 at 6:11 AM

28 Responses

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  1. Wow, what a great flower field, thanks for sharing MJ


    May 12, 2013 at 7:01 AM

    • You’re welcome. I’m only sorry that this may be the last season for the land to get covered with wildflowers. No fence separates the part of the field that’s a construction site from the part shown here, so I assume the workers will sooner or later continue northward and destroy the rest of prairie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2013 at 7:11 AM

  2. OH, we desperately need open space for just such abundance that you’ve captured.


    May 12, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    • For the 14 years that I’ve been interested in native plants, I’ve wished that developers would set aside a portion of their properties to be left in a natural state, but unfortunately that almost never happens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2013 at 8:21 AM

  3. It’s so sad that such beauty will disappear.

    Emily Heath

    May 12, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    • Over the 14 years that I mentioned, I’ve seen the disappearance of more than a dozen flower-covered pieces of land where I’ve photographed. In a few cases my photographing took place just weeks or even days before the property was razed, so that I was probably the last person to enjoy the land as land.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2013 at 11:49 AM

  4. Such beauty. I will never understand the greed of developers and why even just a smidgeon can not be preserved to ensure the continuance of these marvelous native tracts. And who knows, these areas might just have some great significance for being preserved.

    This stand of wildflowers is truly one of the best that you have photographed but I am sure there are more that I have never seen (prior to the discovery of your blog). I do not understand why Nature Conservancy can not alter its rigid stance and get their hands on some of these small tracts. Oh well. So goes the way of sin.


    May 12, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    • Austin has preserved some areas, but primarily on the hilly (and wealthier) west side of town. It’s open season on the prairie to the east of town, where the land is flat and less expensive to develop.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      • So the prairie group hardly seems to be doing much toward conservation or maybe I am wrong about that. I hope so. Surely someone among them knows some wealthy individuals or has some kind of influence that carries some weight but perhaps not. All the monied individuals in Austin and no one can step out of their self centered and greedy box to do something that would be newsworthy and beneficial. Too bad for all concerned.


        May 12, 2013 at 1:04 PM

        • The people who care about the prairie do as much good as they can, but it’s a tough row to hoe.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 12, 2013 at 1:36 PM

          • Thanks. Yes, I know it is very bad.We who seemed to care the most have the least pull and/or the money. 🙂


            May 12, 2013 at 2:27 PM

  5. Another beautiful photo, Steve, and to be treasured. We are also suffering here from wholesale destruction of habitats – it breaks my heart. Lovely woods and fields in my neighborhood have been recently stripped and destroyed for development; one wonders how long this can continue without collapse of ecological systems.


    May 12, 2013 at 3:09 PM

    • I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through something similar, Lynn. Over the years I’ve put together some before/after pairs of pictures that make good documentation but are sad to see.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2013 at 4:52 PM

  6. I remember that field – one of the few that had amazing white and pink shades of liatris, rather than the usual purple. Another lost chalk prairie.


    May 12, 2013 at 3:21 PM

    • You’re one of the few people reading this post who know what that field used to look like (and as of two weeks ago part of it still did, but I’m scared to go take a look now). For whatever reason, until this recent visit I’d photographed on that property only a few times, which makes quite a contrast with the Pflugerville prairie, where I’ve worked dozens of times. There’s noticeably less of that now, too. The cutting through of Heatherwilde and Wells Branch Parkway a couple of years ago has led to gradual development of more and more parcels there, alas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2013 at 5:01 PM

  7. It is so sad to know that scenes like this are going away. That is happening here in the northwest too, in the edges of the forests.


    May 12, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    • From what I’ve seen in your photographs, your area still seems more rural overall than mine, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find out you have similar pressures on wildness. Naturally I’m sorry to hear it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 13, 2013 at 6:56 AM

  8. The fact is that, while it’s easy to blame “greedy developers”, we bear some responsibility. After all, building permits are issued locally. There’s not some federal department of land destruction that allows nameless and faceless people to do their worst. (Well, perhaps there is. But I don’t know about it.)

    If town councils, city councils and other local agencies had real pressure put on them by citizens, some of this could stop. Ten people speaking on an issue at City Council gets noticed. A hundred people could make quite an impression.

    It’s true that money talks, and politicians concerned with expanding the tax base aren’t naturally inclined to care for flowers. However, it’s possible that they could be made to unnaturally care. If depends on how willing we are to get our hands dirty in politics as well as with gardening. (Uh-oh. I’m whipping myself up.)


    May 13, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    • A decade ago some of us native plant people spoke at a meeting of the city council in Round Rock, a large suburban town adjacent to Austin on the north. The goal was to get the city council to buy a certain piece of prairie and set it aside as a small preserve. I remember making a comparison by speaking to the council about the way buffalo used to roam here and how they almost became extinct. We tried, but we didn’t succeed, and some of that land soon got built on. Of course that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 13, 2013 at 7:42 AM

  9. It is so heartbreaking to see that incredible beauty and botanical wealth, and know that it will soon be lost. I applaud your valiant efforts to save land. Our towns and cities here won’t do anything, either, but sometimes our county will.


    May 13, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    • It’s a sadness I keep living with as each year brings the revelation of more pieces of land that have disappeared. Good for your county to have taken some action toward preservation.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 13, 2013 at 2:39 PM

  10. This photo gives us such a grand spread of wild flowers. It makes me realize how vital it has become to save large tracts of land from those ever-hungry developers.

    Mary Mageau

    May 13, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    • You remind me of Thoreau: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” I’m afraid that in many cases all I’m preserving is photographs of places that once were.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 13, 2013 at 8:44 PM

  11. I don’t know of anywhere near us here where we have anything close to this plenitude of native flowers. How I wish!

    Susan Scheid

    May 14, 2013 at 8:44 PM

    • And when I think back to my childhood on Long Island, I don’t remember anything like this either. On the other hand, Texas doesn’t have the fantastic changing of the leaves in the fall that the Northeast does. You can visit here in the spring, and I can visit there in the fall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 14, 2013 at 8:59 PM

  12. You have captured a prairie sunset.
    (think about it)


    May 16, 2013 at 7:34 AM

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