Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Swallowtail butterfly on Texas lantana

with 72 comments

Black Swallowtail Butterfly on Texas Lantana Flowers 2446

Click for greater clarity and size.

Here you have what I think is a black swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polyxenes. The colorful flowers, which make their debut in these pages today, are Texas lantana, Lantana urticoides. In the 1800s this plant was also known as a calico bush, but calico has gone out of fashion and so has that name. Also no longer in vogue is the previous scientific name for this species, Lantana horrida. How someone could ever have thought these lovely flowers horrid is beyond me.

This is the seventh and last in a series of pictures from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on July 23.

ยฉ 2013 Steven Schwartzman

NOTE: Yesterday, at the request of a commenter, I added a closeup of the central part of the saltmarsh mallow in that day’s post.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2013 at 6:16 AM

72 Responses

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  1. Wow! Possibly in my top 3 faves of your photos. Gorgeous!

    Lisa Vankula-Donovan

    August 22, 2013 at 6:38 AM

    • Thanks, Lisa. And speaking of the number 3, this photograph uses a triangular composition.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    • It just occurred to me that we have approximately an isosceles right triangle, which is to say half a square.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2013 at 7:40 AM

  2. lovely image, nice colors


    August 22, 2013 at 7:07 AM

  3. I always enjoy seeing a swallowtail in our backyard. Their size and markings are impressive. Thanks for the nice series. And, that closeup yesterday shows a lot of detail. Good work.

    Jim in IA

    August 22, 2013 at 7:23 AM

  4. the image is stunning! lantana ages down here and gets quite spiny – a lot like blackberry brambles. if you’re pruning/taming it, it could certainly be called horrid, as it leaves one with bleeding ‘klaw’ marks!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    August 22, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    • Thanks for your explanation of the epithet horrid. I haven’t noticed spines on the lantana here in Austin; maybe I need to look a closer look.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    • Steve, I have noticed spines on mine here in Alabama too, though never on my plants in California. Hm. Maybe they grow spines when they get LOTS of water? I also think that the smell of the leaves is horrid! However, you wouldn’t know they stink by the amount of hummingbird and butterfly traffic they get. ๐Ÿ˜€


      August 23, 2013 at 6:05 AM

      • ha! that’s funny about the aroma! yes, they have a distinct smell!

        thanks for that feedback amiga!

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        August 23, 2013 at 7:37 AM

        • Where are you in the matter of the scent being pleasurable or not pleasurable?

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 23, 2013 at 2:56 PM

          • ah.. it’s nostalgic for me.. reminds me of my grandmother’s yard in shaw mississippi… i would say that i like it, but it does have a strong unique aroma..

            next time i see a plant i will not only photograph it but i will also smell it!

            i’ll be going to costa rica next week and should see some grand examples of the bramble-type growth.


            Playamart - Zeebra Designs

            August 23, 2013 at 5:44 PM

      • If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then stink is in the beholder’s (besmeller’s? besniffer’s?) nose.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 23, 2013 at 3:04 PM

        • If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, well then, Stink is in the olfactor of the beholder. Yes?


          August 23, 2013 at 3:43 PM

          • When I was a math teacher I dealt with many ol’ factors of numbers.

            Steve Schwartzman

            August 23, 2013 at 3:48 PM

            • Are you teasing me again? I looked that one up to make sure I wasn’t “making it up” before I used it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

              As it happens, I like to make new words and sometimes I am disappointed when I find that they are not real. ๐Ÿ˜ฏ


              August 23, 2013 at 3:56 PM

              • I split up your word olfactor into ol[d] factor. It reminded me of all the time we spend factoring polynomials in algebra. Olfactor is (or was) a real word,


                though only the derived adjective olfactory is still in use. Of course many ol’ factories are still functioning.

                Steve Schwartzman

                August 23, 2013 at 4:06 PM

  5. Stunning photo, colour and composition is just gorgeous. How can anyone say any flower is horrid, hey I even like some weeds. Amazing pik. x

    Natural Ramblings

    August 22, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    • As you were writing your comment, Lisa (Zebra Designs) explained in the previous comment why the lantana that she’s familiar with from tropical America strikes her as horrid.

      As for so-called weeds, I’m with you in finding plenty to like in many of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2013 at 9:07 AM

  6. Beautiful…..


    August 22, 2013 at 8:14 AM

  7. What a treat!


    August 22, 2013 at 11:08 AM

  8. Excellent!


    August 22, 2013 at 11:50 AM

  9. This should win an award! I’m in awe of the perfection of this shot!!!


    August 22, 2013 at 12:22 PM

  10. A touch of true Texas, this.


    August 22, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    • There are quite a few species that have Texas in their common name or their scientific name or both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2013 at 1:19 PM

  11. La nature est un peintre fabuleux… merci Steve!


    August 22, 2013 at 12:45 PM

  12. The swallowtail and the lantana are a fetching combination, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    August 22, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    • I was surprised to learn a few years ago that the verb fetch is related to the noun foot; to fetch is etymologically to go on foot to get something. You and I certainly do our share of going out to fetch photographs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2013 at 4:34 PM

  13. Very nice photo, Steve!


    August 22, 2013 at 4:43 PM

  14. That’s a really wonderful shot. I love how it captures the legs and proboscis (?–not sure if that’s the right word) so well. What an amazing creature.


    August 22, 2013 at 7:33 PM

    • Thanks, Bill. I was intrigued with the way the nearest wing, even though dark, is partly translucent. I’ve been fortunate to get some decent butterfly pictures lately, including just this morning; some butterflies are a lot more obliging than others, as you no doubt know.

      Wikipedia agrees with you on the use of proboscis for butterflies and some other critters:


      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2013 at 7:51 PM

  15. Some of my earliest memories are of being out back and catching Skippers off the Lantana bush. We do not seem to have Skippers here in AL. In the nurseries here they are marketed as an annual and last summer I wanted some to grow by the little hump of my storm shelter to disguise it (in spite of their stink ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

    When winter came they died back by inches and degrees and I thought they were gonners. However, when I went out to dig them up they were coming back from the base of the plants. The oak leaves had apparently insulated their roots and the trunk of the plants, and now they are twice as big as last year!

    All that to say, that in spite of their stink, and the fact that they die back and look ugly in winter here, your beautiful photograph is testimony to their beneficial status!


    August 23, 2013 at 6:20 AM

    • In the article I linked below, there’s a mention that the variety Steve’s shown us here is slightly more cold-hardy than other varieties. If this is what you’re growing, that could explain its resilience.


      August 23, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    • I don’t remember skippers from my childhood on Long Island, but I certainly became aware of them in Austin, where they’re numerous. I suspect you have plenty in Alabama, too, and now that the subject is on your mind, I’ll bet you’ll start seeing them near you. May the orange one I photographed on Monday be a good omen for you.

      Many times I’ve written about the subjectivity of color (particularly blue versus violet or purple), but the sense of smell is just as subjective. Lantana bushes do have an odor, but one that I find pleasant. In fact when I come across a wild lantana I often touch its leaves and sniff my fingers for the enjoyable scent. I didn’t realize till now that some people find that scent unpleasant. Still, I’m glad that your sense of sight can be gladdened by this native lantana’s flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2013 at 9:00 AM

      • Some smells you either love or hate, and I am certain it is genetic. I for instance find Cleveland Sage to be wonderful, pungent yes, but I love the scent. Others can abide it. As for skippers, well maybe I will find some of those on the mountain when we move. I hope. ๐Ÿ˜‰


        August 23, 2013 at 10:48 AM

        • I think you’re right, Lynda, that the liking or disliking of a scent or taste is genetic. When I lived in Honduras I first encountered cilantro, which I strongly disliked and still do after more than four decades. Unfortunately it was in many dishes in Honduras, and it has since become popular in our own Southwest, where I live. In Mexican restaurants I always have to ask whether a dish has cilantro in it, and if so I won’t order it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 23, 2013 at 3:02 PM

      • Steve, we are thinking of two entirely different Skippers. ๐Ÿ™‚ Mine are tiny (3/4 – 1 inch) and look like these: http://www.animalphotos.me/butterfly/butterfly-lskip.htm

        Yours by the way is a stunner!


        August 23, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        • Hi, Lynda. I was thinking of the same kind of skipper as in the link you just provided. The butterfly in my picture is a swallowtail, which is as large as a skipper is small.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 23, 2013 at 2:31 PM

          • And you know, Steve, I was just outside and actually saw a skipper! First one I’ve noticed here! Maybe I spotted it because I was thinking about them today? ๐Ÿ˜€


            August 23, 2013 at 3:49 PM

            • I think it was just a question of tuning in to their vibration. Now that you’ve seen one, no doubt you’ll see more.

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 23, 2013 at 3:54 PM

  16. I’m just finishing a job at a home on a canal. Their backyard is filled with lantana, some of which looks like this and most of which doesn’t. I got curious about the variation in color – there are pure yellows, oranges and pinks and every combination possible – and found this nice explanation of some of the various lantanas, including the different growth patterns that were mentioned above. (I noticed they’re still using L.horrida.)

    The article also noted the common presence of swallowtails around the plant. I’ve not seen that myself, but there certainly are plenty of butterflies that seem to favor them. I was surprised by the mention of an unpleasant odor. Maybe I’ve just not paid attention.


    August 23, 2013 at 8:21 AM

    • Lantana is a confusing genus. As I understand it, and as your article says, the plants with yellow flowers or pink flowers aren’t native in Texas, though they’re widely planted here. At the same time, different species seem to be able to hybridize. Because the plant in the photograph was at the Wildflower Center, I can be sure I was dealing with the native Texas species (hooray).

      As for scent, after you left your comment I replied to Lynda’s previous comment and said that I find the aroma of lantana quite pleasant. This appears to be another instance of subjectivity in our physical senses. It sounds like you find the aroma pleasant, or at least neutral.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2013 at 2:02 PM

  17. Wonderfully composed photo Steve!


    August 23, 2013 at 8:27 AM

    • Thanks, David. I cropped the original to emphasize a composition I liked, which is distinctly triangular. Because butterflies like this one keep moving, there’s rarely time to compose the way I’d like, so it’s a matter of taking a picture that’s at least okay and then cropping it after the fact.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 23, 2013 at 2:07 PM

  18. Very beautiful shot Steve! The composition, lighting and background make it perfect!

    Michael Glover

    August 23, 2013 at 11:44 AM

  19. The lantana looks beautiful.


    February 8, 2014 at 2:40 AM

  20. […] on its petals. This time there are no partridge peas in the background but insteadย a flowering Texas lantana, Lantana urticoides. Today’s view is from September 14th in the Blunn Creek Preserve in south […]

  21. […] that one of the prairie parsley plants (Polytaenia nuttallii) was host to the caterpillar of an Eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes). You can learn more about this species in a Wikipedia […]

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