Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Hierba del marrano flower head

with 17 comments

Hierba del Marrano Flower Head 3998

Yesterday you saw a photograph taken at the pond adjacent to Naruna Dr. in northeast Austin on August 8th and depicting the encounter between two colonies of plants. Here from that session is a closeup showing a flower head of one of those species, Symphyotrichum subulatum, known as baby’s breath aster, annual aster, eastern annual saltmarsh aster, Blackland aster, and hierba del marrano (i.e. pigweed). I estimate that this diminutive flower head, typical of the species, was barely half an inch (1.25 cm) across. In contrast, these much-branched plants can grow to be 5 ft. (1.5 m) tall. They’re reputed to be the most common aster in Texas.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2013 at 6:04 AM

17 Responses

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  1. Good things come in small packages! Beautiful.

    Lisa Vankula-Donovan

    September 5, 2013 at 6:07 AM

  2. I like the rolled up curl to some of the leaves. Good job with the focus on such a tiny flower.

    Jim in IA

    September 5, 2013 at 7:16 AM

    • The little curls remind me of ribbons, though the flower evolved long before people ever curled any ribbons. You’re right that focus is difficult with such a small subject. To minimize movement I used a shutter speed of 1/500 sec., and that meant I couldn’t use an aperture as small as I would have liked for even more depth of field. The aperture ended up being f/11.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2013 at 7:31 AM

  3. It’s far more delicate than the sort Jimi Hendrix offered us, but you just can see the “purple haze” that so often characterizes these wonderful flowers, especially on the left side.

    When I saw the scientific name, I had to go snooping – I misread it at first as “sympho…” Once I realized it’s “Sym-phyo-trichum”, my search told me it’s Greek for “with growing hairs” or “with hairs coming together”, I’m wondering if that name refers to the single blossom or to the growing patterns of the whole plant.


    September 5, 2013 at 7:46 AM

    • The entry at


      says that the genus name was proposed in 1832 and offers this explanation for it: “Greek symphysis, junction, and trichos, hair, perhaps alluding to a perceived basal connation of bristles in the European cultivar used by Nees as the type.” (Elsewhere I found this definition of the biological term connation: ‘a union of similar parts or organs.’

      All of that may be enough to make our minds hazy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2013 at 8:10 AM

      • My goodness. If “pretty flower” is one end of the spectrum, I think efloras.org must be the other! It really was interesting to muddle through some of that – not so much for the sake of the flower’s name as for a glimpse of what goes on inside botany (or any discipline where correct classification’s important).

        I do have a just slightly related question. When we talk about ray flowers, is that term grounded in the math definition of “ray” as “a part of a line that begins at a particular point (called the endpoint) and extends endlessly in one direction”. With a flower, that “endlessly” is a bit of a problem, but it certainly fits otherwise.


        September 6, 2013 at 7:25 AM

        • The word ray is what Latin radius developed to in Old French. The Latin original had meant ‘a staff, a rod,’ so you see can why mathematicians put it to work to mean the ‘rod’ that goes from the center of a circle to any point on the circle. We’ve come to use descendants of radius in other figurative ways that express the notion of radiating out from a center. The modern mathematical definition of ray adds infinity to the mix, but that’s a recent development. Ray flowers are of course finite in length. Botanists named ray flowers for the way they radiate out from a flower head like sunbeams. Ray flowers may turn botanists into sunbeams too, but that’s another matter.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2013 at 7:59 AM

  4. Been wanting to give you this quote: “There is material enough in a single flower for the ornament of a score of cathedrals….” — John Ruskin. Seems appropriate here. Thanks for these jewels.

    Margie Roe

    September 5, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for that jewel of a quotation. I tracked it down to Chapter XXX of The Stones of Venice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2013 at 4:25 PM

  5. The curled petals make it positively festive!


    September 5, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    • That’s a good word, festive, much better than positively pigweed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2013 at 7:41 PM

      • Yes! Why did they give that plant such a nasty name? Is it messy or aggressive perhaps? Do the pigs like to eat it? I makes you wonder. 😉


        September 6, 2013 at 7:55 AM

        • I’ve assumed someone must have seen pigs eating them, but I’ve never been able to find out more about the history of that name.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2013 at 8:01 AM

          • Now that I didn’t think of. It makes sense!


            September 6, 2013 at 8:09 AM

  6. Que demander de plus quand le ciel se pare d’un si beau bijou!


    September 6, 2013 at 6:28 AM

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