Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A closer look at eryngo

with 18 comments

Eryngo Turning Purple 4082

Now here’s a closer look at the other kind of plant you saw two days ago in a photograph from my visit on August 8th to a pond by Naruna Dr. in northeast Austin. This is eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, a curious plant that looks something like a thistle, is indeed prickly—the needles can hurt—yet belongs to the same botanical family as carrots, celery, dill, and parsley. I think you can see why people have likened this to a small purple pineapple, even if the purple here isn’t yet as intense as it will get.

UPDATE on December 31, 2013. A comment on the post Eryngo Remains yesterday prompted me to look at distribution maps to find out which species of Eryngium grow in which parts of Texas. To my surprise, I saw that Travis County, where Austin is, plays host to Eryngium hookeri, called Hooker’s eryngo—but I had no idea what that species looks like. When I checked the Native Plant Information Network entry for that species, I found a photograph that looks a lot like the one in this post. Conclusion: this may well be Eryngium hookeri and not the familiar E. leavenworthii I thought it was.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2013 at 6:12 AM

18 Responses

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  1. Stunning 🙂


    September 6, 2013 at 6:17 AM

    • In 1999 I’d seen a picture of this species in a wildflower guidebook and I wondered when I would finally see one for real. I still remember where I was when that finally happened.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2013 at 7:28 AM

  2. This is such an extravagant flower it’s possible to miss some things while looking at it. I’d never noticed the pattern made by the little blossoms tucked between those garlic-clove-like “things”. (Thorns?) At a distance, the shape as a whole is pineapple-like, but even the surface of the flower is arranged like a pineapple. Amazing.


    September 6, 2013 at 7:14 AM

    • It is extravagant, and the view at this stage reveals things that aren’t apparent later in the bright purple phase I featured last year. I don’t think I’d ever focused on this earlier development because the later stage is so appealing in its saturated color. As you say, it’s an amazing wildflower.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2013 at 7:34 AM

  3. I wondered the same things as shoreacres. It looks armed and dangerous.

    I mentioned a couple of days ago that we went on our state park outing. We finally put up some pictures and story in the post on Our View From Iowa. http://ourviewfromiowa.wordpress.com/

    Three pictures in it are meant for you in particular. I hope I got the IDs correct. The third I couldn’t find, except in my socks. 🙂

    Impatiens Pallida

    Heliopsis helianthoides

    Some type of sticktight to your socks

    Jim in IA

    September 6, 2013 at 7:23 AM

    • Thanks for those links, Jim. I recognized the style of Grant Wood immediately because when I was in elementary school on Long Island in the 1950s we’d learned about him. (Do kids learn anything in elementary school now except self-esteem?)

      I’m glad you’ve been bitten by the wildflower identification bug. Identification can be frustrating and time-consuming, but then you feel like you’ve earned each success. I’m not familiar with Heliopsis, but another sunflower-type plant is always welcome, isn’t it, even if those DYCs (darn yellow composites) can be hard to distinguish. And now I know what you meant by a sticktight; it looks like an arrow. Somewhat like Achilles, you were wounded, but only in your socks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2013 at 7:48 AM

      • Grant Wood did a good job capturing the scenes.

        Teaching is a complicated art. Most of us know self-esteem isn’t taught. It grows from within. The best teachers create valuable lessons that nurture both the content and the good feeling one gets from a job well done. Sadly, there are too many classrooms where those lessons are not experienced.

        Those arrow-like sticktights are easy to find and remove. Some, as you know, won’t let go and leave their hooks and barbs in the cloth or your skin.

        Jim in IA

        September 6, 2013 at 9:13 AM

        • I’ll sure agree with you about what the best teachers do and have always done. Professors of education, superintendents, and principals are another story—one so awful to relate that I won’t.

          I’ve never run into your kind of sticktights, but we have plenty of similar annoyances in Texas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2013 at 2:51 PM

  4. I am so busy waiting for these to color up that I never really took a closer look. They are pretty, little, purple pineapples. Though I imagine only Eeyore would find them fit to eat. 😉

    They are also one of my favorites in the garden. They have a sturdy, unusual structure, and the color is wonderful paired with a yellow bloomer. However, I am certain that mine is a hybridized variety.

    Thank you for the closeup, Steve.


    September 7, 2013 at 8:35 AM

    • When I began reading your comment I was surprised that you have any of these in Alabama, where they’re not native. I had no idea that this species is available there, even as a hybridized variety, but I can see that the rich purple color and strange resemblance to a pineapple are strong selling points for a plant nursery (which might to do well to play down how prickly the plant is).

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2013 at 8:55 AM

      • Actually, I grew them in California, then when I moved here I mail ordered them. They didn’t die, they even lived through a foot of snow one winter, but they didn’t perform well either. I had them planted into the ground which I had amended, but still clay, is clay, is clay… Then I moved them into the herb garden which is planted in full sun in a raised bed. Even with our over abundance of rain this summer they really got happy! Strangely, I have recently seen them in a couple of local nurseries sporting grotesquely huge flower heads. I suspect someone has been playing around with their genes. 😉


        September 7, 2013 at 9:37 AM

        • I hope someday you’ll be in Texas as this time of year so you can see eryngo in all its glory in its natural habitat.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 7, 2013 at 10:08 AM

          • I am looking forward to a visit to my birthplace. Perhaps I could come calling at this time of the year. We’ll see!


            September 7, 2013 at 10:46 AM

            • There are plenty of things to see in any season, but most visitors try avoid the heat of summer, which has by no means ended here. October and November are good months, and of course in April and May the spring wildflowers are at their peak.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 7, 2013 at 11:08 AM

  5. They’re a fascinating group of plants, many of them showily beautiful. I am surprised that (as far as I can read) they’re *not* related to teasels/teazels, which seem similar in form but generally less colorful and therefore less extravagant in their beauty–though I like them well, too.


    September 7, 2013 at 6:39 PM

  6. This is a great detailed close-up. This is how I really like viewing these prickly ones; up close.

    M. Firpi

    September 7, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    • I’ll agree with you about closeups; I use my macro lens more than my various others combined. Although I’ve seen eryngo often enough, this is the best photograph of its developing flowers I’ve taken, so I was happy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2013 at 10:11 PM

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