Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not a ladies’ tresses orchid

with 17 comments

Tiny Insect on White Milkwort Flowers 9255

On November 11th, when I first got out of my car on Westcave Loop south of Bee Cave, I found not a ladies’ tresses orchid but a wildflower that, like it, produces a single spike of white flowers. This wasn’t the normal spring flowering season for Polygala alba, white milkwort, but there it was half a year out of sync, and it was even being visited by the little insect you see here. This photograph represents a height of maybe 3 inches (8 cm), so you can appreciate how tiny the insect was.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 9, 2013 at 6:03 AM

17 Responses

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  1. Just lovely, Steve.
    Does the flower have a scent?


    December 9, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    • I haven’t noticed a scent, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I looked in a couple of my wildflower books, but neither mentioned anything. If any reader knows the answer, please comment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2013 at 9:18 AM

  2. This one’s range is a good example of something I’ve finally figured out. A north/south spread is pretty common – perhaps more typical than east/west. The Texas hill country has more in common with western Kansas than with the Houston area, and so on.

    It’s obvious – once I realized it. The big loop I made on my trip – with the eastern and western routes separated by 500 miles or so – let me actually see subtle changes in the land in a way I haven’t before. Locally, of course, it’s hard to say where the “line” is, so a copies of both Enquist and Tveten are helpful!.


    December 9, 2013 at 7:17 AM

    • In what I’m eager to make a strange comment on your comment about north-south versus east-west, a minute ago I watched a squirrel go up the trunk of the Ashe juniper tree outside my window, and then, as I was reading what you wrote, the squirrel jumped sideways to another tree, and then shortly afterwards it reappeared moving vertically on the first tree. North-south, east-west, north-south,…

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    • At


      readers can see what you meant about the north-south distribution of white milkwort.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2013 at 9:21 AM

  3. I’ve also been seeing these size of wildflower spikes along the highway in places where I cannot park. I don’t know if it’s happened to you but it’s very frustrating to me. I don’t know if they were Polygala alba but they were about the same size. There is a Polygala hecatantha in the Caribbean, however. I really like how you framed it.

    Maria F.

    December 9, 2013 at 7:19 AM

    • Yes, I’m fond of elongated framing, whether vertical, as here, or horizontal. I know what you mean about the lack of a roadside place to pull over and take pictures. That happened many times when I was in Arkansas and Oklahoma last month. Sometimes I found a place not too far away to park and walk back, but other times I didn’t and had to sacrifice what I knew would have been a good picture. Así es la vida.

      There’s another Polygala species in central Texas, P. lindheimeri, but I’ve rarely seen it; in contrast, P. alba is pretty common. I’d not heard of Polygala hecatantha, and I see on the USDA map that it doesn’t occur at all in the continental USA, but only, as you mentioned, in the Caribbean.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2013 at 9:31 AM

  4. Steve, as always, you have captured pure beauty! I love the purply buds that give way to snow white as they open, complete with butter yellow accents!

    Brenda Jones

    December 9, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    • Well said, Brenda. Your description makes me think you have experience with interior design or fashion (or both).

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 9, 2013 at 4:41 PM

  5. Phallic


    December 9, 2013 at 7:39 PM

  6. A marvelous photograph… but also a splendid documentation of that aspect of nature that seems almost too good to be true. I love the daintiness of the flower, and the surety of the insect. This picture tells a wonderful story.


    December 10, 2013 at 10:27 AM

    • Thanks, Shimon. I’ve noticed that insects often seem able to hold on tight in places where we might not think it possible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 10, 2013 at 1:31 PM

  7. superb, Steve! I already miss summer… winter is here for good. 😉

    Anne Jutras

    December 10, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    • Way down here in Texas we’ve had some sub-freezing temperatures too, but that still leaves us a lot warmer than you. While today’s photo is from a month ago, even a third of the way through December we still have a few wildflowers here and there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 10, 2013 at 5:37 PM

  8. […] When I was on a mission to photograph ladies’ tresses orchids on Westcave Loop south of Bee Cave on November 11th, what first caused me to stop in that neighborhood and get out of my car was a stand of little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium, that was turning warm colors as it produced its end-of-year seed tufts. Across the road from this drying grass is where I found the little white milkwort that you saw two posts back. […]

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