Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

You can pretend the silver bluestem was snow

with 18 comments

Flameleaf Sumac Turning Colors by Backlit Silver Bluestem 0822

Click for greater clarity.

Central Texas rarely gets snow, and there hasn’t been any this year, but you can pretend that that’s what these backlit seed heads of silver bluestem (Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana) were. I photographed them surrounding a small prairie flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) that was turning colors on November 19th along RR 1869 west of the town of Liberty Hill.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2013 at 6:02 AM

18 Responses

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  1. Nice snow. 🙂


    December 26, 2013 at 6:33 AM

    • Unlike you in Norway, we in central Texas don’t live in a land that’s covered with snow in the winter, so we have to make do with what we have.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2013 at 7:39 AM

  2. Or as my Cajun friends and I sometimes joke, “Neaux sneaux? Seaux what? Faux sneaux’s plentiful!”

    I don’t remember seeing this in Kansas, but apparently it matures there July-September, so I may have been a little late. Interesting that it’s considered an invasive on the tallgrass prairie.


    December 26, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    • Seaux are you saying that faux sneaux
      Is better than real sneaux’s no-sheaux?

      (Did you kneaux that seaux is a real French word that means ‘pails, buckets’?)

      Even natives can be invasive. At


      I found that this species “spreads quickly in disturbed or overgrazed areas,” so it’s likely that overgrazing was the cause of silver bluestem’s invasiveness in Kansas. I also noticed on that page that “The Kiowa used the stems for toothpicks.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2013 at 8:02 AM

      • I’d forgotten this beauty of a photo. It’s funny that what I missed in Kansas, I found across the street. An entire field of it must be quite a sight to see.


        August 11, 2015 at 1:26 PM

        • I hadn’t thought about it recently either till your comment this morning prompted me to look back and see what views of silver bluestem I’d shown here. Yes, a backlit colony of them is quite a sight, though often a hard one to photograph well.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 11, 2015 at 1:48 PM

  3. My favorite kind — the kind which requires no salting or shoveling. We see many fields of “snow” here in the Houston area as well. I wonder if it’s the same species of grass given our abundant grazing culture here. Interesting about the toothpicks!


    December 26, 2013 at 9:25 AM

    • As a veteran of shoveling snow in childhood, I can confirm that shoveling up this image was a lot easier, even if I had to contend with a barbed wire fence (something that didn’t exist in my suburban New York town).

      The USDA map at


      shows silver bluestem in the Houston area, so chances are that’s the “snow” you’ve been seeing there. Next time you see one in a convenient place you can grab a stem and see how good a toothpick it makes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2013 at 9:38 AM

  4. And that’s precisely what the seed heads look like! My grandmother told me that people used to chew the end of a gum tree stick (I think) to make a toothbrush and to use to position snuff in their mouths. I have to look for the toothpick plant now. Have a great New Year, Steve!

    George Weaver

    December 26, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    • Aha, someone who’s familiar with silver bluestem seed heads; aren’t they a great sight, especially when backlit?

      By “gum tree” do you mean sweetgum?

      Happy 2014 to you, too, George.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      • Yes, sweetgum. Somehow the Mad Cow let “gum” through! 🙂 I saw my old grandmother use a stick frayed at the end into a round “brush” when she dipped her snuff. She always had the stick in her mouth!

        George Weaver

        December 26, 2013 at 1:09 PM

        • It seems your grandmother wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 26, 2013 at 3:41 PM

          • No, my dad’s mother. She was a country woman through and through. Old when I was born and I’m seventy-one. I remember little about her except that she looked like a Native American. They had lots of land, but they were frugal folks in a country sort of way. She had long, soft ears that I loved to tweak. And we stole her snuff and got mighty sick… 🙂

            George Weaver

            December 26, 2013 at 4:42 PM

  5. Half of our 10 acres is an old, overgrazed pasture that has large swathes of silver bluestem. I love the look when the seedheads are backlit by the sun! Your shot above is gorgeous, as well as being a great characterization of the beauty of both plants.

    Cynthia, aka Gaia gardener

    December 26, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    • It must be quite a sight indeed when your large swathes of silver bluestem get backlit. That’s the kind of display that got me to stop and take this picture and some others on that excellent day for seedheads. It was also a good season for flameleaf sumac leaves to do their trick, and here I managed to combine the two for the first time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2013 at 3:51 PM

  6. Great catch Steve…I will pretend it is snow…it makes a wonderful backdrop for the sumac. Hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas! And all the best for the new year!


    December 27, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    • You live in the land of real snow, David, so you don’t have to do any pretending. Down here we take whatever we can get. Happy 2014 to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 27, 2013 at 3:07 PM

  7. […] few miles from where the silver bluestem was impersonating a snowstorm on November 19th, I found this American snout butterfly, Libytheana carinenta, on two twisted […]

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