Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Do the homeless appreciate wildflowers?

with 41 comments

Blue-Eyed Grass Flowers 3238

The title question wanders a bit off the beaten track for this blog, but then so do the homeless. Let me explain. On opposite sides of Stonelake Blvd. in northwest Austin are two largely wooded properties owned by the University of Texas. Every hundred feet or so a prominent No Trespassing sign makes clear the university’s position, and just as often the glimpse of an improvised path or some human detritus makes it clear that homeless people have been camping in those woods. Last spring I wandered in once to take a look, and although the “residents” were out during the day, the place felt creepy and I didn’t stay longer than I had to to photograph the wildflowers I discovered in a clearing inside the woods. Now you understand the question in this post’s title and you can answer it as you will.

On March 11th of this year I wandered along Stonelake Blvd. because while driving by the day before I’d observed that some small wildflowers were already coming up close to the road—no need to venture into the creepy woods. Today and for the next several days you’ll see a few of the spring beauties I found. To begin with, here’s a portrait of blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium spp.) that I was fortunate to notice partly hidden beneath some Ashe juniper trees. The flowers of blue-eyed grass, which isn’t a grass and whose tepals are more violet than blue, typically range from 0.5 to 0.75 inches across (13 to 18 mm), small no matter how you measure them.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 27, 2014 at 6:02 AM

41 Responses

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  1. I’m ‘in love’ with your posts.


    March 27, 2014 at 6:11 AM

  2. Lovely image. I am sure the answers are as varied as the reasons folks are homeless.

    Steve Gingold

    March 27, 2014 at 6:16 AM

    • I expect you’re right, Steve. A couple of years ago a woman whom I regularly see asking for money at intersections directed me to a stand of wildflowers she’d seen a few miles away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 7:04 AM

  3. Fantastic shot, Steve.


    March 27, 2014 at 6:16 AM

    • Thanks, Ken. This was my first sighting of blue-eyed grass for 2014, so I was happy to see them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 7:07 AM

  4. Gorgeous blue,….. and it sounds like these clever little beauties came out of the wood to meet you just so that they could be photographed (whether or not they were appreciated farther along the path!)

    Gill McGrath

    March 27, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    • Ah, anthropomorphism. The intentionality I’m sure of is mine as I keep venturing out in search of our native wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 7:13 AM

  5. I am in love with this one too.


    March 27, 2014 at 7:09 AM

    • God morgen, Bente (or ettermiddag in Norway). I’m fortunate to have two doses of love here within an hour.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 7:23 AM

  6. Ok. This post has me angry. I am raising my eyebrow at myself over it. I am also noting that I haven’t yet had my tea for the day. My expectations as to how I perceive or create your intellect might be skewed. I have been homeless–twice. I am squishing up my forehead trying to imagine or to understand how you could possibly use the word ‘creepy’. My own brains says, well it’s HIS feeling so…you’d better ask him. Another part of the not yet awake brain says–he can view whatever he wishes in whatever way he **** well pleases. I think that appreciation, the ability to appreciate exists in an evenly distributed manner through all humans. There are also outliers. It might be convenient to grab onto an outlier from a population group that also appears to satisfy a stereotype of stupid or tasteless, but this will not make it so. I am also thinking of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Basic safety needs DO tend to come first, though, the way that I live and express myself comes from being able to move into enjoyment and the expression of self, which normally falls under self-actualization. Shrugs. For me, simple joys were magnified and reasons for smiling and being appreciative for each such experience in my day. I am sorry about my reaction and my expectation. I am a work in progress.


    March 27, 2014 at 7:15 AM

    • OOO…and I have blue eyed grass planted here, though it didn’t come back last year like the original planting. We shall see what happens this year.


      March 27, 2014 at 7:31 AM

      • My impression is that not many people know about blue-eyed grass. Let’s hope yours comes back.

        Steve Schwartzman

        March 27, 2014 at 8:24 AM

    • My mother was homeless for a time. She always left a place cleaner than she found it. I would be creeped out by seeing a mess in the woods too. We never know a person’s circumstance, how they came to be where they are, but no matter where you find yourself, it is never an excuse to leave a mess.

      The question: “Do the homeless appreciate wildflowers?” in this particular case the answer would seem self evident.

      I am sorry you were homeless, and fairly certain that you, like my mother, never left a mess in your wake.


      March 27, 2014 at 7:41 AM

      • Thanks for your testimony about your mother, Lynda. I hadn’t yet seen your comment when I wrote my first reply to Elisa, in which I mentioned the messiness being one thing that made the place seem creepy to me. I’m sorry to say that even among people who aren’t disadvantaged there are plenty who throw trash about in nature, as I can confirm from my many wanderings.

        Steve Schwartzman

        March 27, 2014 at 9:16 AM

    • Good morning, Elisa. We are all works in progress, and so shall be right up to the end. As you and Steve (above) point out, there’s a spectrum of appreciations, inclinations, abilities in any group of people. Even to use the word group implies that we’ve selected according to a single criterion out of many that would be equally possible, and there’s no necessary correspondence at all between the members of the groups set up according to different criteria. (You hear the math teacher talking here.)

      Your statement that “Basic safety needs DO tend to come first” matches my thinking in asking the question in the title. I wondered if people who are trying just to get by have the time or energy to appreciate something like wildflowers, which are of no use in basic human survival but which give us sustenance in a different and intangible way. I’m reminded of a Zen story in which a man falls off a cliff but on the way down to his death spies a bunch of strawberries on a ledge and thinks to himself how pretty they are. That’s in accord with what you said: “For me, simple joys were magnified and reasons for smiling and being appreciative for each such experience in my day.”

      As for creepiness, I can think of two things that made me feel that way. One was the dirty clothing and other things I saw cast off in various places. That may be understandable, but the disorder made me uneasy. The other thing was the fact that I was wandering around by myself in a secluded place with thousands of dollars of camera equipment and I didn’t know who I might run into and what state of mind that person might be in.

      Naturally I’m sorry the text in this post made you angry, and I appreciate your taking the time to explain in detail why you felt (feel) that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 7:57 AM

  7. I like the color contrast and the points on the tips. They might be one of the few niceties the homeless folks get to enjoy. Here in IA, being homeless is a very challenging life, especially in the winter. Our county democrats group takes a turn every two months to prepare and serve lunch at the Free Lunch kitchen. A different group does a lunch each day. We see a lot of very appreciative faces and hear many thank yous.

    Jim in IA

    March 27, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    • Yes, those points on the tips make this wildflower special. As for the contrasting colors, I was originally confused by the name blue-eyed grass (even allowing for blue when I see violet). My impression was that the “eye” is yellow, but apparently the creator of the metaphor saw the blue/violet tepals as the iris of an eye and the yellow (strangely) as the pupil.

      Even having a house in Iowa in winter wouldn’t be fun for me, so the plight of the homeless there when it’s cold must be terrible.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 9:25 AM

  8. I had these growing in my garden in California. They are/were one of my favorites of spring. Your photograph is exceptionally lovely, Steve.


    March 27, 2014 at 7:43 AM

    • Shades of “California Dreamin’,” Lynda. I lived in San Diego for three months in 1967 but I wasn’t interested in native plants back then. In any case, I’m glad you like this closeup of these little flowers. Maybe you’ll plant some in Alabama. I see that various species of Sisyrinchium are native there:


      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 9:40 AM

      • Yes, quite a few of them! I had gone looking after my comment to you and was surprised to see that they grow, in one variety or another, in all the mainland states. I always thought they were plants that liked dry feet. Imagine my surprise! And, thank you for the link, as it more clearly specifies the varieties that will grow here.


        March 27, 2014 at 9:53 AM

        • ¡Sí sí for Sisyrinchium (and for bonap.net)!

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 27, 2014 at 10:07 AM

          • This bonap.net looks like a wonderful resource, even though I had some trouble figuring out how to use it. More time and closer attention are required, I suppose. They use some terms that probably are self-evident to many people, but not to me.

            It’s clear they’re serious about their work, though. I laughed at this, on their home page: ” For those of you who share our passion and want to help build a better understanding of our North American biota, jump on board, otherwise get out of our way.”

            Well, ok!


            March 27, 2014 at 12:47 PM

            • The link I gave jumped right to the genus Sisyrinchium, and it might not have been clear how to back out. At


              you can click on the link entitled “Alphabetically by Genus,” and then use the alphabetical tabs to get to the list of genera beginning with a given letter.

              As for the sentence you quoted from the NAPA homepage, I’ll check back occasionally to see the realization of “something so profound and provocative that it will likely change the way we think about wild plants and wild places.”

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 27, 2014 at 1:35 PM

  9. Blue eyed grass is one of those hidden treasures in the grass. I love the little flowers that you find either by accident or by sitting and looking. Scarlet pimpernels (even though they are an escaped plant) was always a treat for me when I worked at UT. I would find it in the cracks of the low walls. Thank you for pointing out that beauty knows no size 🙂


    March 27, 2014 at 8:53 AM

    • You’ve reminded me of Wordsworth’s “splendor in the grass,” Nancy. You’re right that beauty knows no size, and I’ve observed that some tiny things in nature are just as intricate as larger ones. Luckily my macro lens is able to record some of those small details.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 9:44 AM

  10. Wow! Great conversation here. Steve, you may have some of the most thoughtful, insightful readers I’ve come across.

    Do the homeless appreciate wildflowers? I think it depends on why they’re in that position.

    Between 2007 and 2009, the fallout of a lifelong heroin addiction (I got sober in 2006) finally caught up with me—every cent I had was gone, My house was in foreclosure and I was basically squatting there until the inevitable eviction (with no heat because the gas had been turned off) paying the electric bill sporadically so I could cook. During that final summer the ONLY thing that kept me sober and half-sane was the sight of lilies opening in the front yard. In better times I’d dug up the entire lawn and planted it entirely with hostas and lily bulbs that came up in rotation from may thru september. Those flowers served me well in the months before moving here. They were the last pretty things at a time that was anything but.

    People aren’t all that different, just the circumstances in which they find themselves. I suspect even the rarest glimpses of beauty soothe the souls of the homeless as they do those living under roofs.


    March 27, 2014 at 10:17 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear about your ordeal, Karen, but relieved that things have taken a turn for the better. I didn’t know about your background nor Elisa’s nor Lynda’s mother’s. Obviously there’s so much more in a person’s life than the things that surface on a blog, especially if the blog generally deals with just one subject, as mine does with native plants. In today’s post I went off on a bit of a tangent, and that led to some heartfelt and insightful comments rooted in personal experience. Thanks to all of you for your contributions.

      About your statement that “you may have some of the most thoughtful, insightful readers I’ve come across,” I’d also direct you to


      if you’re not already a visitor there. Linda consistently elicits more-detailed comments about her posts than those of any blog I’m aware of.

      And let’s hope you’re right that “even the rarest glimpses of beauty soothe the souls of the homeless as they do those living under roofs.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 1:26 PM

  11. Your mention of homelessness reminds me I’d meant to pass on news of Suzanne Verdal. A woman commented recently on my blog entry about her. She pointed me to the blog of a fellow who spent an afternoon with Suzanne in Venice, California last October. It sounds as though she’s well, and well-embedded into the community there.

    You also reminded me of a touching photojournalistic essay by Ben Marcin. It focuses on some of the homeless camps in and around Baltimore, and supports visually something mentioned here by other commenters — that while the homeless may share the state of homelessness with one another, in other ways they’re a varied lot.

    Some of the camps are quite trashy, while others are neat and show a good bit of care in their construction. Some are minimalistic, while others are remarkably well-furnished. And, in the sixth photo down, there’s a sort of answer to your question — a vase of flowers sits on a table.

    My blog friend ellaella, who ended up on the streets and died in a shelter, was there because of circumstance. The homeless fellow I’ve known since coming to this area is on the streets by choice, though why he made that choice originally I don’t know. He has a bicycle that’s loaded down with his clothing and other possessions, and he used to have a Coke bottle secured to the handlebars with plastic wire ties. When the acacias along the bridge began to bloom, or the Texas dandelions, he’d pluck a few and put them in his makeshift vase. When I’d see him doing that, I never knew whether to smile or cry, so I’d do both. I used to worry about him during hurricane season and such, until I found out when things get really rough the police give him a cell.

    As for creepy places, I’ve been to, through and in a few of those, and I’ve felt a sense of urgency about getting out. The last time it happened, it was the sight of fresh bobcat tracks that did it. They were so fresh the edges hadn’t started to dry. When I looked around, I didn’t see a thing, but I had an absolute sense that I was being watched. That was creepy, as the unknown so often can be.

    On the other hand, those blue-eyed grasses don’t seem creepy at all!


    March 27, 2014 at 1:46 PM

    • Thanks for the update about Suzanne Verdal, the inspiration for Leonard Cohen’s famous song. Venice, California, sounds like just the kind of place she’d be happy in, and there’s a carryover to those among the homeless who choose not to live a conventional life. I looked through the photographs at your second link and I see what you mean: some of the makeshift dwellings are a good deal tidier than others (even to that vase of flowers you pointed out in the sixth picture).

      If you haven’t done a post about the homeless fellow with the bicycle and Coke-bottle vase, that seems a likely topic to pursue, assuming he’d cooperate. (None of the Baltimore photographs include people, so you wouldn’t have to show him if that were a problem.)

      I can’t say I’ve been frightened by animals when I’ve roamed in nature. No bobcats or evidence thereof. Neighbors have reported coyotes in Great Hills Park, but I’ve never seen one, and they’re reputed to avoid people in any case. I’ve found evidence of feral hogs in northwest Austin but have never seen one of the animals. No, it’s people that have made me wary, though whether justifiably or unjustifiably I can’t say.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 27, 2014 at 3:46 PM

  12. I’m sure some would see & appreciate them.


    March 27, 2014 at 8:52 PM

  13. I’ve been madly in love with this little sweetheart species for decades since first meeting her. I even bought a little bag of bulk seed and sowed it out back in optimistic glee last year, hoping that this year I might see some of those gorgeous micro-beauties getting a start there if I’m lucky. 😀 What a pretty shot! Thanks!!


    March 30, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    • You’re welcome. Since the day I took this picture I hadn’t seen any more blue-eyed grass, but yesterday I finally noticed a colony near the edge of a road I was driving on. A friend of mine thought I should have mentioned that blue-eyed grass is in the iris family, so I’m saying it now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 31, 2014 at 7:56 AM

      • You won’t be surprised, of course, that I am such a devotee of both, or that I did look up the connection long ago because of the resemblance.


        March 31, 2014 at 10:46 AM

  14. […] you remember the picture of blue-eyed grass flowers a month ago? Now, going backward in development, here’s the bud of a Sisyrinchium on […]

  15. […] By a strange coincidence, that led to my post from March 27, 2014, entitled Do the homeless appreciate wildflowers? […]

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