Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Astragalus racemosus

with 28 comments

Silky Sophora Flowers 9888A

(Note: I significantly updated this article after I posted it.)

At Caprock Canyons State Park on April 15th I saw some plants that had produced clusters of pretty cream-white flowers, and there was also a tinge of pale violet in them that became apparent only with a close look. Also apparent with a close look were a couple of ants scurrying about on the flowers.

In preparing today’s post, I did some research and tentatively settled on Sophora nuttalliana as the identity of this plant. That’s the way the post went out, but then a comment and a link provided by shoreacres put me back into research mode. I now think the plant shown here is Astragalus racemosus, known as cream milkvetch. To see the places in the United States and Canada where Astragalus racemosus grows, you can check out the USDA’s state-clickable map.

If the name Astragalus rings a bell, it could be because I recently showed photographs of a flower and some leaves of an Astragalus species found in Austin.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 4, 2014 at 6:00 AM

28 Responses

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  1. We went for a nice hike late yesterday on a trail through woods near the Lake McBride SP near us. We saw these little Dutchman’s Breeches. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dicentra_cucullaria
    They were in single plants scattered about. The article says that ants spread the seeds. Interesting.

    There were a lot of a small blue flowers I have yet to ID.

    Jim in IA

    May 4, 2014 at 6:47 AM

  2. I went looking for more information on this one, and found this page. What caught my attention was the reference to colored calyx tubes That’s exactly what I was noticing on the blue stars you recently posted, where you so helpfully provided the word “calyx.”


    May 4, 2014 at 7:24 AM

    • The large amount of purple in the photographs in your linked article made me doubt my identification, which was always tentative. I’d noticed in one of my wildflower guides the statement that that silky sophora is often confused with an astragalus, but I may have made the opposite mistake, and although I checked out some astragalus species when I was preparing this post, I must not have checked out all of the ones that occur in the Panhandle. After looking again just now, I think what I photographed may well be Astragalus racemosus. The picture at


      certainly matches the gestalt of the plants I saw. As I say so often: live and learn. I’m going to update this post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 4, 2014 at 7:54 AM

  3. Hmm, I see what you mean. I’ve made similar errors, and as you say, live and learn. I guess I learn more when I’ve made a mistake! Soon I’ll be tackling carexes…wish me luck!


    May 4, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    • I can’t say I’ve learned more from making mistakes than from getting things right in the first place, but both routes can lead to knowledge.

      Good luck indeed with your Carexes, which comprise a vast and difficult field. The extent of my knowledge there is that sedges have (three) edges.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 4, 2014 at 8:56 AM

  4. I am of no help with identification but I have learned that the astragalus is the bone in the ankle that articulates with the leg bones to form the ankle joint .( Now the flowers look like ankle bones to me.) And I have also discovered that our beautiful kowhai is in the genus sophora http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dwhai


    May 4, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    • I’m much better as a photographer than as a botanist, but I do what I can to identify the plants I take pictures of.

      Astragalos was originally a Greek word for ‘vertebra’ and ‘ankle bone.’ The word also came to be associated with dice, which tells us that the ancients made dice out of ankle bones. Latin borrowed the Greek term as astragalus and used it both for ‘a kind of convex molding’ and ‘a certain type of leguminous plant.’ Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas says that the extension to a plant name may allude to the rattling of the seeds in their pods (think of the sound two dice make when they’re rolled and collide). That’s plausible: we have a leguminous plant in Austin whose seeds noticeably rattle in their dry pods, and the common name for that plant is rattlebush.

      I’m glad to learn about your native New Zealand sophoras, which I knew nothing at all about. I see from the linked article that “the blooms of the kōwhai are widely regarded as being New Zealand’s national flower.” From seeing the picture of the yellow blooms, I now knōwhy the kōwhai is popular there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 4, 2014 at 9:43 AM

  5. Beautiful. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    May 4, 2014 at 1:31 PM

  6. The background color is interesting, too. Does it come from the color of the rock?

    Susan Scheid

    May 4, 2014 at 7:56 PM

    • Yes, it’s the color of the sandstone that predominates at Caprock Canyons. I like that color as a background theme, and it’s just as well that I do because there was often no way to avoid it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 4, 2014 at 10:04 PM

  7. Beautiful cascading flowers against the salmon pink background. Very aesthetic photo, Steve.

    Mary Mageau

    May 5, 2014 at 5:23 AM

    • Thanks, Mary. That warm sandstone color was all over the place, and I was glad to have something different to use as a background tone.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 5, 2014 at 6:16 AM

  8. […] I significantly updated yesterday’s article after I posted […]

  9. I do love the way racemes ripple and flow, dripping flowers along their lengths like living embodiments of what the term sounds like it conflates: racing streams. Nice shot here.


    May 5, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    • Thanks for the new association: racemes and racing streams. (Now if only the streams in Texas would do more racing and less drying up, we’d all be better off.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 5, 2014 at 4:19 PM

      • No kidding! Hope the potential big-giant-rain comes through for the region on Thursday. Or more than Thursday.


        May 5, 2014 at 6:01 PM

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