Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Surely a penstemon

with 25 comments

Penstemon buckleyi Flowers9292

When I was at Monahans Sandhills State Park on the overcast and windy afternoon of April 12th, I saw this flower spike that I assumed must be some sort of penstemon. Wildflower guides have led me to believe it’s Penstemon buckleyi, called, not surprisingly, Buckley‘s penstemon.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 10, 2014 at 5:52 AM

25 Responses

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  1. What an elegant presentation. It looks like it belongs in a folio of fine botanical prints. I’m especially taken with the way the receptacles (?) alternate their alignment on the stalk. And I laughed at that one aging blossom. You’ve pointed out how uncommon true-blue can be. Funny that such a good example should be a bit of dying lavender.


    May 10, 2014 at 6:45 AM

    • Last night I was thinking about that one wilted and color-altered blosssom, wondering whether I should have removed it before taking the photograph. That would have done nothing more than speed up nature a little and would have given me a more pristine image. On the other hand, it provides a contrast in shape and color, and it lets viewers know the changes that are in store for all those other blossoms. Another flower (and one that I often see in Austin) that behaves similarly, typically turning from violet to blue when it shrivels, is prairie verbena.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2014 at 7:03 AM

    • By the way, bracts arranged like those in this plant, with each new pair at 90° to the previous pair, are said to be decussate, and the arrangement itself is called decussation:


      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2014 at 7:13 AM

      • Bracts. Not receptacles. I thought about bracts while I was looking at a diagram of flower parts, but decided on receptacles. So good to have someone to set me straight on these details! That decussation discussion was interesting, too.


        May 10, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    • Exactly my thought; that this looks like the finest botanical art. However, what does this mean “This plant has no children “?


      May 10, 2014 at 7:56 AM

  2. The flowers certainly resemble Penstemons and very much like our P. digitalis-Foxglove Beardtongue although the stem architecture is very different.
    I’m on the fence with the bedraggled bloom. It’s obvious that there have been spent flowers which have fallen, so seeing one pre-freefall is, I guess, a good example of their appearance and the color they assume. OTOH, as a piece of art it might have been advantageous to remove it. OTOH OTOH, as a piece of art having all the blooms and a few unopened buds at the top would have been the ideal.

    Steve Gingold

    May 10, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    • What led me to assume this is a penstemon is Penstemon cobaea, the species we have in Austin, also known, like yours, as foxglove and beard-tongue. From your OTOH and OTOH to the second power, I think readers can infer that as a photographer you’ve faced such questions yourself. If I’d thought about it at the time, I could’ve taken this photograph first, then removed the wilted bloom and continued photographing. That way I’d have had your OTOH and your OTOH OTOH, and I could have followed your practice of showing two versions and asking which one people prefer. The truth is that I struggled to get even this picture, given the adverse conditions. If only hindsight could be foresight.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2014 at 7:53 AM

      • Personally, I think that spent bloom is the most powerful aspect of the photo: a botanical memento mori, if you will. Beyond that, I’m always happy to have opportunity to drag out this quotation from Annie Dillard.

        “I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.”


        May 10, 2014 at 12:53 PM

        • That’s an apt passage, all right. It reminds me of the ending of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” that I’ve quoted more than once:

          Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
          We are not now that strength which in old days
          Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
          One equal temper of heroic hearts,
          Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
          To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

          And thanks for your vote for the spent bloom.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 10, 2014 at 6:04 PM

  3. Thank-you, shoreacres, for this lovely quote.


    May 10, 2014 at 3:01 PM

  4. this is soooo beautiful.


    May 10, 2014 at 10:29 PM

  5. Beautifully photographed!


    May 11, 2014 at 9:43 PM

  6. Shoreacres has already written it, so I can only second it: this looks exactly like a fine botanical print.

    Susan Scheid

    May 13, 2014 at 8:26 PM

    • All right: two votes for a botanical print, and a fine one at that. This photograph proved more successful than I thought it would be.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 13, 2014 at 9:59 PM

  7. […] time I’ve shown it in these pages. In a reversal of what you’d expect, you got to see a penstemon from west Texas before the one that’s native in […]

  8. […] the last couple of months you’ve seen two species in the genus Penstemon: P. buckleyi from west Texas and P. cobaea from a little northwest of Austin. Now joining them from Bastrop […]

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