Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 29 comments

Crested Coral Root Orchid 0151

Lurid: now that’s a word you probably never expected to find in reference to a native plant. Neither did I, but here’s what Joe Liggio and Ann Orto Liggio write in Wild Orchids of Texas as their first sentence for the entry on Hexalectris spicata var. spicata: “The brightly colored, even lurid, flowers of the crested coral root grow on a tall, leafless stalk of fleshy pink.”

In some parts of the world orchids are quite common, but I rarely get to see any in central Texas, so I was excited when Sue Wiseman e-mailed me near the end of May to say that she and some other native plant folks had found several crested coral root orchids growing in a little group along a trail in the Williamson County Southwest Regional Park. On June 2nd I went there and took a bunch of photographs, both by natural light and with flash; the picture you see here was one of the natural light portraits. Because these orchids tend to grow in the shade, I had to use a wide aperture, and that accounts for the overall softness of the parts of the plant other than the one flower I focused on. I hope you’ll agree that the effect works well here.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 5, 2014 at 5:58 AM

29 Responses

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  1. Lurid? They look elegant and refined.


    July 5, 2014 at 6:20 AM

    • My guess is that they were referring to the vivid purple on the orchid’s lower lip. Whatever they meant, I’m just glad I got to see one of these plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 5, 2014 at 7:55 AM

  2. Ah, nature has a way with colours. This is simply wonderful!


    July 5, 2014 at 6:43 AM

    • Wonderful: that’s what I felt. Who knows if I’ll ever get to see one of these in the wild again?

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 5, 2014 at 7:56 AM

  3. Oh wow, I had no idea orchids were this close to Austin. I thought if I ever saw one it would be over in the Big Thicket area. Thank you so much for the photos.


    July 5, 2014 at 8:38 AM

  4. It’s a beautiful plant. I did not know that there were orchid varieties “in the wild” – but I guess when one thinks about it – that’s where all plants started 🙂


    July 5, 2014 at 8:41 AM

  5. With all due respect to the Liggios, “lurid” in any sense isn’t a word I’d apply to this flower. It’s so unusual, so beautiful, so unexpected in its appearance, I don’t know what single word would do, but “lurid” isn’t it. Dreamlike, maybe.

    It’s a beauty for sure, and the photo’s perfect.


    July 5, 2014 at 8:45 AM

    • My Latin dictionary translates luridus as ‘pale yellow, sallow, wan, ghastly, lurid.’ Webster’s of a century ago has those meanings and adds a botanical sense: ‘Having a brown color tinged with red, as of flame seen through smoke.’ There’s some brownish red in the stripes on these orchid flowers, and the notion of seeing through smoke seems not so far from your “dreamlike.” Regardless, this is a species I’m sorry I get to regard less often than I would like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 5, 2014 at 10:40 AM

  6. Each day I enjoy your beautiful photography but rarely comment.
    This photo is stunning. Yes, the effect works!

    Martha Goudey

    July 5, 2014 at 8:46 AM

  7. Shocking, vivid, sensational? Sort of. I think it is very striking in a good way.

    Jim in IA

    July 5, 2014 at 9:39 AM

  8. Another beauty (the photo) … yeah, the plant is nice too! Another in your series of ‘classic’ images. When is the pretty coffee-table-book coming out? Reserve one for me. D

    Pairodox Farm

    July 5, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    • Hey, if you can convince a publisher to do the book, I’ll give you a copy for free, and I’ll even throw in some coffee to put on the coffee table.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 5, 2014 at 7:45 PM

  9. None other than Georgia O”Keefe saw the sensuality (which some may interpret as lurid) qualities in orchids. http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A4360&page_number=11&sort_order=1&template_id=1
    But, however one may describe this flower, there is one word that is very appropriate….lovely. And what a wonder it is that the plant is allowed a stalk full of these beauties from top to bottom. And lucky you are to get to photograph it.

    Steve Gingold

    July 6, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    • As you noted, O’Keeffe’s sensual flower portraits have stirred up generations of comments pro and con. That aside, I’m glad you find this orchid lovely, and I know you’d get as much pleasure from photographing it as I did. Don’t know when I’ll get the chance again.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 6, 2014 at 1:20 PM

  10. Steve, as *always* your photographs capture the beauty of Nature and make me pleased to be a resident of this planet!

    I feel thrilled to see, on rare occasions, a native orchid or two. I’m here in the mountains of central Virginia and feel that perhaps my climate is a tiny bit more inviting to orchids. You must be even *more* thrilled than I am to get to see native orchids in your area!

    I always enjoy your work!


    July 6, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    • Thanks, Brenda. I’m pleased to hear the effect my photographs have on you.

      The book by the Liggios about wild orchids in Texas includes dozens of species, but most of them are from the far eastern part of the state, where there’s lots more rainfall than in the parts farther west. You’re probably right that central Virginia is more hospitable to orchids than central Texas, and right also that the rarity here makes a find like this one all the more thrilling.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 6, 2014 at 3:39 PM

      • Ain’t Nature wonderful!! More rain, yes that helps, but each climate area has its own treasures. My husband is from Hobbs, New Mexico. I lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico years ago. I know lack of rain! But still there are grand finds to be had!

        BTW I consider myself a “crazy colorist” and “lurid” is a wonderful way to describe those beautiful orchids in your photo! Lurid is good!


        July 6, 2014 at 3:46 PM

        • I’m reminded of that famous (or notorious) claim from the movie Wall Street, “Greed is good,” and now you’ve recast it as “Lurid is good.” Lurid has lured the crazy colorist.

          I’ve learned the lesson you point out, that every region, even one that’s seemingly inhospitable, has its treasures, and I imagine biologists would take that as evidence of the way species adapt to fit conditions. Most of the native plants I’ve showed from the Austin area are found farther afield in the state as well, and often even in some or many other states, but occasionally I’ve shown species that live nowhere else but central Texas. Even more circumscribed than that is an endangered species I’ll be posting about later this month, which lives only along a two-miles stretch of a single river.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 6, 2014 at 4:01 PM

  11. My, what a big nose you have, Lurid Lady! ‘-)

    When I first looked I was taken in by the beauty of the orchid and your great photographic skill. Then all of a sudden I noticed her proboscis and couldn’t help the comment above. This really is a great shot, Steve!


    July 7, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    • As much as I appreciate the orchid in its own right, my anthropomorphic imagination also saw the nose that you did, Lynda. Either way, I’m glad you like the picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 7, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    • By the way, Lurid Lady sounds like a good title for a book or movie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 7, 2014 at 12:29 PM

  12. What a beautiful plant that is and I admire your photo of it. Interesting too that I tried to photograph one of its relatives, the spotted coralroot, today. Amazing and lovely little creatures, aren’t they!


    July 8, 2014 at 12:03 AM

  13. gorgeous photos of our lovely little corner of the world! I want to thank you– I have 10 acres in Dripping Springs– and just used your photo to narrow down the name of the plant I discovered yesterday on my hill! We’ve owned the property 16 years now, and I’ve never seen them before. I was a little off my beaten path, so they may be around more often and I’ve just missed them, but it might also be that the wonderful rains we’ve had this year have produced a rare treat. I found 7 stalks coming up, with one just beginning to bloom. How odd to see bloom stalks and not a single leaf in sight! Beautiful work, Steve.

    Cathy Ramsey

    May 10, 2016 at 2:13 PM

    • You’re fortunate to have seven stalks of this lovely native orchid coming up on your property. Your sighting is a few weeks earlier than mine in 2014, most likely because of this year’s spring rains, as you mentioned. I visited the Williamson County site last again year but was a little too late: the orchids by then were already drying out. I’ll have to go check the place out again this year now that you’ve alerted me that you’re are just beginning to bloom.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2016 at 2:36 PM

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