Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

An endangered species

with 46 comments

Over the three years of this blog devoted to native species I’ve never showed a picture of any that are endangered, but now you’re finally seeing one:

Texas Wild-Rice 8661

Texas wild-rice plants undulate in the flow of the San Marcos River in this downward-looking view.

On May 24th I attended a field trip led by biologist Flo Oxley to look at Zizania texana, Texas wild-rice, an aquatic grass that grows only in the first two miles of the San Marcos River as it emerges from Spring Lake in San Marcos, a town about 30 miles southwest of Austin. Flo told us that attempts to get the rice growing in other rivers in the region had failed, and even attempts farther down the San Marcos River itself haven’t succeeded. There must be just the right balance (I originally typed “rice balance”) of temperature, water flow, minerals, and other factors to make this species happy where it is and unhappy everywhere else.

Texas Wild Rice 8621

Remember that grasses are flowering plants. The little white “feathers” are actually parts of Texas wild-rice’s flowers.


You can read plenty more about Texas wild-rice in the following two articles:



(There’s more interest in this species now than when that article was written.)




© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 14, 2014 at 5:59 AM

46 Responses

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  1. Gosh, that is really endangered; on a par with our Maui’s dolphin http://www.doc.govt.nz/conservation/native-animals/marine-mammals/dolphins/mauis-dolphin/


    July 14, 2014 at 6:25 AM

    • Just as I assume you’d never heard of Texas wild-rice, I’d never heard of Maui’s dolphins. It’s a good thing the latter don’t feed on the former. When I see the word Maui I think of the Hawaiian island of that name. I looked online and found this explanation in the Wikipedia article: “The word ‘Maui’ from the Maui’s dolphin’s name comes from te Ika-a-Māui, the Māori word for New Zealand’s North Island. However, the Māori word for the dolphin itself is popoto.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 7:00 AM

      • Indeed I had not heard of that particular wild rice. In one of the links you gave, the word relict was used to describe the wild rice you saw. In this part of the world, the word relict is almost a relict. The only time I have seen it recently is in my research into my ancestor’s death notices.


        July 15, 2014 at 1:07 AM

        • Well said: “the word relict is almost a relict.” When I looked in the American Heritage Dictionary, I found the first definition was marked as being from the field of ecology: ‘A species that inhabits a much smaller geographic area than it did in the past, often because of environmental change.’ Apparently that ecological use has given the word new life.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 15, 2014 at 5:53 AM

  2. Wonderful depictions of the species: I like each for different reasons. The first for its abstract qualities. The second for its eloquence. I always feel a deep sadness that any aspect of nature is endangered. I hope that “they” keep at it: trying to re-establish it.


    July 14, 2014 at 6:26 AM

    • The wind that morning made taking pictures difficult, but I managed to get some that were okay. I’ll take abstraction and elegance any time, so thanks.

      I’m optimistic that with botanists—including Flo Oxley—working on Texas wild-rice, the situation will improve.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 7:07 AM

  3. Fascinating detail and I have started to look more at the many different types of grasses we have.


    July 14, 2014 at 6:26 AM

    • Yes, grasses are fascinating, but as someone with no botanical background I find many of them hard to identify.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 7:09 AM

  4. Beautiful photos of a wonderful plant. I had no idea there was wild rice in Texas, and, of course, there almost isn’t. I hope they can have some success in preserving what remains, and perhaps in nurturing its growth.

    The articles you linked answered my first question — is this related to Minnesota’s wild rice? It is, and now I’m tempted to send off for a pound or two that’s hand-harvested and parched over wood fires. There’s as much difference between hand-harvested wild rice and commercially grown as there is between a vine-ripened tomato from the garden and one of those things they sell in the stores and call tomatoes.

    When I was a kid, we used to go up to Minnesota for the harvest and pow-wows. We’d always bring some home to serve with special meals. The harvest is highly regulated, and there are some wonderful articles, like this one, that give a sense of the importance of the rice to cultures like the Ojibwe.


    July 14, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    • I hope those tight regulations make it less likely that Minnesota’s wild-rice will become as endangered as the species in Texas. Your comparison of hand-harvested wild-rice to vine-ripened tomatoes is a good one. I’ve often referred to the tomatoes sold in supermarkets as cardboard tomatoes, based on their taste (or lack thereof). In supermarkets I’ve even seen still-green tomatoes for sale under a sign that says “vine-ripened.” Apparently some people don’t know what the verb ripen means.

      I like the phrase “ricing partner” in the second article.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 7:24 AM

  5. How interesting and I hope this habitat will always be there for it! Loved the little, delicate white flowers.


    July 14, 2014 at 7:18 AM

  6. That is an interesting plant. Very particular about its habitat.

    Jim in IA

    July 14, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    • More so than I am about mine.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 7:30 AM

      • hmmm…I imagine you as a tidy sort. No?

        Jim in IA

        July 14, 2014 at 7:39 AM

        • Moderately tidy. I don’t care about things like yard work, though, and I mow the lawn only as often as necessary to keep the neighbors from making plans to lynch me. Memory fades quickly enough, and after I die I’d rather be remembered for my photographs and writing—which take time—than for having kept my yard tidy—which would steal time from the pursuits that matter to me. Chacun à son goût.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 14, 2014 at 8:06 AM

          • There is a man across our street who seems quite obsessed with his lawn mowing. Each time he goes a different direction. Other times it is cut diagonally one way then the opposite next time. Plus he barely lets it get tall enough in my opinion. Tout ce qui sera sera.

            Google translate helped with that. I wonder if it is correct. My high school french was mostly a waste of time. The first year teacher broke her leg and we got a long term sub. The second year teacher was a minister from Portugal who seemed to speak broken french and english.

            Jim in IA

            July 14, 2014 at 10:32 AM

            • Google Translate did okay on your aphorism.
              Maybe instead of second-year French your school should have offered first-year Portuguese because then at least you would have had a native speaker. My first Portuguese course was taught by a gentleman from Portugal named Ramalhete, and I still remember him telling us certain things even though that was 49 years ago.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 14, 2014 at 1:37 PM

  7. Absolutely fascinating. Endangered species of every kind everywhere, and this is a new one on me. Thank you for the education and fabulous photos.


    July 14, 2014 at 7:57 AM

  8. Steve, your first shot looks like art glass. Beautiful! The second is not clickable for a closer look at those flower structures. Was this on purpose?


    July 14, 2014 at 8:07 AM

    • Thanks for pointing out the problem with the second photo. I checked and found that somehow the effect of a click had gotten set to “None.” As far as I know that’s never happened before, and it certainly wasn’t my intention. Try it again now and it should be working properly.

      I like your likening of the first photo to art glass, Lynda.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 8:12 AM

  9. Beautiful plants, Steve, and the photos are almost abstract in their beauty.


    July 14, 2014 at 8:33 AM

    • Thanks for raising awareness about the critical habitat of this plant and the need to protect endangered species.


      July 14, 2014 at 8:40 AM

      • You’re welcome, Bob. Because you’re in central Texas, you can go down to the San Marcos River whenever you’d like to see this plant.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 14, 2014 at 8:52 AM

    • They are beautiful plants, Lynn, and if I can present them abstractly, so much the better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 8:49 AM

  10. Absolutely fascinating blog, sublime shots of beautiful Mother Nature creations combined with educational information about each species, makes it a one of a kind and a very rewarding experience, an experience which raises also awareness to pay closer attention to our beautiful nature surroundings which we take for granted. Thank you for sharing all that with all of us!


    July 14, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    • You’re quite welcome, Eva. I’m glad these posts hit the spot for you. Wherever anyone is, nature offers a never-ending supply of subjects. Most of the things I’ve shown here live in or not far from Austin, and quite a few are from right in my neighborhood. Welcome to that world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 2:25 PM

      • Well thank you for welcoming me into a world of wonders seen throughout your lens and passion which you have for nature! Looking forward to see your amazing neighborhood one post at the time!


        July 14, 2014 at 2:38 PM

  11. This question shows you how much I do NOT know about rice … are the fruits, which develop as part of each of those feathery flowers, what’s harvested as actual (edible) grains of ‘rice’?

    Pairodox Farm

    July 14, 2014 at 5:57 PM

  12. I’ve not photographed an endangered species of any sort so far. Uh, well…I have done a few “selfies”.
    These are both fine shots although I am a bit partial to the flowing plats undulating in the river.
    With your penchant for viewing your subjects up into the sky, I would expect you to get a snorkel and do these justice soon.

    Steve Gingold

    July 14, 2014 at 6:46 PM

    • I’m sorry to hear you’re becoming an endangered species, Steve. We’ll have to get the authorities to do something about that.

      The picture that you like was taken from a footbridge that crosses the San Marcos River. I’m afraid the only vertical shots of wild-rice that you’ll see here are downward ones like today’s. As much as I like looking upward, and as intriguing as your suggestion is, I’m not about to get a snorkel and an underwater housing for my camera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 14, 2014 at 7:33 PM

  13. […] the second picture in yesterday’s post didn’t let you click to enlarge it. Now it’s gone from recalcitrant to repentant and […]

  14. i will be looking more closely at our wild-rice to see the little white flowers, thanks for the wonderful article and images


    July 15, 2014 at 8:06 AM

  15. Vraiment envahissant Steve.


    July 16, 2014 at 11:40 AM

  16. The submerged plants are beautiful!


    July 24, 2014 at 9:35 AM

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