Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

An endangered species, part 2

with 25 comments

Yesterday you heard about a May 24th field trip led by biologist Flo Oxley to look at Zizania texana, Texas wild-rice, an endangered 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.

Texas Wild-Rice 8521

The seed-bearing stalks of Texas wild-rice rise out of the water and the seed sheaths hang downward.

What I didn’t mention last time is that because of the springs that feed the river, people have lived there for over 10,000 years; in fact some scholars believe that this might well be the oldest continually inhabited site in North America. I bring that up not only because it’s interesting in its own right, but also because people continue to interact with the wild-rice in the San Marcos River, an upper portion of which is adjacent to Texas State University. It’s common in warm weather (which means most of the year in Texas) for students to sun themselves on the banks of the San Marcos, with some students and other people wending their way down the river in tubes or canoes, thus sharing the water with the wild-rice. Botanists have cordoned off some of the plants to control contact, but other plants are right out there where people are passing by. Let’s hope it remains a peaceful coexistence.

For much more information about the history of human interaction with the springs that feed the San Marcos river, you can check out these two articles:



Texas Wild Rice 8638

Note: the second picture in yesterday’s post didn’t let you click to enlarge it. Now it’s gone from recalcitrant to repentant and will dutifully enlarge if you click it.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 15, 2014 at 6:04 AM

25 Responses

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  1. beautiful


    July 15, 2014 at 6:11 AM

  2. I always meant to ask whether you’re using your Canon macro by itself (to 1:1) or do you use glass diopters or extension tubes …. or perhaps simply enlarge in post processing? D

    Pairodox Farm

    July 15, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    • When I switched from the EOS 7D to the full-frame EOS 5D Mark III, I missed the extra closeness I’d gotten from the 1.6x crop factor of the APS-C sensor. I few months ago I began inserting a 12mm extension tube between my 100mm macro lens and the body of the 5D Mark III. That lets me get a little closer to my macro subjects, but it also means the 100mm lens temporarily can’t focus out to more distant things, something I used to count on doing when I needed a longer shot in a hurry.

      One reason the Nikon D8100 tempts me is that with all those pixels I could crop an image to digitally zoom in yet still have a lot of data left after the crop.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 15, 2014 at 7:08 AM

  3. great info, thanks


    July 15, 2014 at 7:39 AM

    • You’re welcome. (Sorry for the late reply, but WordPress mistakenly put your comment in the spam folder.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 21, 2014 at 8:47 AM

  4. Yes, let’s hope for peaceful co-existence. In the links, I was very interested to learn about the dogtrot house which seems a very sensible design.


    July 15, 2014 at 8:31 AM

  5. I actually never saw aquatic grass or for that matter plain grass so close, and I can say is absolutely beautiful! Your images are showing the intricate details which for the naked eye seems too tiny to observe, but you capture that unseen hidden beauty and display it to reveal a magical little wonder! It’s fantastic to witness plants so very close, so thank you for that! Great shots!


    July 15, 2014 at 9:34 AM

    • It’s good to see your enthusiasm, Eva. Yes, the small details visible through a macro lens can give quite a different impression from the one we get through our unaided eyes. That’s probably why I’ve ended up doing more closeups than any other kind of picture, even though fields of dense wildflowers have their appeal too.

      Another grass whose flowers I’ve photographed is eastern gamagrass, whose flower stalk can rise higher than a tall person:


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 15, 2014 at 11:08 AM

      • It is fascinating to see all that beauty offered by nature! As I said before your site is so different from some other sites, the educational and informational aspect of it is outstanding and most professional which is regarded as a super plus in my world. It is priceless actually. I love nature and nowadays with all that digital camera buzz everybody is snapping photos ( I include myself among those too) of everything which is alright, but there are very few offerings with real insides, a kind of a “one on one” with the subject and that is one of the reasons I got exited when I discovered your site! All I can say is congratulations and let your camera roll because the results are a beautiful display of nature combined with knowledge!


        July 16, 2014 at 12:52 AM

        • Even more thanks to you, Eva, for your affirming words. The one-on-one with a subject that you mentioned is the reason I called this collection Portraits of Wildflowers (even if it also features things other than portraits and wildflowers).

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 16, 2014 at 6:54 AM

  6. Thanks for the beautiful photos, Steve. I love your blog!

    I used to think those were seed sheaths as well, until I heard Flo Oxley mention one day that Texas Wild Rice had both male and female flowers. I then started taking close up photos (rather obsessively over time) and poring over a 2004 report on Texas Wild Rice reproduction that was researched and compiled by Flo Oxley and Paula Power.

    The photo you posted yesterday showed female flowers, as evidenced by the white, feathery stigmas. These are found in the upper portion of the stalk (well demonstrated by your photo). In order for seed formation to occur, they must receive pollen from the male flowers, preferably from another plant. The seeds are brown.

    I believe the photo in this posting shows unopened male flowers. When they open they are white with yellow pollen-laden anthers. I especially love your second photo. I do frequently see that beautiful rose color as well, but have not figured what that is all about. It appears to be a transitional color between the green and the white.

    Anyway, that is my two cents. The real authority is Flo, your tour guide that day!

    Gena Fleming

    July 15, 2014 at 12:51 PM

    • Thanks for all you’ve said here, Gena. I often feel at a loss because I never took any botany classes, so I’m grateful when someone who knows about such things offers information. On the field trip, Flo showed us some of the dark seeds this grass produces, and I assumed they came from inside the structures shown in these two photographs. Now it seems that may have been a leap too far. I’ll do what you said and try to get a clarification from Flo. Thanks again.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 15, 2014 at 1:29 PM

      • I never took a college course in botany either. However, I did have the blessing of studying plant taxonomy for a while with Flo, who continues to teach the course free as a love offering to the San Marcos community. What a gift!

        Gena Fleming

        July 15, 2014 at 1:50 PM

  7. A peaceful coexistence between people and rice? We’ll have to get John Kerry on the job. I think we have some wild rice hereabouts, but I’ve never seen it.

    Steve Gingold

    July 16, 2014 at 4:04 AM

    • I hope you find it so you can go wild over wild-rice. If you get Kerry on the job, maybe he can prevent a hostile foreign government from getting an atomic bomb with which to nuke our wild-rice. I’d hate to look back after the extinction of the species and say “Ayatollah you so.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2014 at 7:03 AM

      • I am already wild for wild rice, there so many varieties. But it comes bulk from Whole Foods.
        Ayatollah you so…… 🙂

        Steve Gingold

        July 16, 2014 at 7:28 AM

        • Speaking of Whole Foods and destruction, did you know that Whole Foods began here in Austin? During the Memorial Day flood of 1981 water flooded into the original store and ruined the stock, almost putting the company out of business. You can see two pictures in the second row of photos (and others farther down) at:

          May 81 Grant 7 edit

          I remember that for years afterward I would see the mark (in the form of little stylized waves) that had been painted on the outside of the building to show how high the water had risen. Years later Whole Foods moved its downtown store to larger quarters a few blocks away, and then to the even larger building it occupies now.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 16, 2014 at 7:52 AM

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