Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 26 comments

Texas Thistle with Spherical Flower Head 8985

Speaking of plants with globose flower heads like buttonbush and sensitive-briar, here’s yet another: Cirsium texanum, the Texas thistle. You saw an opening bud of this species in June, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you this follow-up picture of a follow-up stage. Note that a Texas thistle has only disk flowers; there are no ray flowers.

Today’s photograph comes from the same May 28th session as last time on Burnet Rd. near the old Merrilltown Cemetery in far north Austin.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 17, 2014 at 6:05 AM

26 Responses

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  1. Beautiful colour.


    July 17, 2014 at 6:44 AM

  2. I was at a park this past weekend and took some pics of a flower that looked very similar to this but white. Same plant or different? It’s the last picture in my Kenilworth Park post…I was so curious to know what it was!


    July 17, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    • If you follow the first link in this post’s text, you’ll see that the white flower globe you’re asking about is from a buttonbush. As you discovered in D.C., buttonbushes are common across much of the eastern United States.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2014 at 9:01 AM

  3. It looks like fireworks. I saw a video the other day where someone flew a drone w/HD camera into a fireworks display. Sparkly streamers shot past from the explosions. It was wild. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvkcqgpZJCw

    Jim in IA

    July 17, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    • I can see the thistle flower head as fireworks, and engineers are already creating micro-drones to explore the world of the small.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2014 at 9:41 AM

  4. What a rich and abundant coloration and density! Those small white puffs on the ends are superb, over all it looks like she is playing up the role of “look out I’m dangerous, don’t touch me”. It’s always a great treat to see all those details so very close, it really brings out the character of the plants!


    July 17, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    • Many plants in the sunflower family (to which this thistle belongs) have five fused stamens. You can get a closer look at that kind of fusing in a picture of a sunflower’s disk flowers:


      Coming back to the Texas thistle, the little white puffs you’re seeing at the tips of those fused stamen columns are pollen grains, so you might have to rethink the “she” in your personification and brush aside the powderpuffs of the imagination. Oh, what a destroyer of illusions I am this morning.

      You’re right on, though, when it comes to “don’t touch me.” Texas thistles have plenty of small but needle-sharp spines on them, and in trying to steady these plants to take close-up pictures of them I’ve had plenty of close encounters of the painful kind. Another occupational (but character-building) hazard for a nature photographer in Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2014 at 10:05 AM

      • Please forgive my lack of knowledge, sometimes I make comments based only on visuals, which probably feels a bit ignorant but I assure you is nothing like that! You’re not a destroyer of illusions, you’re an educator and I like what I’m learning from your site! My lack of knowing specific terminology gets in the way of describing some aspects correctly so I guess my imagination fills in the void and I’m fully aware that is not a proper direction. So I’m glad you take your time and fill in that void with the right information and I truly appreciate that!


        July 17, 2014 at 10:21 AM

        • There’s so much I don’t know too, Eva. Like you, I approach these subjects mostly visually, and many times I’ve not known what I’m seeing, or worse, have misinterpreted it. Along the way I’ve learned (or hope I’ve learned) a little about biology, and I pass some of those facts along when they seem relevant. Even when we do know what something is, we can still have fun letting our imaginations recast it as something else (like the fireworks in the comment before yours). It seems that people have always done that, and some of it has been influenced by gender. For example, at


          you’ll see the drying head of a basket-flower. Some pioneers called this a shaving-brush, while others used the name powder-puff, probably from the appearance of fresher heads like the ones at


          Thanks for your perpetual enthusiasm.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 17, 2014 at 10:47 AM

  5. Another stunning photo!


    July 17, 2014 at 10:25 AM

    • I’m happy to oblige, Kathy. Texas thistle are among my favorite native plants to photograph—but then I say the same thing about a lot of wildflowers. Fortunately there are so many species here to say that about.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2014 at 10:51 AM

  6. I thought for sure that was a Buttonbush flower dressed for Mardi Gras. I shot a few the other day, well a bunch, and should post them, although they aren’t nearly as pretty as this lovely Texas Thistle.

    Steve Gingold

    July 17, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    • That’s an imaginative description: a buttonbush dressed for Mardi Gras. An earlier commenter had photographed a white flower globe in Washington, D.C., and after seeing this picture asked whether the two are related. I took a look at her picture and identified her globe as a buttonbush. Compared to a Texas thistle, buttonbush has the advantage (for people) of not having sharp spines. Texas thistle flowers can produce a pleasant scent, but I find buttonbush flowers even more fragrant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2014 at 3:54 PM

      • Every once in a while the old imagination dusts off the cobwebs and fires up to blurt out something different. Not often enough though.
        Obviously, I’ve no way to compare, but the Buttonbush flower is pleasingly fragrant.

        Steve Gingold

        July 17, 2014 at 4:04 PM

  7. “Globose” is ever so much better than “globular.” I don’t remember hearing the word before, and in fact, when I did a search of your site, this is the only post containing the word that showed up. I think this happens to be one of your best portraits of the thistle, too.

    The word thistle always makes me laugh. When I was very small, it was one of the words I couldn’t pronounce properly. It always came out as “thi-thel.”

    And that reminds me that I heard a host on the early morning outdoor show refer to Mexia,Texas the other day. It was the first time I’d heard it pronounced “Muh-Hair-Er.” I wouldn’t even have recognized it had I not read your comments about those variant pronunciations.


    July 18, 2014 at 9:44 AM

    • I’m tempted to say that pronunciation is too important to be left to the locals, but that’s just curmudgeonly me speaking. Barely south of Austin is the village of Manchaca, which Anglo Texans have traditionally pronounced Man-Shack, but I always use the three-syllable Spanish pronunciation, with each vowel sounding like English ah.

      Globose is a word I picked up from botanical books. Speaking of which, did you notice that near the end of the Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas there’s a glossary of botanical terms that runs a whopping 36 pages?

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2014 at 10:07 AM

  8. Quel magnifique feu d’artifice..!


    July 18, 2014 at 4:32 PM

  9. I love these botanical terms. It reminds me of the Mimosas.

    Maria F.

    July 21, 2014 at 7:42 PM

    • I had three years of Latin in high school, and that knowledge has helped with many botanical terms. In some cases the process has gone the other way and I’ve learned Latin words from botanical terms.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 21, 2014 at 9:03 PM

    • By the way, although you can’t tell scale here, this Texas thistle head is much larger than the little flower globes of sensitive-briars, if they’re the members of the genus Mimosa you had in mind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 21, 2014 at 9:05 PM

  10. Amazing Pic!


    May 12, 2020 at 3:53 PM

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