Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Silphium says summer

with 33 comments

Silphium radula Flower Head 6207

A prominent summer wildflower along Bull Creek in my northwestern part of Austin is roughstem rosinweed, Silphium radula. It’s prominent not only because of its sunflower-like flower heads—in fact some folks mistake these for sunflowers—but also literally because this plant’s unbranched stems grow erect and can get taller than a person. Don’t you like the way the rays were developing asymmetrically as the flower head opened?

This photograph is from July 7th but I was still seeing these flowers a month later.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 2, 2014 at 5:55 AM

33 Responses

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  1. Love the silphiums. We have four native kinds here in northern Illinois. How many silphiums do you have that are native in Texas? Thanks for the photo! Sheryl


    September 2, 2014 at 6:23 AM

  2. Beautiful!


    September 2, 2014 at 7:02 AM

  3. Apart from the asymmetry, I also noticed that the emerging rays seem to have a stiff little fringe that isn’t present in the fully-developed rays. The fringes seem to be echoed around the edges of the leaves. They remind me of tiny sawblades. It’s neat to see different stages of growth on the same flower head.


    September 2, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    • I noticed those fringes too, and I have to assume the more-developed rays had fringes when they were smaller. It’s good of you to point out the similar fringes on some of the leaves. Whether those “tiny sawblades” serve any purpose on the rays and leaves, I don’t know, but I’m glad pictorially for their extra texture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2014 at 8:11 AM

  4. I think I always assumed these were sunflowers, but thanks to you I know better now!


    September 2, 2014 at 8:51 AM

    • Originally I probably would have assumed the same. If it’s any consolation, rosinweeds are in the same botanical family as sunflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2014 at 9:03 AM

  5. That was my first impression too… a sunflower of some sort! The resemblance is remarkable! Yes, I do like the way the rays develop, it is rather unusual but not least beautiful, actually is intriguing and lends more interest to it! Beautiful profile shot!


    September 2, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    • You might say I’m of two minds: sometimes asymmetry, as here, appeals to me due to its uniqueness, but then again the radial symmetry of a “regular” flower head is also attractive, even if we see it more often. Both are good in their way, so that’s double the fun, right?

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2014 at 10:00 AM

  6. I fancy that I can see a face in there, and once I saw that, I can’t look at without seeing it all the time. Is it just me, or does anyone else see it, too? BTW, what a beautiful blossom; I really like its asymmetry.


    September 2, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    • Interesting. I looked at the picture at various magnifications just now, trying to see a face, but I didn’t succeed. If any other viewers see the face, please let us know.

      I’ve photographed flower heads of this species a bunch of times, and most have been pretty symmetrical, so this one grabbed me with its asymmetry. I assume the left side would have filled out before too long and rendered the whole head regular, but I didn’t check back to verify. In any case, the asymmetry lives on forever in this portrait.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      • The two petals, at top center and slightly to the right, with central brown spots, are the eyes. The center of the whorl is the center of the face. Can you see it now?


        September 3, 2014 at 12:56 PM

  7. Interesting flower – quite beautiful!


    September 2, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    • It’s a wildflower whose appearance I look forward to each summer. Of course that’s true of many others in their respective seasons, too, but it’s a grounded way to move through the seasons.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2014 at 12:00 PM

  8. I find the disk flowers to be looking more like miniature ray petals, almost zinnia-like in their curvature, giving the impression that they might, at some time, elongate like the rays. That yellow isn’t saying summer…it’s SCREAMING SUMMER!!!!. 🙂

    So is there a story to the name? I picture the stalks as being good for sanding wooden tools….or at least a good back scratching.

    Steve Gingold

    September 2, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    • I’d never thought about these disk flowers looking like miniature versions of ray flowers, but I see what you mean.

      As for SUMMER, it’s still in the 90s here every afternoon, which I know isn’t the case any more in your part of Massachusetts, where the Internet forecast predicts a high of 72° on Sunday. In contrast, the yellow of the Silphium in today’s picture definitely pays homage to the summer sun beating down on central Texas.

      The epithet ‘roughstem’ is something I’ve found in books, but all the parts of this plant and of other species of Silphium are rather rough, so I don’t know why the stem of this one got singled out for that name. The leaves would be just as good a choice, as the next post will show.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2014 at 2:30 PM

      • We hit 91 degrees today, but it is cooling down now as we are getting a good rain.

        As an aside, when I type the keystrokes for degrees alt+0176 I get sent instead to my provider’s home page. Only on WP though.

        Steve Gingold

        September 2, 2014 at 2:39 PM

        • That’s because you’re in an alt(ernate) reality. I’ve always had Macintosh computers, so for almost 30 years I’ve been able to make degree symbols to my heart’s content in any program. How c°°l is that?

          Okay, I’ll stop gloating and propose a work-around: can you copy a degree symbol from outside of WordPress and then paste it into your text inside WordPress?

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 2, 2014 at 2:55 PM

  9. And, yes, I think it is very cool when the very symbol of symmetry goes off on its own tangent, as this Sylphium is doing. Although I suppose tangent is not correct, here, is it?


    September 5, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    • Tangent may not have its math sense in your comment, but we know what you mean, Melissa. I assume that eventually the rays at the left developed to equal the ones at the right and thereby turn asymmetry into symmetry.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2014 at 1:19 PM

  10. They are gorgeous…and I also mistook them for sunflowers! 😛


    Sid - The Wanderer

    September 6, 2014 at 6:53 AM

    • As you now know, many people do mistake these for sunflowers. That’s not surprising, because both are in the same tribe (i.e. subdivision), the Heliantheae, within the very large Asteraceae family.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 6, 2014 at 7:11 AM

  11. […] When I visited the prairie restoration at the Elisabet Ney Museum on the morning of August 28th, I saw my first Maximilian sunflowers, Helianthus maximiliani, flowering this year. Compare the asymmetrically developed head of this Maximilian sunflower to the one on a roughstem rosinweed that appeared here not long ago. […]

  12. Simply beautiful.


    September 12, 2014 at 11:14 PM

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