Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Texas sotol

with 34 comments

Owl Behind Sotol 5620

When I visited the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 25th I photographed this Texas sotol, Dasylirion texanum, a species that’s native in an area beginning a couple of counties to the south and west of Austin, but that many landscapers are fond of planting here in spite of the saw-like edges of the leaves. This is one such planted specimen.

If you happened to glance at the tags attached to this post and were puzzled by “animals” and “birds,” look at the picture again, especially near the lower right corner, and you’ll be greeted by the gaze of an owl that had taken up residence there. I’d thought of showing this photograph some time ago but then I got much closer pictures of an owl in my own back yard and showed one of those instead. Still, this has a certain charm, so I thought I’d slip it in here after all, and after almost seven months.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 6, 2014 at 5:42 AM

34 Responses

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  1. I noticed the tag straight away!


    October 6, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    • You’re perceptive, Shannon. I routinely include tags but I don’t know how many people look at them. I’d thought of leaving out the “birds” and “animals” tags and not mentioning the owl in my text, just to see who might notice the bird sitting inconspicuously in the corner.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2014 at 7:33 AM

      • Incidentally, I use tags when I’m looking for specific content in the WP Reader. Many of my readers have found me in the same way. I’m careful to use not-too-specific tags (birds, insects) but also a few more detailed (Great-horned owl, Cicada) as the post demands. When a potential reader is flipping through my home page, those tags at the bottom of the brief post give him an idea about the post’s content and whether he might want to read further. Tags also help me to categorize when I’m looking back in the archives, though I’m nowhere NEAR the number of posts you have (I’m a once-per-week-er).

        So there you have it. I’m a tag reader.


        October 7, 2014 at 7:43 PM

        • I’m tempted to call your comment “Confessions of a Tag Reader.” Thanks for letting us know how you use tags and the extent to which they’ve let you find subjects and have also let other people find you.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 7, 2014 at 9:30 PM

  2. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t notice the tag or the gaze until you pointed them out~ my eyes went straight to the image. I think there is much to admire here~ I like the counterpoint of straight leaves against the organic shape of the rock, and the colors. Anyway, I think this is a winner. And THEN when you see the owl, that is a knockout.


    October 6, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    • So you’re saying that this picture is quite a hoot? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The owl is a small and unexpected element in a picture dominated by a larger plant, so I think many people would have missed the bird if I hadn’t pointed it out. I like your “counterpoint of straight leaves against the organic shape of the rock, and the colors.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2014 at 10:08 AM

  3. Until I read the discussion above, I hadn’t thought about the fact that I don’t read tags on any blog, even though I add them to mine. I’m not sure why that is. Clearly, they’re useful to someone searching for a particular subject, but for me, reading the tags and then looking feels like short-circuiting the discovery process.

    In any event — you discovered a fine pairing here. The rock and the sky are perfect foils for the owl and the plant, and I especially like the vertical lines of the plant juxtaposed against the horizontal layers of rock. I’d say the final impression is completely charming.


    October 6, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    • I’m not sure why I bother with tags either, because some of mine appear in just about every post (nature, wildflowers, Texas, etc.). Like you, I rarely look at tags in other people’s posts, and I have no idea if anyone finds my blog by searching on a certain tag.

      As for this picture, I included the human element of the wall because there was no way to avoid it, but its horizontal lines do work well, as you pointed out, to counter the mostly vertical orientation of the sotol leaves. I’m pleased that you find the overall effect charming.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2014 at 3:29 PM

  4. As nice as the shot of the Sotol is, I think the owl may be stealing the show even though it takes some looking. I would guess that folks who garden in the Southwest are used to taking care around their plants.

    Steve Gingold

    October 6, 2014 at 2:58 PM

    • The owl’s definitely a show stealer here—providing people discover it hidden away in the corner. You can’t tell from the picture, but the sotol is up at second-story level, so to see as much of the owl as possible (which still isn’t much) I used a telephoto lens and backed away a good distance to lower the angle of elevation. And you’re right that people here take care around plants because you never know what prickly or stinging or biting thing might be close at hand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2014 at 3:36 PM

  5. I missed the tag but loved finding the owl! Thanks for sharing! Lady Bird did so much to promote natural beauty for Texas.


    October 6, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    • Better the owl than the tag, no question. And yes, Lady Bird Johnson did a lot to beautify America, especially in a floral way. Her Wildflower Center continues the tradition and keeps expanding.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2014 at 6:02 PM

  6. Here’s an interesting thought. Perhaps the owl had mistaken the Texas sotol for Dasylirion wheeleri, and had bellied up to the bar for a different kind of shot.

    Who knew that sotol is the state drink of Chihuahua? Even NPR has done some stories about distillers’ attempts to break into the U.S. market.

    Spec’s carries ten versions, including Hacienda de Chihuahua Sotol – Extra Añejo for just north of a hundred dollars. I’m not sure I’d want to try the twenty dollar version.


    October 6, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    • I’ve heard of birds getting drunk from consuming fermenting fruit, but your suggestion raises that to a higher level of imagination, even that of so tall a plant.

      Coincidentally I saw a television commercial for Spec’s a few minutes ago, but you won’t be surprised to hear that it didn’t mention sotol.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2014 at 6:15 PM

  7. prickly


    October 6, 2014 at 9:55 PM

  8. The owl peeking out is brilliant!

    Emily Scott

    October 7, 2014 at 2:55 AM

  9. Not sure why (because I don’t recall reading the tags) but I was looking for an owl. However I couldn’t see it until you pointed out where it was. Well camouflaged as all good owls should be.


    October 8, 2014 at 2:40 AM

    • Perhaps you subconsciously saw the owl mentioned in one of the comments. I’ve wondered if I should have said nothing at all about the owl, just to see who noticed it hidden away in the corner.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2014 at 2:57 AM

      • That would have been interesting. Someone with eagle eyes would have spotted it, I am sure.


        October 8, 2014 at 3:44 AM

        • I assumed some people would have spotted the owl, but I also thought many would have missed it, and that’s why I mentioned it. Now that I think about it, the best approach would have been to say nothing in the post but then mention the owl at the end of the next day’s post. Where’s my time machine now that I need it?

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 8, 2014 at 7:56 AM

          • Perhaps you will have another photo you can test us on. Do you remember story books with hidden objects in the illustrations?


            October 8, 2014 at 9:13 PM

            • I do remember those hidden-objects illustrations, and I admire artists who create good ones. If I take another photograph with something hidden in it I’ll consider posting it without any mention of the hidden thing.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 8, 2014 at 9:18 PM

  10. You’d posted it, but I don’t think I’d seen it before. This is a gorgeous photo. I love the play of green against the color of the rock as well as the form of the plant against the solidity. Thank you for pointing it out.


    December 1, 2015 at 9:27 AM

    • You’re welcome. At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower a few years earlier I photographed a little lizard peering out from the protection of the center of a sotol. It’s also not uncommon here to see that people have tossed (or inserted, at some risk to their skin) small stones into the crevices between sotol leaves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 1, 2015 at 10:24 AM

      • I can never resist putting gravel into the hand of a sculpture that stands at Chicago Botanic Garden. He’s called the Sower, and he has his hand out as if to sow seeds. So I understand the odd urge to put stones in the crevices of the plant. Sort of.


        December 1, 2015 at 4:28 PM

        • I see at


          that The Sower is 100 years old and that the sculptor, Albin Polasek, died 50 years ago.

          When I’ve seen stones placed in the clefts of plants and trees, I’ve wondered about the people who put them there. Now we have a little insight into someone who puts gravel in a sculpted hand.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 1, 2015 at 4:51 PM

          • giggle 🙂


            December 1, 2015 at 10:07 PM

          • I didn’t realize there was a place where you could see all of the sculptures at the Garden. You get to see all my favorites, like the one of Carl Linnaeus. As I understand it, the original people who commissioned “The Sower” were scandalized by it and kept it in storage. I don’t remember just how it came to be at the Garden, not all that many years ago.


            December 1, 2015 at 10:12 PM

            • That’s quite a collection of sculptures. I wouldn’t have expected so many in a botanical garden.

              In 2002 I read a chapter-long biography of Linnaeus, about whom until then I knew almost nothing. If you haven’t already read Green Laurels, you may want to check it out:


              Donald Culross Peattie writes poetically.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 1, 2015 at 10:22 PM

              • Oh, yes, that is a wonderful book. It has been awhile since I read it though.
                If you come this way I’d be proud to take you to the Garden. It really is a special place.


                December 2, 2015 at 9:40 AM

                • Maybe it’s time for both of us to reread that book.

                  We’d be glad to have you show us your special garden if we make it up to the Chicago area. Eve has said several times that we should go there; she’s never been, and I spent just one day there, way back in 1967.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 2, 2015 at 9:45 AM

                • Oh, yes, please do come. I used to work there and it is a magical place.


                  December 3, 2015 at 8:30 AM

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