Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


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Frog Fruit Flowers Atop Long Column 4022

This flower-topped column of frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, is an advanced stage that began with a ring of flowers down near the stem on a small core that was initially globular. As that core slowly grew into a longer and longer cylinder, a new ring of tiny white flowers replaced each previous one, and the remains of all those successive floral rings bedeck the narrow column. If you’d like to see an early stage in the process and also get a better look at some of the individual flowers, you’re welcome to check out a post from two years ago.

Date: August 21.  Location: the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin.

To see the many places across the United States where this species grows, you can check the USDA map.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 11, 2014 at 5:42 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Nice top hat…


    October 11, 2014 at 6:51 AM

  2. They aren’t reported in IA. I’d like to watch the progress of those over a season. Interesting method by nature.

    Jim in IA

    October 11, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    • Your comment made we wonder whether there are any more species of Phyla, and I discovered that there is one other, Phyla lanceolata, that been reported across the United States, including some counties in Iowa:


      Some pictures online show it producing flowers in the same sort of way as Phyla nodiflora, so you may yet get to see this phenomenon not too far from your home.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 11, 2014 at 8:25 AM

      • It is indicated in my county. I will watch for it. Seems pretty small and hidden.

        Jim in IA

        October 11, 2014 at 10:04 AM

        • The species I’m familiar with, which is quite common here, spreads out along the ground and forms “mats.” You’re correct that its cores are small, and its flowers smaller still.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 11, 2014 at 10:15 AM

  3. That’s such an interesting growth pattern. Do you know the origin of the name “frogfruit”?

    Susan Scheid

    October 11, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    • Ah, Susan, if I found the answer to your question I’d be in line for a Nobel Prize (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little). That name, which also appears as fogfruit, has puzzled me since I got interested in native plants 15 years ago, and no source that I’ve read has offered a good explanation. Whichever came first, frogfruit or fogfruit, I assume the other is merely a phonetic variant of the original.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 11, 2014 at 8:33 AM

      • I suspect it might be a wonderful bit of Americana, if anyone were able to find out!

        Susan Scheid

        October 11, 2014 at 2:39 PM

  4. Fogfruit=supposably…someone probably forget the ‘r’. Bummer…Lanceleaf Frogfruit can’t make it past the NY border into MA according to the map. Maybe a few sneaked in at night when the USDA wasn’t looking. I’ll ask the folks in the Native Plants of New England on FB if anyone has seen one.

    Since you asked about my trees reflections…a neat project would be to photograph the frogfruit every day or so and do a time lapse video of it growing and flowering until it gets to this point where it resembles Brother Juniper. Now there’s an age related reference for you.

    Steve Gingold

    October 11, 2014 at 9:30 AM

    • I’m with you in assuming that fogfruit probably resulted from a simplification of frogfruit, but the process of adding a sound to a word is also possible. For example, think of the way John Kennedy pronounced Cuba as if it were Cuber.

      I like your idea for a timelapse-like look at frogfruit, but one difficulty is that not every core grows to be as long as the one in this post (in fact this one appealed to me precisely because it was so long).

      Speaking of long, I hadn’t thought about or seen any reference to Brother Juniper in a long time:


      I’m much more likely to think of Fr. Junípero Serra, the Spanish monk who established early missions in California:


      Steve Schwartzman

      October 11, 2014 at 10:05 AM

  5. I love the photo, it says so much about the nature of fall.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    October 11, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    • Because the picture shows lots of brown and appears in an October post, it’s natural that you’d associate it with autumn. Actually it’s more expansive than that, Charlie, as these extending cores and their flowers occur from spring through fall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 11, 2014 at 11:59 AM

  6. It took that discussion between you and Steve to finally surface what this flower reminds me of — at least the blossom.. It looks for all the world like the tonsure worn by monks. It was the Brother Juniper reference that finally nudged my memory. It’s much more obvious in that photo from two years ago.

    I’m amazed by the core. I had no idea it kept growing and blooming like that. I like the title, too. It reminded me of Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech. It was good to listen to it again.


    October 11, 2014 at 6:12 PM

  7. A curious plant with a curious name. Going out on a ‘frog’ leg/limb here but perhaps this plant was useful when one had a frog in one’s throat..’The aroma of the inhaled plant is breathed in to treat coughs and colds’ http://www.pfaf.org/user/plant.aspx?latinname=Phyla+nodiflora


    October 12, 2014 at 7:26 AM

    • Now there’s a hypothesis I haven’t heard before: welcome to the world of speculation.

      I’m sorry to see in your link that this species has become an alien invasive in parts of Australia and China. Fortunately I can enjoy it in its native habitat.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 12, 2014 at 8:41 AM

  8. Timely to see this shot (and your title for it) just now: we just finished watching the Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts, and that had reminded me of a portrait I did of Eleanor R years ago and titled with the same term. Regardless of what anyone might think of her politics or her choices in life or anything else, I can’t imagine anyone knowing even a little of that life could disagree that she was pretty much the embodiment of the word Endurance.

    I’m intrigued by the plants that do bloom and/or go to seed in a very slow and methodical way like this. Endlessly interesting to see how varied the possibilities of such processes are and what vast numbers of ways they play out in the wild.


    October 13, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    • What a coincidence that we used the same title, even for such different subjects. In Austin we watched all the episodes of the Roosevelts too. I remember that my paternal grandmother, who’d come to this country in the 1920s from what was then a part of Russia, was a big fan of Eleanor Roosevelt.

      Amen to your view on the wonderment of ways that organisms develop in order to endure.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2014 at 6:09 PM

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