Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

From both sides now

with 16 comments

Bush Sunflower from Below 0723

The sunflower you saw last time wasn’t Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower that grows across much of North America. No, it was Simsia calva, known as a bush sunflower, and today’s photograph from below shows some of the differences between the two. I’d say the single most distinguishing feature is the brown veins on the underside of the bush sunflower’s otherwise yellow rays. That brown coloration isn’t visible from above, as you can confirm by looking back at yesterday’s photo.

As with the previous picture, this one comes from December 3 along Great Northern Blvd. in north-central Austin. Also like the last photograph, this one was taken outdoors with no artificial backdrop of any sort. The morning was heavily overcast, in fact even misty~drizzly, so I had to use a flash. The nearest vegetation beyond the sunflower was far enough away that the flash had essentially no effect on it and it remained lost in the relative darkness of distance.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2014 at 5:15 AM

16 Responses

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  1. So much for the old myth about not being able to get a decent photo on a gray day. This is just lovely.

    I appreciate your both-sides-now pairings, too. They’re such good reminders that apparent similarities can be just that: apparent. The trick, of course, is looking closely enough to see the differences. Now that I know we don’t have these here, I’ll take a better look at the ones I come across elsewhere.


    December 22, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    • I prefer not to use flash, but sometimes it saves the day, and without it I probably wouldn’t have been able to get a decent photo of this flower head.

      In the confusing (because it has so many members) set of DYCs, or darn yellow composites, any feature is welcome that distinguishes one of these flower heads from the others that look similar. I assume the bush sunflower gets its name from the fact that the plant grows as a small bush, as opposed to a stalk, and that bushiness is another distinguishing feature.

      The USDA map doesn’t show Simsia calva in your area, but it could still be there and just not have been reported yet. It’s definitely found in many parts of the Texas Hill Country, so the next time you vacation there you may finally get to meet one of these.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2014 at 6:07 AM

  2. I’ve found that oftentimes the flower’s backside is just as interesting as the top and sometimes more so. This one is absolutely texturelicious.

    Steve Gingold

    December 22, 2014 at 5:51 AM

    • I’m with you, Steve: the view from below can be as interesting as the one from above. I has the virtue of being less often or even rarely depicted and therefore offers us as photographers a chance to do something new (and texturelicious, as you put it).

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2014 at 6:11 AM

  3. Do you ever find them blooming at the same time? The brown vein is striking~ makes a good field mark.


    December 22, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    • Yes, the common sunflower and the bush sunflower can be found blooming at the same time, including during the last month in the year, as you can confirm in a post from three Decembers ago:


      If only every species had as conspicuous a feature as the brown veins to identify it. Sometimes one species differs from another only in a minor, hard-to-see way—which, even worse, might be visible in a certain season but not during the rest of the year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2014 at 10:05 AM

  4. What a lovely shot. I never use flash, but maybe I need to experiment more.


    December 22, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    • I generally avoid flash too because it can look garish, but there are times when it can enhance a photograph or even make possible a picture that otherwise wouldn’t be (at least not easily). The greater light provided by flash allows stopping the lens down more as well, thereby increasing the depth of field. I took today’s picture, for example, at the rather small aperture of f/16, with the result that many parts of the flower head came out in focus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2014 at 10:29 AM

  5. ; )


    December 22, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    • We’re putting on happy faces in Austin, too, because the sun is partly out after a bunch of gloomy days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 22, 2014 at 10:41 AM

  6. Stunning photo. It just popped out at me from my reader. 😀

    Raewyn's Photos

    December 22, 2014 at 4:08 PM

  7. I LOVE it from the backside!


    December 23, 2014 at 6:39 AM

  8. I love the perspective and the deep rich colors you captured…Such an engaging photo.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    December 24, 2014 at 1:29 AM

    • Thanks, Charlie. I like your word, engaging. A few people have used it as the present participle of a verb in comments here, but only one other person has used it as an adjective the way you did. Isn’t it great how we can search posts and comments in a matter of seconds?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2014 at 7:06 AM

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