Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Greenbrier vine shadows on a colorful leaf

with 41 comments

Colorful Greenbrier Leaf with Shadows 1121A

After two pairs of flower pictures, here’s the bright leaf of a greenbrier, Smilax bona-nox, that I photographed on the Boatright Memorial Trail along Bull Creek on December 15th. Don’t you like the way the backlighting casts shadows of the acutely thorny vine onto one of its leaves? The color and patterns offer a little consolation for the many times this often-run-into plant has scratched me.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2014 at 5:33 AM

41 Responses

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  1. Excellent play of shadows and light


    December 24, 2014 at 5:36 AM

  2. Beautiful photography. I have been inspired by your blog for a long time, it kickstarted my own foray into close-up nature photography again and hope it will again next year. I love the sunshine and pattern through the leaf and the sentiment behind it. Merry Christmas.

    Emma Sarah Tennant

    December 24, 2014 at 5:38 AM

    • Happy inspiration, Miss Apis Mellifera, and I’m pleased to hear this column was an incentive for you to return to close-up nature photography.

      Living in London as you do, you must find nature bleak at this time of year, and I can understand how holiday festivity is all the more welcome, as is the sunshine permeating the leaf in today’s picture. Merry Christmas to you, Emma.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2014 at 7:15 AM

  3. Lovely capture…


    December 24, 2014 at 7:35 AM

  4. Such a great shot, I can nearly feel the sharpness of the vine!

    SueBee and Kat

    December 24, 2014 at 8:14 AM

  5. Beware my thorny heart!


    December 24, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    • It’s hard to come up with a phrase that no one else has used, but you seem to have done it with “Beware my thorny heart!” When I did a Google search just now for those words (in quotation marks) I got zero hits. Likewise when I searched with Bing. Here’s your chance to run out and trademark the phrase, though I don’t know what product or service it could be the motto for.

      Like you, I saw this leaf as a stylized heart. Notice how there are even small thorns around the edge of it—the better to scratch you with, my dear.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2014 at 9:43 AM

      • Those words just popped into my head~ I wasn’t sure whether they were from a song or poem. Hey! Maybe I should write poetry! 🙂
        I love this wonderful photo, and yes, it does look like a worthy opponent in the field.


        December 24, 2014 at 9:48 AM

        • I think a lot of inspiration is the way you describe it: something just pops into your head. There’s a song that was popular in the 1950s that had the repeated line “Beware, my foolish heart,”

          but I don’t know if you’re familiar with it or if it could have subconsciously inspired your thorny version.

          In any case, I’m glad you found the photo wonderful. When I saw this leaf lit from behind I knew I had to photograph it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 24, 2014 at 10:03 AM

  6. Fantastic shadows – Have a great Christmas!!


    December 24, 2014 at 11:15 AM

  7. Interesting how the shadows emphasize the sharpness of the thorns. It’s easy to walk by plants like this and not notice until too late just how prickly they are. As a matter of fact, it’s not hard to image that the hole in the leaf is the botanical equivalent of a self inflicted wound.

    Speaking of etymology, I learned just yesterday that “pique” is derived from the French piquer: “to prick, or sting.” It’s easy to understand how being pricked by thorns like this could result in a fit of pique.


    December 24, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    • If we put two of your words together, I like the sound of “shadows and sharpness.” Would that the thorns were always as harmless as their shadows.

      There’s a cluster of words whose histories are entangled. Pick (the tool) and pike (a long spear) are both from French pique. Confusingly, though, the similar pike that is ‘a spike or sharp point’ comes from Old English pīc, which is likely also the source of peak. I’ve had a fit of pique every time I’ve tried to make sense of those words.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

  8. An absolute beauty! One of your best shots as far as I’m concerned! I see a story in it, the story of a heart which had many experiences! But even with a whole in it not to mention the thorns, dark shadows and the fact that is not entirely red but is still perfectly shaped, is perfectly beautiful and the veins are still running through. She is a survivor of many battles and she is absolutely perfectly invincible! So there it is my perception of your perfect shot which includes every technical element possible! Thank you for this beauty and may you and yours have a wonderful and a very Merry Christmas!


    December 24, 2014 at 1:24 PM

    • Linda (the previous commenter) saw the hole as the botanical equivalent of a self-inflicted wound, and now you’ve created a whole story around that hole and the other elements in the photograph. Ah the power of imagination (and in your case do I perhaps infer experience, based on your personification of the heart as ‘she’?). I appreciate your liking for this image and your creative embellishments on it.

      Thanks also for your holiday wishes, Eva, and the same to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2014 at 3:06 PM

  9. I love the shadows. They always add something to the composition. Merry Christmas Steve!

    Michael Glover

    December 24, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    • I’m a big fan of shadows and will be on the alert to show more of them in the coming year.

      Happy holidays to you too, Michael, and happy pictures as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2014 at 4:16 PM

  10. I’ve just read the comments from others and I have to agree that I also thought of a heart when I saw this picture for the first time. The shadow lines, the sharp thorns and the little hole could symbolise the scars/pain inflicted on our hearts over time. It’s also got a bit of a Christmas flavour with the green and red coloration. When we open ourselves to love we inevitably experience some sacrifice and pain along with the joy. One picture can tell/represent so much. Merry Christmas from Australia where I am experiencing sunny clear skies and a mild 31 C – much milder than our usual Christmas days. 🙂


    December 24, 2014 at 11:48 PM

    • A friend of mine pointed out some years ago that the shape we call a heart is a stylized heart, as opposed to an anatomical one, so it carries a fair amount of anthropomorphism whenever we see it. I think that—along with the thorns and the little hole—explains why you and other commenters have read so much emotion into the photograph. As you also noted, the colors have an association with Christmas and therefore add another set of emotions on December 24. Indeed, “One picture can tell/represent so much.”

      31°C makes for quite a tropical Christmas, warmer than anywhere in the United States, even Hawaii. I hope you’ve enjoyed your warm holiday, which is close to ending for you in Australia as ours as the sun has yet to rise over here in Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2014 at 6:17 AM

  11. Getting to the heart of the matter, this is a classic example of back lighting. The shadows and control of focus really emphasize the painful strength of the thorns as well as the detailed venation of the colorful leaf. Pretty nice work, Steve.
    Although I don’t think we have Greenbrier in these parts, I am pretty sure that I have felt similar pain in blackberry thickets…..and wild rose. It’s never occurred to me to show off their beauty….only to curse at them.

    Steve Gingold

    December 25, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    • You won’t be surprised to hear that I like the way you put it when you talked about getting to the heart of the matter. There’s certainly nothing the matter with that.

      Your reference to control of focus sent me looking at the photograph’s metadata and I found the aperture was f/8. In other circumstances that probably wouldn’t have been enough, but the leaf lay largely in one plane and I managed to get the camera parallel to that plane.

      Looks like you may be in for a (photographic) treat after all, because there’s a species of Smilax in your area:


      I see that it has prickles on its stems but not on its leaf margins. Happy hunting.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2014 at 6:29 AM

      • Thanks for finding that for me, Steve. Nice gift. 🙂 And using GoBotany helps a lot too.
        Yes, I noticed the flatness of the leaf and that it allowed for a tighter focus with a softening of the lesser important vine in the background. It is an interesting phenomenon that the vine itself is softly focused, yet its shadow is sharp.

        Steve Gingold

        December 25, 2014 at 6:34 AM

        • I lucked out because when I searched for “greenbrier in New England” GoBotany was the first hit (or one of the first, I don’t remember).

          It is curious—isn’t it?—that the vine in the back is out of focus but its thorns are sharp in their shadows on the leaf. Good of you to point that out, or maybe I should say get to the point about it, or maybe stick with it, but now I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel so maybe I should start over from scratch.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 25, 2014 at 7:21 AM

          • I always admire your wit and way of coming up with these comments. By any chance do you do the Jumble in the paper? Sometimes the puzzle makes me think of you.

            Steve Gingold

            December 25, 2014 at 7:40 AM

            • I’ve been tangled up with words decades longer than with greenbrier, Steve. I notice the Jumble puzzles in the newspaper from time to time, and occasionally I pause to see if I can decipher a word, but I don’t work those puzzles in any systematic way. When I was young I enjoyed playing Scrabble, but for some time now I’ve felt that I’d rather put my energy into creating things—which still allows for some playing in the process.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 25, 2014 at 8:38 AM

              • I just mentioned it because their puzzles that are solved with the circled letters from the other words generally have a punny sense of humor that reminds me of yours.

                Steve Gingold

                December 25, 2014 at 8:59 AM

                • Because of your comment, I looked at the Jumble in today’s paper and unscrambled the words movie, kayak, coward, and skimpy. Then I rearranged the circled letters IEKKCDSI to make sidekick.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  December 29, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    • Oh, and from a link on that page I just found there’s a second species in your area:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 25, 2014 at 6:31 AM

  12. Wow … so much conversation here Steve. This place is becoming so active, it must be like having a part-time job just to keep up. I’m sorry I’ve forgot to leave a comment when first I viewed this beautiful image. I really appreciate the clarity of the thorny shadow. I’m also sorry that my wishes for a Happy Holiday are late as well. Here’s to the coming new year. Good health and happy blogging. D

    Pairodox Farm

    December 26, 2014 at 6:18 AM

    • The activity fluctuates, but not in a predictable way (at least not that I’ve been able to predict). There are pictures that I think will generate more comments than usual and that end up doing so, but others that seem to me equally comment-worthy that don’t. The opposite has sometimes been true also, with a picture that I’ve thought adequate (I’d never show anything less) getting more comments than I expected it would elicit.

      You’re right that it can take time to reply when there are many comments (as on this post), but I always find the time to respond because I feel it’s the right thing to do. It always strikes me as strange and somehow not honorable when I come across a blog in which the blogger consistently doesn’t answer comments (with an allowance made for some popular blogs with so many comments that keeping up with them all would be difficult).

      Happy post-Christmas-and let’s-try-to-survive-till-after-New-Year’s.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2014 at 10:06 AM

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