Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Like teeny tiny cauliflowers

with 26 comments

Parthenium Flower Heads by Colorful Leaves 1649

If you’d like to get a sense of scale here, be aware that each of these “cauliflower” heads is only about 5 mm (3/16 of an inch) across. You’re looking at a species of Parthenium, probably hysterophorus, known as false ragweed. Bill Carr writes that it is “common in dry disturbed sites, particularly in urban areas where it is a conspicuous weed of sidewalk cracks and neglected lawns.” This native may be weedy, but I’d say that it’s still needy of a closer glance, so go ahead and take this chance.

You probably don’t know and couldn’t easily tell that false ragweed (like non-false ragweed) is in the same botanical family as sunflowers, but with or without that information you’re welcome to say welcome to another species making its debut here.

This photograph is from December 29, 2014, at the Arbor Walk Pond. The red in the background came from the small but colorful leaves of an unrelated plant.

UPDATE on January 15, 2015: I see that the botanical designation has changed to Parthenium confertum.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 4, 2015 at 5:18 AM

26 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I see 5 tiny flowers surrounding each cauliflower head.

    Jim in IA

    January 4, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    • The flower head of a species in the composite family (a.k.a. sunflower family) is typically made up of two sets of small flowers, ray flowers radiating outward around a central cluster of disk flowers. As I understand false ragweed, the cauliflower-like part is the cluster of disk flowers, and the five rounded corners of the pentagon are the ray flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2015 at 9:44 AM

  2. Very cool. I can see the family resemblance but I have lost track of the splittings and lumpings that have occurred in botanical crystal towers. Compositae?


    January 4, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    • Another example of big things coming in small packages, right?

      In the answer that I gave to Jim in the first comment, before I saw yours, I answered your question too.

      If I come across any of those botanical crystal towers when I’m out in nature, I’ll make sure to photograph them and show them here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2015 at 10:01 AM

  3. This reminds me of another flower you’ve shown here. I can’t remember the name, and I haven’t found it yet, but I’m looking. I can see it in my mind. It’s the one with the full circle of little flowers around the outside. If I’d taken a better glance at that other flower, I’d have had a better chance of finding it now. Back to the search.

    (A humorous note: an internal search on your site for “circle of flowers around plain center” took me to your post about the math app.)


    January 4, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    • shoreacres

      January 4, 2015 at 9:42 AM

      • I’m glad you found what you were looking for. Your comparison is a good one, although frog fruit can have a dozen or so flowers in its ring, while false ragweed appears constrained to five ray flowers. In fact many members of the sunflower family do things in fives, as in the five fused stamens of sunflowers themselves. I think botanists refer to that characteristic as 5-merous, which sounds like we’re getting pretty close to math terminology.

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 4, 2015 at 10:25 AM

        • Speaking of math, this is completely unrelated, but interesting. I recently learned that one of my favorite new year’s rituals, change-ringing of bells, is based on mathematical patterns. Math’s everywhere!


          January 4, 2015 at 10:31 AM

          • Yes, math is in an infinity of places, and I have zero tolerance for any one who makes a π-in-the-sky claim to the contrary.

            Steve Schwartzman

            January 4, 2015 at 10:35 AM

  4. I guess that’s part of your skill, using the unfocused red of the unrelated plant as contrast to show up the plant in the foreground.


    January 4, 2015 at 5:29 PM

    • I plead guilty: I chose an angle at which the out-of-focus red became my contrasting background. It’s a technique I’ve used often enough before, and no doubt will again. In this case the surprise was finding a plant with so much red still in its leaves, and I wasn’t going to let the opportunity to use that color get away from me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2015 at 7:38 PM

  5. Sorry to be so boringly repetitive, but I am so jealous that you are still seeing flowers….as well as the red.
    Besides cauliflower, the circular ray flowers remind me of Muppet eyes.

    Steve Gingold

    January 4, 2015 at 7:50 PM

    • I saw at least five species of native wildflowers today, but the forecast is for the coldest overnight of the season tonight, which may put a temporary end to the flowers. Let’s hope not.

      I can’t say I saw the ray flowers as Muppet eyes for the simple reason that I don’t know what Muppet eyes look like.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2015 at 8:00 PM

  6. Think if I cooked them up like cauliflowers I’d get extra vegetable virtue out of the number I could eat relative to that of real caulis?


    January 4, 2015 at 9:19 PM

  7. Happy new year and best wishes to you and yours for health, happiness, peace & prosperity in 2015!

    Russel Ray Photos

    January 5, 2015 at 12:28 AM

  8. oh bless their cauliflower hearts


    January 9, 2015 at 9:28 PM

  9. The fractals of nature have always fascinated me. I wonder if this is just another one (like the cauliflower). I don’t think I’ve ever seen this wildflower.


    January 15, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    • I checked the USDA map at


      and confirmed that this species (which apparently is now called Parthenium confertum) doesn’t grow in the eastern part of Texas. Even here in Austin, where it’s widespread, the flower heads are so small that most people don’t notice the plant or dismiss it as a weed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2015 at 4:40 PM

  10. You are a master at making weeds lovable. Hang the latin names; how about Parthenium caulifloweratum?

    Susan Scheid

    January 17, 2015 at 11:08 AM

    • So I’ve earned not an MSW but an MLW, a Master of Lovable Weeds. I like your Neo-Latin name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 17, 2015 at 5:27 PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: