Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


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Cattail Seed Head Blowing 1996

A thousandth of a second is how I set my shutter speed to record this seed head of a cattail, Typha domingensis, blowing in the breeze at the Arbor Walk Pond on December 29, 2014.

According to an online article, a single cattail stalk can produce a quarter of a million seeds. Such a large number implies that the seeds are tiny, and they turn out to be only about 0.2 mm, or 8 thousandths of an inch, long (not counting the attached fluff, of course).

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2015 at 5:42 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

12 Responses

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  1. From the infinity of the sky to the infinitely small seed in a single shot~ truly awesome.


    January 20, 2015 at 9:02 AM

  2. Beautiful shot…


    January 20, 2015 at 9:09 AM

  3. First of all, congratulations on capturing the moment. Maybe you are now ready to capture the explosive release of spores from mushroom gills.
    Most plants that rely on the wind for seed dispersal produce prodigious amounts of seeds to ensure a few make it as the cattail typifies. So there is a different kind of answer blowin’ in the wind.

    Steve Gingold

    January 20, 2015 at 2:08 PM

    • I don’t think I’d know how to time the explosive release of spores from mushroom gills, so I’ll leave that sort of blowin’ in the wind to you.

      In Austin now there’s a prodigious amount of pollen from the Ashe junipers, known as cedars. The resulting allergic reaction, which many people here get, is called cedar fever. The symptoms are itchy or irritated eyes and throat, runny nose, sneezing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2015 at 4:22 PM

  4. I wouldn’t have thought of trying to get the seeds blowing like that! I have to keep that in mind the next time I’m at the botanical gardens. I love the look on it.



    January 20, 2015 at 8:58 PM

    • A static image of a cattail can be good too, but let’s hear it for the dynamism that comes from going with the blowing of the fluff in the wind. It does take a high shutter speed to freeze the action, so keep that in mind if you try that approach. As an alternative, you can use a slow shutter speed and purposely let things blur to convey the movement of your subject.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 20, 2015 at 10:55 PM

  5. I wonder how long it takes for a cattail head to disperse all its seeds? I suspect it might be a relatively long process. When we used to play with them, I remember trying to pull the seeds out, and even when they already had begun to loosen, they’re so densely packed they could be hard to pull out.

    They’re as much fun as milkweed, that’s for sure. I’ve helped many a seed on its way over the years.


    January 21, 2015 at 9:46 PM

    • Once again you raise a good question. I suspect a botanist somewhere has done a study to see how long it takes on average for all the seeds to disperse. An article at


      notes: “A review describes the release of broadleaf cattail fruits from the spike. When fruits are dry, protective portions of the pistil shrivel and hairs on the achene spread. Spreading hairs produce pressure that bursts inflorescences and releases fruits into the air.”

      I’ve played around a little with cattail seed heads and have found that if I loosen a clump of seeds, sometimes I can set off a chain reaction in which adjacent portions of seeds will seem to come alive and unravel for a short while all by themselves. It’s strange to see that sort of animation in a plant, but it exists.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 22, 2015 at 8:01 AM

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