Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

An agarita bush flowering

with 39 comments

Agarita Flowers 9132

On March 15th I went up near Old Lampasas Trail in northwest Austin to see if I could find any morel mushrooms in the place where so many had appeared a few years ago. I didn’t see a single one, but I managed to get some fire ant bites, my first for 2015. The land didn’t look particularly floral, but as I kept walking I gradually came across various wildflowers of the season, like these fragrant ones on an agarita bush, Mahonia trifoliolata.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 28, 2015 at 5:44 AM

39 Responses

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  1. Have you ever tried agarita honey or jelly?


    March 28, 2015 at 5:55 AM

    • A few years ago a friend of ours who lives a couple of hours west of here gave us a jar of agarita jelly she had made. The bush has leaves with needles at the tips of the lobes, so reaching in to pick the little fruits is hazardous. I’ve heard that people put a cloth on the ground and use a stick or other object to loosen the fruits. Ah, in confirmation of that I just noticed Linda’s comment beneath yours.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 8:47 AM

      • Yes, I can see the needles in your photo. I wondered if they hurt as much as fire ants.


        March 28, 2015 at 11:33 PM

        • Agarita needles can poke the skin but they haven’t done me any enduring damage. In contrast, I think fire ant bites involve chemicals and the unsightly red marks they cause can last a week. The bites hurt at the time they’re inflicted but not usually afterward.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 29, 2015 at 12:07 AM

          • In either case there could be some potential for infection. 😦


            March 29, 2015 at 12:59 AM

            • I think infection generally results from people scratching their bites, something that’s hard to stop doing with something as itchy as chiggers (fortunately they’re not out yet this year, but they will be soon enough). I find that for me an internal antihistamine (specifically fexofenadine) works best to reduce that itching.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 29, 2015 at 1:11 AM

              • Yes, scratching is best avoided if possible. In the bad old days, before antihistamines were easily available, we sometimes put a touch of methylated spirits (?) on our bites.


                March 29, 2015 at 2:24 AM

                • If you’d taken some internally, who knows what spirit it might have put you in?

                  At the same time, whether internal or external, I wouldn’t have wanted the nature of its denatured alcohol to turn my nature quest into a denature quest, which I wouldn’t have found natural.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 29, 2015 at 7:46 AM

                • Fortunately, for us, there was a troubled individual who slept rough in a nearby park who was partial to a few sips of meths. So my parents could say, look at Old Shadow; that’s what happens when people drink this stuff. And we, as children, were, quite naturally, horrified by this.


                  March 29, 2015 at 6:08 PM

                • In effect they told you that after drinking methylated spirits Old Shadow was only an old shadow of his former self.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 29, 2015 at 8:05 PM

                • Indeed. The other reason for his name was that he always seemed to be talking to his shadow.


                  March 29, 2015 at 9:16 PM

                • In our age of smartphones and Bluetooth earpieces, many people seem to be talking to their shadows.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  March 29, 2015 at 9:50 PM

                • Indeed, and dare I say their egos.


                  March 30, 2015 at 12:07 AM

  2. A friend west of Kerrville says she hasn’t seen the agarita bloom so heavily in years. I’ve still never seen the bloom in person, but I promised her I’d come up this year for picking and jelly-making. “Picking” is the wrong word, of course. Thrashing is the preferred method of gathering, with a cloth (or even an umbrella!) on the ground to catch the fruits.

    The flowers are interesting. They look like a more complex Carolina buttercup.


    March 28, 2015 at 8:07 AM

    • As the USDA map tells it, Bastrop County is the closest place where you could see the flowers. Maybe at this time next spring you can head west to finally see (and smell) them.

      I noticed your comment about beating the bushes when I was almost through telling Gallivanta that agarita leaves are hazardous to people people’s hands and arms, as I know not from harvesting fruit but from steadying branches while taking pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 8:59 AM

    • I see the similarity to a buttercup that you see, but agarita flowers are a lot smaller, and of course there’s the complexity you mentioned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 9:47 AM

  3. I come across references to this in my garden books~ it is nice to make its acquaintance in the wild.


    March 28, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    • It is, though for the sake of my skin I try to keep the acquaintance visual rather than tactile. Ah, Texas, so many things here are prickly. (On the other hand, maybe that suits my personality.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 9:44 AM

  4. What a rich array of blossoms! I hope you weren’t sitting on the fire ant nest! I’ve only encountered them once, and that was way more than enough!


    March 28, 2015 at 12:16 PM

    • No, the fire ant bites came in conjunction with the pictures I took of the patterns in the bark of dead Ashe juniper tree not long after I photographed the agarita. By coincidence I passed the agarita again this morning and found it no longer had a single flower on it. No fire ants on today’s walk, thankfully.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 12:39 PM

  5. I love your photo of agarita bush. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome. Let’s hope you get to visit central Texas someday to see this and so many other of our native species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 1:50 PM

  6. Ooo fragrant, even more beautiful. I like the lighting here, it plays with the plant in a way that makes them look fake, plastic. Nice. 🙂


    March 28, 2015 at 12:46 PM

  7. Lovely, and a bit wicked looking, Steve. (The leaves!) Can you liken the scent to something we might know? And yes, I’m still out here kicken around… 😀


    March 28, 2015 at 7:27 PM

    • Yes, the needles on the leaf lobes are definitely sharp, as I’ve found out plenty of times.

      I’ve never been good at describing scents. I looked online and found one person who likens the scent of agarita flowers to honey.

      Glad to hear you’re still out there kickin’ around. Happy spring!

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 9:23 PM

  8. Another attractive picture, Steve, but my mind is on those fire ants! You see, they are not native to Australia but somehow they made their way to an area near Brisbane a few years back. They are a major concern here and scientists hope to contain their spread. My yard is regularly checked by government workers and they also do helicopters heat sensing camera surveys of the area. Baiting is also done. We have warning signs up on our roads and there are restrictions on the movement of soil. Fire ants seem to be taken very seriously. I am assuming you aren’t allergic to the stings/bites? You do put yourself at risk for a good shot sometimes. 😉


    March 28, 2015 at 10:35 PM

    • Fire ants aren’t native in the United States either, Jane, but they made their way here and are now quite common, alas. Here’s what I found in Wikipedia about the red imported fire ant (RIFA): “In the US the FDA estimates that more than US$5 billion is spent annually on medical treatment, damage, and control in RIFA-infested areas. Furthermore, the ants cause approximately $750 million in damage annually to agricultural assets, including veterinarian bills and livestock loss, as well as crop loss. Over 40 million people live in RIFA-infested areas in the southeastern United States. Between 30 and 60% of people living in fire ant-infested areas are stung each year… The US, Taiwan and Australia all have ongoing national programs to control or eradicate the species, but, except for Australia, none have been especially effective. In Australia, there is an intensive program costing A$175 million, although the fire ant had remained despite efforts.”

      I’m not allergic to fire ant bites, but they hurt at the time they’re inflicted and they leave small red welts that last for days. They’re just one of the hazards a nature photographer in Texas regularly endures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 28, 2015 at 10:51 PM

  9. Thanks for that information, Steve. Their presence certainly causes a great deal of economic cost to your country and there is also the physical pain and suffering. Yes, I’ve heard the bites are very painful and I’ve seen some nasty looking images of the damage they can do. Entomologists I know don’t hold out much hope for eliminating them in Australia now. I think their main focus is containment. It’s a very expensive process but considering the damage they do it seems worth it. They’ve actually been found in house yards in my little suburb so I am always on the look out for them. It seems that nature photographers are a tough bunch in your region. 🙂


    March 28, 2015 at 11:20 PM

  10. Lovely colours.

    Raewyn's Photos

    March 29, 2015 at 12:55 AM

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