Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What sunlight through the forest canopy revealed in a new place

with 27 comments

Ball Moss on Slender Branch 3980

Click for better clarity and quality.

The place was a newly opened section of the Violet Crown Trail north of US 290, where the sunlight coming through the forest canopy on the morning of September 2nd lit up the lower of two ball mosses, Tillandsia recurvata. Next to the highlighted ball moss—which is no moss—a dry leaf rotated in the breeze at the end of a long strand of spider silk; here, at the right moment in its cycle, the leaf was fully backlit. Some of the leaves overhead, likewise illuminated, glowed green across the top of the image.

You can read more about the new section of the Violet Crown Trail in an article by Pam Leblanc (who was a calculus student of mine more than 30 years ago).

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2015 at 5:10 AM

27 Responses

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  1. “What sunlight through the forest canopy revealed” sounds as though it ought to be a line from Keats, or Milton. On the other hand, it could be Emily Dickinson. It sounds so familiar. Perhaps you’ve quoted or re-phrased a line I can’t remember. If not, it’s a wonderful construction in its own right, and a perfect title for such an elegant photo.

    The backlit leaf drew my eye, but I’m as interested in the long, green spikes on the ball moss. I’ve always thought of ball moss as gray. It’s quite a surprise to see it sporting such vibrant green.

    Taken as a whole, the photo has an oceanic feel. It’s like diving: looking up from the darkened depths and seeing light shining on the suface of the water.


    September 5, 2015 at 8:08 AM

    • Unless I subconsciously imitated a line I read somewhere, the title is original, and it struck me as appropriately poetic for the scene I witnessed that morning with the sun highlighting the ball moss, which didn’t move, and the adjacent leaf, which did.

      I normally think of ball moss foliage as grey also, but in searching the Internet I found green examples, for instance:



      My guess is that the green indicates youth and gradually gives way to grey.

      It’s interesting how your imagination recast this scene as oceanic, with the translucent green leaves at the top becoming a watery surface overhead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2015 at 8:36 AM

      • That second link is especially good, and just taught me a clutch of interesting facts about ball moss. And speaking of an ocean-forest connection, there’s a certain resemblance between sea urchins and ball moss.


        September 5, 2015 at 9:34 AM

        • I’d debated making that second link the one that would appear in the post’s text. It’s from the website that the University of Texas created for students taking a course on the native plants of the Austin area.

          You can add the human world to your ocean-forest nature theme by considering street urchins.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 5, 2015 at 9:50 AM

  2. Wow! It looks like an art installation…


    September 5, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    • Your comment is unlike any I’ve ever gotten, so hooray for uniqueness. This scene could be a case of nature imitating art, so the photograph would be art imitating nature imitating art.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2015 at 1:58 PM

  3. I keep going back to look at it. This is a stunning photograph, Steve.


    September 5, 2015 at 10:19 AM

    • I was quite taken with the sight, Melissa, because I didn’t recall (and still don’t) ever seeing anything quite like this. I took a bunch of photographs in hopes that at least one would capture the way the scene felt. This photograph is likewise different from my usual ones, and I’m grateful for the novelty.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2015 at 2:10 PM

  4. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen ball moss before–in Florida, I think, but I don’t think I ever heard anyone give it a name. What a cool plant! Love the underwater analogy by Shoreacres. Back to what I said recently about the magic of the imagination you and your followers bring to the table.


    September 5, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    • Yes, that comment is another good example of imaginative interpretation, Gary.

      If you lived down here the term ball moss would be pretty familiar to you. The second link in my reply to the first comment says the plant is also called bunch moss, which I’ve not heard anyone say. The article in the link in the post’s text notes that this species is found across most of Central and South America, though I don’t know the Spanish name for it, nor do I remember whether I saw the plant when I lived in Honduras. You probably did see ball moss in Florida, where I see it’s found most everywhere in the state other than the Panhandle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2015 at 2:19 PM

  5. Nicely spotlit ball moss…a new non-moss (a bromeliad/air plant like Spanish Moss) to me… and kudos to the spider silk for dangling that little leaf nearby. Well seen and photographed, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    September 5, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    • The genus Tillandsia includes Spanish moss, which we have some of in Austin too, but ball moss far outnumbers it and is quite a common sight, especially in live oak trees.

      The spotlit Spanish moss and dangling, twirling leaf made for a unique combination. You can sympathize with my efforts at trying to hit the shutter button at the right moment to capture the leaf fully lit up. In looking through the frames just now I saw that I didn’t always pull it off, but all it takes is one success, and I had several.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2015 at 3:42 PM

      • Multiple frames for free is just one of digital’s many perks.

        Steve Gingold

        September 6, 2015 at 7:33 AM

        • It is, and the cost of digital storage keeps coming down. I saw a 5 TB hard drive at Costco yesterday for $140.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 6, 2015 at 7:53 AM

          • I haven’t bought any quite that large yet, but all my 2tb drives were @$100. I’ll start with larger ones on my next purchase. I’ve a lineup of 3 1tb and 3 2tb. They’re closing in on me!

            Steve Gingold

            September 6, 2015 at 7:59 AM

            • I’ve gradually been buying bigger hard drives and transferring files from smaller, older, slower hard drives. It’s an intermittent nuisance, but what else can I do?

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 6, 2015 at 8:24 AM

              • I watch a video or read a book or sleep during the transfers. That process is one of the drawbacks. Once we filed our tranniesd, we always knew where to find them. Ah well, the good outweighs the bad.

                Steve Gingold

                September 6, 2015 at 8:39 AM

                • Some of my transfers have run overnight. My newest external hard drives are USB 3.0 but my five-year-old computer has only USB 2.0, which therefore limits the transfer speed.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 6, 2015 at 8:47 AM

  6. Thank you for the beautiful and informative post! Pam


    September 5, 2015 at 2:10 PM

  7. Interesting perspective for the ball moss, the subtle back-lighting gives the image a real interesting and engaging quality.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    September 5, 2015 at 5:48 PM

    • And engage with the scene I did: for 12 minutes I moved around to aim from different vantage points and try different compositions, both horizontal and vertical, for as long as the ball moss stayed illuminated.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2015 at 6:17 PM

  8. A very interesting subject and great composition to get the light right. I also love the illuminated leaf dangling from the spider silk.


    September 5, 2015 at 7:17 PM

    • I tried various compositions and viewpoints but this was my favorite at the time I put the post together. The light was magical and held me transfixed, so I was glad to be able to fix that image on the camera’s sensor.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2015 at 7:38 PM

  9. Exquisite! The dangling leaf seems a pendulum marking the moment: right now, would be perfect – and it was!


    September 7, 2015 at 4:05 PM

    • You’ve hit it etymologically because pendulum means literally ‘little hanging thing,’ which is what the folium, i.e. leaf in Latin, was.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 7, 2015 at 5:18 PM

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