Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Why wafer ash is called wafer ash

with 28 comments

Texas; native;

Wafer ash is called wafer ash because of its samaras. A samara is a winged fruit, and the small (0.75–1 inch, 18–25 mm), mostly flat ones of Ptelea trifoliata must have looked to people like little wafers. They still do.

I made this close view of a backlit wafer ash samara in Balcones District Park on January 3, 2012.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 30, 2015 at 5:15 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , , ,

28 Responses

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  1. Yes, they still do, but I am also tempted to call it a stingray ash. But would a backlit stingray look even half as beautiful as this?


    October 30, 2015 at 6:00 AM

    • I do see the stingray, but only because your imagination did first. Now if only we could find a backlit stingray, we could compare the two.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2015 at 6:40 AM

  2. Now I have a word for a part of my childhood: the winged maple seeds I used to throw into the air and watch twirl to the ground. I was interested to see that “samaras” are pretty common; the word also would apply to the four wings of the Missouri evening primrose seed pod that I brought home from Kansas. When I read at the OED that the word refers to the “dried fruit of certain trees, from Latin samara “the seed of the elm,” I wondered if Samara, Russia, is thick with elm trees, but I couldn’t find anything explaining that city’s historic name.

    Once I made the necessary adjustment for size, I realized that I have seen these: usually on sidewalks, where they appear pretty bland, if not unattractive. Once again, the closer view (and a little backlighting) reveal an unexpected intricacy and beauty.


    October 30, 2015 at 7:18 AM

    • We might say I was a good samaratan in providing you with this new word, and also with a close and backlit view that offers a greater appreciation than what you’ve had from little samaras lying on sidewalks.

      My association from childhood is also with maple trees. We would break those winged seeds in half, pry open the thick end of each half, and stick it on the upper part of our nose. Obviously Google didn’t exist back then, but it does now, and it offers photos of what I’m talking about.

      Who knew that Samara is the 6th largest city in Russia and has a metropolitan area with more than 3 million people? Not I.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2015 at 7:34 AM

      • I just found that a photographer in Cleveland has done a project showing people with maple samaras on their nose:


        Steve Schwartzman

        October 30, 2015 at 7:38 AM

      • I’ve never seen or heard of the seed-on-the-nose trick. How can that be? It’s obviously well-known. Now I have a project for my next trip to Lost Maples. There’s something about it that’s inherently funny, that’s for sure.

        The Cleveland photographer’s page is wonderful. It reminds me of Dick Sheaff’s page devoted to photos of people holding fish. I’d forgotten that I was going to contribute the photo of my dad standing next to a Liberian village chief, and holding a fish.


        October 30, 2015 at 6:36 PM

        • Just make sure you take a selfie to show that you’ve caught up with kids around the country.

          I hadn’t seen the page with people holding fish, but I recognize the similarity in spirit to the project with maple samaras on people’s noses. The strange things that people do and collect….

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 30, 2015 at 7:35 PM

    • I thought you and Steve would like this post. Our elms scattered the samaras all over our lot. Alas, they died and have been removed.

      Jim in IA

      October 30, 2015 at 8:20 AM

  3. It looks like a bat ray, a little bit, shown like this.


    October 30, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    • Now your bat ray has joined Gallivanta’s sting ray in the array of comments radiating from your imaginations this rainy (here) morning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 30, 2015 at 8:34 AM

      • G(ray)t minds think alike 🙂 I’m glad you are getting some rain. Hope it of the gentle sort. We had lots of rain over the past couple of days. It is good to feel the ground a little softer again. Today it is leaf raking day here. And storm window day. and finish the stone path before it is too late day.


        October 30, 2015 at 9:27 AM

        • Actually I’ve been watching local television and was surprised to learn that some parts of the Austin area are flooding again. A few locations have gotten rain bombs of 6, 8, or even 10 inches overnight and into the morning—and the rain is still coming down. Today is two years to the day since the Halloween floods that did a lot of damage on Onion Creek, which is becoming a raging river again. Some places have had strong winds (one reportedly 70 mph), and the radar had picked up a few instances of rotation.

          No outdoor chores for people here today. May you be productive in yours.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 30, 2015 at 10:41 AM

  4. Details bring out intricacies and stunning designs.


    October 30, 2015 at 10:22 AM

  5. Great way to transport seed .. Clever plant. Wonderful image 😄


    October 31, 2015 at 1:36 AM

    • Now that you mention transport, I realize that although I’ve often seen clusters of these samaras attached to wafer ash trees, I’ve never seen any of these little wafers blowing about.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2015 at 7:08 AM

  6. My first thought was also that it looked like stingray. I suppose the thought came to my mind because I have lived by coastal towns and Queensland is known for its marine life. Also, Steve Irwin, the famous Australian wildlife “warrior” was killed instantly by a stingray and it was quite shocking to us at the time. This is more beautiful than a stingray though, Steve. I love how the back-light illuminates the intricate patterns. Very appealing!


    October 31, 2015 at 5:25 AM

    • The death of Steve Irwin was big news over here, too, but I imagine it must have made an even bigger impression over there, for obvious reasons. Now you’ve made me wonder if that event caused people to think more negatively about stingrays.

      Backlighting can do wonders for a subject, and I’m glad you found this fruit of that technique so appetizing. Perhaps that approach will serve you well for certain photographs when you’re on one of your outings in nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2015 at 7:19 AM

  7. Of course I have seen many samaras but none as lovely as the wafer ash. As a child I was never able to perfect the samara whistle that many of my friends did with a maple samara. The wing would be placed agaist the roof of one’s mouth and then held in place with the tongue. I can’t find any examples on Google so maybe it was a local thing that no one talks about.

    Steve Gingold

    October 31, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    • Hmm. I’m trying to remember if kids whistled with maple samaras on Long Island, but I can’t recall. I know I didn’t. Have you managed to get any translucent images of maple samaras up there?

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2015 at 3:32 PM

  8. Qué imagen tan maravillosa de este fruto en sámara ¡Felcicidades, Steve!

    • Gracias, Isabel. Ahora aprendí que la palabra en español es sámara, que se acentúa en la primera sílaba.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 1, 2015 at 5:13 AM

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