Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A vertebral orchid

with 37 comments

Great Plains Ladies' Tresses Orchid 8416

Not long ago you saw a developing Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum). Now here’s a fully developed and decidedly vertebral specimen that I found on October 31st near the intersection of Old Spicewood Springs Rd. and Spicewood Springs Rd. before I continued a few hundred feet downhill to photograph the maximally flowing waterfall on a tributary of Bull Creek. At a different scale, note the drops of rain on this orchid.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 10, 2015 at 5:20 AM

37 Responses

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  1. So many S(teve) curves of late! The bristlegrass came to mind, of course. Apart from the orchid’s structure, I was caught by the almost opalescent glimmer of the flowers. They have the look of very fine porcelain, or Chihuly glass.

    shoreacres

    November 10, 2015 at 6:03 AM

    • I’m honored to be among the circle of people who’ve had curves named after them. I’ll gladly state my gratitude, but not in a hyperbolical way.

      I, too, noticed the quality of the flowers that you were caught by, but I didn’t know what I might liken them to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2015 at 7:16 AM

  2. I concur and nicely put. When I first learned of Lady’s Tresses I thought them remarkable. Then I found a second one, and here is a third! I just read in “Planthropology” that orchids account for 10% of all flowering plants! Who knew?

    melissabluefineart

    November 10, 2015 at 8:09 AM

    • I believe I’d read that the orchid family is represented by more plants than any other, but I’d never guess that from my experience in central Texas (my only sustained botanical experience). In this part of the world we have only a few orchid species, with ladies’ tresses being the only one I regularly encounter. In contrast, the composite family is represented here by dozens and dozens of species, including many of our most common and widespread wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2015 at 8:22 AM

      • Same here. Guess they are all hanging out at the top of trees in the jungle.

        melissabluefineart

        November 10, 2015 at 8:26 AM

        • Sounds like a field trip to a tropical clime is in order.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 10, 2015 at 9:23 AM

          • Oh, I don’t think so. Just visiting in Florida makes me break out in hives 🙂

            melissabluefineart

            November 10, 2015 at 12:40 PM

            • Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Austin stays pretty hot for half the year, but things are quite pleasant here by the time the ladies’ tresses orchids appear in late October.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 10, 2015 at 1:46 PM

  3. Even they get scoliosis! Very nice!

    Maria F.

    November 10, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    • I hope that’s not a too-familiar subject, Maria. Best for us if it stays in the floral world.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2015 at 8:23 AM

      • I hope it does, although sometimes they bear a coincidental resemblance…

        Maria F.

        November 10, 2015 at 8:25 AM

  4. Sweetly delicate…

    lensandpensbysally

    November 10, 2015 at 8:41 AM

  5. Una “columna vertebral” delicada y hermosa. Me gusta mucho.

    Isabel F. Bernaldo de Quirós

    November 10, 2015 at 9:18 AM

  6. It is really packed with blooms.

    Jim in IA

    November 10, 2015 at 10:05 AM

    • Packed it is, and I think it’s that floral density that makes this wildflower so endearing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2015 at 1:43 PM

  7. So interesting and so gorgeous. I have never seen this before, love the post.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    November 10, 2015 at 1:24 PM

    • For years I’d been seeing this in the best of our local wildflower field guides but not in person. About five or six years ago I finally came across one — just one — and got excited. Now I know a couple of pretty reliable places to find them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2015 at 2:28 PM

  8. I like Linda’s description of the opalescent quality of the flowers. Like you, I’ve noticed it but hadn’t put a name to it. This does look very vertebral.

    Steve Gingold

    November 10, 2015 at 5:43 PM

    • If opalescence is the essence of these flowers, then we’ll conspire to admire them for hours.

      This is also a case where the vertebral was vertical, so I got horizontal on the ground to shoot perpendicular to the plane of the orchid.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2015 at 6:28 PM

  9. Wild orchids are so beautiful! Great photos!

    montucky

    November 10, 2015 at 7:50 PM

    • I wish I saw our other species of native orchids more often, but they’re rather scarce here. That’s why I’m happy to have the ladies’ tresses right in my part of town.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 10, 2015 at 8:51 PM

      • We have what I guess is a close relative, Spiranthes romanzoffiana, but it sure doesn’t bloom this time of year!

        montucky

        November 10, 2015 at 9:28 PM

        • I see online that Spiranthes romanzoffiana blooms in California in July and August. Is that when you see it in Montana?

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 10, 2015 at 9:41 PM

          • The best photos of it that I have were taken on August 15, 2012.

            montucky

            November 10, 2015 at 9:48 PM

            • I wonder if the climate up there in mid-August is similar to the climate here now.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 10, 2015 at 10:10 PM

              • Actually a little warmer I think. In the mid 90’s.

                montucky

                November 10, 2015 at 10:44 PM

                • You’re right: that’s warmer than here, where a couple of weeks ago the highs might have been in the mid-80s.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  November 10, 2015 at 10:50 PM

  10. This photograph was popular with my anatomy student daughter. It’s a beautiful and interesting shot, Steve. I agree with a previous commenter about the “opalescent glimmer of the flowers. They have the look of very fine porcelain, or Chihuly glass.” The background really sets it off.

    Jane

    November 10, 2015 at 11:00 PM

    • Botany meets anatomy: thanks for showing the image to your daughter. Usually these orchids are straight, but the sinuous shape of this one called out for a comparison to a spinal column.

      You may have heard me say that the background in a photograph is often as important as the subject, and that could well apply here, where the amorphous background leaves all our attention on the orchid.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 11, 2015 at 9:03 AM

  11. If only the photo of my vertebral column were this beautiful!

    Gallivanta

    November 12, 2015 at 5:16 AM

    • Our human vertebral columns may not be this beautiful, but they do a beautiful job of holding us up. I take mine with me everywhere I go.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2015 at 6:08 AM

  12. Beautiful curving stem, background rendering is lovely as well. Much prettier than Chihuly glass – I’ve seen some ostentatious examples of that…

    tomwhelan

    November 12, 2015 at 9:22 PM

    • Thanks for your appreciation, Tom. I’ve gotten this kind of background in other portraits, but the sinuous curve of the orchid was unique in my photographs of this species.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2015 at 9:58 PM


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