Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Hot off the presses, so to speak, genetically speaking

with 21 comments

Skeletonleaf Goldeneye Flowering by Ocotillo 0014

The plant shown prettily flowering away here in Big Bend National Park on November 22, skeletonleaf goldeneye, used to be classified as Viguiera stenoloba, making it a genus-mate of the sunflower goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, that you saw recently. However, Prof. Michael Powell of Sul Ross State University in Alpine, who identified this flowering bush for me, pointed out that molecular research has recently caused botanists to reclassify skeletonleaf goldeneye as Stanleya tenuifolia. According to a 2011 article, all that seems to remain in the genus Viguiera is V. dentata, while four newly described genera—Dendroviguiera, Gonzalezia, Heiseria, and Sidneya—have been created to hold the other species formerly included in Viguiera. Welcome to a new world of botany in which the common name for a species is sometimes more stable than the scientific name.

The scraggly plants behind the skeletonleaf goldeneye are ocotillo, Fouquieria spelendens.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2015 at 4:43 AM

21 Responses

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  1. A sunny flower by any name is a frigid wind blows and icy snow falls here. Perhaps if the wind blows hard enough the snow will land somewhere else? I really like this photo, Steve. It looks like a giant bouquet.


    December 28, 2015 at 8:52 AM

    • It can be a giant bouquet against the cold, which has finally even come to Austin (37° this morning). I’m afraid we’ll shake it off down here long before you do up there; always that question of latitude.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2015 at 10:52 AM

      • Yes, Brrr! Looks like a lot of the country is chilly today. Latitude and attitude, too. I’ll just turn up the Mozart so I can’t hear the sleet hitting my windows, pour some more eggnog, and settle into a mystery. Warm thoughts, Steve!


        December 28, 2015 at 3:40 PM

  2. I have always found it hard to keep up with the naming changes and the confusion created by those that refuse to go along with those changes…Have a wonderful New Year Steve.

    Charlie@Seattle Trekker

    December 28, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    • Field guides get reprinted only now and then, often not till years after scientific names have changed. Online sources may get updated more quickly, but even they may not be able to keep up with all the changes that keep getting made as DNA analysis continues. Fortunately photographs endure, regardless of the names attached to their subjects.

      Happy almost 2016.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2015 at 1:25 PM

  3. That is a lovely natural bouquet. We’ll be catching up to Melissa tonight and tomorrow. Not looking forward to the sleet and freezing rain during tomorrow morning’s commute.
    Will you be showing us a close up that explains how the skeletonleaf got its name?

    Steve Gingold

    December 28, 2015 at 5:08 PM

    • Sorry to hear about your anticipated commuter-time sleet. We had a few minutes of hail last night but nothing else frozen.

      Sorry also that I don’t have a close-up as a follow-up to show the linear (therefore skeleton-like) leaves of this plant. If I’d known at the time what the plant was, I might have tried for a decent pictures of the leaves. Sometimes I take pictures of leaves and stems to help identify a species, but those kinds of photographs aren’t normally worth showing—and in this case I didn’t even take separate identifying pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2015 at 5:29 PM

      • Something to look forward to next year. I do that too. Record shots for identification.

        Steve Gingold

        December 28, 2015 at 5:43 PM

  4. Even a skeletonleaf leaf looks good against that blue sky, not to mention those pretty flowers. I still don’t think I’ve seen any Viguiera dentata, which probably says more about my confusion over yellow composites than it does about the presence of the flower, which should have been around last year when I was visiting the hill country.

    Of course the linked article was mostly impenetrable for me, but a couple of things caught my attention. One was the use of the words “tribe” and “subtribe.” I’ve gotten used to genus and phylum, but I can’t remember ever seeing those words. Is “tribe” sometimes used as an equivalent to “phylum”? I see there’s an etymological connection.

    And then this stopped me, a couple of pages in: “The results of the Bayesian analysis of ITS sequences for a comprehensive dataset of Helianthinae are shown in Figure 1A–C.” I don’t pretend to understand Bayesian analysis, but I have come across the term in the writing of social scientists like Charles Murray. This explanation made enough general sense that I could at least see how botanists and social scientists could make use of the same techniques.


    December 29, 2015 at 8:20 AM

    • One thing that helps in identifying Viguiera dentata is that it’s a bush (at least when it’s grown big enough); that bush-ness sets it apart from the large majority of yellow composites in Texas, which are forbs.

      A tribe is a division of a family, but a phylum is a much higher category:


      The Asteraceae (sunflower family) is so large that botanists have divided it into tribes and even, as you pointed out, subtribes.

      There’s a semantic relation between phylum and tribe, but not an etymological one. Greek phūlon turns out to be from the same Indo-European root as English be.

      For the most part the article I linked to is well beyond my comprehension, but I think I understand from the synopsis at the beginning that the genus Viguiera has been split up.

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about Bayesian analysis. I wish I did because, as you said, it pops up in various fields. That’s the power of mathematics in general. If you know how to add, it doesn’t matter what you add.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2015 at 9:55 AM

  5. It is radiant. After yesterday’s heat and storms and this morning’s instant cold it is a warming sight to behold! Loving that (mostly) clear blue sky too. 🙂


    December 29, 2015 at 12:39 PM

    • I think many people don’t expect to see such dense flowers in the desert. We had blue skies for most of our time there, punctuated by wispy clouds that have ornamented some of the other pictures you’ve seen from west Texas. Did you come through the Trans-Pecos part of Texas when you moved from California to Alabama?

      After a long spell of unseasonably warm weather here, we also got hit with frigid air a couple of days ago. Let’s hope this picture warms us both up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2015 at 12:55 PM

      • My first impulse was to say that I had never been there. Then I looked it up and Interstate 10 goes through it… Of course I have been there! I traveled through on my way to my first duty station in 73, and again on my way back home. I have been through there several times actually, but not on my move to Alabama. We took the I-40 route because our little bit of earth is only 4 miles from the Tennessee border. Booooooriiiiiing! Well, OK there was that stop at the gas station in Arkansas where I saw my first scissor tailed fly catcher! https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Scissor-tailed_Flycatcher/id Now that was exciting.

        Regarding your frigid weather, did you get all the snow and ice I saw on the news?


        December 29, 2015 at 10:45 PM

        • No, that was way up in the Texas Panhandle, which is hundreds of miles north of here—Texas stretches even farther from north to south than it does from west to east. If you most recently took I-40, you would’ve passed through Amarillo, where the highway had to be closed two days ago because of the blizzard:


          In Austin we got rain and a brief bout of hail. So far this season the temperature hasn’t dropped below freezing here even once.

          Happy New Year.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 29, 2015 at 11:08 PM

          • Wow! Glad you didn’t have to put up with all that!


            December 30, 2015 at 12:15 AM

            • We have friends in Lubbock, about 115 miles south of Amarillo, and they experienced part of the snowstorm. The forecast for the next seven days in Austin still shows all temperatures above freezing, though cool and and with mostly overcast skies.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 30, 2015 at 6:56 AM

  6. We saw no bouquets of wildflowers while in TBB. But, looking up (for birds) and down (to keep from rock-tripping) we did find some teeny single varieties the size of my fingernail. Even in the desert, flowers are in bloom! Happy New Year, Steve.


    January 15, 2016 at 6:19 PM

    • Happy New Year to you guys too.

      What you say about Big Bend matches what I noticed in November: plenty of little wildflowers scattered on the desert floor.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2016 at 7:45 PM

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