Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Peonia in the Hill Country

with 21 comments

Peonia Flower Heads 4828

On February 12th I walked some of the strenuous northernmost part of the River Place Nature Trail (the portion called the Canyon Trail) and came across a member of the sunflower family that I’d seen only a few times before.* It was Acourtia runcinata, known as peonia or featherleaf desert peony. The flower head at the right looked okay, while the smaller one on the left was either drying out after flourishing or hadn’t quite made it in the first place. Behind the drying head you can glimpse part of a bud beginning to open.

In the United States, Acourtia runcinata grows only in Texas, and even then only in the southwestern half of the state, as you can confirm at the USDA website (raise the slider there to zoom in on the county-level distribution).

Although this sunflower-family wildflower bears some superficial resemblance to the garden flower called the peony, that one is in a family all its own, Paeoniaceae, which consists of the single genus Paeonia.


* Given how seldom I’d seen this wildflower and how glad I was to encounter it again, you might be surprised to hear that I didn’t even notice it on the outward-bound part of my walk, spotting it only on the return. I’ve commented on that phenomenon several times in this blog, and other photographers have confirmed that it happens to them too.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 3, 2016 at 5:00 AM

21 Responses

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  1. Steve, I find that I always see more when I don’t have my camera in my hand! But I also think I see more when I am more relaxed, which is probably the case when already heading back to the car. In any case, I think this flower is quite beautiful for its colour.


    March 3, 2016 at 1:07 PM

    • With regard to your first sentence, one remedy is always to have a camera with you, even if just a cell phone camera.

      I hadn’t thought about what you said about being more relaxed on the way back. I know I’m sometimes exhausted on the way back, but I don’t know if fatigue makes me slow down and notice more things; it seems you could make the case for the opposite result. Someone will have to do a doctoral dissertation on this topic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 3, 2016 at 1:17 PM

  2. This is quite a flower. I’ve never heard of it, and certainly never have seen it, but I’m attracted to those petals. They look like curled ribbon. The paired curls of the stamens (?) are quite something, too. I’m sure I’ve seen the same design on other flowers, but I can’t recall which species.

    In “the mind is a wondrous thing” category, runcinata reminds me of the runcible spoon employed by the Owl and the Pussycat. What’s funny is that, today, the saw-toothed grapefruit spoon sometimes is marketed as a runcible spoon.


    March 4, 2016 at 7:36 AM

  3. Wonderful, Steve! 🙂


    March 4, 2016 at 11:33 PM

  4. Oh stop I’m in heaven .. Pink with hints of purple 😃


    March 5, 2016 at 12:35 AM

  5. Lovely flower and even if not an actual peony, the resemblance is obvious and appreciated from one who grows the garden variety- both tree and herbaceous.
    I imagine that I am one of those confirming photographers.

    Steve Gingold

    March 7, 2016 at 3:27 PM

    • I’ve never been a gardener, so what little I know about garden plants has followed from I’ve learned about native plants. As a result, for me peonia is the “real” peony, and the garden peony is the imitator (even if, in this case, peonia seems to have been named for its resemblance to peony).

      I thought I remembered your having confirmed the experience of walking right past something in one direction but then seeing it in the opposite direction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 7, 2016 at 3:38 PM

  6. This early spring has definitely got you back in business.


    March 10, 2016 at 8:37 AM

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