Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The Brother Gardeners

with 32 comments

On page 10 of Andrea Wulf’s 2008 book The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession I came across this:

[English gardener Thomas] Fairchild… sold [John] Tradescant’s sycamores as well as Virginian sunflowers, asters, goldenrod and rudbeckia. Aesculus pavia from North America, a small tree which was introduced as “scarlet flower’d horse chestnut” in 1711, blossomed for the first time in Fairchild’s garden….

What struck me is that I’ve shown pictures here of every one of those native North American plants that English gardeners happily imported in the 1600s and 1700s (though not necessarily the same species of each). Prompted by that coincidence, I’ve gone ahead and presented a mostly retrospective collection today. Clicking any but the first photograph won’t show it in isolation the way it usually does but will instead take you back to the original post in case you’d like to read the associated text. Hardly any of you will have seen all those posts, the majority of which appeared in the early years of this blog.

As for the first photograph, I took it on March 2 of this year from a high part of Spicewood Springs Rd. just west of the intersection with Bintliff Dr. Using a telephoto lens, I aimed down into the woods where a creek has fostered the growth of what are now some large sycamore trees, Platanus occidentalis. In addition to the conspicuous white branches, you may be able to make out the hundreds of seed balls hanging from them.


Sycamore with White Branches and Seed Balls 6776

A sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis


A colony of sunflowers, Helianthus annuus

A colony of sunflowers, Helianthus annuus


Click for greater detail.

Heath asters, Aster ericoides.


Tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima


Brown- or black-eyed susan, Rudbeckia hirta


Click for greater clarity.

Swallowtail butterfly on flowers of red buckeye, Aesculus pavia.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman



Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 14, 2016 at 4:59 AM

32 Responses

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  1. I was surprised to find that I’ve seen each of these photos, save the red buckeye. It’s not that I’ve been around all those years, but your blog is such a resource that I’ve found them while searching for information: for my Van Gogh sunflower post; about my goldenrod gall mystery; to answer the “black-eyed Susan or coneflower?” question. I hadn’t much thought about our native plants doing their own traveling until I read about the European fascination with agaves, and dipped into the correspondence of people like Lindheimer.

    Looking for the seed balls was a little like looking for faint stars in the sky. It was easier to see them when I didn’t look so hard. Then, they were obvious.

    Of course, I can’t help but mention one plant Fairchild probably missed: the estimable Pi plant.


    March 14, 2016 at 5:33 AM

    • Once again you’ve saved me from Pi Day oblivion on 3/14. Not having taught math for some years now, I don’t have such things nearly as much on my mind as I once did.

      I’m surprised that you’ve seen all but one of the older pictures, but pleased that they’d served as part of a resource for your quests. To some little degree I’ve been able to teach without teaching.

      In the United States some (or many) people have considered goldenrod a weed, but Europeans treated it as an exotic treasure and readily imported it. I remember being surprised some years ago when I first read about goldenrod in Europe, but I probably shouldn’t have been, given the many European species that have gotten naturalized over here.

      It might not have been fair to bring up the sycamore’s seed balls, given how small they are in the picture, but they’re an important feature so I thought I should at least mention them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2016 at 6:06 AM

      • Here’s a fun fact. You can remember the value of pi (at least, to 3.1415926) by counting the number of letters in each word in the question, “May I have a large container of coffee?”


        March 14, 2016 at 6:17 AM

  2. You are spoiling us with these beautiful collections of photos, Steve. Thank you for another visual treat. I thought I may have seen a couple of these before but when I checked each one, I hadn’t “liked” any of the posts yet. I took delight in “liking” one after the other. 🙂


    March 14, 2016 at 6:32 AM

    • Thanks for your enthusiastic “liking” of each picture, Jane, which I’d noticed from WordPress’s notifications before I saw this comment. Isn’t it strange how we have to put “like” in quotation marks to distinguish ‘the act of clicking the Like button on a website’ from the normal verb to like? I’m glad you “liked” and liked the posts.

      I’ve gone a bit berserk lately with multiple-picture posts, but then some people might find me a bit crazy even with no pictures or posts, so you might as well have pictures and posts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2016 at 6:46 AM

  3. How beautiful, but the swallowtail gets my vote. That is such a gorgeous photo.


    March 14, 2016 at 2:24 PM

    • I can understand why that’s your favorite. I think swallowtails are the largest butterflies we have in Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2016 at 4:15 PM

      • They are very beautiful. We do apparently have one here, but quite rare.

        “The British race is the subspecies britannicus which is confined to the fens of the Norfolk Broads in East Norfolk. This is partly due to the distribution of the sole larval foodplant, Milk-parsley.”


        March 14, 2016 at 4:54 PM

        • Too bad it’s rare over there. Oh well, one more reason for you to visit America again.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 14, 2016 at 5:26 PM

          • I never saw butterflies on my US trips, but then I always visited in Feb or March. A reason to go there in the summer I guess 🙂


            March 14, 2016 at 5:35 PM

            • Or (putting in a plug for Texas) you could come to Austin in March to see butterflies and wildflowers, as I’ve been doing for the past month.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 14, 2016 at 6:54 PM

  4. All plants we recognise well over here now and many are really important for insects! Gorgeous butterfly too 😉 I hope to see the European species in Greece this year! As Jude says the British species is incredibly rare and survives in a small part of Norfolk. Our butterflies are very fussy eaters at all stages!

    • Swallowtails are often hard to photograph because even when they hover to get nectar from a flower they usually keep fluttering their wings. Good luck seeing—and photographing!—the European swallowtail in Greece.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 14, 2016 at 7:19 PM

      • I’ve photographed them before out there 🙂 Yes, the wing movement is a challenge but the light is usually so good you can use a really fast shutter speed! I have some hovering Swallowtail images from the Wisley Gardens butterfly event to share still. I love capturing them sipping nectar on the wing 😀

  5. Sarah is right .. Many of these plants are much loved by insects and those gorgeous butterflies


    March 15, 2016 at 2:03 AM

  6. Solidagos will almost always get my vote.

    Steve Gingold

    March 15, 2016 at 3:35 PM

  7. Fine images all, but I really like the mass of sunflowers. Beautiful.


    March 15, 2016 at 8:06 PM

    • Some years we get good colonies of wild sunflowers here: 2000 was one of those good years, at least in the place shown here. The colony would have been a good deal larger but mowers got rid of part of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 16, 2016 at 6:52 AM

  8. Those sunflowers—! No one could look at that image and not grin. Not me, anyhow!!


    March 21, 2016 at 11:36 AM

  9. […] *You came across the name Tradescant near the beginning of a post last week. […]

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