Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

May 8th

with 26 comments

Rain-Lily Flower 0523

After the appearance of this picture a week ago, Gallivanta suggested repeating it today, this time with the rain-lily (Cooperia pedunculata) symbolizing several things. For her it’s her father’s birthday (best wishes). May 8 is also World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. In 2016, May 8 happens to be Mother’s Day. In 1945, the Allies celebrated May 8 as VE Day, Victory in Europe over the forces of Nazi Germany. That same day and year also saw the birth of my childhood friend Michael Kindman, who unfortunately died young a couple of decades ago.

If you’ll indulge me for having decided “to paint the lily,” as Shakespeare put it*, here’s yet another photograph from a month ago today at the Doeskin Ranch. Adjacent to a yellowing twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) leaf I found a Heller’s plantain (Plantago helleri). This little plant(ain) typically goes through the nodding phase you see here before straightening up and producing tiny flowers.

Heller's Plantain by Yellowing Yucca Leaf 0680

Oh well, now that I’ve mentioned its flowers, I guess I have to show you one. Here’s a view from my northwest Austin neighborhood on March 20:

Heller's Plantain Flower 8843



* Here’s the passage from Shakespeare’s King John:

Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,
To guard a title that was rich before,
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet,
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,
Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

Somehow in public memory the two metaphors in the third line have merged, with the result that we now encounter the incorrect phrase “to gild the lily” more often than the correct one.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 8, 2016 at 5:09 AM

26 Responses

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  1. What a treat to see this repeat as well as other beauties on this important day. Thank you.


    May 8, 2016 at 5:38 AM

    • You’re welcome. May May 8th have served you well, now that you’re a few minutes into May 9th.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2016 at 7:10 AM

  2. The photo of the plantain’s flower is remarkable. Given the size of the plantains I know, it must be very small. Its petals remind me of the third, nearly colorless petal of our dayflower (Commelina erecta.), and those fine hairs are delightful.

    Last week, I returned to the Galveston cemetery, where I found a developing seed pod of a rain lily. When I went back yesterday morning, I found developing pods, ripened and falling seeds, and several blooming flowers. I think this one is a nice companion for yours. Combined with the other flowers, it makes a fine Mother’s Day bouquet, and its appearance at a grave seems a fitting tribute to those we remember today.


    May 8, 2016 at 6:27 AM

    • Hooray for finally having found your rain-lily, well accompanied by a few Indian blankets, and welcome as a companion. In the background of your photograph there may also be some peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum). Ever since I found an old cemetery “neglected” enough that spring wildflowers had taken it over, I’ve wished for all cemeteries to be that way—but alas, the mower mentality is as deeply rooted in cemetery managers as in the general population. May the managers of the cemetery in Galveston and their descendants flourish forever.

      I like your comparison of the plantain flower’s tiny petals to the colorless and largely hidden one in a dayflower, and I remember your delight in the soft hairs on Heller’s plantain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2016 at 7:36 AM

  3. Fine work, Steve!


    May 8, 2016 at 6:56 AM

  4. Thank you for the quote, and analysis … which, heretofore, I did not realize.

    Pairodox Farm

    May 8, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    • You’re welcome. Now you can start painting lilies instead of gilding them. Why incorrect versions of some things largely or completely replace correct ones is a fascinating field for study.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2016 at 7:45 AM

  5. I do love the rain lily, even if I cannot have it gilded.


    May 8, 2016 at 7:42 AM

  6. You’ve captured each with grace.


    May 8, 2016 at 8:13 AM

  7. So that is where “gild the lily” came from! Beautiful photos too, Steve, as always.

    Lavinia Ross

    May 8, 2016 at 12:38 PM

    • Thanks, Lavinia.
      “Gild the lily” is among those misquotations that have partly or mostly supplanted their original versions. Another from Shakespeare is “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well…,” where the actual line from Hamlet is “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio….” Still another is “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The words are correct but truncated, the original being: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet….”

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2016 at 1:07 PM

  8. Thank you Mr. Schwartzman for the good quote.   Thank you for the marvelous flowers.   Zosia Hunt Austin, Texas Peace on Earth.

    Zosia and Joseph Hunt

    May 8, 2016 at 3:34 PM

    • You’re welcome for the quotation and the flowers. Over time there’s been a lot more of the second here than of the first.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2016 at 4:36 PM

  9. What a fount of information!

    Margie Roe

    May 8, 2016 at 4:04 PM

  10. Your Heller’s plantain is much different than the plantain that grows in our lawn (one might actually call it a weed) which provides some nice food for our eastern cottontails and keeps them from wandering into our garden.
    That’s an interesting origin for gild the lily. Yours is in no need of gilding as it is lovely all on its own.

    Steve Gingold

    May 8, 2016 at 4:56 PM

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