Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Prairie promiscuity

with 34 comments

Prairie Wildflowers 1892

The adjective promiscuous was originally applied (and still is) to different things that appear or are brought together in no particular order. That’s a good description of plants, or as Dolly Parton put it: “Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.” Here from April 22 on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin you see a mix of Engelmann daisies (Engelmannia peristenia), bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), prairie bishop’s weed (Bifora americana), and a few pink evening primroses (Oenothera speciosa).

While prairie bishop’s weed flowers are tiny, at most a quarter of an inch across (6mm), I found plenty of insects attending to them, including a shiny blow fly (family Calliphoridae)

Shiny Fly on Prairie Bishop's Weed Flowers 1940

Click to enlarge.

and a paper wasp.

Paper Wasp on Prairie Bishop's Weed 1926

Click to enlarge.

UPDATE on December 5, 2017. John S. Ascher at bugguide.net has identified the blow fly as being in the genus Lucilia.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2016 at 5:07 AM

34 Responses

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  1. Such lovely colours. And who knew a blow fly could look so beautiful.


    May 26, 2016 at 6:06 AM

    • Not I, not till I found this one. The prairie in northeast Austin has been its good self this spring, even if alarmingly fewer pieces of it remain now than just a few months ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2016 at 6:20 AM

      • I hope these changes will not cause you to suffer from solastalgia http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20151030-have-you-ever-felt-solastalgia Apparently we suffer from it in Christchurch.


        May 26, 2016 at 6:31 AM

        • I’ve run across that word a few times. The feeling it represents is unfortunately familiar to me. Last Friday in just a few minutes I drove past 4 parcels of land where I’d roamed and taken nature photographs over the years but that have recently become construction sites. I wish I felt more solace and less algia.

          By the way, I noticed the mention of Cairns in the article you linked. On television a few evenings ago Eve and I watched a documentary about a train that runs up the east coast of Australia and ends in Cairns. That was the first time we’d ever seen any views of the place. We didn’t notice any cairns.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 26, 2016 at 7:00 AM

  2. Do you watch the wasps to see what they are after? I doubt it is pollen and nectar. The wasps in our flowering bushes are stalking spiders most of the time. They kill them and cache them at their nest for hatching larvae.

    Jim Ruebush

    May 26, 2016 at 6:43 AM

    • In books and on television I’ve seen wasps stalking and parasitizing prey but have observed it in person only a few times. In my area, the wasps do seem at least equally interested in pollen and nectar. That appeared to be what the paper wasp in the third photograph wanted from the prairie bishop’s weed. I’ll grant you, though, that I often don’t understand the things I see in nature and likely misinterpret some of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2016 at 7:08 AM

  3. Steve: Fantastic images with vibrant colors of the wasp and fly. Really Neat!


    May 26, 2016 at 7:20 AM

    • I’d miss a lot of things without a macro lens to get in close for details that the human eye can’t resolve.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2016 at 7:42 AM

  4. Great swaths of single species in a field can be impressive, but I love mixes like the one you’ve shown above. Clearly, the insects love them, too: a double delight for the photographer.

    While in Palacios, I noticed a few rain lilies by a stop sign, and doubled back for a closer look. I’m glad I did. Within ten feet of that sign and the rain lilies, I found prairie neptunia and wild white petunia (both first sightings for me), horse mint, frog fruit, and a beautiful yellow, bushy flower with red stems that i’ve seen only once. I can’t remember what it is, and don’t have time to search just now, but the point’s the same: these plants are perfectly happy to pop up just about anywhere.


    May 26, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    • In your second sentence, my mind wanted to close the top of the u in double to turn it into doable (with a handwritten sort of a). I see no reason that’s not doable.

      “Diversity” has become a buzzword in education and politics—are those two fields any different?—but we can use the word without quotation marks for many fields of wildflowers in Texas, and even for the area around a stop sign, as you found to your delight. Did you notice that the compound leaves of prairie neptunia, like those of the sensitive briar, fold up when touched? In any case, you seem to have had a royal time in Palacios.

      The wild white petunia, Ruellia metziae, is another example of a white variant of a more commonly violet-colored flower. Marshall Enquist still listed it as a variety of Ruellia nudiflora but the Wildflower Center database has elevated it to species-hood of its own.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2016 at 8:14 AM

      • I did notice that about the neptunia. I looked at the leaves and thought, “I’ll bet those fold up like sensitive briar.” One touch was all it took to confirm that. I was happy to find sensitive briar recently. I’d been seeing powderpuff (Mimosa strigillosa) a good bit, but once I came across the sensitive briar, the hooks on the stem were obvious.

        Another stop sign flower I forgot to mention is the silverleaf nightshade. if I knew my grasses and sedges, I really could add to the list; there had to be at least a dozen species of those.

        Palacios turned out to hold hidden treasure, in the form of the Texas State Marine Education Center. It was an A&M site for a time, but it’s part of the Palacios ISD now. There’s a combination of prairie, bayshore, nature trails, estuaries, and so on. I learned many important lessons there. For example: no matter how exciting it may be to see basketflowers blooming, do not wade into tall grasses wearing only boat shoes and no socks. Ants and chiggers like basketflower patches, too.


        May 29, 2016 at 8:11 AM

        • Silverleaf nightshade is quite common in Austin along highways and in medians. I often see it while I’m waiting for a red light to turn green. Most people seem not to appreciate it, but it flowers in most months of the year.

          I’m glad you had such a rewarding time in Palacios, minus the ants and chiggers. Because the continuing rain has caused the chigger population to go way up, I’ve been wearing my hip-high boots for extra protection when I go out walking through fields, which I have to do to get to most of the plants. Those boots are also good for dealing with wet ground and mud. The downside is that the boots don’t “breathe” so my legs get hot; better that, though, than a lot of itchy bites.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 29, 2016 at 2:07 PM

  5. Beautiful photos!

  6. Beautiful flowers tapestry. There is a harmony in this lack of order.


    May 26, 2016 at 3:28 PM

  7. It seems that there is something…pollinator or parasite…for everything no matter how small. There must be something so small that there is nothing, but that would probably be down to a virus or bacterium. It reminds me of Arlo Guthrie’s performance introduction to his “Motorcycle Song”. He was going on about being the absolute last guy to have it the worst. Someone always has it worse than you and he wondered about the last guy who had it worse than anyone.
    You’ve done a nice job making a blowfly look lovely.

    Steve Gingold

    May 26, 2016 at 3:58 PM

  8. Ah, lovely wild flowers. I am getting to know the ones that grow in the Cornish hedgerows now… and in my new garden 🙂


    May 26, 2016 at 7:09 PM

    • How nice that you’re getting to know the Cornish wildflowers, in the wild as well as in your garden.

      The plant with the white flowers in my photographs got named prairie bishop’s weed to distinguish from the bishop’s weed of Europe. In searching just now I found that there are two plants called bishop’s weed:


      From what the articles say, both of those bishop’s weeds were introduced to England (and other places) from elsewhere.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2016 at 9:16 PM

      • One of the Ammis is being sold as a garden plant at the moment – very fashionable – I just think it looks like cow parsley. Maybe it isn’t as invasive. I hope I don’t have the ground elder in the garden, but I simply have no idea what a lot of the plants coming up are!


        May 27, 2016 at 3:23 AM

        • I’d noticed that one has become a garden plant.

          Is there a guide to the wildflowers of England (or better yet just Cornwall) that you can get? In 1999 I bought several wildflower guides for Texas in general and central Texas in particular so I could begin learning the species that grow in my area.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 27, 2016 at 7:03 AM

  9. Beautiful images Steve .. Makes me want to put my macro on 😃


    May 27, 2016 at 11:06 PM

  10. Love that Dolly Parton quote!

    Susan Scheid

    July 2, 2016 at 4:09 PM

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