Perspectives on Nature Photography
with 19 comments
Behold a sinuous inflorescence of downy gaura, also known as velvet gaura and velvetweed, on June 30 in Great Hills Park. The scientific name recently got changed to Oenothera curtiflora from Gaura parviflora.
© 2016 Steven Schwartzman
Written by Steve Schwartzman
August 6, 2016 at 5:05 AM
Posted in nature photography
Tagged with abstract, Austin, curves, flowers, Texas, wildflowers
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So — a stalker of sinuosity, you say? You found a good example. The contrast between the fuzzy leaves and the smooth buds is especially nice. There’s a lot going on with that single stem.
I do wonder about curving or contorted stems. The reason for some is obvious, as when spiders pull sections together with silk, or rain comes after a dry spell and perks up the plant. Most of the time, it’s just interesting and a good excuse to ponder the mysteries of nature.
Clearly, this isn’t the species of gaura currently blooming here. What I’m finding is Gaura lindheimeri, and that raises another question. Wikipedia shows that species has been renamed Oenothera lindheimeri, but the Wildflower Center, the Missouri Botanical Garden, and others still have it listed as G. lindheimeri. Is there disagreement among authorities, or are some of the sites just behind the curve (so to speak)?
August 6, 2016 at 5:53 AM
Yes, I’m an inveterate stalker of sinuosity and other curviness. Some species are noticeably more prone to curving than others. In downy gaura I usually see the tips of the stalks curving back down and forming a C shape, as in this view:
Bill Carr wrote the following in his Travis County Flora: “Recent molecular data has resulted in many nomenclatural changes within the Onagraceae, including the transfer of our Calylophus, Gaura and Stenosiphon species into the genus Oenothera.” He included this chart of changes:
As you put it, the Wildflower Center may just be behind the curve on this one, though I’ve seen other recent changes reflected there.
August 6, 2016 at 7:07 AM
Gosh. That’s really quite amazing — not just this chart, but the entire project. Is there a way to keep apprised of name changes — does BRIT publish them, for example? I poked around a little on the Travis County Flora page — it seems way beyond me. But it would be good to have information about changes like that in Carr’s chart.
Here’s another gaura question. I noticed some plants on the prairie yesterday that had leaves turning the same red as the stalks and buds in some of your downy gaura photos. Have you noticed that kind of color change? I may have come across two species of gaura, and not realized it. I need to take another look at those plants with the red leaves the next time I’m there, and see what they are. Yesterday, it got too hot, too quickly, and I gave it up about noon.
August 7, 2016 at 6:41 PM
I don’t know if there’s a place we can go to to find recent changes in classification. If you do check with BRIT or some other organization and find a resource for changes, please let me know.
To your second question I can say that I have indeed seen downy gaura plants with at least some of their leaves turning red. I think I first noticed that in 2007, when I came across a particularly vivid specimen:
August 7, 2016 at 9:34 PM
I just found that with this species of gaura the Wildflower Center has made the change:
August 6, 2016 at 11:02 AM
I not only appreciated your very fine photo, but also the lovely use of alliteration in the title and your wording “Behold a sinuous inflorescence.” A post pleasing to the eye and the ear. 🙂
August 6, 2016 at 6:49 AM
Double thanks, Jane, once for the photography and again for the words. I live a lot in both of those worlds, and in a few others.
August 6, 2016 at 7:10 AM
Another one new to my experience, and I would certainly stop for a much closer look if I came across one of these on a hike. It seems to be reaching out in a quest for something tantalizing just out of sight.
August 6, 2016 at 10:33 AM
This species has a pretty wide distribution northward,
so you may yet have a chance to see it. The stand in Great Hills Park is still going strong, and I see it every day because it’s alongside the road that I follow in and out of my neighborhood.
This stalk may look like it’s reaching out, but other stalks are more upright and their tips often flop over and arc downward:
August 6, 2016 at 11:08 AM
It makes sense that it would have been moved to Oenothera, but I liked its Gaura name. Botanists, it seems, also pursue a sinuous course.
August 6, 2016 at 11:39 AM
Well said about the sinuous course that botanists pursue. One consequence of moving so many plants is that some species names in Gaura, Calylophus, and Stenosiphon were already taken in Oenothera, so new ones had to be assigned in those cases.
Something that puzzled me about the species name parviflora, meaning little-flowered, is that all gaura flowers are small. Another name for this species had been G. mollis, meaning soft, which is appropriate for the plant’s downy feel. The soft hairs were on better display in an early picture on this blog:
August 6, 2016 at 11:57 AM
Gorgeous – such a satisfying form.
anna warren portfolio
August 7, 2016 at 3:12 AM
I think you’re the first person ever to comment here who has described a form as satisfying. That description works for me.
August 7, 2016 at 6:39 AM
I find the responses of your other, more academic, visitors fascinating, but for me it is always about shape and form. Your photographs are good, not just making a clear reference to a plant or flower, but presenting it beautifully too.
August 7, 2016 at 8:33 PM
I’m with you on this, Anna. I came to native plant photography as a photographer, not a botanist (which I’ll never be). Sure, the teacher in me does want to know about the things I photograph so I can tell other people, but the visual will always be primary with me.
August 7, 2016 at 9:38 PM
More name changing. At least this is not a plant I knew so no confusion in this case. Just the normal detachment from reality I live with daily.
August 10, 2016 at 3:42 AM
According to the USDA map at
this species has been found in Middlesex County, Massachusetts. How it got there, hundreds of miles from the main part of the species’ range, I don’t know, but maybe you’ll get to see one of these plants after all.
August 10, 2016 at 4:09 AM
It is considered non-native (to New England) as you would guess, although it is native in other parts of the U.S. Most likely someone brought some seeds or plants to “naturalize” locally.
August 10, 2016 at 4:15 AM
This species for me is like the cinnamon fern for you: common locally (though I have to drive about half a mile from home; I’ve never noticed any coming up in my yard).
August 10, 2016 at 4:31 AM
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