Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sparse and not sparse

with 23 comments


On that last visit to Illinois Beach State Park on June 14th I found this flowering spike of Lobelia spicata. Compared to the pale-spiked lobelia in the photograph at the Illinois Wildflowers site, this one seems sparse, but that’s the way it was. Not at all sparse there that day (or any other) were the pebbles on the shore of Lake Michigan.

Pebbles at Illinois Beach State Park 8075

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 15, 2016 at 4:44 AM

23 Responses

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  1. of course I love that sweet little lobelia – but all those multicoloured pebbles reminded me so much of our beach just a few metres away from our house in England. In fact when we moved the furnitures etc. etc. in a vast container all the way to South India, there was also a box with……..yes, you guessed it correctly….. pebbles from “our” beach 🙂 🙂 – crazy or what??


    August 15, 2016 at 9:26 AM

    • It’s great that you cared enough about those pebbles from the beach in England to carry some of them thousands of miles with you to India. I don’t think it’s crazy at all. We brought some pebbles and small stones back to Texas from New Zealand last year, and a few more back from Lake Michigan two months ago. Once thing central Texas lacks is a real beach, complete with the intriguing things that one finds along beaches by large bodies of water.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 15, 2016 at 10:03 AM

    • Not crazy at all–unless I am, too. I’ve been to 50 countries (so far) and carry a few pebbles with me from some very special places. They are timeless and remind me of special times.


      August 15, 2016 at 9:13 PM

  2. Steve – sorry for using this mode of communication at the moment. Please could you send me your email id to me – I would like to write to you about ‘my beloved Dora’ – you too are the first person in my life who knows of her -. I can hear her chuckle and winking at me 🙂

  3. It does seem sparse when compared to another lobelia – the Lobelia cardinalishttp://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=LOCA2; however, the pale lavender Lobelia spicata is beautiful in its own way. The shapes of the petals are so pretty and the flowers look good from all directions. I like the way they so lyrically dance up the stalk. The stems are interesting also, especially when those two little horny “pincers” (like crab’s claws) appear.

    The beach pebbles are beautiful too – and very prolific. Their smoothness is so beautiful. I love the variety of colors in the beach pebbles. I see a few black basalt stones mixed among the lighter beiges and browns. I wish I had my toes in that refreshing water right this very minute! Photographs that have no central point of focus interest me greatly. I adore the repetition of form and the variation in size and color. Gorgeous work of art, Steven!

    Ariana Vincent

    August 15, 2016 at 12:21 PM

    • Thanks for your good analysis, Ariana. This Illinois wildflower was new to me, but once Melissa identified it as a species of Lobelia I immediately thought about the cardinal flower, which is in the same genus. I don’t often find cardinal flowers in Austin, but on the rare occasions when I do I make sure to photograph them. Only once have I shown a picture of a cardinal flower in this blog:


      We’re getting into the season for them, and with the current rain maybe I’ll find a few cardinal flowers over next few months.

      The pebbles were a welcome change from Austin too, given that no glaciers ever came down to Texas during the last Ice Age to grind up rocks for us. Pebbles like those in today’s picture lend themselves to a “more is more” esthetic.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 15, 2016 at 1:23 PM

  4. When I saw that the lobelia belonged to the Campanulaceae, I thought at once of the campaniles on the Rice and Berkeley campuses. I see that the association between bell towers and bell flowers is justified. And spicata seemed familiar, too. It reminded me of the bright star Spica. What fun to find that Virgo, Spica’s constellation, was imagined to be holding an ear of grain. She could just as easily have been holding a spike of lobelia.

    The pebble beach is delightful. I’ve spent hours in such places, just sorting through the seemingly infinite number of patterns and colors. And I’m a rock-hauler from way back; some of my favorites are a collection of white-veined stones from the mouth of California’s Russian River, and a wedge of red stone from outside Abiquiú. Just this summer, I found a fantastic fossil on a friend’s place in the hill country: a snail that I believe to be Lunatia pedernalis.

    One of my dreams is to get far enough north in Michigan to find a Petoskey stone. It won’t happen this year, but maybe next.


    August 15, 2016 at 9:49 PM

    • In the summer of 1967 I took the ferry from Ludington, Michigan, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Ludington marks the farthest north I’ve ever been in Michigan, but now I’d like to travel farther north to see Petoskey State Park and its picturesque stones. Thanks for making me aware of them.

      You must have known I’d be enthusiastic about the word connections you found and mentioned. From the American Heritage Dictionary I see that Late Latin campāna, meaning ‘bell,’ took its name from the town of Campania, where the bell’s metal was mined. I assume the town’s name came from Latin campus, which designated ‘an even, flat place, a plain, field.’ I’m always happy to camp out in the field of etymology.

      I’m not surprised to hear you’re “a rock-hauler from way back.” I hope your fantastic snail fossil will make an appearance in one of your posts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 16, 2016 at 7:18 AM

  5. With so many pebbles on the shore I thought there would be many stonework houses in the area. But they seem to be sparse, if Mr Google is to be believed.


    August 16, 2016 at 7:35 AM

  6. Quality not quantity and quantity and quality. We have Lobelia spicata locally as well…native to boot. So another cross-over for you and me although with some travel involved, I guess.

    Steve Gingold

    August 17, 2016 at 5:34 AM

    • “Quantity and quality” is what we strive for, the best of both worlds.

      I think we’ve mentioned that another species we have in common—and this time without my having to leave Texas—is Lobelia cardinalis, the cardinal flower.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 17, 2016 at 8:13 AM

  7. We are indeed sadly lacking in stonework houses, although sometimes you’ll see stone fireplaces that people have built themselves. I do know of a handful of houses in Wisconsin with stone facing. Mostly our stones are too small for much of anything. A friend of mine made a mural with different stones she found along the shore, and sand making a ribbon through. And in Peoria there are many houses made of sandstone, harvested along the river.


    September 10, 2016 at 10:45 AM

    • I noticed that the beach stones are small—too small, as you confirm, for building. Just as well to have them stay on the beach, from my point of view—literally. I seem to remember some stone houses on that rich people’s stretch of coast stretching north from Milwaukee. Perhaps that’s what you had in mind.

      Maybe you can feature your friend’s mural as a blog post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 10, 2016 at 12:03 PM

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