Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 36 comments

Snow-on-the-Mountain Inflorescence from Above 7046

Most of the prominent brightness in yesterday’s photograph came from the white-margined (marginata) bracts of Euphorbia marginata, a species known on account of that whiteness as snow-on-the-mountain. As I understand it, the five-segmented white collars aren’t technically part of the plant’s flowers, nor are the smaller five-segmented dull-green collars within the white ones. Only the nondescript little elements at the heart of those concentric rings comprise the flowers. Geyata Ajilvsgi notes that there are “30–35 male flowers and one female flower congested in [each] small, cuplike structure.” If that works for snow-on-the-mountain—and it clearly does—then who are we to knock it?

This downward-looking view comes from August 29th along US 183 in Cedar Park, a rapidly growing suburb just to the north of Austin.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 1, 2016 at 4:59 AM

36 Responses

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  1. Beautiful image, Steven.


    September 1, 2016 at 6:24 AM

  2. Your photo shows something I’ve never noticed before: the narrowing of the white margins in the leaves growing farther from the flowers. The center leaves are nearly half-white, while those on the outside have only a thin, white line around them. Whether that’s a feature or a happy coincidence I don’t know, but I’ll certainly look for it in the future.

    You’ve reminded me of a wonderful human analogy to the male/female ratio of the flowers: Ruth Orkin’s famous photo, “American Girl in Italy.” There’s an interesting, short interview with Ninalee Craig, the girl-turned-woman, here. She makes clear what the photo is, and what it isn’t.


    September 1, 2016 at 6:41 AM

    • That’s a great connection you’ve made to Ruth Orkin’s famous photograph, which I’ve been familiar with for a long time. I wish I’d known about and could have attended the opening of the 2011 photo exhibit in Toronto at which the woman in the photograph and the photographer’s daughter were both present. Imagine still having the original orange shawl 60 years later. As of 13 months ago, Ninalee Craig was still alive and even re-created the famous picture:


      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2016 at 7:20 AM

    • As for the botany, bracts are defined as modified or specialized leaves, so I believe it’s bracts that we’re seeing the varying amounts of white on. You seem to be right that the uppermost ones have the most white. The leaves that ascend the plant’s stalk aren’t as long, are more elliptically shaped, and don’t have white margins.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2016 at 7:35 AM

      • Here’s where I got the idea that both leaves and bracts could be edged with white. See the section labeled “noteworthy characteristics. Interesting.


        September 1, 2016 at 8:03 AM

        • Right. This may be one of those angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin sort of questions. How far up on these plants does a leaf have to be before it qualifies as a bract? I wonder if botanists argue over that at conferences and in articles. That’s why I’m so much happier being a photographer than a botanist.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 1, 2016 at 8:12 AM

  3. How beautiful this would be in a wedding bouquet, thought I. Apparently I am not the only one who thinks this way. http://springwellgardens.blogspot.co.nz/2011/06/bouquets-in-white-snow-on-mountain.html


    September 1, 2016 at 6:52 AM

    • In spite of the plant’s lovely appearance, I wouldn’t have thought it would lend itself to a bouquet because of the milky latex that readily oozes out if you break a branch or even bend it more than just a little. The photographs in your linked article show that I was wrong, and that bouquets with snow-on-the-mountain are possible. At the same time, the article does caution about the sensitivity of some people’s skin to this plant. I’ve gotten drops of its latex on my skin from time to time, and as recently as when I took these pictures, but fortunately I’ve never had a reaction to it. (There’s gotta be something my skin isn’t sensitive to, right?)

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2016 at 7:48 AM

      • You can be euphoric that your skin is not sensitive to euphorbia.


        September 1, 2016 at 11:32 PM

        • The euphoria about Euphorbia is short lived, though, when I think about the many other things in nature that do get to my skin and respiratory tract.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 2, 2016 at 5:44 AM

  4. I love opening Portraits every morning. “…my heart with pleasure fills….” Thanks so much for sharing your joy of flowers with all of us. I don’t often comment but I like the photos so much. Today’s caused me to make a
    breath intake that was audible. XOXO


    September 1, 2016 at 7:10 AM

    • You’re welcome, Dianne. No daffodils, but plenty of native plants here, (and a share of critters other things in nature). Thanks for letting me know you’re enjoying these portraits. I’m having fun making and disseminating them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2016 at 7:52 AM

  5. Pretty. Those white outlines and black background work together nicely.

    Pairodox Farm

    September 1, 2016 at 1:26 PM

    • Thanks. Today I had my first encounter for this year with the sister species, snow-on-the-prairie.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2016 at 3:58 PM

      • Looking forward to seeing it here.

        Pairodox Farm

        September 1, 2016 at 6:14 PM

        • I’m so backlogged. Still showing a few remaining things from the Midwest in June. I do want to work in the snow-on-the-prairie soon.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 1, 2016 at 8:42 PM

  6. I haven’t noticed that anyone seems to be knocking it, but who’d have thought the flowers would be that small? But as you said, it appears to work. Loved the side story about the famous Ruth Orkin photo!


    September 1, 2016 at 3:24 PM

    • It’s true that you’re not likely to encounter anyone who’s knocking it, primarily because almost no one knows how inconspicuous these flowers are.

      Although I knew the Ruth Orkin photo, I didn’t know the backstory, which I’m glad to have learned. I’m thankful for such tangents.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2016 at 4:03 PM

  7. Lovely image, the white/green patterns are appealing. Nice to read about the Orkin photo.


    September 1, 2016 at 5:34 PM

  8. Beautiful photo… Beautiful plant


    September 2, 2016 at 4:56 AM

  9. AKA spurge…possibly you remember my aversion to spurge after dimwittedly bringing some home to our gardens. The natural world is just filled with anomalies.

    Steve Gingold

    September 4, 2016 at 3:37 PM

  10. This one looks somewhat “Christmassy” and the black background sets it off perfectly. Very attractive composition. You are always able to bring out the best in a plant with your attention to detail, variation in angles and contrasting backgrounds.


    September 17, 2016 at 2:00 AM

    • One reason you may find this Christmassy is that it’s in the same genus as poinsettia. (Have poinsettias become Christmas symbols in Australia the way they have in the United States?)

      I do pay “attention to detail, variation in angles and contrasting backgrounds,” as you say, though the truth is that I’m not “always able to bring out the best in a plant.” Many of my attempts fail. I don’t show the failures here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2016 at 9:08 AM

      • Ah yes, it does look like the shape of the poisettias that I’ve seen here. Some people actually have them growing in pots and use them as table decorations.
        I was actually going to ask if you’ve ever published a post of “failures.” It may shock us to see your not so perfect attempts. 😉


        September 17, 2016 at 9:13 AM

        • All photographers end up with plenty of failures (as do people in every other kind of endeavor). When I began this blog I decided every picture would have to be at least okay or I wouldn’t show it, so you’re safe from any shock of the kind you suggested. (See how kindly he treats his viewers.)

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 17, 2016 at 9:32 AM

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