Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bitterweed colony

with 12 comments


For weeks I’ve been seeing colonies of bitterweed, Helenium amarum var. amarum, turning parts of fields yellow, like this one along BMC Drive in Cedar Park on September 9th. If you’d like a reminder of what an individual flower head in this species looks like, you can turn back to a post from this past winter. The few pink flowers in today’s photograph are prairie agalinis, Agalinis heterophylla.

Today marks the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere. Let me add that afternoon highs in Austin for most of the last few days have been around 98°F (37°C). That (and until now the calendar) notwithstanding, posts here over the last couple of weeks have kept demonstrating that even in such heat Austin’s plants are smart enough to have entered fall mode.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2016 at 5:06 AM

12 Responses

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  1. In the lower right corner of your photo, there’s one nice, fresh flower head. When I saw it, I thought, “I’ve seen that.” Sure enough, in a file where I’d tucked photos from a local park, I found one of bitterweed taken in May, 2015. On that day, there were only a few scattered plants. I’ll have to go back and see if their numbers have increased over time. There’s something special about the extravagance of a colony.

    I know prairie agalinis, and I expect to see that today. I’m taking time from work for transect training out at Armand Bayou. All I know about transects is that they’re used to gauge the health of a prairie, but I expect to know more shortly. There will be classroom time dedicated to the method, and to wildflower identification, and then some time on the prairie with people who know whereof they speak. It ought to be fun.


    September 22, 2016 at 7:18 AM

    • You’re good at noticing little details. Even in the much larger original, I hadn’t paid attention to individual flower heads.

      After the rains we had here a month and more ago, the bitterweed has flourished, as you see from the colony in the photograph. You had rain over by the coast as well, so I suspect bitterweed is flourishing over there too.

      Even if you don’t see prairie agalinis at Armand Bayou today, you’ll see it here in tomorrow’s post, where it gets to be the star rather than a bit player.

      Happy transection. There’s a nice alliteration to “transect training.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2016 at 7:47 AM

  2. Ah, 98-degree days are but a distant memory up here. We’re having highs in the mid-60s during the day and in the mid-40s at night. Good for sleeping–and for prodding the various members of the foliage team to put on their autumn cloaks.


    September 22, 2016 at 9:29 AM

    • Ah, the distant memory here of 98°—all of two days ago. What little autumn foliage we get this far south is still a couple of months ahead, but however little it is I look forward to it each year. People down here just need to look more closely for it and expect most of it to be on a smaller scale than up north. In fact I recently wrote an article about that:

      Click to access NPSOT_v34_04_16.pdf

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2016 at 9:42 AM

      • Nicely done, Steve. This was my first introduction to the prairie flameleaf sumac, and it’s just beautiful. We have both staghorn and tri-lobed sumac in our garden.


        September 23, 2016 at 10:01 AM

        • Thanks, Gary. Another species of sumac comes to within about 30 miles of Austin, but the prairie flameleaf grows in many parts of Austin, including my neighborhood, so I’ve been able to photograph it year after year. The tri-lobed sumac is another species you and I share. I know it from Austin and was surprised to find it in Big Bend last year as well.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 23, 2016 at 10:09 AM

  3. […] of prairie agalinis (Agalinis heterophylla), as I did briefly last time, here’s a view of that wildflower in its own right along the upper stretch of Bull Creek on […]

  4. Bitterweed is sweet from this distance. I suspect it would make me sneeze if my nose were closer to it.


    September 25, 2016 at 6:08 AM

    • If not the bitterweed, then certainly the copious ragweed and sumpweed all around that area at this time of year would have brought on an allergic reaction. You’re fortunate that you have me to do it for you so you don’t have to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 25, 2016 at 8:25 AM

  5. […] September I showed you a flowering colony of yellow bitterweed, Helenium amarum var. amarum. Now here’s a closeup of a flower head of this species as I […]

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