Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Far ferns — not

with 33 comments

Just because I enjoyed seeing the lush ferns in New York and Massachusetts and other places on our recent trip doesn’t mean I can’t find some good ones in Austin as well. So it was that on June 24th I spent time photographing along the cliff that looms above the west side of Capital of Texas Highway between Courtyard Dr. and RM 2222.

What allows ferns to thrive in such a sunny, open place is the perpetual seeping of water through portions of the rock. In the first picture you see how the ferns form a column from the base of the cliff right up to the top. Enough water makes it into the ditch at the base to support cattails as well. The second picture shows that little alcoves in the seeping cliff also partly shelter ferns from the full intensity of the Texas sun.

The last photograph gives a closer view of the embankment a couple of hundred feet further north, where two kinds of ferns take lush advantage of the seep. The ones in the back are Adiantum capillus-veneris, called the southern maidenhair fern. The ones overshadowing them may be Thelypteris ovata var. lindheimeri, known as Lindheimer’s marsh fern, which Bill Carr notes is often found growing with maidenhair ferns.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 18, 2018 at 6:54 PM

33 Responses

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  1. What a sight!


    August 18, 2018 at 9:19 PM

  2. That’s an amazing place!


    August 18, 2018 at 9:35 PM

    • It is. While many people pull over slightly further south to climb up to the top of the cliff and look out over the Colorado River, I don’t remember ever seeing anyone looking at the seep and the vegetation it supports.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 18, 2018 at 10:16 PM

  3. I spotted the maidenhair before reading its name; it seems to be fairly common, and it’s pretty easy to recognize. I’ve found it in some road cuts in the hill country, and even on the Willow City loop. Like this spot in Austin, it was the seepage that was allowing it to grow.

    I’ve seen other ferns along those same cliffs, but none of them were as large as the marsh fern. Since both ferns are shown in Kerr, Medina, and Gillespie counties, I may simply have missed the marsh fern — or the conditions may not have been right for it to be obvious. They do make a nice pair.


    August 18, 2018 at 9:45 PM

    • You’re right that the southern maidenhair fern is fairly common in central Texas, going by my experience. Good luck spotting the marsh fern on one of your ventures into the counties you mentioned.

      While road cuts, of which this is one, aren’t natural formations, they let us see things inside the earth we wouldn’t otherwise get to see. The cuts also create new habitats for plants, especially where water seeps out.

      On a historical note, when I moved to Austin in 1976 the roadbed for the Capital of Texas Highway had been cut through the cliff along the Colorado River but the bridge across the river hadn’t been built yet. I guess to save money they made only two lanes in each direction, but that limited capacity has been causing rush-hour traffic jams for years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 18, 2018 at 10:27 PM

  4. I like that first “Hanging Garden of Ferns”.

    Steve Gingold

    August 19, 2018 at 4:13 AM

  5. A lovely fern ‘waterfall’; nature’s version of man-made vertical gardens.


    August 19, 2018 at 4:59 AM

    • You’ve made me wonder whether the originator(s) of vertical gardens had seen a column of ferns like this one in nature, or perhaps something similar.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2018 at 6:33 AM

  6. ❤️

    Nomzi Kumalo

    August 19, 2018 at 5:06 AM

  7. Beautiful ferns there!


    August 19, 2018 at 5:48 AM

  8. Wow! That’s beautiful. Does this remain green and lush all year? Or does the foliage die back in winter months?


    August 19, 2018 at 7:42 AM

    • I wish I knew the answer. I’ll try to check periodically to see how green that area remains throughout the year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2018 at 11:12 AM

  9. Seeps are so cool.


    August 19, 2018 at 8:48 AM

    • Yes, they are. I’ve occasionally photographed a horizontal one in my neighborhood. This vertical one is even more impressive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2018 at 11:13 AM

  10. Nice again, as usual!! The details and colors stand out!

    Reed Andariese

    August 19, 2018 at 9:32 AM

    • Thanks. Why haven’t more people (or maybe even any others at all) paid attention to this place? The details and colors kept me there taking pictures for over an hour.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2018 at 11:16 AM

  11. That is a beautiful waterfall of ferns, Steve. It is amazing how they find microclimates in which to thrive.

    Lavinia Ross

    August 19, 2018 at 9:32 AM

    • My impression is that finding microclimates is a consequence of nature’s profligacy. Millions of spores and seeds get launched into the world, and a fortunate few end up in a favorable spot before getting eaten, parched, drowned, crushed, or otherwise done in.

      The next commenter liked your phrase “waterfall of ferns,” as do I.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2018 at 11:34 AM

  12. Lavinia’s comment is perfect, a waterfall of ferns. I’ve never been to Texas, and wouldn’t have expected such a nice lush scene. The mineral deposits are interesting, too.

    Robert Parker

    August 19, 2018 at 10:18 AM

    • You’ve anticipated me: I’m going to focus on the mineral deposits in the next post.

      Central Texas surprises many people with occasional lush spots tucked away in sheltered places. What makes the place shown here especially unusual is that the lushness is right out in the open with thousands of cars passing by every day.

      Any time you plan to visit the state, just let us know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2018 at 11:41 AM

  13. Maidenhair fern did that on a cliff above Zayante Creek at the bottom of my garden, although it was not nearly as dense down in all that shade. It was cool!


    August 19, 2018 at 6:13 PM

    • I’m glad you shared in this type of fern phenomenon. Cool indeed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2018 at 7:54 PM

      • Oh, I did not share it. You did. I suppose I should get pictures of some here now. There are some cool ones at work too!


        August 19, 2018 at 9:44 PM

        • By “shared in” I meant “had the same experience.” So much the better if you now share it with the rest of us.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 19, 2018 at 10:09 PM

  14. […] the same stretch along Capital of Texas Highway that provided the fern pictures in the previous post, you’re now looking at the cliff’s patterns and textures as I photographed them on June […]

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