Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Snow at the hottest time of the year

with 12 comments

On August 17th on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin I photographed some snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) just a few feet from the partridge pea you saw here last time.

From a distance, many people incorrectly assume the green and white bracts are part of the flower; actually those patterned bracts are specialized leaves. Even the lobed white “collar” around the stamens isn’t part of the flower, nor are the smaller involucral glands those lobes are appended to. In spite of appearances, this flower has no petals. For a much closer look, click the icon below.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2018 at 4:49 AM

12 Responses

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  1. No matter what one thinks he knows, nothing can be assumed in Nature.

    Steve Gingold

    August 24, 2018 at 5:19 AM

    • And in human affairs, too, it’s usually a good idea not to make assumptions. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow came as a revelation to me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2018 at 6:57 AM

  2. And I thought I was so clever, with my “First Snow of the Season” title, and my closeup of the true flower. I’m glad I saw your post before putting up mine — it can wait.

    Despite differences in our regions, it’s amazing how closely attuned they are in some ways. I found snow-on-the-prairie here on August 11. It just was developing, and it was the first time I’ve seen the very early stages.
    Best of all, I was pretty far into the weeds to photograph it, and ended up making the acquaintance of a big armadillo. I don’t know which of us was most startled.


    August 24, 2018 at 6:55 AM

    • I’d’ve been as fooled as anyone else, when I first got into this stuff almost two decades ago, if I hadn’t read a description of the species in Shinners and Mahler’s or a good field guide. In fact I went back to S & M before posting just to make sure I remembered things correctly.

      As for titles playing with snow and summer, this is my fourth one, the last having been four years ago already:


      Which reminds me that I also one played with “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”

      Normally snow-on-the-prairie (like snow-on-the-mountain) plants are already noticeable here by the date you mentioned, August 11, but the first flowers don’t always appeared at the same time from one year to the next.
      Sometimes our two regions have been in sync and other times not. When they’re not in sync, I wonder if the region that sees a certain flower first is always the one to see it first, or if that can vary from year to year. Detailed record keeping could answer that question.

      As for armidillos, we have at least two that hang around the house and sometimes leave holes behind.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2018 at 7:23 AM

  3. A great close-up. No petals but lots of hairy bits.


    August 24, 2018 at 7:05 AM

    • Thanks for appreciating the close-up. Of the two similar species that grow in my area, snow-on-the-mountain and snow-on-the-prairie, this one is softer and fuzzier, as you pointed out. I’m sorry that the best stands of it in Austin have given way to rapid and continuing development on the prairie. Where now I found the plant in this picture and just a couple of others, once stood a beautiful colony of them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2018 at 7:30 AM

  4. All that growth seems unsustainable, like that in the valley in California. Is anyone in authority paying attention to things like water??? It amazes me that humans refuse to learn certain things. I haven’t read that book~I’ll have to check it out.
    I admire this plant very much. Variegated leaves in nature are unusual.


    August 24, 2018 at 9:27 AM

    • The loss of the main part of the snow-on-the-prairie colony in this place happened maybe six or eight years ago already, so I expected not to find many plants last week. Driving around that northeastern area, I sadly found that several more properties were under development that I hadn’t know about. Those were places were I’d taken nature pictures, sometimes for years. On one of them I’d expected to photograph fall wildflowers, but now I may or may not be able to, depending how broadly the construction has spread two months from now.

      The Kahneman book is definitely worth reading. Cognitive psychology has made great strides in the last few decades.

      And yes, variegated leaves are fun to photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2018 at 11:32 AM

  5. Those always look the snowiest during the hottest weather. Actually, I am just guessing. Those that I am familiar with do; as well as snow-in-summer. I like the plant, but it needs a new name.


    August 24, 2018 at 10:05 PM

    • This species happens to begin flowering at the hottest time of the year here. Parts of the inflorescence are white, as shown here, and that’s what prompted the sarcastic snow in the plant’s common name.

      I hadn’t heard of snow-in-summer. Is that Cerastium tomentosum?

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2018 at 11:34 PM

      • Yes. It can be a nice ground cover. I remember it best from a job in Antioch where it was coincidentally very hot every time I went there.


        August 25, 2018 at 10:05 AM

  6. […] few weeks ago you got a close look at the inflorescence of snow-on-the-prairie. Now you’re getting a look at its sister species, snow-on-the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata). […]

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