Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 24 comments

After doing my theme and variations with prairie agalinis in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on September 19th, I noticed a colony of smartweed (Polygonum spp.) that I’d overlooked. To give you a sense of scale, I’ll add that each smartweed flower is no more than one-eighth of an inch (3mm) in diameter.

Smartweed leaves have a tendency to turn bright colors when they age. I photographed the one below in roughly the same stance as the flowers and buds above, and with the backlighting that lit up the prairie agalinis in the previous post’s close views. And how about that little curlicue at the leaf’s tip?

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 5, 2018 at 4:38 AM

24 Responses

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  1. A nice miniature stalk of flowers. The aged leaf, with its reds, curl, and blackening, looks like it’s been barbequed!

    Robert Parker

    October 5, 2018 at 8:08 AM

  2. This is another of those plants I first found in Arkansas. Now, I know that it’s quite common around here, too — wherever there’s water, there it is.

    I have a tiny Christmas tree that I decorate with found objects like arrowheads and small hill country fossils.
    Put a thread through that little loop, and the leaf would make a great additional to the collection.


    October 5, 2018 at 9:13 AM

    • You’ve sure got that right: wherever there’s water, there you’ll find smartweed. Because the flowers are so small, my guess is that most people aren’t aware of them.

      Your idea for an ornament would work if you could find a way to spray the leaf with a plastic coating that would harden and also preserve the colors.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 5, 2018 at 10:12 AM

      • The answer is: hairspray. It works for grasses, too. I have some little bluestem in full bloom that’s lasted for four years or so.


        October 5, 2018 at 10:14 AM

        • So now all you have to do is go out and find yourself a colorful smartweed leaf with a curlicue at its tip. Happy hunting.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 5, 2018 at 10:15 AM

  3. Smart AND beautiful! But what, I wonder, makes it smart?


    October 5, 2018 at 10:56 AM

    • The original sense of the adjective smart was ‘causing pain,’ which we still see in smart the verb. From ‘causing pain’ the meaning of the adjective expanded to include ‘stinging’ and ‘sharp’ and eventually ‘intelligent,’ just as sharp can mean ‘intelligent.’ Apparently some species of smartweed causes a stinging to human skin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 5, 2018 at 12:49 PM

      • Thank you for your always thorough explanations, Steve.


        October 5, 2018 at 1:01 PM

        • Sure thing. It happened to be a word I knew about. There are quite a few like that, where the very different senses that a single word has developed lead most people to assume that two different words are involved. Another example is coach, which is a kind of vehicle and also a person who helps someone else improve. The second meaning developed from the first as a metaphor for ‘something that gets you from one place to another.’

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 5, 2018 at 1:55 PM

  4. That is one small bloom and I thought Bishp’s Cap were small, great pics !!

    Bernie Kasper

    October 5, 2018 at 5:11 PM

  5. Smartweed is one plant I am VERY familiar with. It’s common in the orchard in the wetland areas, especially the slough and old river channel. Waterfowl love it. I find it beautiful. Did you know it is an edible and has a peppery flavor and that Native Americans used it for seasoning and for medicinal purposes? But, I advise you, do NOT try more than just the tiniest bit of a leaf if you wish to test its peppery flavor. I suppose it could be because of various stages of maturity, but I have sampled it where it was mild peppery and quite nice (though long-lasting on the tongue), but another time it was horrible hot and burned for hours! Even a citrus chaser to cool my mouth didn’t extinguish it entirely!! And you are correct, some people get dermatitis of the skin from it.


    October 6, 2018 at 11:41 AM

    • It’s good to hear your personal testimonial about smartweed. You obviously know the plant in ways that I, who have merely photographed it, don’t. The next time I’m near some, I’ll follow your advice and nibble a very tiny bit of leaf to see what it tastes like; I’d never have thought of doing that if you hadn’t mentioned it. In addition to dermatitis, I wonder if what you say about being horribly hot on the tongue is another reason that people called this plant smartweed, given the way it can smart in your mouth.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2018 at 11:49 AM

      • I had no idea why it’s called “smart” but that would totally make sense! Be sure if you ever try it to have some OJ or a citrus drink along to help the cool. I think it was in the late spring when I first tried some and liked it, but then later in the year when I was telling someone about it and we both ate a small bit, I was about choked up it was so strong… not at first but after about ten seconds I was miserable!! The burn would not go away. So if you try it, do it when plants are young.


        October 6, 2018 at 2:24 PM

        • All right, thanks for the tip. I don’t tolerate hot chile well, so now, based on what you’ve said, I’m hesitant to try any smartweed, even if they’re young plants. It’s probably prudent to stick to taking pictures rather than nibbles.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 6, 2018 at 2:37 PM

          • I think that’s a good idea! Ha ha! I don’t tolerate much spice heat either, thus the warning!


            October 6, 2018 at 4:06 PM

  6. Polygonum capitatum is an old ground cover that used to be quite common, but is now rare. I do not know where it all went. It was so invasive back when it was popular that it seemed like it would be here forever.


    October 7, 2018 at 12:03 PM

  7. Smart and pretty – can’t ask for more than that!!


    October 10, 2018 at 2:58 PM

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