Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Not from now and less not from now

with 30 comments

I didn’t see much blazing-star (Liatris mucronata) flowering in the fall of 2018. Maybe it wasn’t a great year for the species or maybe I wasn’t in the right places at the right times. On September 26th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center I did get to make this bright portrait of a blazing-star flower spike contrasting with some prairie goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) happily out of focus behind it.

Several times in the months that followed I managed to photograph the late stage of this Liatris species, which often makes me imagine a fuzzy burned-out candle. Below from November 24th at the Doeskin Ranch is a picture of one with seed heads of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) surrounding it.

And speaking of figurative candles, how could we not recall the opening “fig”
from Edna St. Vincent Millay‘s A Few Figs from Thistles?

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 11, 2019 at 4:42 AM

30 Responses

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  1. A burned-out candle or a fuzzy pipe cleaner; either way it’s a lovely sight in lovely light.


    January 11, 2019 at 5:31 AM

    • A pipe cleaner: why didn’t I think of that? Especially since my father used to smoke a pipe and had pipe cleaners around the house when I was a kid.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 11, 2019 at 6:15 AM

      • I rarely see anyone smoking a pipe. That is probably a good thing. My father smoked a pipe for a short time.


        January 11, 2019 at 7:05 AM

        • Then we have something else in common. While pipe cleaners worked on pipes, no one provided lung cleaners.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 11, 2019 at 8:21 AM

          • Indeed not. They have may have been more useful than pipe cleaners.


            January 11, 2019 at 8:54 PM

    • monkey tail


      January 11, 2019 at 10:25 PM

  2. Those are beautiful, Steve!

    Lavinia Ross

    January 11, 2019 at 8:49 AM

  3. This blazing-star is a such a beautiful, exuberant-looking flower, great!

    Robert Parker

    January 11, 2019 at 10:39 AM

  4. […] seed heads of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium) that played a supporting role in the prior post’s second photograph from the Doeskin Ranch on November 24th last fall were so densely yummy that I feel I owe you a […]

  5. What a transition Steve … still looks amazing


    January 13, 2019 at 12:28 PM

    • I agree that the early and late phases are photogenic, and for decades I’ve been portraying both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2019 at 2:03 PM

  6. I like the combination of the lavender liatris and the golden(rod) background. Thinking about it, I suspect I might only have seen this species in Kansas. I’ve seen three species here over the years (L. acidota, L. pycnostachya, L. bracteata), but I don’t remember seeing any of them this fall. Odd. That late-stage photo with the little bluestem is gorgeous. Clever, how you framed it so the fuzz-less top of the liatris blends in with the grass stems, and the fuzziness has a nice background.

    I have to confess, every time I read that verse from Edna St. Vincent Millay, I want to fix up the first line to get the rhythm in order: perhaps something like “My candle burns at both its ends…”


    January 13, 2019 at 6:55 PM

    • I’ve also always wanted to read the first line as “My candle burns at both its ends;” I can’t imagine why Millay didn’t write it that way.

      Liatris mucronata is the only species in the genus that grows in Austin. I forgot when I put this post together that the species has recently been reclassified as Liatris punctata var. mucronata. I’d also forgotten that it grows as far north as Kansas, where you saw it. A couple of other species grow a little to the east of Austin, in Bastrop, where I’ve photographed them. From what you say, maybe this past fall wasn’t a great season in Texas for Liatris in general.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2019 at 10:20 PM

  7. This is a plant Texas and Colorado share, Steve, but I have to admit that I have not consciously noticed its fuzzy late stages. Will have to pay closer attention next year!


    January 13, 2019 at 7:05 PM

    • The fuzzy late stage of this species is one thing I became very much aware of when I first got into photographing native plants two decades ago. What made me aware was a whole colony that had turned fuzzy—a great sight. I only wish the digital camera I used had anywhere close to the quality and resolution of recent digital cameras.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 13, 2019 at 10:26 PM

      • I can relate, Steve. I wish I had had a digital camera, even one with poor resolution, when we lived in Alaska. We took a lot of photographs with a conventional camera, and have saved and sorted some, but many more are in a pile without dates or locations, as we did not organize them as we should have. But the only way is forward, right?!


        January 13, 2019 at 10:57 PM

        • Your last sentence reminded me of a slogan that was popular in Austin a couple of decades ago: Onward through the fog.

          You’re right that the metadata accompanying each digital photograph provides lots of information, most notably the date and time the picture was taken. Cameras in phones even give the location.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 14, 2019 at 5:30 AM

  8. That background is outstanding as is the capture of the flower. I like that you have contrasted the flower with its sere stalk.

    Steve Gingold

    January 14, 2019 at 1:28 PM

    • And I like that you used the word sere, especially in a phrase like “sere stalk” that matches my initials. Speaking of sere stalks, I’ve long been a fan of showing the various stages of a species. It occurred to me a long time ago that the late stage of something like this Liatris lasts a whole lot longer than the flowers, so those of use who go out a lot in nature end up seeing the late stage much more often than we see the flowers.

      As for the first image, it’s an example of something else I’ve enjoyed doing for a long time, namely contrasting one color with another. Texas has enough wildflowers that it’s not hard to play one in the foreground off agains another farther away.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2019 at 1:58 PM

  9. Oh, yes, that is a moving poem. The portrait of Liatris is spike-tacular. It is always fun to do forensic botanizing, isn’t it?


    January 23, 2019 at 9:34 AM

    • I like your coinage. A search for “spiketacular” turned up hits from the world of volleyball. A different kind of spike; can’t say I’m surprised to find sports prevailing over botany. Speaking of which, I also appreciate your phrase “forensic botanizing.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 23, 2019 at 9:41 AM

      • Thanks! I’m not surprised to learn that sports prevail over botany. In the US they seem to prevail over everything, including sense. I learned the phrase “forensic botanizing” from a FWS pal.


        January 25, 2019 at 9:56 AM

        • “In the US they seem to prevail over everything, including sense.” That’s been my experience. I once applied to a school district to teach high school math, and the first question that came up in the online application asked which sports I could coach.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 25, 2019 at 12:35 PM

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