Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Wildflowers along Mopac

with 36 comments

Mopac, named for the Missouri-Pacific railroad whose tracks it partly runs alongside, is a north-south expressway on the west side of Austin. For hours each morning and again each afternoon from Monday through Friday it’s jammed up, but not on Sunday mornings. That’s the time on May 5th when I went to the embankment at the northeast corner of Mopac and Braker Lane to photograph the dense wildflowers I’d enjoyed seeing there in April and May in other years and again this spring. The mostly red flower heads are Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheels, Indian blankets, and blanketflowers. The mostly yellow flower heads are Thelesperma filifolium, called greenthread because of the plant’s thread-like leaves.

The astute viewer will have noticed (as some writers used to put it) the contrast between the flowerful embankment that fills two-thirds of the photograph, and the bare one on the other side of the highway. I don’t recall whether that opposite embankment had looked as good as the near one; I do know that just a few days earlier I saw mowers cutting down all the wildflowers on that side of Mopac farther south, in the vicinity of Far West Blvd. I’d been planning to photograph there but didn’t make it. Fortunately I was in time to catch this display on the east side of the highway. Below is another view, now in my usual way, which is to say without any human elements. The bits of white are gaura, Oenothera sp., and the darker flowers are Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera, a strange one of which you saw in the previous post.

UPDATE: When I drove past this intersection three days later, on May 8th, I found that all the wildflowers on the east side of the highway, the ones you see above, had been mowed down.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2019 at 4:44 AM

36 Responses

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  1. I look at MoPac all day long from my window at work and noticed the mowers cutting down all the wildflowers along Mopac at the Domain. Kind of sad. I have really enjoyed the massive wildflower bloom that we have had this year in central Texas.

    Jason Frels

    May 7, 2019 at 9:29 AM

    • It is sad. I’ve never understood why our representatives who let the contracts for mowing don’t stipulate that no mowing can take place until after the wildflowers have gone to seed. In this case it would’ve meant waiting just one more month.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2019 at 9:58 AM

      • The roadways look fantastic with all of the yellows and reds lining them as well, so I don’t understand the urgency to mow.

        Jason Frels

        May 7, 2019 at 10:46 AM

        • Neither do I. I left a message at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which is in charge of mowing on Mopac, but I haven’t heard back yet.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 7, 2019 at 11:13 AM

          • As someone who worked for landscape companies in the past, but was unable to continue doing so for ethical reasons, I can say that it is probably more profitable to mow the flowers and then hydroseed for the next season. That is two separate procedures that can be billed for. Sustainability is not profitable.


            May 12, 2019 at 9:05 PM

            • I’m still trying to find out what went on here. I hope it’s not something as cynical as what you’ve described.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 12, 2019 at 9:23 PM

              • I hope so as well, but i also know how sleazy some of us in the industry can be.


                May 13, 2019 at 9:27 AM

                • Ah, that’s too bad. I imagine it’s true in every field of human endeavor.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  May 13, 2019 at 3:49 PM

                • Well, I doubt any industry is as sleazy and some of the horticultural industries are.


                  May 15, 2019 at 3:24 PM

  2. You’ve made me speculate on what kind of community lives in with those flowers, and what happens to them when the flowers are mown.


    May 7, 2019 at 12:39 PM

    • It’s curious, but afterwards you’d think no wildflowers had been there at all, such is the mulching power of the mowing blades. As for what lived among the plants, I assume thousands of insects and spiders get killed, because when I’m out photographing I see so many of those little creatures on the plants. I also assume that any larger animals, like birds, hear the noise the mowers make and see the movement, and therefore have time to get away. I don’t know how long it takes after the plants grow back before animals get re-established there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 7, 2019 at 12:50 PM

      • I don’t suppose caterpillars have much hope if it is chopped so finely. Would rabbits live in a place like that?


        May 7, 2019 at 1:06 PM

        • I don’t recall ever seeing a rabbit in a highwayside strip of land like this. In contrast, on larger plots of ground more isolated from busy roads I’ve often enough had a rabbit bound out of the bushes when I’ve gotten close. As for caterpillars, I don’t think they stand any chance against a mowing machine, given that caterpillars can’t fly away the way adult insects can.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 7, 2019 at 2:21 PM

  3. Sometimes our highway medians are planted with wildflowers and also planted is a sign saying “Do not mow”. Eventually, once the flowers have gone to seed, they do get mowed. But for a brief time the highway has a bit of loveliness before the emphasis returns to asphalt.

    Steve Gingold

    May 8, 2019 at 3:56 AM

    • I understand that eventually the medians and embankments have to get mowed. What I’ll never understand is why the mowers so often can’t wait till after the wildflowers have run their course. When I visited the wildflower-covered cemetery in Floresville two months ago a woman in the city office building there told me they’d gotten calls from a few people complaining about the flowers making the cemetery look bad. What does that say about people’s tastes? You’re fortunate where you are if the mowers actually heed the “Do not mow” signs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2019 at 7:25 AM

      • It says that people are more and more growing away from nature, I think. My neighbor would rather have a monocultural lawn than allow other plants or insects in. When We moved in here I could easily find several species of insects on our plants daily throughout warm weather. Since he moved in and started doing what lawn nuts do most have disappeared. Sadly, he is not alone in that pursuit.

        Steve Gingold

        May 8, 2019 at 5:52 PM

        • No, not at all alone; probably in the large majority, alas.

          By the way, this morning I drove past the embankment shown in this post and found that all the wildflowers had been mowed to the ground. Stupidity lives.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 8, 2019 at 6:39 PM

          • I just commented on that in your conversation with Tina. Foolish people who think mowed grass, or wildflowers, make a place neat and pretty.

            Steve Gingold

            May 8, 2019 at 7:07 PM

            • Yesterday morning I left a phone message for the person I was told is in charge of mowing Mopac. As of now I’ve gotten no return call.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 8, 2019 at 7:57 PM

  4. The late spring flowers like those above have been lush and gorgeous! It’s hard to keep my eyes on the road, with those blanketing the green spaces.


    May 8, 2019 at 7:51 AM

    • May has often been the best wildflower month in Austin, and I’d say that’s the case for 2019, despite the mowers’ attempts to ruin it for us.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 8, 2019 at 8:23 AM

      • As of this morning, when I drove past the intersection, all the wildflowers shown in these two pictures had been destroyed.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 8, 2019 at 6:48 PM

        • They didn’t waste any time mowing it down. Lacking appreciation for nature.

          Steve Gingold

          May 8, 2019 at 7:05 PM

          • I almost missed getting to this embankment in time to document how great it looked. You’re right that the mowers didn’t waste time; all they wasted was the wildflowers.

            Steve Schwartzman

            May 8, 2019 at 8:00 PM

  5. I know something else that lives in the midst of such flowerful glory: snakes. In fact, I met a large snake in a colony of knee-high grasses and Monarda punctata just outside Willow City: inattentive me stepped right on him. He hissed, I fled, and he slithered away in the other direction. That was a first. At least I had on heavy jeans and knee-high boots.

    There were fields and fields of mixed Gaillardia and greenthread on the Willow City loop, too — so pretty. A few Mexican hats were forming, but I don’t think we saw more than a dozen in bloom. We only had Sunday before the rain set in, but it was worth the trip for that one day.

    Well, mostly. Thanks to an inattentive driver in Seguin, I ended up in a ditch with the front end of the car in the mud and the back wheels in the air. There wasn’t an actual collision, and I didn’t suffer a scratch, but my poor car’s in the body shop. The good news is that the damage was only cosmetic, and I drove home from Seguin with no problems. If I’d been able to get back into the car, I could have taken more photos of flowers while I was waiting for the wrecker. Who says nature photography’s not exciting?


    May 8, 2019 at 9:34 PM

    • I’m glad to hear you’re okay. After not seeing comments from you on any of the usual blogs, I wondered if something had happened. No one can say you haven’t had an exciting life lately: stepping on a snake and ending up with your car nose-down in a ditch with rear wheels in the air. At least it wasn’t a venomous snake and your car suffered no functional damage. (Similarly and much less dramatically, the new clothes dryer that was delivered to our home on Tuesday arrived dented in several places but we used it a few times while we’re waiting for Lowe’s to replace it.)

      Unless I’m mistaken, we’re fortunate that the wildflowers you saw along the Willow City Loop won’t get mowed down prematurely like the ones in shown in this post. If it ever stops raining—which is still a lot better than a drought—maybe I’ll head out that way. What you said about seeing only a few developed Mexican hats is evidence that that area is, as usual, a bit behind Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2019 at 6:33 AM

  6. One astute observer hereby records her utter dismay at the actions of short-sighted Austin city officials.


    May 9, 2019 at 10:53 AM

  7. […] are from May 5th at the edge of the parking lot from which I walked a short distance to photograph dense wildflowers along MoPac shortly before mowers destroyed them. Fortunately whatever company maintains the land around the […]

  8. […] views are from the edge of the office building parking lot from which I walked a short distance to the Mopac embankment at Braker Ln. Unlike those wildflowers along the highway that got prematurely mowed down, these by the parking […]

  9. Shame to hear that they were mowed down … why can’t they just let them do their thing? They would self seed too! Love those splashes of white …


    May 12, 2019 at 5:08 AM

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