Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Velvet gaura

with 25 comments

It’s been a few years since I showed you a flower spike of velvet gaura—long enough for the botanical name to have changed from Gaura parviflora and Gaura mollis to Oenothera curtiflora (in fact every Gaura species is now an Oenothera). Some people find this plant weedy and refer to it as velvetweed; me, I’m happy to encounter it and photograph it. One reason, not apparent here, is the plant’s downiness, which was clear in a portrait from 2011. Today’s takes 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 parking lot did only narrow mowing at its edges and left the wildflowers intact. And speaking of narrow mowing, how about the way the first photographed is cropped? It’s a good example of point 6 in About My Techniques.

On the gaura plant shown below I found two stilt bugs, probably in the genus Jalysus. The red-orange flowers in the background were firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella, happily ubiquitous at this time of year here, and the pale violet ones were mealy blue sage, Salvia farinacea. More about those two next time.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 10, 2019 at 4:29 AM

25 Responses

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  1. Great image of the flower as always, but I now have ‘bug-envy’!


    May 10, 2019 at 5:31 AM

    • We’re having a good spring in central Texas, florally speaking, and with the flowers come lots of insects. It’s fine to like them, so long as you don’t get bug-eyed.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2019 at 6:04 AM

  2. Love this plant too, and the second image I particularly like. Well, any image that comes with stilt bugs gets my vote! 🙂 The lovely color in the background gets my vote, too.


    May 10, 2019 at 9:11 AM

    • It’s good you kept your voter registration up to date. I, too, particularly like the color of the firewheels in the background in the second photo. The stilt bugs are a bonus. Now you’ve gotten me thinking about the meaning of stilted.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2019 at 9:39 AM

      • You’re right! When you think of it, the word seems to mean something different than its use would suggest.


        May 11, 2019 at 8:23 AM

        • My intuition when I raised the question was that the original sense of stilted was literally ‘up on stilts,’ and that because being up on stilts is unnatural and awkward, the word would have taken on the sense in which we use it today. I checked just now and here’s the definition I found in the 1913 Webster’s: “Elevated as if on stilts; hence, pompous; bombastic; as, a stilted style; stilted declamation.” My intuition was right.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 11, 2019 at 8:46 AM

          • So it was. My sense also was that it meant awkward, but Webster is suggesting something slightly different in saying “pompous”.


            May 12, 2019 at 8:35 AM

            • Yes, that’s a sense that got added to the word. It’s common for meanings of words to shift over time.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 12, 2019 at 5:05 PM

  3. What’s the skinny? Both you and Linda are running very lean today!
    Velvet, cropped, spike, and stilts all could be terms from a runway shoot, the world of “you can never be too thin” fashion. Can we expect stiletto heels and Spanish Bayonet ? Very neat pictures!

    Robert Parker

    May 10, 2019 at 11:31 AM

  4. Steve, just a quick word to tell you how much I enjoy getting your regular posts. I always find them interesting and informative. Keep up the great work.

    Alan R Lusk | (214) 642-4845 mobile

    This email was written using 100% recycled words.


    May 10, 2019 at 2:48 PM

    • Thanks, Alan. I’m always pleased to hear from people who appreciate our natural world.

      It occurs to me that except for the rare cases in which people coin new words, all of our words are recycled.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2019 at 2:54 PM

  5. Interesting plant and nice images. I like your crop to make a vertical panorama. The background on the second image is very nice!


    May 10, 2019 at 8:53 PM

    • And I like the way you refer to the first picture as a vertical panorama, as well as the attractiveness of the background in the second image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 11, 2019 at 6:52 AM

  6. I love mealy blue sage, and I haven’t seen a bit of it yet this year. If I’d had a little more time to explore last weekend, I would have headed toward Medina, where it’s been quite common in the past, but the weather made that impossible. Maybe later.

    it’s easy to see why this one’s sometimes called lizard-tail gaura. There’s another lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus) that’s common here. I was surprised to see it’s native in Travis county. My guess is that the lakes around there have given it a home.


    May 10, 2019 at 9:47 PM

    • I’m surprised, too, to see Saururus cernuus shown in Travis County on the USDA map. That sent me to Bill Carr’s annotated list of Travis County plants, where I did not find it. I wonder what’s going on, because Bill Carr includes even species that he notes were reported from just a single sighting.

      In contrast, I have come across the alternate name lizard-tail for the gaura. I must not have seen enough lizards, because I don’t associate the upside-down U of the gaura’s tip with a lizard.

      Mealy blue sage is pretty common in Austin. I’ve already run into it in several places this spring. The largest colony so far has been the one at the site of these pictures, as you’ll see next time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 11, 2019 at 6:28 AM

      • An idle thought: I wonder if the USDA maps are incorporating verified sightings from iNaturalist now. There are a few sightings for Saururus cernuus in Travis County listed there, including this one.


        May 11, 2019 at 6:55 AM

        • I read or heard somewhere that BONAP is more up to date than USDA. My guess is that iNaturalist is ahead of both. Given that iNaturalist sightings come from people with varying expertise in nature, I wonder how many things get misidentified. The picture you linked to certainly looks like Saururus cernuus. The next time I go to Laguna Gloria, the site of that sighting, I’ll look around and see if I notice any lizard’s tail.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 11, 2019 at 7:34 AM

  7. Love the warmth of the background in the second image. And the cropping gives the first a sense of tallness.

    Steve Gingold

    May 12, 2019 at 2:00 AM

    • One of my field guides says that a downy gaura flower stalk can rise to six feet above the ground; the cropping in the first photo emphasizes that tallness. To my mind, the background in the second image struck a good balance: it conveyed enough detail for someone familiar with firewheels to recognize them, yet not enough detail to distract from the gaura.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2019 at 6:13 AM

  8. Lovely background colors and subject in the second image. The insects remind of a similar bug I’ve seen up here, though they don’t have the neat long antenna of this species.


    May 12, 2019 at 2:49 PM

    • I’ve been on record for years with the assertion that the background is as important in a photograph as the main subject. I expect you’ve said it plenty of times too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 12, 2019 at 5:08 PM

  9. If it is a wildflower, it should not matter if it is weedy. I sort of think that those used in home gardens are weedy, especially when people keep the same plant too long. They would be fine if people would allow the self sown seedlings to take over, and remove the original. Instead, the seedlings get pulled as weeks, and the original plant gets shorn to death.


    May 16, 2019 at 1:00 AM

    • You make a good point. Sometimes “out with the old, in with the new” is a good strategy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 16, 2019 at 6:48 AM

      • It works for plants that self sow profusely, but do not last long. Our native western redbud does not last much more then ten years, and does not last that long if watered too much. It would not be a problem if gardeners would not weed whack all the seedlings before the main plant dies.


        May 18, 2019 at 8:22 AM

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