Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

But it wasn’t just the prairie

with 35 comments

My jaunts to northeast Austin on May 9th and May 12th were making me tie the profusion of Bifora americana to the Blackland Prairie, and the common names prairie bishop and prairie bishop’s weed* reinforced that. Then on May 13th I found myself in the second suburb north-northwest of Austin, Leander, where prairie bishop once again became a hero**, this time on the west side of US 183 in a large field that’s prairie-ish but likely lies too far west to be considered part of the Blackland Prairie.

The Engelmann daisy colony (Engelmannia peristenia) there was probably the best I’ve ever seen. Notice the many firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) mixed in as well.

Except for a utility crew that had pulled over on the shoulder of the highway a bit ahead of me to do whatever work they’d been sent to do, not one person in the hundreds of other cars that passed by while I was there stopped to enjoy the view. Here’s how the prairie bishop looked in the swale by the side of the highway.

* Don’t confuse our native prairie bishop’s weed with bishop’s weed, Aegopodium podagraria, a species from Eurasia that has become an invasive nuisance in parts of the United States. As Joel E. Holloway notes sarcastically in A Dictionary of Common Wildflowers of Texas & the Southern Great Plains, the name bishop’s weed was “first applied in Scotland because it was almost impossible to get rid of, as it would be to remove a bishop from the church.”

**The Leander in Texas takes its name from Leander “Catfish” Brown, an official of the Austin and Northwestern Railroad Co. in the 1880s. That down-to-earth origin hasn’t deterred the town from playing up the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander, even to the point of renaming a road Hero Way. (Public information officer Mike Neu told me that the road’s new name was also intended as a tribute to public service men and women.) Additionally the town of Leander has inspired the clever and alliterative paleontological name Leanderthal Lady.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2019 at 4:40 AM

35 Responses

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  1. Despite the taking of land for development, you are able to still find large flowery tracts to share with us. I guess Texas must be kind of big.

    Steve Gingold

    May 22, 2019 at 6:10 AM

    • As thrilled as I was to see the dense wildflowers at this site and the one on the Blackland Prairie, I know that both tracts will sooner or later get developed, given that the Austin area continues being one of the fastest-growing in the country. Beyond the field shown in today’s pictures is a recent subdivision; you can see some of its rooftops over the hill if you click on the photo at


      For the pictures shown here I excluded all human elements.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 22, 2019 at 6:42 AM

  2. That field of Engelmann daisies is quite something. I found a few in the hill country, but development is taking over the river road between Center Point and Kerrville, where they used to be thick, so I had to make do with scattered plants near Willow City.

    Your mention of the people passing by without pausing reminded me of an encounter just outside Willow City this year. I’d stopped to admire a huge spread of red Gaillardia mixed with daisies, monarda, bull nettle, and four-nerve daisies, when a car pulled up. Their question? “Are there any wildflowers still around?” After a little conversation, it became clear they meant bluebonnets. So it goes.


    May 22, 2019 at 6:58 AM

    • What you describe in your second paragraph warrants today’s Oy vey! award from this ex-New Yorker. Years ago I described bluebonnets in Texas as being “done to death.” Even so, your anecdote shows a degree of semantic creep that I wouldn’t have expected.

      Speaking of Monarda, it’s at its peak in Austin now, and the Engelmann daises are still doing well. I photographed both yesterday, and if the rain holds off I’m going back out for another round this morning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 22, 2019 at 7:14 AM

    • When you mentioned the River Road between Kerrville and Center Point, I looked it up on Google Maps and I think it might be something to bicycle along. Actually, trying to follow the Guadalupe as closely as possible.


      May 23, 2019 at 9:35 AM

  3. Looks like a nice savanna. Just think~this whole country was beautiful vistas from one end to the other, but early settlers couldn’t wait to plow it, chop it down, fill it, and now, build on it. Those of us who do stop for the view are left in their wake, ruing their enthusiasm.


    May 22, 2019 at 7:16 AM

    • Yes, accounts survive from the 1800s of settlers in Texas describing vast landscapes of dense wildflowers. When parcels of land are left alone for a while, the floral bounty sometimes returns, though two centuries of development will keep the wildflower displays from being as vast as they once were. I’m grateful I can still find dense colonies of several acres.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 22, 2019 at 7:23 AM

      • Steve, I really think you could stop development from happening if you put your mind to it. It isn’t just here in Lake County that people have banded together to get land set aside. You can do this!


        May 22, 2019 at 7:27 AM

        • Actually quite a bit of land has been set aside in the Austin area. One example is Wild Basin, which a group of women banded together to save from development several decades ago. In the 2000s a group of us native plant people tried to convince the City Council of Round Rock, an adjacent suburb on the north side of Austin, to buy and preserve a particular tract on the Blackland Prairie. Unfortunately we didn’t succeed with that attempt. The eastern, prairie side of Austin and the suburbs is now undergoing the fastest development in the area because the land there is flatter and less expensive than on the hilly west side.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 22, 2019 at 7:50 AM

        • We have to be careful not to get the NIMBY syndrome that afflicts the San Francisco area. There must be a way to make that all work out some how.

          Jason Frels

          May 22, 2019 at 11:20 AM

          • If you figure out how, please let us know.

            Steve Schwartzman

            May 22, 2019 at 1:06 PM

          • That isn’t what I meant. What I meant was, a group of people can choose a site or two and work to protect it from the development that is going on everywhere else. I have lived in areas where nobody did this, and believe, me, the local government and the developers will not stop until every inch of ground is paved. Then, when it is too late, you hear a lot of moaned regrets.


            May 23, 2019 at 8:51 AM

          • Also, I’m not sure what you mean. A great deal of effort has been made in the San Francisco area to set aside land, and to clean up old dumping grounds, to make parkland available to people to use. This has been very well received and the trails are heavily used. That sounds more like a success to me than a NIMBY fail.
            There is a great deal of pressure to develop more housing in the area, but the fact is, there is such a thing as carrying capacity in any given area, beyond which more people simply cannot be sustained. Limitations such as water and infrastructure are real, and it is plain foolish to ignore them.


            May 23, 2019 at 8:56 AM

            • I am quite in favor of set aside green spaces and I don’t think that Leander does a very good job of that. I am also concerned that people aren’t homeless because development of affordable housing can’t happen. I often wish that Texas had more public land available like some of the western states as I like to go out hiking and shooting photos. At the same time, there is a lot of housing pressure on the Austin suburbs right now and I don’t know a good solution to all of that. Sorry if I am rambling incoherently.

              Jason Frels

              May 23, 2019 at 9:02 AM

              • I thought you must be, when I read your “About” page. Here in Illinois, the county calculated a certain amount of green space per anticipated citizen, and then went about procuring it. Thank God they did, because we are watching all the rest very rapidly going under pavement. It is horrifying. The preserves only happened because a group of citizens insisted on it, many years ago, and a dedicated group of citizens has persisted over the years. We have had referendums to fund it, and they always pass by a wide margin.
                You are absolutely right, that as our population grows this puts a lot of pressure on housing. Portland created some sort of restriction on sprawl, to protect the land outside it, but this has served to really raise the price of housing. As you mentioned, this leads to homelessness. I worry about all of this, because I’m not sure there is a good solution. Short of bringing our population growth to zero. In China and Japan they simply create new cities and perhaps we’ll be forced to do that. I remember when I was in 8th grade the teacher put up a slide that showed that Milwaukee and Chicago would merge to become one metropolitan area. That slide sure scared me but thankfully, decades later, it hasn’t come to pass.


                May 23, 2019 at 9:18 AM

                • I get a bit worried about the population pressure in the Austin area. Apple just opened a campus and I am watching the second Facebook tower being assembled as I write this. That does produce some positive wage pressure, but I have watched the suburb of Leander grow from a population of 5000 to 50000. Not very rural anymore. Where are all of these people going to live?

                  Jason Frels

                  May 23, 2019 at 9:23 AM

                • Oh, dear, that is a worry. My county has grown too, probably too fast. We are an area of wetlands. Formerly when you flew over in a plane what you saw was interconnected waterways with bands of land. Developers don’t understand (or care) about water, so they just came in and crammed in thousands of mcmansions and new roads and parking lots. The water is still here…in basements, flooded roadways, etc. I wish the powers-that-be were as wise as I assumed they were when I was younger.


                  May 24, 2019 at 9:21 AM

              • Speaking of homelessness, as I wander in the woods in places around Austin where I’ve been taking photographs for years, it’s increasingly common for me to find signs that people have been camping out there. It’s become a lot more noticeable in the past couple of years.

                Steve Schwartzman

                May 23, 2019 at 9:32 AM

  4. I am a resident Leanderthal and I have never seen the wildflowers this bountiful. Especially along 183 (not 183A). I have seen plenty out out Ronald Reagan/Parmer Blvd as well. It’s been nice. I wonder if many of the wildflowers were planted.

    Leander ETJ also includes much of the Balcones Canyonlands NWR which is set aside for bird habitat and is nice to hike.

    Jason Frels

    May 22, 2019 at 11:18 AM

    • Yes, this has been a bountiful spring for wildflowers up there. I was told there are good flowers along parts of US 183 all the way to Lampasas but haven’t managed to get further north than Liberty Hill. Down in my part of Austin, the median in Capital of Texas Highway is excellent now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 22, 2019 at 11:46 AM

  5. Perfect perspectives! 🙂


    May 22, 2019 at 1:33 PM

  6. I’m loving all these flower pics of yours! Amazing!

    M.B. Henry

    May 22, 2019 at 5:12 PM

    • It’s been a good May here, so more flower pictures are forthcoming. I photographed wildflower colonies yesterday and again today.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 22, 2019 at 5:29 PM

  7. Mother Nature is grand. I wish we would just let her be.


    May 22, 2019 at 6:10 PM

    • People need places to live, and so forth, but I wish more land were set aside in a natural state.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 22, 2019 at 9:01 PM

  8. Your wildflower opportunities seem like the opposite of mine in a way – I tend to find individual, small flowers in places that, if they are open, are small. Or they’re wooded. These fields are just wonderful color experiences!


    May 23, 2019 at 8:49 PM

    • Actually the majority of the pictures I’ve shown here since I began in 2011 have been of individual subjects, and the lens I’ve used more than any other is a 100mm macro so I can get close. At the same time, this part of the world puts on some great displays of dense wildflowers, and when that’s happening I revel in it. This spring has been excellent for that sort of profusion.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 23, 2019 at 11:17 PM

  9. I just went for a hike out at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge – Doeskin Ranch and the place had a lot of wildflowers. Especially up on the ridge.

    Jason Frels

    May 23, 2019 at 9:19 PM

    • Doeskin Ranch is a place I’ve typically visited once a year for the past two decades. I appreciate your report that it’s doing wildflowery well now, especially up on the ridge. I’ve been thinking about the place for the past couple of days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 23, 2019 at 11:20 PM

  10. What an abundant year with wildflowers, Steve! I really love all of these images you’ve been posting. We see amazing plant life here too this year, though we are at least three weeks behind Texas blooms. I suppose the wet weather has helped, but right now I’m afraid it’s drowning out many species in this area. Last week I ventured out to the orchard in my muck boots, but found the orchard in a lot of water, and many of the wild onions submerged. The annoying Biden plant had been knocked flat in some areas of the old river channel, which I was glad to see, but I wondered how the flooding would affect area plant life. As I carefully ambled along an animal path on higher ground near the slough (which I’ve never seen so full of water!) I noted a mother duck paddling at a frenzied pace with a dozen ducklings behind her. Just as the heavy and plentiful rains seem to obliterate some things, others flourish. Thus is the way of Mother Nature.

    We are preparing for the orchard to flood today or tomorrow. It’ll be much too deep for my muck boots. Happily, we may have to get our little two-man boat out and explore the orchard! The river has crested and continues to rise, so water will back up into the old river channel, and into the orchard.It’ll be interesting to see how this affects wildlife. Already we are seeing more deer than usual at the feeders, and on the higher ground around us.


    May 26, 2019 at 7:49 AM

    • If you’re a good three weeks behind us, and if this latter part of spring holds true as it moves north, then get ready for a flowerful spectacle. As you’ve seen, central Texas has been having a good May. Yesterday we walked through great coreopsis stands an hour west of home in and around Inks Lake State Park.

      I hope the surfeit of water up your way won’t suppress the flowers (as the overzealous mowers have done in some places here). Even so, nature compensates with water-loving creatures. Navigating an orchard in a little boat sounds like a novel experience and should provide you with material for a good post. I heard on the news yesterday that people in certain neighborhoods in Tulsa were being warned about possible breaches in the levee along the Arkansas River. I remember walking along that river’s banks when we spent a couple of days in Tulsa a few years ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2019 at 9:39 AM

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