Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Dark and light

with 49 comments

On June 12, 2018, at Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts, I photographed the buds of black cohosh (Actaea racemosa). The only other place I’d ever seen black cohosh was in Arkansas in 2016.

The dense pentagonal flowers of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) remain a highlight of my visit to Garden in the Woods. They’re quite different from those of the similarly named but botanically unrelated Texas mountain laurel that you’ve seen in these pages several times.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 12, 2019 at 4:34 AM

49 Responses

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  1. The first is especially appealing against the stark pure black background.

    Michael Scandling

    June 12, 2019 at 7:03 AM

  2. Photos made against a dark background have often a dramatic effect and bring to light details which we often miss. Great capture, Steven!

    Peter Klopp

    June 12, 2019 at 7:41 AM

  3. The drama of chiaroscuro 🙂


    June 12, 2019 at 9:02 AM

    • Exactly. I just added the tags “chiaroscuro” and “minimalist” with reference to the first picture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 12, 2019 at 11:17 AM

  4. And I thought blue cohosh was cool.


    June 12, 2019 at 9:16 AM

  5. I thought about adding Black Cohosh to my little woodland garden this year but decided I had spent enough for one season. I may still go for it. Our Mountain Laurel season is almost upon us, maybe even by this weekend. As you can see by the date on this post, it won’t be long. Mountain Laurel flowers are cool. Similar to the orchid, Grass Pink, they have a little “spring release” mechanism that catapults pollen some of which lands on a pollinator..

    Steve Gingold

    June 12, 2019 at 4:30 PM

    • It seems likely the mountain laurels at Garden in the Woods get watered and therefore could well be farther along on a given date than specimens growing on their own in nature. Yes, mountain laurel flowers are cool. You can imagine my enthusiasm at finally having a chance to see and photograph some of them. Thanks for reminding me about the catapult mechanism, which I didn’t see in action.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 12, 2019 at 5:31 PM

      • Here’s a look at the anthers being held under tension waiting to spring into action. I’ve thought about making one let loose but that is the same as foraging in a way so I don’t do it intentionally.

        Steve Gingold

        June 12, 2019 at 6:53 PM

        • Do all the anthers release simultaneously, or does each go independently?

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 12, 2019 at 10:08 PM

          • Since I haven’t provoked a launch I can’t say for sure, but I have seen flowers with one gone so I think it depends on an agile or clumsy bee.

            Steve Gingold

            June 13, 2019 at 2:23 AM

            • I wonder what the chances are that you’ll happen to be present when a spontaneous launch happens.

              Steve Schwartzman

              June 13, 2019 at 6:10 AM

              • Probably slim and none. But occasionally I am in the right place at the right time.

                Steve Gingold

                June 13, 2019 at 6:33 AM

                • Well, somebody had to be present to notice and report the phenomenon for the first time. Let’s hope you follow in that tradition.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  June 13, 2019 at 6:37 AM

    • Thanks for that mention of the pollination method of the grass pink. Very interesting, indeed — especially since I found grass pinks out in east Texas. I found some articles about their pollination, and will read up about it before I see them again this weekend.


      June 14, 2019 at 12:33 PM

      • I just looked to see if I had a good example of the grass pink mechanism in action. I don’t really. I have this which approaches it.
        I don’t know if I will be able to visit the grass pinks this year as a bridge is being reconstructed on that road and it is fairly blockaded. Maybe I’ll hike in if I can find a place to park. Now’s the time.

        Steve Gingold

        June 14, 2019 at 7:29 PM

  6. I do not recall ever having seen a pentagonal flower, Steve. The mountain laurel is gorgeous.


    June 12, 2019 at 10:57 PM

    • It is gorgeous. I showed a closer view of some mountain laurel flowers last year:


      Silverleaf nightshade, among the most common wildflowers in Austin, also has pentagonal flowers. You can see that in the third picture in the post at


      which happens to play up the rare specimen I found that was square rather than pentagonal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 12, 2019 at 11:07 PM

      • Thank you for the reminders. I liked both posts, which means I at least looked at them, even if I did not remember.


        June 13, 2019 at 12:30 AM

        • Remind reminds us that the Latin prefix re- can attach to certain native English words but not to others. Some of the most common native English verbs resist: for example, we can’t say *rebe, *rego, *rehave, or *recome. For them we have to say be again, go again, have again, and come again.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 13, 2019 at 6:02 AM

          • Should we redo the rules of the English language?


            June 13, 2019 at 2:34 PM

            • Native speakers in a region do gradually remake the language. And notice we can say redo and remake. Originally re- entered English only in words borrowed from Latin and French. As time passed, people began to stop thinking of re- as foreign and started to use it as a living English prefix. Maybe eventually we’ll even be able to say rebe, rego, rehave, and recome. On the other hand, maybe “He rewas happy” will always sound weird.

              Steve Schwartzman

              June 13, 2019 at 2:45 PM

              • We tend to think of language as being fixed, but you are right-it lives, and like anything alive, it changes. That can be a good thing, even though some of us have a hard time accepting some of the changes.


                June 14, 2019 at 5:44 PM

                • Unfortunately, from my point of view, many of the changes start out as mistakes that other people then pick up. That’s because language is a system of imitation, like the clothes that people wear. One person somewhere started saying “for you and I” instead of “for you and me,” and now many people say “for you and I.” It may already have gotten to the point that the majority of young people think “for you and me” is wrong.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  June 14, 2019 at 6:21 PM

                • You are right. If we hear something repeatedly, we consider it the norm.


                  June 14, 2019 at 9:02 PM

                • Alas, that’s also why some people keep repeating a lie.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  June 14, 2019 at 9:23 PM

                • tanjabrittonwriter

                  June 14, 2019 at 9:58 PM

  7. Hey! I actually grew Texas mountain laurel too! It never occurred to me that it is also known as mountain laurel. I could grow it again. I have never seen it mature.


    June 13, 2019 at 9:21 PM

    • I wish there were unambiguously different common names to distinguish Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) from mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and both of those from the true laurel (Lauraceae).

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 13, 2019 at 9:29 PM

      • Well, I know what you are talking about. It is not all that important.
        It is MUCH more annoying when English people try to explain to me that sycamores are maples and maples are sycamores, as if only their names for them are correct. I suppose that is why they are English.


        June 13, 2019 at 9:40 PM

        • You may recall the quip about the Americans and the English being two peoples separated by a common language.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 13, 2019 at 9:45 PM

          • No.
            Wait . . . what? Well, they don’t know how to use the English language properly anyway.


            June 13, 2019 at 9:50 PM

  8. I remember your trip, and your gracious fulfillment of your friend’s wishes. This is a nice memorial post as well as a reminder of the gorgeous photos you made there.

    Dare I say I think this mountain laurel is even prettier than our mountain laurel? Perhaps not — but it certainly is a beautiful and unusual plant. Is it also fragrant?


    June 14, 2019 at 12:55 PM

    • Hard to believe it’s been 19 months since our friend died, and good of you to remember what prompted the visit to Garden in the Woods. I’m with you in thinking the eastern mountain laurel might be prettier than Texas mountain laurel, though for me some of that might be chalked up to the enthusiasm of a newcomer. It’s unlikely, given that the species skips Texas, I’ll ever become enough of an oldcomer to get jaded about mountain laurel flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2019 at 2:26 PM

    • As for fragrance, I’m sorry to say I don’t remember, so focused was I on the way the flowers look.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2019 at 2:46 PM

  9. After a too long absence, I finally sat down and took a look on what I’d been missing out on–which was a LOT! This post took me aback at first, as just a few days ago we saw mountain laurel in full bloom up here, until I read where you’d photographed them: not Texas, but Massachusetts. Those pentagonal blooms are quite amazing up close, aren’t they?

    Susan Scheid

    June 18, 2019 at 3:49 PM

    • Ah, and looking back to see your conversation with shoreacres, I see that Texas does have its own mountain laurel. No doubt you’ve photographed that as well at some point, and I’ve missed seeing it in your annals.

      Susan Scheid

      June 18, 2019 at 3:51 PM

      • And as if mountain laurel weren’t already enough of a misnomer because the plant isn’t a member of the laurel family, Texas mountain laurel has nothing to do with mountain laurel or laurels. Makes me want to get in a time machine and go back to straighten out the naming mess.

        Yes, I’ve often photographed the Texas mountain laurel, which is widely planted in Austin:

        Steve Schwartzman

        June 18, 2019 at 3:59 PM

    • Oh, they are. I felt myself fortunate for finally being able to see and photograph this plant that I’d heard about from people in the Northeast. Enjoy it vicariously for me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 18, 2019 at 3:53 PM

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