Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Smartweed and blue sky

with 34 comments

On August 29th I found plenty of smartweed plants (Polygonum sp.)
flowering on the wet ground at the edge of the Riata Trace Pond in northwest Austin.
I was careless enough to get part of one shoe wet while hunching down to make my portraits.
Still, you needn’t worry about your monitor: I made sure today’s photo was thoroughly dry before posting it.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2019 at 4:25 AM

34 Responses

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  1. They look very smart set against the blue sky. When trying to understand why this plant is called a smartweed I came upon this explanation.’The plants are called smartweed because they have a sharp, peppery flavor and their plant juice makes one’s eyes run.’ https://www.beeculture.com/smartweeds-and-knotweeds-as-bee-plants/ I had almost forgotten this meaning of the word ‘smart’. It was good to be reminded of it. I am glad you were smart enough to dry the photo before posting it. 😀


    August 31, 2019 at 5:39 AM

    • English has many instances of words that look identical but are historically unrelated. For example, you can make a lot racket by banging a tennis racket, but the two kinds of racket have no linguistic connection. You can just as easily make a racket by banging a baseball bat or a hockey stick. Most people couldn’t bear having a bear come into their house, but they also couldn’t bear having a lion or a crocodile or a rattlesnake come into their house. The two kinds of bear have nothing to do with each other.

      Sometimes, though, the opposite is true: two lookalike words that almost everyone would assume to be different because they have such divergent meanings turn out to be historically the same word. Smart is in this category. The original sense is the one involving a painful sensation. Here’s how the Online Etymology Dictionary traces the adjective:

      ‘late Old English smeart “painful, severe, stinging; causing a sharp pain,” related to smeortan (see smart (v.)). Meaning “executed with force and vigor” is from c. 1300. Meaning “quick, active, clever” is attested from c. 1300, from the notion of “cutting” wit, words, etc., or else “keen in bargaining.” Meaning “trim in attire” first attested 1718, “ascending from the kitchen to the drawing-room c. 1880” [Weekley]. For sense evolution, compare sharp (adj.).’

      In any case, there’s no question you were smart to play around with smart in your comment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2019 at 6:35 AM

  2. You were not afraid to get your feet wet to take this beautiful photo of a smartweed flower, Steve. I also learned that smart and Schmerz are related. Man wird so alt wie eine Kuh und lernt immer noch dazu.

    Peter Klopp

    August 31, 2019 at 8:38 AM

    • That’s a new aphorism for me. I wonder why—other than the rhyme—a cow got chosen, because (from what I see online) cows live on average from 18–22 years, but people live a lot longer.

      In this case it wasn’t a question of not being afraid to get my feet wet; I was just careless and didn’t notice the ground was wetter where I ended up standing than I realized. When I anticipate walking in wet places I put on the rubber boots that I keep in the trunk of my car.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2019 at 9:07 AM

  3. I like smartweed. A little later the foliage turns nice orange and red and a large colony looks great on the landscape. This looks like a fairly substantial one.


    August 31, 2019 at 9:09 AM

    • I’ve noticed that smartweed leaves have a tendency to turn colors. On the plants in my area I’ve seen individual leaves do that occasionally even long before fall. In fact I photographed a mostly yellow leaf on one of the smartweed plants at Riata Trace two days ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2019 at 9:19 AM

  4. We have a lot of smartweed here thanks to the orchard property being in a wetlands region. I’ve never tried the “peppery” plant, but I aim to someday.

    I’m bad about getting into wet areas, or really mucky mud areas. I wear muck boots if I think about it first, but most of the time I go off hiking not planning on water and mud. Alas, I spend a lot of time with a stick or brush trying to clean my shoes!


    August 31, 2019 at 10:39 AM

    • That’s why I carry rubber boots in the trunk of my car. I put them on if I’m going to walk in a place where I expect water or mud. Once in a while when I’ve been walking somewhere where I didn’t think I’d need boots but discovered that I did, I’ve gone back to the car to get them. I also keep a large plastic bag in the trunk so that if the boots have mud on them when I get back to the car, I can put the dirty boots in the bag and not mess up the trunk.

      Like you, I’ve never tried ingesting smartweed. Here’s what one website says about that:


      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2019 at 10:55 AM

      • You sound very organized and thoughtful about being prepared. Most of the time I plan for anything that might come up, but as I get older I am better at accepting the unexpected. It’s impossible to plan for everything!


        August 31, 2019 at 3:25 PM

        • I agree: we can’t plan for everything. I carry with me some things I think most likely to come in handy, including boots, sunscreen, insect repellent, hydrocortisone. Still, there’s no way to foresee everything I’ll want in every circumstance.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 31, 2019 at 5:22 PM

      • I used to use a plastic bag, but I’ve switched to one of those smaller-sized plastic storage containers, sans lid. It’s so easy to set either pair of boots into it, along with the insect repellent and so on. I do keep the lid in the trunk, though, just in case I need to use the box for transporting an injured critter — usually a turtle.


        August 31, 2019 at 7:07 PM

        • My rubber boots are thigh-high, so I don’t know if they’d fit into those plastic storage containers you use. Still, I can see where they’d come in handy for an injured critter.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 31, 2019 at 9:29 PM

  5. This is an impressive plant, and it has me puzzled. It doesn’t look at all like the two Polygonum species I’ve found down here: one white, one pink, and both with quite different, narrow leaves and much smaller bloom stalks. Of course, there are more than a hundred species, so there’s that. I was surprised to find Eason’s book doesn’t include any examples of the genus, although he does include other acquatic plants. I’m planning a trip around Brazoria county on Monday, so I’ll look for nice examples of our species.

    Do the leaves on this plant clasp the stem, like the coneflower? It looks like it. To my eye, the leaves are as attractive as the flowers.


    August 31, 2019 at 7:01 PM

    • It always surprises me when a good wildflower field guide leaves out a species that I think of as common. In the case of Eason, the absence of the genus Polygonum altogether seems particularly strange. Oh well. My guess is that the species shown in today’s post is Polygonum pensylvanicum (yes, without a double n where you’d expect it), known as pink smartweed and included on p. 17 in Marshall Enquist’s book. I don’t believe the leaves clasp the stem, given that Enquist doesn’t say that they do. I concentrated on the flowers the other day, and none of the pictures I took ended up including leaf bases to confirm that.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2019 at 7:38 PM

  6. ☺️

    Birder's Journey

    August 31, 2019 at 7:46 PM

  7. never heard of it



    September 1, 2019 at 6:26 AM

  8. It looks more like one of those trendy persicarias than a polygonum.


    September 2, 2019 at 11:47 PM

  9. There’s that Schwartzman blue sky again. Loads of smartweed in the yard and also along the road where I shot chicory yesterday. Nice perspective.

    Steve Gingold

    September 3, 2019 at 4:07 AM

    • I searched for smartweed on your blog and got no hits. Given that you have loads of it right there in your yard, here’s another opening for you to do a post, with or without blue sky. As for a clear bright blue sky in my postings, I had to go back to August 12 to find one, and before that to June 9.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2019 at 5:24 AM

      • I’ll do my best as soon as I can. So much to do as the summer winds down and we’re off to Acadia in a few weeks. I’ve an idea to work out with a very healthy plant next to the wood pile.

        Steve Gingold

        September 4, 2019 at 2:59 PM

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