Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Hibiscus laevis

with 42 comments

From today’s date in 2018 at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center comes this opening bud of Hibiscus laevis, known as smooth rose mallow or halberd-leaved rose mallow. If you’re curious about the flower this kind of bud will open up into, you can check out a post from 2013.

The species name laevis is the Latin word for ‘light in weight.” It reminds me now of the first line in the opening stanza of poet Augusto Gil‘s “Balada da neve,” Ballad of the Snow,” which our teacher introduced us to in my first Portuguese class way back in 1965:

“Batem leve, levemente,
como quem chama por mim.
Será chuva? Será gente?
Gente não é, certamente
e a chuva não bate assim.”

“There’s a light, light tapping,
As if someone were calling for me.
Could it be the rain? Could it be people?
People it certainly isn’t,
And the rain doesn’t sound like that.”

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2019 at 4:41 AM

42 Responses

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  1. I’d say that this rivals the fringed gentian for a neatly wrapped present.

    Steve Gingold

    September 26, 2019 at 5:15 AM

  2. The hibiscus bud with its red and white colours stands out so well against the green background. Magnificent shot, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    September 26, 2019 at 7:56 AM

    • That’s one of my standard techniques in doing a close portrait: aim toward a background that’s far enough away that it will lose definition. If the background is of a complementary (or other complimentary) color, so much the better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2019 at 12:37 PM

  3. Lovely shot, so otherworldly, but not. Thank goodness!


    September 26, 2019 at 8:05 AM

  4. Beautiful, Steve, and I enjoyed the poem as well.

    Lavinia Ross

    September 26, 2019 at 8:15 AM

  5. It is a gift, exquisitely presented, and the poetic gift card suits it well.

    Michael Scandling

    September 26, 2019 at 10:02 AM

    • I’m happy to have given the gift and the card. I prepared this post a long time ago but only yesterday did the connection to the poem come to mind, and I included its first stanza. The poem goes on for eight more stanzas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2019 at 12:57 PM

      • I will choose a quiet moment and absorb the entire poem. Thank you.

        Michael Scandling

        September 26, 2019 at 1:14 PM

        • Here’s the whole poem in Portuguese. I did some looking but haven’t found an English translation online.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 26, 2019 at 1:21 PM

          • My Portuguese is nonexistent, but fortunately my sister-in-law is Portuguese. I’ll ask her to translate.

            Michael Scandling

            September 26, 2019 at 1:51 PM

            • That should be enlightening. I’m curious to find out if she already knows this poem.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 26, 2019 at 1:59 PM

              • She is incredibly busy, so I will have to pick a moment that’s convenient for her.

                Michael Scandling

                September 26, 2019 at 2:03 PM

                • Understood. What you say about her being busy reminds me of a Portuguese proverb we also learned in that class: Depressa e bem, não há quem. Literally that says “In a hurry and well, there’s no one who [can do something]. It’s their rhyming equivalent of our pithier “Haste makes waste.”

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 26, 2019 at 2:16 PM

  6. Wow! What a shot there. Very beautiful!

    M.B. Henry

    September 26, 2019 at 4:26 PM

    • You got me wondering whether anyone else has depicted a bud of this species in a similarly abstract way, so I did a search. Only a few photographs of the buds turned up, and none that looked at all like this.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2019 at 5:00 PM

  7. As many hisbiscus buds as I’ve seen, I’ve never come across something like this. It’s beautiful and a little odd to my eye, or oddly beautiful: especially the textures and translucence. A time-lapse of this unfurling would be wonderful. I can’t quite wrap my mind around how it’s going to happen, or where all that poofiness on top is going to end up.

    I noticed how neatly the lines quoted from Verlaine foreshadow the last two lines of Augusto Gil’s poem:

    Il pleure dans ma coeur
    comme il pleut sur la ville

    Cai neve na Natureza
    e cai no meu coração.

    It was fun to notice the juxtaposition of pleure and pleut, too.


    September 26, 2019 at 7:51 PM

    • I’m not all that familiar with this species and I’ve never observed the transition from bud to fully open flower. I don’t even know how typical this bud was. Partly my lack of knowledge comes from the fact that this species isn’t native in Travis County; the specimens I’ve seen here are cultivated ones. I see from the USDA map that this hibiscus grows in Harris County, so you might get to see it in the wild sooner than I will.

      As for the poem, not till I searched for the whole thing did I find out about Verlaine’s famous couplet quoted at the beginning. In addition to the interplay between pleure and pleut that you pointed out, there’s the internal rhyme between pleure and coeur, and of course Augusto Gil did his variation on the couplet at the end of the Portuguese poem. Another connection I’ve been aware of for a long time is that the Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira translated Verlaine’s poem into Portuguese; I remember reading it in the ’70s. A lot of this literary stuff is still floating around in me from another life.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2019 at 9:20 PM

  8. Beautiful….and with the High Holiday season on my mind, I see praying hands wrapped in a prayer shawl.

    Marcia Levy

    September 26, 2019 at 7:59 PM

    • Now that’s an original take. You can start a campaign to change the botanical name to Hibiscus hebraeus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2019 at 8:20 PM

  9. Gorgeous photo!


    September 28, 2019 at 4:58 PM

  10. This reminds me of a ballerina wrapped in a sheet she is about to throw off.


    September 28, 2019 at 8:15 PM

    • Now that’s an imaginative view of this. Perhaps you’ve come up with a budding idea for a ballet costume.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 28, 2019 at 9:41 PM

      • I think most designers have “stolen” (or shall we say borrowed) from nature, be it for clothing or flying objects. It always has been the greatest source of inspiration.


        September 29, 2019 at 6:00 PM

        • Many have. The Art Nouveau movement, for example, was heavily based on botanical forms. The microphotonic.com website points out the botanical inspiration for Velcro:

          Velcro was invented by George de Mestral in 1941 and was inspired by the burrs he found on himself and on his dog. Being an engineer and entrepreneur, Mr. de Mestral examined the burr under a microscope and realized the small hooks of the burr and loops of the fur/fabric allowed the burr to adhere exceedingly well. This sparked his idea to mimic the structure as a potential fastener. The words velours (French for loop) and crochet (French for hook) were combined to start the Velcro company in 1959. Since then, Velcro has become integrated into daily life and has revolutionized the fastener industry.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 29, 2019 at 7:18 PM

          • Thank you for sharing this fascinating information about Velcro, Steve. Mr. Mestral sound like the perfect candidate to have invented it. Not only did he recognize nature’s ingenious ways, he was able to translate and market them!


            October 1, 2019 at 5:54 PM

  11. I love buds, all tightly wound, almost as much as I love open blooms. So much potential, there.


    October 17, 2019 at 1:41 PM

    • So much potential, yes, even if not every bud succeeds at opening into a flower.
      The tight winding/packing in a bud appeals to mathematicians and efficiency experts.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2019 at 2:38 PM

      • I can see that it would. Also to possibilitarians and artists.


        October 18, 2019 at 7:23 AM

        • The earliest use I could find of possibilitarian is from the Saturday Review in 1954: “And the man who lives in such an environment, supplanting his sense of reality with a sense of possibility, becomes a ‘possibilitarian.'”

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 18, 2019 at 7:58 AM

          • Cool! That makes it much more venerable than I would have guessed.


            October 18, 2019 at 9:37 PM

            • The fact that “possibilitarian” was in quotes shows that the writer didn’t consider it an accepted word, and therefore the term may not go back farther than 1954.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 18, 2019 at 9:48 PM

              • It seems like a perfectly good word to me. Better than a lot of the new words being accepted into the OED these days.


                October 19, 2019 at 9:29 AM

              • Although I admit I first heard it being used by a bunch of flaky women at an art workshop.


                October 19, 2019 at 9:29 AM

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