Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Nutant, not mutant

with 67 comments

From the present participle of the Latin verb nutare, which means ‘to nod,’ comes the fancy adjective nutant. Botanists use it to describe a bud like that of greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium), which typically droops. The stalk shown here had also uncharacteristically looped over itself and gotten caught, so how could I resist taking some pictures of it? I did my best to kneel in a place where I could line up the greenthread plant with a bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) beyond it. This March 18th portrait comes from the same mixed wildflower colony at Mopac and Braker Lane that you saw last time.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 23, 2020 at 4:49 AM

67 Responses

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  1. ah, thank you for this new word and the picture is breathtaking


    March 23, 2020 at 5:01 AM

  2. Exquisite and so delicate but I guess very strong too.


    March 23, 2020 at 5:13 AM

    • I don’t think I’ve ever tested a greenthread stalk. I’ve found Mexican hat stalks to be surprisingly strong.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 6:18 AM

  3. Thanks so much for the stunning photo, Steve, and for the morning Latin lesson. I took a couple of years of Latin in high school, but that was a long, long time ago. After reading the title of your posting, I am trying to imagine what Teenage Nutant Ninja Turtles would look like–maybe they would be nodding off all of the time. 🙂

    Mike Powell

    March 23, 2020 at 6:51 AM

    • The world is waiting for you to create some mutant Nutant Ninja Turtles. You have time to do so, now that we’re all home so much.

      I beat you by one in having three years of high school Latin. It’s come in handy many times in the half-century since then, including when Eve was in nursing school and had to learn lots of technical vocabulary. The same for me with botanical terms.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 7:01 AM

  4. I’m finding squatting, kneeling and even laying on the ground for just the right angle takes more effort these days. Your kneeling produced a very nice background!


    March 23, 2020 at 7:06 AM

    • It’s not always easy, that’s for sure. It often makes the difference between a mediocre picture and a good one, which is why I do it, even if it takes more effort than it once would have. You’ve probably heard me mention that I carry a mat around with me in nature to make kneeling and lying on the ground more comfortable.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 7:13 AM

  5. A lovely picture and a lovely word. I shall have to find a way to use that one! Lots of nodding daffodils around at the moment. I find kneeling and squatting very hard on the poor old knees these days, I’d attempt to lie down, but I fear I’d never get back up again!


    March 23, 2020 at 8:13 AM

    • Could you bring a pad along for your knees, and a companion as a helper-picker-upper?

      As for the word, the next time one of your photographs shows anything nodding or bending over, you can describe it as nutant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 8:20 AM

      • I could take a pad I guess, as for the helper-picker-upper – he’d probably have a heart attack, or fall on top of me! Not a good thing 😂 We are far too old to be rolling around in the mud.


        March 23, 2020 at 8:23 AM

  6. A masterful portrait of a wildflower, Steve! Sometimes we have to humbly kneel in order to achieve a great photo. I am sure the nutant’s nodding encouraged you to go the extra mile.

    Peter Klopp

    March 23, 2020 at 8:14 AM

    • Our words humble and humility go back to the Latin word humus, which meant ‘ground.’ In that etymological sense, the closing of the greenthread stalk’s loop made me humble when I got on the ground. Or, as young people say today: I was down for it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 8:25 AM

      • For photography, one of my passions, I often humble myself to the point of lying down on my belly to get a better perspective.

        Peter Klopp

        March 23, 2020 at 10:20 PM

  7. Excellent composition!

    Ellen Jennings

    March 23, 2020 at 8:39 AM

  8. Very nice to see this delicate plant threading its green way through the prairie.


    March 23, 2020 at 9:01 AM

    • It’s very good at threading its way not only through the prairie but also in our hilly part of town. You can usually see at least a few greenthreads flowering even in December and January, and this year there were quite a few in January.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 10:01 AM

      • Reading my Swink & Wilhelm, I see there is a yellow thread that grows two counties north of me in Wisconsin. I may pursue it this summer.


        March 24, 2020 at 10:42 AM

  9. This is such a graceful photo. It’s dancing.


    March 23, 2020 at 9:20 AM

    • With itself, it seems. The breeze intermittently had all the wildflowers moving about. I moved about under my own power.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 10:03 AM

  10. Could that curve be any more graceful? And, one word: kneepads. Strap them on and there’s nothing to carry.

    Michael Scandling

    March 23, 2020 at 11:02 AM

    • I already carry a mat with me for the many times when I sit or lie on the ground to take pictures, so it also serves as my (very large) kneepads.

      You’ve raised the interesting question of how to quantify the gracefulness of a curve.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 11:58 AM

  11. Beautiful, Steve!

    Nan Hampton

    March 23, 2020 at 12:07 PM

  12. An unusual and very appealing photo, and I really like how you managed to get it so neatly centered on the blue flowers in the background.

    Robert Parker

    March 23, 2020 at 2:03 PM

    • I’ll take “unusual and appealing,” thanks. Getting the loop lined up with the bluebonnet wasn’t easy, given that things were moving. I took enough pictures to make it likely that at least one would turn out well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 5:52 PM

  13. Excellently isolated, Steve! It’s beautiful and the background purple/blue is just lovely.


    March 23, 2020 at 3:18 PM

    • Most people photograph bluebonnets in their own right. They also make a pleasant background, as here, and in this case their vertical shape fit well with the verticality of the looped stalk.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 5:58 PM

  14. Great eye finding this one, it has a lot of character. And I love the alignment with the background.

    Todd Henson

    March 23, 2020 at 5:35 PM

    • I was glad I noticed this in the midst of so many other wildflowers on that embankment. I often wonder about the good things that I didn’t notice while I was out in nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2020 at 6:01 PM

  15. …also salutant, in a way…


    March 23, 2020 at 6:03 PM

  16. Thankfully nature does its thing no matter what is going on in the world.


    March 24, 2020 at 8:44 PM

  17. I’ll give a nod to this: one of your most interesting and beautiful posts. It’s another example of what I’ve come to believe: the more we see, the more we see. Not only does the amount of time outdoors make a difference, knowing what’s ‘usual’ makes the unusual easier to spot. It’s always fun to speculate on causes of something like this loop, too. Whatever caused the loop to hold, it made for a great photo.

    You didn’t mention another fine aspect of the image. Not only do you have the bluebonnets as a background for the greenthread, the diffuse green background behind the bluebonnets is almost a perfect match to the greenthread.

    And I didn’t know the word ‘nutant.’ The first thing that came to mind was ‘Nutella.’


    March 25, 2020 at 8:49 AM

    • What a good way to put it: “the more we see, the more we see.” Experience does count for something, it’s true, yet you’ve so often heard me lament the fact that so much more always evades understanding or even notice. As for the nutant bud stalk in this case, I assume a strong enough breeze caused the closing of the loop, which one or two of those characteristic prongs then held closed. And you’re right that I didn’t mention the harmony between the green of the greenthread and the amorphous green beyond the bluebonnet.

      Sometimes my Latin has helped my botany; other times botany has added to my Latin. I learned nutant from the species name of silvepuff:


      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2020 at 9:24 AM

  18. like Billbergia nutans.


    March 25, 2020 at 2:38 PM

    • Yes. I had to look that up. I found it’s from South America, and I saw pictures of its hanging flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2020 at 4:33 PM

      • It is not something I would recommend, but I could not get rid of mine. It came from one of the homes I lived in while in school.


        March 25, 2020 at 5:42 PM

  19. Super shot, Steve. What luck to find such an interesting and extreme example of the growth phenomenon with such a nice background. Worth the groans of getting back up off the ground.

    Steve Gingold

    March 25, 2020 at 6:06 PM

    • And having to work on a slope and endure the noise of constant traffic on the expressway. (Actually the slope sometimes worked in my favor when I took wide-angle views of the broader colony.) In any case, I’ll take “super.” Thanks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 25, 2020 at 6:34 PM

  20. I love the photo! And the botanical term is new to me, but then, there are so many of them!! Our Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) have an odd way of unfolding that’s like your nodding bud – they begin heading up then double back down. Strange fiddleheads! I don’t know if the term would apply in that case.


    March 29, 2020 at 4:21 PM

    • Thanks. This one took some doing. I searched for pictures of your sword fern and found one at


      that shows the tips folding down, as you described. It seems like nutant fits.

      Some years ago at a photography exhibit I struck up a conversation with a guy who told me that he’d started out studying biology but the huge number of technical terms he was having to memorize made him switch to mathematics!

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2020 at 5:53 PM

  21. Five stars! *****


    March 30, 2020 at 12:35 PM

  22. […] recently showing you greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium) at a distance, as a nutant bud, and then as another bud with riders, I figured I finally owe you a good view of an open flower […]

  23. A lovely bud and a nice new word.


    April 4, 2020 at 12:55 PM

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