Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bulrushes with wispy clouds

with 32 comments

Austin botanist Bill Carr describes the southern bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus, as “the tallest of our sedges, forming large dense colonies, vaguely reminiscent of those of cat-tails, in shallow to fairly deep water….” Also called the California bulrush, the species is nevertheless native in Texas and more than a dozen other states. You’re seeing a colony that stands by the pond at the Arbor Walk as it looked on April 15th. By getting low enough and aiming high enough I managed to turn the bulrushes into classy cloud-climbers and also exclude the traffic on Mopac as well as the office buildings on the far side of the expressway.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 22, 2020 at 4:22 AM

32 Responses

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  1. I see from your link that this species is native to Oklahoma as well. Now might be the time for me to take a walk to the slough or the old river channel to look around. But, it won’t be today… rain and more storms are moving through.


    April 22, 2020 at 8:35 AM

    • I see that with this species the USDA map doesn’t have a county breakdown for Oklahoma the way it does for Texas. Fortunately BONAP does:


      Now you can check to see if Schoenoplectus californicus has been reported in your county. If not, you won’t need to spend time looking for it on your walks.

      It’s overcast and slightly drizzly here in Austin this morning, so I’ll be staying home, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2020 at 8:43 AM

    • Here’s the landing page for BONAP, so you can see all the things this site has to offer:


      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2020 at 8:51 AM

  2. Another one of your great shots from below! I like the wispy clouds you used as the background for the bullrushes, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    April 22, 2020 at 8:38 AM

    • Those clouds were too good to pass up as a background. I photographed not only the bulrushes against them but also some eastern gamagrass. I took pictures of the clouds in their own right, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2020 at 8:46 AM

  3. The bulrushes look like they’re waving “hello!” to the cirrus (?) clouds. It’s a gorgeous, cheerful shot.


    April 22, 2020 at 10:05 AM

    • April 15th was one of the few mostly sunny days we’ve had in the past month, and that sunniness contributed to the cheer you feel from the picture, especially on as murky a morning as we’ve got today. The land around that pond is a good place for native plants, like the coral honeysuckle I mentioned recently. I found a few eastern gamagrass plants on the eastern side, which I was glad to see because mowers had cut down a good one there some years ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2020 at 10:12 AM

  4. This is a lovely photo. it would also be nice to see a closeup of one of the individual stems/seedhead.


    April 22, 2020 at 10:17 AM

    • I did take some closer views of the seedheads but decided to go with the view of the colony. Because so many of the pictures I show here are portraits of individual plants, I balance that with occasional landscape views. (The exception is when I’ve traveled to scenic places, and then landscape photographs have predominated.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2020 at 10:31 AM

  5. There is something like this that grows wild in the few remaining marshes of the Guadalupe River that flows through San Jose. When I was a kid, by great grandfather showed me that something that grew in the marsh like this could be wadded up and stuffed into the soil where corn got planted. He literally cut them into pieces about a foot long, rolled the pieces up, buried them just under the soil, and plugged a corn seed on top of each one. To this day, I can not remember what those leaves were, or why, or even HOW, they benefited the corn. It seems to me that uncomposted vegetation like that would not be good.


    April 22, 2020 at 10:32 AM

    • That might be this species. You can check this map

      to compare the counties in light green to the location of the marshes you mentioned.

      Perhaps a relative of yours remembers what plant your grandfather recommended.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2020 at 12:48 PM

      • It might be, and it is native here; but there are a few other species, both related and not related, that are also native to the same marsh. No one else remembers what it was. My Pa only remember small buckets of fish guts that a neighbor brought over.


        April 22, 2020 at 4:08 PM

  6. It would seem that the bulrushes are painting the clouds.

    Michael Scandling

    April 22, 2020 at 10:55 AM

  7. Interesting as we were in Austin this past winter. I suspect the Office buildings on the MoPac you avoided might have housed our son’s business! A great image, and useful narrative. We observed similar cloud structures during our stay….


    April 22, 2020 at 12:16 PM

    • We were getting unusually many clouds like that around the time I took this picture.

      Mopac runs for some 30 miles, so, considered strictly probabilistically, the chance of a match with your son’s business is small. Nevertheless, coincidences do happen. The office buildings I bent down to exclude would have been around 9600 N. Mopac, so you can check the address of your son’s business to see if it matches.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 22, 2020 at 1:19 PM

      • Close……within a thousand, do not know actual distance.


        April 22, 2020 at 1:32 PM

        • You can put both addresses into a map app to find the distance between them. If your son is interested in nature, you can suggest the pond at the south end of the Arbor Walk shopping compex as a good place for a walk.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 22, 2020 at 1:51 PM

  8. I’m fairly certain these are one of the plants lining the boardwalk and the boardwalk pond at the Brazoria refuge. I’ve known they weren’t cattails, but I never tried to identify them. I’ll take a better look the next time I’m there. As the BONAP map shows, they’re listed as native in Brazoria county.

    The view against the sky does appeal. I like the opposing apparent movements of the clouds and the bulrushes, which adds liveliness to the image.Your hpoto reminded me of my view of grasses from the Nash prairie in 2016. By that time, I’d already absorbed one lesson: get down low, and shoot up.

    Your mention of Mopac brings to mind someone who’s chosen the online name ‘EvilMoPac.’ I laugh every time I come across it.


    April 23, 2020 at 8:21 AM

    • Bulrushes are pretty common around ponds in Austin, and you’re probably right that they’re what you saw at Brazoria. Just be aware that there’s more than one species of Schoenoplectus.

      I see what you mean about your view of grasses against clouds from 2016.

      Mopac is often clogged up, and I assume that’s the genesis of the online name you mentioned. One fringe benefit of the virus is that people now drive around on the main highways with no traffic jams at all. If only things could stay that way afterwards.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2020 at 12:44 PM

  9. Very beautiful composition, Steve.


    April 23, 2020 at 11:03 AM

    • Thanks. As the clouds kept moving, I tried out plenty of compositions during the hour I was there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 23, 2020 at 12:45 PM

  10. A very nice picture – I do love those wispy clouds in the background too!

    M.B. Henry

    April 23, 2020 at 4:33 PM

  11. It seems that there should be a flock of red-winged blackbirds perched in there, merrily chatting away with each other. Well spotted, Steve!


    April 23, 2020 at 4:56 PM

    • The closest to a red-wing blackbird I came was the fact that I have a red car, although in this case I’d driven our white car to the pond. Actually I did see a redwing blackbird here recently, though I forget where.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2020 at 9:17 AM

  12. No bulrushes out our way to my knowledge. Well, we do have defensive ends and linebackers for those but I think that’s a bit different. Nice shot, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    April 25, 2020 at 1:06 PM

  13. Love this!


    May 2, 2020 at 12:37 PM

    • As the background color enhanced the spittlebug bubbles, the wispy clouds were a great way to show off these bulrushes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2020 at 2:23 PM

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