Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two stages of a Texas thistle

with 40 comments

Around the pond at the Arbor Walk on April 15th I saw several stages of Texas thistles (Cirsium texanum),
including these two. Both views include blue, first looking down toward the water, then up at the sky.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2020 at 4:53 PM

40 Responses

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  1. It’s amazing how you’ve achieved such a beautiful photo of a thistle head in that first photo, it’s really lovely!

    Ms. Liz

    April 28, 2020 at 4:56 PM

    • I’m happy you’re impressed with the portrait of the opening thistle bud. I got into a position where I could line the bud up with a patch of water. By pure chance darker areas surrounding the bluet created a vignette around the bud.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2020 at 6:57 PM

  2. One of my favourite flowers. And you photographed it so beautifully.


    April 28, 2020 at 5:12 PM

  3. I find the different stages of thistles very attractive to photograph, Steve. The ones that resemble stars are my favorites (maybe you know what I’m referring to).


    April 28, 2020 at 6:46 PM

  4. There’s quite a profusion of thistles in northern Minnesota, but unfortunately they’re the invasive Russian varitety. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed watching them grow and photographing them for many years. The insects sure love it when they’re in bloom!


    April 28, 2020 at 7:32 PM

    • Yeah, we have some invasive Eurasian thistles in Texas, too. Because I highlight only native species here, I haven’t photographed the alien ones, which of course are just as interesting artistically, and from what you say just as appealing to insects (though that isn’t the case for all alien species). The Texas thistle has a very pleasant aroma, so I made sure I sniffed some of the flower heads I found.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2020 at 8:07 PM

  5. I like them both, but I like the first one better. This is unusual for me because I usually prefer the fully bloomed flower. This reminds me of the beautiful botanical drawings of a century or two ago, but expressed as a photograph.

    Michael Scandling

    April 28, 2020 at 9:01 PM

    • I think I’ve done thistle portraits like the second one before, as I’ve often used the sky as a background. And while I’ve portrayed many opening thistle buds, as far as I recall the background in the first picture is unique. Interesting that it reminded you of an old botanical drawing. One difference is that in a drawing all the parts would be sharp, something I couldn’t manage in this photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 28, 2020 at 9:12 PM

  6. I like a good spiky bristly thistle, but that purple color is beautiful.

    Robert Parker

    April 28, 2020 at 9:53 PM

  7. It’s hard to believe that these are photos of the same plant, the Texas thistle.

    Peter Klopp

    April 29, 2020 at 12:26 AM

    • You raise a good point. The bud as it’s beginning to open shows only a little of the pink that will soon dominate. Variety is the photographer’s friend.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2020 at 6:18 AM

  8. These certainly do present a variety of opportunities for creative images. I was surprised last weekend to see so many already covered in fluff. The last time I was out, the yellow thistle (Cirsium horridulum) was blooming everywhere, but I didn’t see a single one of these in bloom. Now, the yellow are fading away, and the Texas thistle predominates.

    I like the way you’ve used the disk flowers in the second photo to obscure all the busyness underneath.


    April 29, 2020 at 7:36 AM

    • When there are no rays, all discussion turns to the other kind of flowers. As I recall, I found just one of these thistles that had already turned to fluff. Central Texas is apparently behind you in the progression .

      I wish Cirsium horridulum grew in Austin. That thistle offers so many possibilities for portraits, and different ones from what the texanum species does. Some years ago at what had been Austin’s airport I was happily surprised to find what Bill Carr calls a waif, meaning a stray plant outside its traditional range. Normally I have to go at least as far east as Bastrop for the possibility of running across any.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2020 at 7:50 AM

      • In the same way, I have to get down to the Rockport area before I see any purple C. horridulum. It was a great surprise to see its bloom color listed as pink on the wildflower.org site, although the name ‘yellow thistle’ is included. Even with floral real estate, it’s a matter of location, location, location.


        April 29, 2020 at 7:59 AM

  9. The photo of the bud against that gently colored background is a real knockout. It is worth looking closely at a thistle bud, with all that sharp detail. (See what I did there? 🙂 )
    While the second image brings to mind a triumphal hoorah from a marching band.


    April 29, 2020 at 8:04 AM

    • Sharp detail indeed: thistle prickles have often enough treated my skin as a hotel.

      I’m happy to have you call the first view a knockout. It’s yet another instance of background, background, background. I take it the flower head in the second picture conjured up memories of pompoms. Now you’re a floral cheerleader.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 29, 2020 at 8:13 AM

      • I guess I didn’t put it the way I meant. I was thinking of the symphonic climax, with the cymbals crashing and all the brass crescendoing to the big, triumphant note.


        May 1, 2020 at 9:24 AM

        • Thanks for the clarification. It doesn’t invalidate your membership in the Wildflower Cheerleaders of America.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 1, 2020 at 2:09 PM

  10. A thistle flower by another other view would be as prickly.

    Steve Gingold

    April 29, 2020 at 5:58 PM

  11. I love how you’re able to isolate your subject from a busy background! I tried to do that this morning with a dandelion sans success! BTW the Dandelions here do not have curly T tops like they do in CA! I was taken aback by that! I have to find out what kind of Dandelion we have here!

    I’ll work on isolating the subject as well as you dol


    April 30, 2020 at 12:14 AM

    • In the two decades that I’ve been doing nature photography in Austin I’ve often parodied the real estate slogan about the three most important things being location, location, and location. In nature photography it’s often isolation, isolation, isolation. Usually that means bending down or sitting alongside my subject, and sometimes even lying down to get below the subject in order to have everything visible beyond the subject be well out of focus.

      The common dandelion that everyone had in their lawns on Long Island when I was growing up (and presumably now too) came from Europe. Some places have their own native dandelion-type flower; Texas is one such place. I’m afraid I don’t know about California.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2020 at 11:39 AM

  12. I think thistles are beautiful and we have some growing on our property. They are considered invasive here. How do you feel about getting rid of them?


    May 2, 2020 at 12:34 PM

    • Both natives and aliens can be invasive. My predilection is to get rid of aliens and leave natives. I do understand, though, that when natives take over to an unnatural degree people may need to cut them back.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2020 at 2:17 PM

  13. Both are super shots Steve! There are thistles in NZ but thankfully not too many at Frog Pond Farm 🙂


    May 5, 2020 at 2:14 AM

    • I can see where thistles would be a hindrance on a farm. In contrast, as a photographer I can focus on their forms and colors while not having to live with the disadvantages.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 5, 2020 at 5:56 AM

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