Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A closer look at a clasping-leaf coneflower

with 21 comments

The inflorescence of a clasping-leaf coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis) superficially resembles those of a black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). In fact all three are in the sunflower family’s Heliantheae tribe. One easy way to distinguish the species is to look at the plants’ leaves. Of the three wildflowers, only the clasping-leaf coneflower has leaves that clasp the stem, as the common name indicates. You can see that below—or at least you can imagine how the leaf clasps the stem beneath the mass of spittlebug froth. Actually you can see a bit of the clasping below the bubbles.

These pictures come from the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville on May 7th. You’ve already seen what a whole colony of clasping-leaf coneflowers looked like there on that date.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2020 at 4:33 AM

21 Responses

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  1. Nice pairing with the softer little brother in the background and, of course, speaking of the background..it’s very nice with just a hint of shape. There’s a bit of sap sucking going on in the second.

    Steve Gingold

    May 25, 2020 at 4:58 AM

    • I like the way you put it: “little brother.” I considered adding an in-focus closeup showing that earlier stage but decided the “softer little brother” in the background was cute and would be enough. Your mention of “sap sucker” reminded me first of a kind of bird, the sapsucker, and then of a fabric I haven’t heard mentioned in a long time, seersucker. According to Wikipedia, “The fabric was originally worn by the poor in the U.S. until preppy undergraduate students began wearing it in the 1920s in an air of reverse snobbery.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2020 at 5:52 AM

      • I remember that fabric but never wore any that I can recall.

        Steve Gingold

        May 25, 2020 at 6:07 AM

        • I might have been dressed in some as a young child. I’m pretty sure it was in our household, even if not on me.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 25, 2020 at 6:10 AM

        • In any case, it’s more important for a photographer to be a seer than to have worn seersucker.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 25, 2020 at 6:13 AM

          • On the other hand, seersucker’s one of the coolest fabrics there is. It might not do for trips into the field, but it’s lovely for long summer evenings on the veranda.


            May 25, 2020 at 6:15 AM

            • Veranda is another word that came into English from Hindi—even if Hindi got it from Portuguese, and also got its version of seersucker from Persian. Words, like nature photographers, travel around.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 25, 2020 at 6:21 AM

  2. I found coneflowers galore this weekend. They were massed along the roadside in the San Bernard refuge, and had spread throughout a recently burned area. In contrast, I found exactly one coneflower blooming in the middle of the utility easement that cuts through the trail in a separate area of the refuge. I didn’t think to check which species it was, but the head was remarkably similar to the one you’ve shown here.

    I think that half-and-half image is delightful, and the slightly bedraggled ray flowers brought a smile. By the time I spent a few hours in the heat the humidity, I could relate.


    May 25, 2020 at 6:25 AM

    • As much as I like the various kinds of coneflowers, the math person in me wishes the namers had been more accurate and gone with something like bulletflower, given that a cone tapers at a constant angle and comes to a sharp point. While you weren’t sure about the kind of solo flower you found in the utility easement, did you come to a conclusion about the masses at San Bernard? I know some sources refer to Mexican hats (which are at or near their peak in Austin now) as prairie coneflowers, and to echinacea as purple coneflowers.

      And I, too, have already this year had the bedgraggled feeling that comes from being out for a few hours in the Texas heat—and it’s not even summer yet.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2020 at 6:42 AM

      • The ones alongside the road were clasping-leaf, and they were beautiful, if a little on the downside. I wish I’d been able to get some photos of the ones in the burned areas, but it was quite early, and I was shooting straight into the rising sun, so that didn’t work out so well.


        May 25, 2020 at 6:43 AM

        • One morning last week I went out early and experimented with shooting into the rising sun for a few basket-flower pictures. The results were so-so. Perhaps you’ll make it back to your clasping-leaf coneflower colony before they fade too much, or maybe now that you know the spot you’ll go for a fresh look earlier in the season next year.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 25, 2020 at 10:44 AM

      • How about magmaflower? That central protrusion looks, to me, more like a magma upwelling than a bullet, but I can easily see how you can imagine a bullet too.


        May 25, 2020 at 4:42 PM

        • I’ll confess I never would have thought of magma. Each to his own, just not a cone.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 25, 2020 at 5:20 PM

          • One’s humble cone may be another’s throne. With all the geothermal and volcanic activity around here, that sort of naturally comes to mind,


            May 27, 2020 at 5:59 AM

  3. This is fascinating… I’m sure I would’ve assumed this was a Black-eyed Susan and never noticed this feature. Thanks for the explanation and this lovely clear shots.

    Birder's Journey

    May 25, 2020 at 6:46 AM

    • You’re welcome. The leaves are the easiest give-away that this isn’t a black-eyed susan but they’re not the only difference. The central column in these tends to be greener, and the flower head as a whole has a somewhat rougher look.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2020 at 10:47 AM

  4. I like the photo of the green stem and grasping leaf with the white bubbles. I often find these bubbles in our plants here at the Arrow Lakes but there is also often a little bug inside the bubbles.

    Peter Klopp

    May 25, 2020 at 8:50 AM

    • I’m glad you appreciate the picture of the stem and leaf; for me the shadow is also a desirable element. As in the Arrow Lakes, this froth most likely housed a little critter, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2020 at 10:56 AM

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