Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

All yellow

with 40 comments

Normally the flower heads of Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheel and Indian blanket, have red rays with yellow tips. Every once in a while you get a flower head whose rays are completely yellow. In the full-size version of the first picture I counted four of them (and could distinguish them from the yellow greenthread flower heads mixed in). The second photograph gives you a much closer look at an all-yellow firewheel. Both views are from a “vacant” lot in northwest Austin on May 19.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 10, 2020 at 4:31 AM

40 Responses

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  1. I like your use of the quotation marks for “vacant:” It’s most definitely not, and there’s lots to support that!


    June 10, 2020 at 4:52 AM

  2. BTW, You’re up very late (or very early), but nice to see you posting at any time!


    June 10, 2020 at 4:54 AM

    • I almost always schedule my posts, sometimes far in advance (for example for an anniversary), so there’s not necessarily a correspondence between the time stamped on a post and my being awake.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2020 at 6:49 AM

  3. Wandering a field of firewheels is always like a treasure hunt; I’ve found orange and pink, and just once I found yellow. Looking at your photo, I noticed what seems to be a white one in the upper right quadrant. Is that so?

    There was something about the one in the closeup that seemed both familiar and different. I finally figured out that the spacing of the ray flowers reminded me of Gaillardia aestivalis, the so-called lanceleaf blanket flower. I wonder if this one’s doubly different: wholly yellow, and also a different species than the surrounding G. pulchella. Of course it reminds me of the white firewheel, too: G. aestivalis var. winkleri.


    June 10, 2020 at 5:37 AM

    • I checked the full-size image again but I don’t see a white firewheel in the upper right quadrant. Sizing a photograph down so far reduces details and can be misleading.

      Years ago, after I came across white-tipped and yellow variants, I corresponded with a botanist who knew a lot about the species. He told me that it’s quite variable. Whether the yellow one in the second picture goes further and is a different species, I wish I knew enough to tell.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2020 at 7:09 AM

  4. It seems there is variation in the shape and spacing of the rays, as well, even among the red, yellow tipped rays.


    June 10, 2020 at 5:52 AM

    • That’s a good observation. In reply to the previous comment I just wrote that after I came across white-tipped and yellow variants some years ago, I corresponded with a botanist who knew a lot about the species, and he told me that it’s quite variable.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2020 at 7:12 AM

  5. Great photo of another floral blanket, Steve! If one took the seeds of the all-yellow flower, I wonder if you would get more of this kind of flower. The law of genetics would suggest this outcome.

    Peter Klopp

    June 10, 2020 at 7:53 AM

    • The fact that four yellow firewheels were scattered in this larger group of reds seems to suppost your point. Once the flowers fall off, there’s no way to know which seed heads were the special ones. To collect seeds I’d have had to mark the yellow flowers while they were fresh, which I didn’t do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2020 at 1:49 PM

  6. That field is beautiful and I love those flowers. I have wanted to plant some but never have. I really am no good in the garden.


    June 10, 2020 at 4:06 PM

    • I’m not a gardener, either. I’m happy to enjoy and document what grows wild—which fortunately we have plenty of here, as you’ve been seeing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 10, 2020 at 4:52 PM

  7. Do fire wheels explode? I think they do.

    Michael Scandling

    June 11, 2020 at 2:09 AM

  8. A pleasant surprise! I thought the Gaillardia pulchella lacking the red pigmentation were restricted to the greenbelt behind my house. Unfortunately, I thought, they had all been mowed down on May 26 by some overzealous mowers. Some more have appeared within the greenbelt where it will be more difficult to eradicate them.
    A botanist I know who has identified a few of the “first finds” I’ve found in my county assured me that the lack of red pigmentation was just a random genetic variant and not indicative of a new species. Whether one could try to cultivate the variant to see if it “held,” would have to be done by a nursery, I suppose. Like the ones in your photo, “my” yellow Firewheels also appear interspersed among the more common red center to yellow tips. The last couple of years there have been some in the same location. – previously they were in different locations in the greenbelt.
    Hoping your “vacant” lot stays “vacant” for a while.


    June 11, 2020 at 1:40 PM

    • This is the place I told you about shortly after I was there. I’m sure hoping it stays “vacant,” too. It seems to belong to a small apartment building that’s currently shuttered, but I expect mowers will still do their depredations. I’ve also found yellow firewheels on the other side of Great Hills Park in my own neighborhood. They don’t seem to be limited geographically, but as you said are genetic variants that can occur anywhere. Someone else suggested I gather seeds from the yellow firewheels but I’d have had to mark the few heads that were yellow, which I didn’t do.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 11, 2020 at 2:02 PM

      • Sorry, I apparently forgot that you told me about this field… (I Blame The Parkinson’s©)


        June 16, 2020 at 7:38 PM

        • Right. I could forgo the yellow firewheel behind your house because I’d come across these only days earlier.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 16, 2020 at 8:51 PM

  9. Terrific capture, Steve. When I see anomalies like that sometimes I imagine a role reversal – how excited we’d be if Gaillardias were all yellow, and suddenly a red and yellow one popped up. This one’s awfully pretty though. 🙂


    June 13, 2020 at 8:06 PM

  10. What a stunning eruption of flowers and colours!


    June 14, 2020 at 4:57 AM

    • Your comment lets me say again that this is “merely” one more typical Texas wildflower display. You’ll have to come see it in person someday.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 6:12 AM

  11. I wish our vacant lots looked so beautiful!


    June 15, 2020 at 3:32 AM

  12. Just goes to show that there is more individuality in Nature than we realize. And kudos to you for finding that needle in a firewheel stack.

    Steve Gingold

    June 17, 2020 at 3:32 AM

    • My father favored individualism.

      If I’m remembering right, whenever I’ve found a yellow firewheel it’s been accompanied by a few others close by, as was the case here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 17, 2020 at 6:36 AM

  13. That second image is wonderful Steve. It’s an image of such diversely shaped firewheels, with the oddity of the yellow one.


    June 18, 2020 at 11:52 PM

  14. Steve, your wildflower photos are the most exquisite real life representation of what they are. I have always been fascinated with wildflowers up until now and they remind me of my carefree childhood. I hope you won’t mind me using some of your photos as my references in my watercolour paintings. I have posted some of my wildflower paintings in our instagram page called theplant_kingdom. I have only googled some of my references but I find yours absolutely beautiful.

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