Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Beetle on a buffalo gourd flower

with 44 comments

Somehow I haven’t shown a picture of a buffalo gourd flower here since 2011, so it’s high time to make up for the oversight. That making up is made easy by the fact that on May 15th off Lost Horizon Dr. I found a group of flowering Cucurbita foetidissima vines. The species name indicates that this plant has quite an unpleasant smell—at least to people. The odor seems to have had the opposite effect on the little pollen-bedecked beetle shown here that had come from the flower’s interior out onto its rim.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 14, 2020 at 4:37 AM

44 Responses

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  1. How clever nature is. The good smelling flowers are so attractive to people.
    Did you take it indoor, Steve? It’s a lovely composition.


    June 14, 2020 at 4:55 AM

    • No, this is an outdoor shot. I followed the technique of lining up a sunlit subject with a dark area in the background, in this case a group of shaded trees. The brighter the subject, the darker the camera “sees” the background by comparison. Because I was so close, when I focused on the beetle only the front edge of the flower came into focus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 6:09 AM

    • I should add that in some other shots I was able to get low and line this flower up with a patch of bright sky. The orange against blue makes an attractive color combination.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 6:43 AM

  2. I was admiring squash blossoms yesterday while I was at the local picking farm. They were pretty, but they didn’t have any companions like this nice beetle. They’re always fun to find, but finding one on the very edge of the petal’s a bonus. It’s interesting that the flower has the same yellow and green color scheme as the gourds themselves.


    June 14, 2020 at 5:19 AM

    • A photo I took of a nearby buffalo gourd includes six of these beetles, plus two cucumber beetles, on various parts of a flower. While that shows how much these smelly flowers attract insects, artistically speaking this picture is much better, which is why I chose to show it.

      Your mention of the gourds sent me searching these pages. I found that the only buffalo gourd I ever showed here was one that reminded me of the lunar surface:


      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 6:41 AM

  3. Beautiful composition.


    June 14, 2020 at 6:38 AM

  4. beetles, the most common insect, are essential pollinators.


    June 14, 2020 at 7:19 AM

  5. Yesterday I saw a couple of large patches of horsemint on the the north side of New Hope drive in Cedar Park near the Cedar Park Center. So, If you’re over that way, be on the look-out. I didn’t stop as I was on one of my several trips to a Sherwin Williams store to get the correct paint.

    Jason Frels

    June 14, 2020 at 8:08 AM

  6. In fact, I suspect the odor is designed to attract the beetle. When I enlarged the image it almost looks like the beetle is pushing balls of pollen. Is that what he was doing? This photo is brilliant~just look at the delicate ruffling of the petal edges and that rich color.


    June 14, 2020 at 8:30 AM

    • You could be right about the odor evolving to attract insects. From the plant’s point of view, a fringe benefit is that the odor keeps people away.

      I zoomed in on the beetle in the much larger original photograph and found it’s not pushing balls of pollen; rather individual pollen grains are stuck to the insect, most noticeably on its antennae.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 11:57 AM

      • Ah, ok that makes sense.


        June 15, 2020 at 8:42 AM

  7. Again the dark background highlights amazingly well the bright yellow of the gourd flower. The beetle provides an extra little benefit to your photo, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    June 14, 2020 at 8:45 AM

    • You know me with my bright subjects against dark backgrounds. I took some pictures of these flowers in their own right using that technique but the little beetle adds a nice touch.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 12:00 PM

  8. What a beautiful composition, Steve!

    Lavinia Ross

    June 14, 2020 at 9:50 AM

  9. You brought a fresh perspective to the Buffalo Gourd plant! The way you photographed the blossom makes it appear as a grand beauty of the plains states. I think I let my battle with the plant get the best of me when we first moved here. The year we moved on this place, I tried to eradicate most of them by digging up the roots. Let me tell you, some of them were larger than a football and they were rooted so firmly in the ground it was impossible to get the entire root! Eventually, I believe it was continual mowing of the pasture that finally stopped their growth. We still see them living prolifically on the orchard property. I am told by Native American friends that the plant root has powerful healing qualities, but it can also be highly toxic, and only used by medicine men.


    June 14, 2020 at 10:44 AM

    • It is a grand beauty of the plains states—at least that’s how I view it from a photographic point of view. But then I’m partial to so many of our native plants. Your comments about the difficulties of eradication remind me that when I researched buffalo gourds more than a decade ago I learned how big the roots can get and how far down they often go. In Austin I most often see buffalo gourd vines along the edges of highways, though that’s not where this one was.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 14, 2020 at 2:54 PM

  10. I am plant, nor seen one – obviously. Beautiful composition and a happy beetle.

    Michael Scandling

    June 14, 2020 at 11:04 AM

  11. Well, flowers do what they must to attract pollinators, even if they must smell objectionably.


    June 14, 2020 at 11:40 AM

  12. Gorgeous light, Steve!


    June 14, 2020 at 12:44 PM

  13. Before I read through your comments, I thought you’d found a bonus bug (it looked to me like an ant) slightly behind its head, but I see that it was working with grains of pollen. Strange that they are so dark–or maybe not, as the pollen is obviously darker than those intensely-yellow petals.


    June 15, 2020 at 2:47 AM

    • It may be that what you took to be dark pollen grains is the black spaces delineated by the arcs of the beetle’s antennae. The pollen grains themselves are tiny and pale. The details are easier to see in the full-size image. I may have to go back an add an enlargement of the beetle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 15, 2020 at 7:50 AM

  14. Probably not as foul smelling as a carrion flower but stinky is as stinky smells. Probably like a wafting perfume scent for that beetle. Nice background for the softly hued blossom.

    Steve Gingold

    June 16, 2020 at 6:52 PM

    • I’ve never smelled a carrion flower but I suspect you’re right that it’s a lot worse than buffalo gourd. Some convenient trees in the shade nearby gave me a good background to play the yellow off of.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 16, 2020 at 8:49 PM

  15. […] made plenty of portraits, individually and in small groups. (That’s also where I photographed a beetle on a buffalo gourd flower.) On the way back to my car after working for a couple of hours I noticed the double Mexican hat […]

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