Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The Junior League of Austin shows its true colors

with 33 comments

I was sorry a couple of years ago when a property on Bluffstone Drive where I’d been taking nature pictures for a few years became a construction site. Once the building went up, I learned it was the new home of the Junior League of Austin’s Community Impact Center. When we drove by there on May 29th it was apparent that the people in charge of landscaping the site value local native plants and had sown a nice mix of them. The photograph above shows the eye-catching wildflowers fronting Bluffstone Drive. The stacked purple tiers are Monarda citriodora, known as horsemint or beebalm. The red-centered ones with yellow fringes are Gaillardia pulchella, called firewheel or Indian blanket. Here’s a portrait of one of them:

A little later I walked over to one side of the building and found a somewhat spiderwebbed brown-eyed susan, Rudbeckia hirta, among other wildflowers.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 27, 2020 at 4:38 AM

33 Responses

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  1. It does my heart good when I see something like this. There is hope yet!

    Agnes Plutino

    June 27, 2020 at 5:49 AM

    • Yes, there’s hope yet. This is a rare case where the landscaping around a new building here hasn’t consisted of a lawn and a bunch of cultivated alien flowers. I may try to find out who’s responsible for this great collection of native plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 27, 2020 at 7:42 AM

    • Yes, not many put that much thought into such projects nowadays.


      June 27, 2020 at 3:25 PM

  2. The phrase in your title is usually used in a negative sense, so this was a nice surprise to learn that they’ve used native plants.

    Robert Parker

    June 27, 2020 at 6:40 AM

    • I enjoyed playing with the expression “to show one’s true colors,” which as you pointed out usually has a negative connotation but which these wildflowers endowed with a positive sense.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 27, 2020 at 7:45 AM

  3. I really liked the firewheel with its fantastic star-like shape. As I am a little obsessed with symmetry, forgive me, Steve, to mention that one petal appears to be missing.

    Peter Klopp

    June 27, 2020 at 9:22 AM

    • Firewheels are among our best-known and most attractive wildflowers. The spacing of the ray flowers around the central disk isn’t always regular in this species. Sometimes there are gaps between adjacent ray flowers, other times not. I didn’t get the impression that this flower head was missing any rays.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 27, 2020 at 1:28 PM

  4. These are beautiful. It’s wonderful that the new occupant of the lot kept some of the native wildflowers!


    June 27, 2020 at 10:24 AM

    • In this case it’s not so much that the landscaper kept some of the native wildflowers as it is that the landscaper sowed a lot of new seeds. In the years before construction the wildflowers on the property were much sparser than what these pictures show. I went by there again a few hours ago and can report that almost all the horsemints have lost their purple and are drying out now, so it’s a good thing I stopped to take pictures when everything was fresh four weeks ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 27, 2020 at 1:35 PM

      • Your timing is good!


        June 29, 2020 at 8:58 AM

        • I’m also reminded that there must have been other good places that I didn’t happen to visit when they were in their springtime prime. One can’t be everywhere.

          Steve Schwartzman

          June 29, 2020 at 11:20 AM

          • You may remember my mention of our local garden club’s ‘wildflower project’: a large patch of flowers that was planted in a median and then mown down repeatedly. This year, it escaped the mowers, and flowers have been blooming there for a couple of weeks. I haven’t parked and walked over to see what’s there, but they look like non-native poppies to me. There certainly haven’t been any Monarda, Gaillardia, or other recognizable natives. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

            Speaking of development, I was shocked by what I found on the Willow City loop recently. I’d gone up to Kerrville last weekend to visit with my elderly friend; we spent Sunday driving the Medina/Tarpley/Hunt loop, and I went over to Willow City on Monday. The second half of that loop — the northerly portion that goes down the hill, following Willow Creek — has been destroyed. It was filled with heavy equipment, downed trees, and scalped earth. Both sides of the creek have been completely cleared: willows, oaks, and wildflowers turned into long stretches of red dirt. I had intended to spend the day focused on that part of the loop, but that part of the loop was gone. I’m still not over it. I’m going to call the Willow City volunteer fire department today to see if I can find out what’s going on. The details don’t matter much, of course. I hope whoever’s developing the area is as wise as your Junior League.


            July 1, 2020 at 6:18 AM

            • Oh, I’m sorry to hear it. The Willow City Loop is still pretty rural, so I wouldn’t have expected the kind of development you described way out there. Let me know if you find out anything.

              Maybe you can arrange for a talk to your local garden club. The subject, of course, would be the value of native plants, something that people in garden clubs often have no concept of. At least the median escaped mowing for a change, maybe because of the virus. Not so a median here on Morado Circle, which has been kept mowed to the ground all year long so far.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 1, 2020 at 7:02 AM

              • I talked with the VFD’s chief, and the answer’s not surprising: Austin developers. I’m not sure why that amused me; perhaps they’re running out of land in your area and are expanding their holdings. The chief said another reality’s affecting development trends. A lot of people are selling homes in California, coming to the area, buying huge plots of land, and building two or three times the house they had previously at a cost that leaves them with money in their pockets.

                In the midst of our conversation, we discovered that we saw and waved to one another along the road on Monday — but that’s a story I’ll save for my blog.


                July 1, 2020 at 1:12 PM

                • Can’t say I’m surprised about Austin developers being behind what you saw. Subdivisions keep moving out in all directions. I’d heard about people moving here from California and getting so much more for their money. At the same time, Austin has gotten more and more expensive. When I moved here in 1976, Austin was the least expensive large city in the state to live in. From what I’ve heard, it’s now the most expensive. That just goes to show you how much more expensive California is.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 1, 2020 at 6:19 PM

  5. Beautiful portraits, Steve. I’m glad to see landscapers using native plants, such a win-win.

    Eliza Waters

    June 27, 2020 at 5:23 PM

  6. Oh, high praise for the folks willing and eager to preserve the wildflowers in a construction scenario. When the access road to our cabin was paved several years ago, we went out of our way (as did a good number of neighbors) to ensure that the seed mix that they sowed was one consisting solely of natives. And they have flourished, to everyone’s delight.


    June 28, 2020 at 4:32 AM

    • Yes, the sowers here did a good job of restricting the mix to local natives. The only interlopers I observed were a few stalks of an alien wild lettuce, which could have come in after the fact, given how common it is around Austin. After a little wildflower area was set up at an entrance to Great Hills Park last years, I noticed several kinds of wildflowers coming up that I knew weren’t native here and not all of which I could even identify. This year that plot came up better, with only a couple of things that didn’t belong.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 28, 2020 at 7:25 AM

  7. I enjoyed reading positive news about a new building. Thoughtful landscaping is a plus.


    June 28, 2020 at 5:07 AM

  8. I love all those saturated colors! I envy you your Monarda species. The Indian Blanket image is wonderful. It kind of reminds me of a goldfish that has fanned out its fins. That is such good news that they made up for their building by planting natives. Good for them! Just think how the world would look if everyone did that with their properties, instead of lawns.


    June 28, 2020 at 9:41 AM

    • Indian blanket is one of the favorite wildflowers in Texas—understandably so. Horsemints may not be as well known, though still pretty common. They vary a lot in the intensity of their purple, from almost none to the rich hue you see here. This was the first spring I saw such a colorful array at this site; I’m curious what will happen for the rest of the year and then next spring.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 28, 2020 at 4:53 PM

  9. Firewheel lives up to its name.

    Michael Scandling

    June 28, 2020 at 11:15 AM

    • It sure does. I learned this wildflower under the name Indian blanket but have largely switched to firewheel, which with two syllables instead of five comes right to the point.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 28, 2020 at 4:55 PM

  10. How lovely to see those flowers … wonderful that they were sown! How I love bee balm .. nearly as much as the bees. As always thanks for sharing Steve, super images


    June 29, 2020 at 2:20 PM

    • Thanks, Julie. I’m happy to share this floral bounty. Even if these flowers were sown, horsemints can form large colonies by themselves here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 29, 2020 at 3:17 PM

  11. How fortunate that the developers decided to landscape with wildflowers rather than concrete and parking spaces. And how fortunate that you drove by and made these images. It is not often that a flowered space is built up and retains some of the natural value it had prior.

    Steve Gingold

    July 2, 2020 at 3:05 AM

    • The building does have driveways and a garage and sidewalks, but the parts of the property not needed for utilitarian things were left natural. A path was even put in to act as a nature walk around one side and into the back, and native wildflower seeds were sown in various places.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 2, 2020 at 6:52 AM

  12. […] to the ground and aiming slightly upward. I made this portrait along Bluffstone Drive in front of the Junior League of Austin on May […]

  13. […] July 6th the season for horsemints (Monarda citriodora) was well past its peak. Nevertheless, on that day I still found several fresh plants near Yaupon Drive. One horsemint […]

  14. […] These pictures date from June 2nd at the Junior League of Austin,which was looking good but not as fabulously floriferous as in the spring of 2020. […]

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