Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Four views of Ashe junipers

with 43 comments

If you’d been out on the morning of May 29th in central Texas last year you’d have taken pictures of the great wispy clouds, too. I did so from a bunch of places, including a property at the corner of Bagdad Road and Brashear Lane in Cedar Park. I’d never worked there before and I don’t know if I will again, given the rapid development that’s been taking place in that area for years.* In the photograph above, the clouds served as a backdrop for a line of Ashe junipers (Juniperus ashei), the most common and widely distributed evergreen tree we have in central Texas. Below, from my own front yard on June 17th, you get a closeup of an Ashe juniper trunk that shows how these trees usually have stringy bark and also sometimes develop a corrugated texture.

From July 13th near Old Lampasas Trail, here are two more views. The first shows how a slew of dry leaves fallen from an Ashe juniper covered the ground so thoroughly you can’t detect any of the earth beneath them.

And below you see a shaft of sunlight on one Ashe juniper that was particularly sinuous.


* When I started taking pictures in Cedar Park in the late 1970s, it seemed way out in the country and its population was in the hundreds. Now home to about 80,000 people, it’s the second-largest suburb of Austin and there’s no break between it and the northernmost part of the city.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 18, 2020 at 4:42 AM

43 Responses

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  1. The Alligator Juniper is my all time favorite southwest tree. Mesquite and Palo Verde are close in the running. Your take on the Ashe Juniper is fun and interesting.


    July 18, 2020 at 6:40 AM

    • I first saw an alligator juniper, and the bark that accounts for its name, in west Texas. Mesquite and paloverde, which both conveniently grow in Austin, have appeared often enough in these pages. Ashe junipers, being so common here, gave me plenty of chances for views that were quite different from one another.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 7:41 AM

  2. I like the way junipers smell, I guess “cedar” is the only description that comes to mind, but I’ve enjoyed it on trips to the West or SW. You’ve mentioned real estate developments many times in your posts. I’ve never visited Texas or California, but always thought of LA as the epitome of sprawling cities, but I see San Antonio covers nearly as many sq miles, and Houston is considerably bigger.

    Robert Parker

    July 18, 2020 at 8:00 AM

    • You have to careful how you measure Houston, though, because parts of it go underwater when a heavy rainstorm comes through. If those storms become frequent enough, Houston may end up no bigger than Seneca Falls.

      The reason Anglo settlers mistakenly called junipers cedars is the similar scent of the wood.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 8:39 AM

    • Real estate development in Austin has become such a big factor for me—and one I’ve often mentioned, as you pointed out—because I’ve lost so many sites where I once took nature pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 9:08 AM

  3. The corrugated trunk and stringy bark is very unusual. I have never seen anything like it! With junipers of all sorts, I find that strong winds often play a part in the twists and bends the limbs and branches take. They can be quite beautiful.


    July 18, 2020 at 8:03 AM

  4. My dad, toward the end of his life, observed that humans have become a cancerous tumor on the Earth and I’m afraid he’s right.
    This is a marvelous tree, and I particularly like the last image. It is a fun coincidence to see this because I am researching alligator gars for a commission I am working on.


    July 18, 2020 at 8:23 AM

    • I’m more familiar with the French word gars (pronounced gah), which means ‘guy’ or ‘guys,’ than with gars that are fishes. For you it’s the reverse.

      WordPress dulled down the last image. I’m relieved it still came across to you as appealing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 8:56 AM

      • I am so often disappointed by how images look on WP. But yes, your image is still appealing.


        July 19, 2020 at 8:28 AM

        • Good, glad to hear it. To try to compensate for WP’s dulling down I made a more contrasty version, but it obscured too much of the shadow detail, so I stayed with the version you see here.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 19, 2020 at 11:34 AM

          • I’ve tried that too. Have you tried the new block editor? I’m wishing they would leave us old people alone and let us use what we’re used to.


            July 20, 2020 at 8:18 AM

    • Melissa, I wrote about alligator gars here. If you want, I should be able to put you in touch with the fellow pictured in the post, as well as a woman who makes jewelry from alligator gar scales. Just drop me an email.


      July 18, 2020 at 8:03 PM

      • I can’t remember if I ever mentioned that the name of this fish comes from Old English gār, which meant ‘spear.’ It’s the same as the first part of garlic, literally ‘spear leek.’

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 18, 2020 at 10:51 PM

      • I’m so glad you sent me a link to that post~it is delightful! I’ve always thought it must take a certain kind of person to live in a wetland. Wetlands are my second favorite habitat, but for all that I adore them I couldn’t live there as they do. I have so much respect for them. Isn’t it just like city folk to barge in and start having opinions about the denizens! They should probably stay in the city.
        Thank you for your kind offer but I have found the information I need to proceed.


        July 19, 2020 at 8:26 AM

  5. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this tree. I like your vignetted black and white image and the wispy clouds.

    The more I hear and see images of Austin the more it sounds like Silicon Valley…too crowded! I don’t miss it at. all.


    July 18, 2020 at 8:33 AM

    • May 29th was the best day for wispy clouds here in a long time. I took many pictures of them in the morning and again in the afternoon.

      In the United States the Ashe juniper is at its most abundant in central Texas. It occurs to some extent in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and the southern fringe of Missouri. I see you’ve got some other juniper species in Nevada:


      Yes, metropolitan Austin has grown a lot and keeps on doing so. One fringe benefit of the pandemic is that for the past few months I’ve been able to drive around and not have to worry about getting stuck in traffic jams.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 9:19 AM

      • Ha! You found a bright side! 😀 I’ll check out that link. I’ve seen several different types of pines up here in the mountains. Just last week I saw and learned about the Lodge-pine. There’s a grove of them that are warped and bent in all sorts of weird ways. I learned when they were saplings the snows of winter bent them over and from there they grew weird. I’ll have to start taking photos of them without people posing by them. 😀


        July 18, 2020 at 9:28 AM

  6. The stress of increasing urbanization must be a heavy blow to wildlife and wildflowers alike.

    Peter Klopp

    July 18, 2020 at 8:41 AM

    • It is. As with people under duress, some plants and animals deal with it better than others. In fact some plants and animals even thrive in contact with people.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 9:21 AM

      • For example, sunflowers are good at springing up in ground disturbed by construction; grackles make a living hanging out in parking lots and grabbing scraps of food that people have dropped or discarded.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 18, 2020 at 9:50 AM

  7. I like the quilted pattern on the bark. What is the wood inside like? Does it show a similar pattern?

    Lavinia Ross

    July 18, 2020 at 9:48 AM

    • You raise a good question: I don’t know how far inside the trunk the “quilting” continues. On the outing that provided the last two pictures in this post I also photographed the cut stump of a burned Ashe juniper; it’ll give you a look at the interior:

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 10:02 AM

      • A woodworker I knew in Mountain Home had a good supply of ‘heart cedar,’ the heart-shaped section of old growth cedar that is reddish, and resembles a heart. He refused to divulge the location, but the book The Cedar Choppers reports that good heart cedar still can be found around Leakey and Kerr county, and adds:

        “The wood of the heart is saturated with an oil that repels insects and makes it highly resistant to rotting. Across the Hill Country you’ll find places where the cedar was cut fifty to a hundred years ago, and the old stumps [still have] enough oil to make a blazing fire or to extract for perfume and other uses. It’s the heart cedar in Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei) that makes it the post that fenced the west, and cedar choppers are contemptuous of new growth cedar, which they call sap cedar.”

        By the way — the book has been great fun because so many places mentioned in your blog — Bull Creek, Bee Cave Road, and so on — are a part of the narrative.

        Here’s a photo of a turned bowl made of Ashe juniper — the one on the right. I’ve seen beautiful slabbed tables, fireplace mantles, and benches made from old growth cedar, too. There are people who scour the countryside for the old logs stashed in barns and out behind machine sheds.


        July 18, 2020 at 8:52 PM

        • I remember when you introduced me to that book. Of the place names, I suspect Bull Creek is the one I’ve brought up the most often here.

          People who don’t like Ashe junipers because they believe they draw up too much water can be happy to think of the trees being cut down to make objects like the ones you’ve mentioned. Bois d’arc wood also resists rotting, but it’s in much shorter supply here than the seemingly ubiquitous Ashe junipers.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 18, 2020 at 11:07 PM

  8. Great shots, all, but I love both of the trunk/bark photos. Ashe junipers have an undeserved bad rep, but they’re such an excellent wildlife plant.


    July 18, 2020 at 9:58 AM

    • I also favor the trunk/bark pictures. I’d been meaning for a long time to show the interesting texture of the Ashe juniper in our front yard; I finally did. The picture with the shaft of sunlight should have more zing than the duller version WordPress let appear.

      More than a decade ago I attended a presentation at the Austin chapter of the Native Plant Society in which a woman campaigned to lift the Ashe juniper out of the ill repute in which some people hold it. Here’s an article about her project:


      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 10:14 AM

  9. I love junipers, but haven’t encountered this species yet. Ashei made me look for the person after whom it is named, and Mr. William Willard Ashe sounds like a very deserving namesake.


    July 18, 2020 at 8:03 PM

    • Some people confuse the name and think it’s ash juniper, perhaps imagining a color tending toward the gray of ashes. You’re now among the few who know that the species is named after William Willard Ashe.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2020 at 10:44 PM

  10. Ah, Steven, so well captured, especially those textures….

    marina kanavaki

    July 20, 2020 at 10:11 AM

    • With my linguistic and photographic interests you might say I’m a fan of text and texture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 20, 2020 at 3:40 PM

      • 🤣Oh, I do see that!!! 😉

        marina kanavaki

        July 21, 2020 at 3:06 AM

        • The use of text to refer to words is figurative. The underlying Latin root had various related ‘to join, fit together, plait, braid, interweave, construct, make, fabricate.’ It’s related to Greek τέκτων, as in ἀρχιτέκτων.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 21, 2020 at 6:04 AM

  11. Nice set Steve! I like what you chose to do with the last. The dark vignette and almost B&W color work well together.


    July 20, 2020 at 11:09 AM

    • I added the fourth picture at the last minute and am glad I did. Good of you to pick up on the almost black and white. I mentioned to another commenter that WordPress dulled down the last image somewhat; the original has better tonality, so I’m relieved you and others still appreciated what came across here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 20, 2020 at 3:44 PM

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