Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Nerve-ray and white heliotrope flowers

with 33 comments

From July 6th near Yaupon Drive, here’s a nerve-ray flower head (Tetragonotheca texana) with a colony of white heliotropes (Heliotropium tenellum) serving softly in the background as what could be puffs of cotton or little cumulus clouds. Because I’ve never shown that second species here before, I’ve added a picture from the same outing that looks straight down at a heliotrope colony so you can see those tiny flowers in their own right; each one is at most 3/16 of an inch, or about 5mm, across. It’s a month later now and the nerve-rays (which are also called squarebud daisies) have pretty much finished up; I still see scattered white heliotropes, and a local field guide says to expect them as late as October in central Texas.

Here’s a related quotation for today: “We mustn’t always rush on! We must sometimes stop to smell the flowers along the wayside.” According to The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, this advice was given during a 1942 music rehearsal led by Dr. F. Melius Christiansen. The Mac Davis song of 1974 changed the generic flowers to roses. In any case, I recommend sniffing a nerve-ray flower head because it’s one of the rare DYCs (darn yellow composites) that’s fragrant.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 7, 2020 at 4:40 AM

33 Responses

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  1. Today on the hottest day of the year it’s simply impossible to rush. It’s even too hot to go out and smell the roses. I love fragrant flowers and I’m happy to see that the nerve-ray so beautifully captured is one to sniff. Which is your favourite fragrant flower?


    August 7, 2020 at 8:03 AM

  2. I like the way you created the background for the nerve-ray flower using the white heliotrope flowers. Taking time to smell the flowers is good advice for all of us living in a hectic world. Photography too helps us to slow down and focus on the things nature has to offer. ‘Slow down, you are going too fast …’

    Peter Klopp

    August 7, 2020 at 8:11 AM

    • You might say the white heliotrope flowers look better out of focus than in. They certainly did the trick as a soft backdrop for the nerve-ray. I also managed to get them to perform the same service for a zexmenia flower head, but I couldn’t show both pictures here ’cause they’re too similar.

      Your last words remind me of the first lines in a song by a fellow New Yorker, named after a bridge in that city: “Slow down, you move too fast / You got to make the morning last.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 7, 2020 at 8:27 AM

      • That was the song I had in mind. I knew you would recognize it.

        Peter Klopp

        August 7, 2020 at 9:26 AM

        • Yes, and I’ve been over the 59th Street Bridge many times in my life. Amazingly, there never has been a toll on it, so in the 1960s I would often take it to avoid paying the 25¢ on some of the other bridges (which are now up to a whopping $9.50).

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 7, 2020 at 9:41 AM

          • I used to see this bridge all the time from Peter Detmold Park in Manhattan.


            August 7, 2020 at 3:10 PM

            • Not having heard of that park, I looked it up and found it’s on the East River Drive between 49th and about 51st St. I understand how you’d have a good view of the bridge from there. I also noticed on the map that the other name of the bridge I was familiar with, the Queensboro, has been sullied by the addition of a politician’s name. Yukk, say I.

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 7, 2020 at 3:24 PM

              • It’s a quiet park, I enjoyed it when I worked in the city. I agree, I still call it the Queensboro lol


                August 7, 2020 at 3:28 PM

  3. That is a very nice image of the nerve-ray flower. You can see the squareness. The heliotrope looks similar to the stellaria I see here.


    August 7, 2020 at 8:23 AM

    • The squareness is still apparent at this stage, as you pointed out. It’s even more prominent in the buds, which you can see in the second picture at https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2018/05/25/fragrance-where-you-dont-normally-find-it/.

      We have the alien Stellaria media (chickweed) here. I see from Bill Carr’s plant list that we also have the native Stellaria cuspidata var. prostrata, but he says it’s rare here, and I wasn’t even aware of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 7, 2020 at 8:35 AM

      • Ah! I sense a treasure hunt!


        August 9, 2020 at 8:58 AM

        • I think not: the plant is rare here; I can’t find many photographs of it, and those that I have found make me believe this species doesn’t look very different from the invasive chickweed.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 9, 2020 at 9:06 AM

          • Oh yea, we have a few look-alike chickweeds here, some native, some not. I am not pursuing it either.


            August 11, 2020 at 8:52 AM

  4. The cotton ball background looks great, very successful idea.
    I would never have thought to look those little white flowers under heliotrope, I’ve only known it as a much different-looking garden flower, and always in dark purple, and with a great fragrance. And since you’ve been talking about music – – Scott Joplin wrote a ragtime piece “Heliotrope Bouquet.” I just looked it up, and it’s described as a “slow drag two-step,” which doesn’t sound very fun, but actually a pretty great tune. My parents have a bunch of ragtime records & CDs by a pianist who used to live/perform in the NYC area, Max Morath. I looked him up, too, and he’s back in Colorado, where he’s from, and still active at the age of 93.

    Robert Parker

    August 7, 2020 at 12:11 PM

    • When I saw the picture on the back of my camera I was happy with the way the background looked so amorphous, and I knew I was onto something. These little-flowered wild heliotropes are the only ones I know, even though I was familiar with the word heliotrope (‘turning toward the sun’) long before I got interested in native plants. But I wasn’t familiar with Scott Joplin’s “Heliotrope Bouquet” so I listened to it on YouTube—except the pianist wasn’t Max Morath. Good for him: 93 and still going.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 7, 2020 at 3:08 PM

  5. Nice flower and great background.

    Steve Gingold

    August 7, 2020 at 6:41 PM

    • You’ve heard me say it many times: pay attention to background, background, and background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 7, 2020 at 8:20 PM

  6. Nice background on the nerve-ray. Your quote of the day is a timely one for me. I’ve been doing way too much lately, and have decided my constant work is a not-so-healthy coping skill for stress. I wish the insect population wasn’t such a nuisance right now, or I’d be taking a leisurely hike to the river and back to see what treasures I could find to photograph.


    August 7, 2020 at 8:53 PM

    • The soft background certainly made the portrait of the nerve-ray.

      I’m sorry to hear you’re so burdened with work now. From what you’ve said, it’s way too much, so maybe some slowing down is in order. My grandmother used to quote a Russian proverb: Тише едешь, дальше будешь, pronounced Tishe yedesh, dalshe budesh, which we might translate as ‘If you slow down, you’ll get farther.’

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 7, 2020 at 11:40 PM

      • I love the simplicity of that Russian proverb. The pronunciation makes it fun to say and easy to remember.


        August 8, 2020 at 6:44 AM

        • Ah, but can you say it with my grandmother’s Russian accent?

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 8, 2020 at 7:59 AM

          • I’m fairly good with the heft and thickness of German (I don’t speak it, just know a few phrases from my grandmother), so I bet I could!! Around Nebraska the Russians are considered a tough and hard working people. Good friends to have!


            August 8, 2020 at 9:54 AM

  7. Fine portrait of the nerve-ray, beautiful background, pretty OOF rendering.


    August 7, 2020 at 9:34 PM

  8. The first photo has an air of delightful delicacy. Whether it’s the soft green and white background or the light (or a combination of both), the greens and yellows of the flower seem different in a way I can’t quite describe. Perhaps because of the long stem and the general gracefulness of the image, it seems like a flower Alphonse Mucha could have created.


    August 9, 2020 at 6:30 PM

    • I approve of your suggested DD (delightful delicacy). I think a rather shallow depth of field contributes to the ineffable quality you mentioned in the following sentence. It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone mention Alphonse Mucha; I’m happy to think of him having lent some of his style to Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 9, 2020 at 6:37 PM

  9. A beautiful single flower, and group too! I like the way you stop to smell the flowers.


    August 10, 2020 at 8:10 AM

    • Just remember that each “flower” in the sunflower family is actually a collection small florets. Every “petal” is a ray floret, and each “thingie” in the center is a disc floret, so the first picture shows several dozen individual flowers. With nerve-ray, I always stop to breathe in the scent, even though it sometimes make me sneeze.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 10, 2020 at 12:07 PM

  10. I wondered if you had mentioned any other heliotrope species in your blog, and here they are. I’m a little surprised that this ‘pasture heliotrope’ looks so different from the ones I found at Walden West; their soil preference certainly differs. In any event, they’re now on my ‘to be looked for’ list. You actually showed them nearly a decade ago, in tandem with some liatris. Even though I commented on both blog entries, I clearly had forgotten about it by the time I stumbled across the H. indicum.


    July 31, 2022 at 7:29 PM

    • Till I saw that 2012 post again just now, I’d forgotten about the little white heliotrope flowers beneath the Liatris flower spikes. My statement here in this 2020 post about not having shown white heliotrope before was true in the sense that in the 2012 picture the heliotrope flowers appeared as no more than dots devoid of features. I’m aware of the Indian heliotrope from photographs but am not sure I’ve ever seen it in person.

      The longer we live, the more we forget.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 31, 2022 at 10:10 PM

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