Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Mesquite pod and dry leaflets by pond

with 44 comments

While I was avoiding hikers near the boardwalk pond in River Place on August 10th, I made some portraits of honey mesquite pods (Prosopis glandulosa). The dark-looking water and otherwise black background in today’s photograph might make you think I used flash. I didn’t. The sunlit pod was bright enough to make the background dark by comparison, and in my processing of the image I played up that difference. (If clicking the photograph in your browser brings up a black page around the image, as Chrome does, so much the better; the picture, in particular the blue-indigo of the water, looks more vivid that way.)

While we’re on the subject of mesquite, you may remember I photographed what I called a zebra mesquite thorn back in June. I’m sorry to say that within weeks of my taking that picture the site was razed for construction. That’s at least the fourth loss in 2020 of a place where I’d taken nature photographs.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2020 at 4:40 AM

44 Responses

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  1. Mesquite pods are edible….so I have read.


    August 30, 2020 at 6:00 AM

  2. I never see a photo of mesquite pods without thinking of my pet squirrel: the one that got drunk on the ones that fermented in a closet. This one’s beautiful. It looks like a pendulum hanging in a frame. Perhaps it’s ticking away the time until autumn, and cooler weather.

    You’re right about the difference the black background makes. I was astonished by how vivid the blue appeared when surrounded by the black.


    August 30, 2020 at 6:56 AM

    • Yours is an indelible squirrel-mesquite association. And the association of the mesquite pod in this picture with a pendulum is one I wouldn’t have conceived without your suggestion. After I noticed how much duller the image appears on this page, with mostly white around it, compared with the more vivid version provided by the clicked version with black around it in Chrome, I felt I had to mention that difference. As you said, the blue is significantly richer with black around it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 10:51 AM

  3. I’m going to research it, but you may have just taught me that the flavor of mesquite, beloved in the cook-out world, comes from a plant, naturally.

    Dawn Renee

    August 30, 2020 at 7:57 AM

  4. Amazing composition.


    August 30, 2020 at 8:30 AM

  5. The mesquite pod looks like a golden piece of jewelry taken from a royal tomb. The black background enhances the effect.

    Peter Klopp

    August 30, 2020 at 8:54 AM

    • I appreciate the way this specimen appreciated in your estimation, from a humble sprig of dry mesquite to a golden piece of jewelry taken from a royal tomb.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 11:15 AM

  6. Nice composition on the pod and leaves, Steven. And very disheartening news on the razing.

    Ellen Jennings

    August 30, 2020 at 8:57 AM

    • Unfortunately sites where I’ve taken nature pictures in and around Austin have kept getting developed year after year. I’ve long since lost the exact count, but it’s several dozen by now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 11:21 AM

  7. My first thought was this appears to be a fine, gold pendant – and what a grand background! It’s sad about the razing of so many areas. That is how we ended up with fawn, Gracie, this year. A construction group found her resting in an area where they were bulldozing trees, preparing a site for construction. Likely she was just a few days old. People have no idea how clearing areas for construction changes the area ecosystem of plant and animal life, and opportunities to enjoy undisturbed and undeveloped lands.


    August 30, 2020 at 9:36 AM

    • You’re the second commenter so far (and I just looked ahead to another below) to see this mesquite as golden jewelry. Hooray for transformations.

      The consequences of development for me have been lost opportunities for nature photographs. For you the consequences have carried over to the animal kingdom in a very personal way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 11:25 AM

  8. I’m with Peter and Little Sundog – definitely reminds me of gold or bronze wreaths from an archeological site, excellent shot.

    Robert Parker

    August 30, 2020 at 10:54 AM

    • Thanks. When I made this picture I hadn’t thought of mesquite as golden or reminiscent of any other kind of metal (in contrast to the Clematis in yesterday’s post, for instance). Now, with three of you seeing this mesquite that way, I’ll have to accede to that vision.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 11:38 AM

  9. Beautiful composition. The deep blue and black background really give the image punch. And regarding the Mesquite, mother nature is a remarkable engineer.

    Michael Scandling

    August 30, 2020 at 11:17 AM

    • In the world of photography rather than puppetry, it’s Punch and Steven instead of Punch and Judy.

      As for natural engineering, you’re no doubt aware that scientists have created materials based on things they observe in nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 11:42 AM

      • Indeed aware. And nature still does a better job. Take the internal bone structure in birds, which is just one of approximately zillions of examples.

        Michael Scandling

        August 30, 2020 at 11:50 AM

        • To be fair, nature has been at it a whole lot longer than people have, so who knows what wonders engineers may come up with in the decades and centuries and millennia yet to come, and whether any of their inventions will surpass similar things found in nature.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 30, 2020 at 12:04 PM

  10. You played up the lighting beautifully! It looks like it was dipped in gold.


    August 30, 2020 at 11:37 AM

    • You’re now the fourth commenter to see this portrait as golden. The lighting certainly was rich.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2020 at 11:44 AM

  11. I do a fair bit of grilling here, and brought a nice new Weber with me when we moved here, and I’ve been a fan of mesquite for many years. Kingsford charcoal with mesquite is now (at last) readily available here, although at about three times what it costs back there. Still, it’s worth it. Your photo throws a whole new light on the elegant plant. I debated whether I should mention this (and my final decision is obvious), but the when I first saw it, I couldn’t shake the impression of a hanging rubber chicken. Ah, the gremlins!


    August 31, 2020 at 3:17 AM

    • From your comment and an earlier one I’ll extrapolate and assume that many people who are familiar with mesquite as a seasoning are unfamiliar with the tree it comes from—well, at least outside areas like Texas where the tree is so common.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2020 at 7:31 AM

      • Actually, I’m quite familiar with the tree, I’m happy to say. During a work trip to Mexico I stayed in a rustic motel with a small fireplace and a supply of mesquite wood to fuel it. The aroma was heavenly and is only matched in my memory by a weekend in the Bushmills Inn in Antrim, Northern Ireland (the oldest distillery in the world, I was told), where the warming fires were all fed with locally-harvested peat. If you appreciate the fragrance a really-smoky Scotch (my personal favorite, so far, is Lagavulin), you’re in seventh heaven here–even without imbibing. But, of course, one reeeeally should.


        September 1, 2020 at 12:49 AM

        • Well, Texas used to be part of Mexico, and the word mesquite came into English from Spanish mezquite, which Spanish adopted from Nahuatl [i.e. Aztec] mizquitl. I wonder if anyone has extended your kind of observation into a system of characterizing things by how they smell when they burn.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 1, 2020 at 4:39 AM

  12. Love the composition, the lighting, the contrast between the foreground and background colors, and ditto the other comments about golden amulets and the loss of native plants and wildlife habitat without planning for preservation and conservation.


    August 31, 2020 at 5:43 AM

    • I appreciate your ditto. This is not a true-to-life portrait, of course, but verisimilitude doesn’t much matter to me any more in my work (if it ever did), while “the vision thing,” as an American president once put it, has become primary. I was happy with how this portrait turned out; I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone else render mesquite this way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2020 at 7:43 AM

  13. I drove all the way to central Oklahoma and back, but never saw this up close! It was pointed out, but only at a distance. Although I was not impressed, I want to see it anyway, just because everyone else is so familiar with it. I could even grow a bit just to experience it. Hey, I have grown worse species!


    August 31, 2020 at 12:14 PM

    • Out here in its native range mesquite can take over a property pretty quickly if it’s allowed to.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2020 at 1:16 PM

      • Those who are familiar with it did not seem to appreciate it, and did not understand why I was interested in it, sort of like the Eastern red cedar.


        August 31, 2020 at 5:58 PM

  14. That is sad news indeed. I’m sorry to hear it. I hope the powers-that-be are making appropriate plans for water or you’ll be the next LA or San Francisco.
    This beautiful image really strikes a chord with me. It reminds me of a Native American artificact on a rich blue background in a museum. Or something. I can’t quite pin down what it is bringing to mind but it is special, anyway.


    September 1, 2020 at 8:37 AM

    • I’m happy that you, as an artist, find the image beautiful. I’ve broken some new ground this year; call it my little bit of compensation for what’s being lost in the literal breaking of ground I mentioned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 1, 2020 at 9:08 AM

      • Yes I feel like we are both pushing ourselves creatively, and perhaps that is all we can do.


        September 1, 2020 at 2:11 PM

  15. Excellent! And wow! enlarged in Chrome. 🙂 I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of those sites. And not just for you.


    September 4, 2020 at 7:52 PM

    • You can see I’ve been pushing into new photographic territory in some of these recent pictures.

      The sites do keep getting gobbled up around here, alas, as Austin remains one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas. Even during the pandemic, as I drive around I see lots of construction continuing.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 4, 2020 at 11:20 PM

      • Pushing into new photographic territory is a good thing. You knew I would say that. Construction – Seattle, too, and its suburbs. We’re too far away to feel that boom now but it was very apparent when I lived in Kirkland, just across the lake from Seattle. Cranes everywhere! And there’s some agricultural land just east of Kirkland that, even though it’s on land that floods, I always worry about. In that area any open space is precious. I doubt it will last.


        September 18, 2020 at 3:02 PM

        • I recently learned that the Kirkland brand sold in Costco is named after the Kirkland near Seattle.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 18, 2020 at 5:39 PM

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