Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 43 comments

When we visited the Bastrop forest on August 14th in search of Liatris elegans, which we happily found, we also noticed many conspicuously tall, erect plants of a different species, Liatris aspera, known appropriately as tall liatris, tall blazing-star, and tall gayfeather. Almost all those plants were still only budding on August 14th, so nine days later we headed back on the assumption that enough time would have passed for a bunch of the buds to have opened. And so they had. Above you see two buds beginning to open, and then a mixture of buds and flower heads. Notice how the buds open from the top of each spike downward.

Notice also how there’s a flower head at the apex of each spike. On one spike that was still short enough for me to look down at its top, I photographed the opening flower head at its tip.

You see below what a fully open flower head looks like:

And here’s another thought by our friend Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), from his Pensées (Thoughts): “Dire la vérité est utile à celui à qui on la dit, mais désavantageux à ceux qui la disent, parce qu’ils se font haïr.” “Speaking the truth is useful for those to whom it is spoken, but harmful for those who speak it, because people will hate them for saying it.”

I just found out that François de la Rochefoucauld (1613–1680) said something similar in his Maximes: “Le mal que nous faisons ne nous attire pas tant de persécution et de haine que nos bonnes qualités.” “The bad things that we do don’t lead to as much persecution and hatred of us as do our good qualities.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 2, 2020 at 4:33 AM

43 Responses

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  1. How different and beautiful


    September 2, 2020 at 4:48 AM

    • It’s significantly different from the species I showed the other time and also from the one that grows in Austin, that I haven’t yet seen flowering this year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 5:51 AM

  2. Once again it is lovely to see all the stages in one post. I particularly like the fully open flower head. (Perish the thought that you might hate me for speaking that truth!)


    September 2, 2020 at 5:28 AM

    • You could say I staged this post just for you—and there’s no need for that thought to perish, unlike the flowers, which are destined to die after so brief a stay.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 6:07 AM

  3. Beautiful colors. Do the quotations have a certain tartness or aspera-ty?

    Robert Parker

    September 2, 2020 at 5:48 AM

    • Just as the rich color symbolizes prospera-ty. There’s a French proverb: Chose promise, chose due. I promised you more quotations from Pascal, and in this post I came through on my promise.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 6:04 AM

  4. Your thoughts today, Steve, transported me back to my college days, when, as a French major, I studied both of the authors that you cited. I find that I can only read them in small doses, but so much of what they write rings true. In my youth, though, I was more attracted to the playwrights of the seventeenth century, like Molière, Corneille, and Racine. Regarding today’s photos, I really enjoyed seeing the liatris from so many different angles and in different stages of development. I often jump immediately to a close-up shot and forget that there is real value in giving a wider view (or, in this case, a taller view) of the subject.

    Mike Powell

    September 2, 2020 at 6:32 AM

    • I remembered your long-ago connection with French. I also thought of mine, and how when I was in high school I bought a copy of La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes at the French bookstore in New York City’s Rockefeller Center. Many French books back then were still sold with the sections bound together but the pages within each section not cut apart at all the edges; to the purchaser fell the task of separating them with a razor blade or knife. I remember that as I rode the subway home to the suburbs, I spread some of the still-not-fully-separated pages and read what maxims I could even with the pages not yet cut apart. Like you, in college I read plays by Molière, Corneille, and Racine, though I remember little about them now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 6:58 AM

      • I remember too the “joy” of cutting apart pages and how I botched the process a few times–fortunately no blood was spilled. Much of my memories of the details of the French literature that I so carefully studied have now faded. The world was different in the 1970’s and I was different too.

        Mike Powell

        September 2, 2020 at 7:11 AM

        • Different it was. Young people today can’t imagine living in a world without the instant gratification of cell phones and the Internet.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 2, 2020 at 7:34 AM

    • As for today’s photos, yes, I think it’s important to document as many stages in a plant’s life as possible. With common local wildflowers that’s not so hard to do, as there are lots of chances as the plant develops. With uncommon species or species far from home, I take whatever I can get. That’s why in this case I went back after nine days for views I couldn’t make the first time. I may go back yet again, even though it means a hundred-mile round trip.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 7:05 AM

      • Yikes. That’s dedication.

        Mike Powell

        September 2, 2020 at 7:11 AM

        • It is. Depending on the route, it might be only 90 miles.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 2, 2020 at 7:35 AM

          • Living in the Washington DC area, I tend to judge mileage differently and 90 miles seems like a really long distance. I used to commute 21 miles each way to work and a one-way trip would regularly take me close to an hour. One of the side-effects of the pandemic is that traffic is actually tolerable on those rare occasions when I go out.

            Mike Powell

            September 2, 2020 at 8:28 AM

            • The same silver lining of having few cars on the road was true here in the early months of the pandemic. There’s still less traffic here than there used to be, though it’s been gradually creeping back up. And yes, people in many western states treat distances differently from people in the crowded northeastern corridor.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 2, 2020 at 8:46 AM

  5. Your determination to return to the tall blazing-star paid off. You were able to capture the flowers of this late-blooming plant. Thank you for the images and Pascal’s words of wisdom, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    September 2, 2020 at 7:57 AM

    • You’re welcome. I’ve yet to see our local species, Liatris mucronata, flowering, but it shouldn’t be long now. We have several conspicuous autumn wildflowers here that I look forward to each year beginning in September.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 8:02 AM

  6. Very nice closeups of the florets. Just how tall was this blazing star? I see it at Illinois Beach State park and it is never more than 2′, I’d say. Although it is on fairly lean soil, there.
    Our friends Blaise and François are unfortunately completely right.


    September 2, 2020 at 8:57 AM

    • The tallest of the spikes we saw must have reached 5 ft. The sandy, iron-rich soil out in Bastrop County apparently suits this species. You may remember the 2013 portrait I showed of it, in which I took advantage of the orange-brown soil as a background to contrast with the purple flowers: https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/tall-blazing-star/

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 9:16 AM

      • Wow all over again! I’d forgotten that striking image.


        September 3, 2020 at 7:44 AM

        • I’ll see your wow and raise you one. I was very happy to get that colorful picture. On our recent visit to Bastrop none of the tall liatris plants that I noticed were growing in such colorful soil.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2020 at 7:49 AM

  7. Exuberant explosions of color are an interesting counterpoint to the thought for the day. I look at that and see that it’s sort of a one-line haiku.

    Michael Scandling

    September 2, 2020 at 10:41 AM

  8. I like the series of blooms, liatris in stages. I haven’t been to Bastrop in a while, is there construction along 183 (past the airport)?


    September 2, 2020 at 1:38 PM

    • We noticed a little construction on 71 east of the airport but nothing bad. The heavy construction was on 183 between 290 and 71. All in all, even with that construction, the pandemic has still reduced traffic enough that we made excellent time from home to Bastrop. I think you’d find it worthwhile to check out the Liatris along Park Road 1C in the eastern part of the park.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 1:47 PM

  9. Good for you for following up again nine days later, Steve. Think of all those details you would have missed otherwise.
    I find it interesting that some flowers start blooming at the top of their spikes, others from the bottom (e.g. fireweed).


    September 2, 2020 at 4:58 PM

    • I wonder if the same gene is responsible for causing flowers to open in one direction along a spike versus the opposite direction.

      My plan was to go back this week for a third visit to these Liatris spikes but the weather hasn’t cooperated.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 5:31 PM

      • Good question. Maybe there are botanists who know the answer.
        Sorry you missed your third visit, but maybe you can still make it.


        September 2, 2020 at 5:50 PM

  10. Love the close-up views!

    Eliza Waters

    September 2, 2020 at 7:01 PM

    • Closeups are my bread and butter, so to speak. I use my macro lens more than any other I own.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 2, 2020 at 7:52 PM

  11. I’ve never seen this species, so I’m especially appreciative of your efforts to gather images of it in all its stages. Its scientific name brought to mind another saying — Per aspera ad astra — and you certainly brought us some star-quality photos. It seems odd to see that single bloom at the tippy-top of the plant; I wouldn’t have imagined that for a Liatris.

    I’ll be happy to have my photos back again and ready for sharing. It never had occurred to me that both my PC and the external hard drive I use for backup could crash at the same time, but so it was — that’s why I’m still stuck on Monday’s post over at Lagniappe. At least I’ve been doing manual backups of photo files to an SSD as well, and while I’ve not been as diligent as I could have been, at least I’m relatively current. With luck, I’ll get the computer back today, as well as the gurus’ explanation of exactly what happened.


    September 3, 2020 at 7:03 AM

    • I’d never seen this species until I found it beyond Bastrop in 2013. On our recent visit I well remembered that first encounter, even to the approximate place where I’d found the plant. Of the many species of Liatris, I wonder how many have “that single bloom at the tippy-top of the plant.” I’ve seen it on some specimens of the Liatris mucronata that’s common in Austin, for example:



      I’m sorry to hear about your computer mishap. It does seem strange that your computer and your main backup drive would fail at the same time. Maybe you’ll find out from the repair people that the backup drive is actually okay but just couldn’t be accessed because of the problem with the computer. In any case, as you said, it’s good that you’ve kept relatively current with your backups to yet another drive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2020 at 8:02 AM

  12. I can still hear my high school French teacher saying, “Honi soit qui mal y pense.” And so often she would say, when someone gave a pathetic excuse for not doing their homework, “Oh le pauvre!” dripping with sarcasm. She was good though. 😉
    Honestly, Liatris has never been a favorite for me but I really like the head-on view of the tightly closed flowers.


    September 4, 2020 at 7:45 PM

    • You have fond memories from back then. Did your sarcastic French teacher ever quote the cynical La Rochefoucauld? If not, you should get in your time machine and go back and suggest it to her.

      As far as I can remember, that downward view of the opening Liatris bud at the tip of the stalk is the first picture of that sort that I ever made of a plant in this genus.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 4, 2020 at 11:11 PM

      • I think I’m lucky to have fond memories of French and not horrible ones. I had to look up La Rochefoucauld – and she probably did sling some of his maxims our way but I can only remember so much. 😉


        September 18, 2020 at 2:55 PM

        • I was behind most of my classmates because I took Latin in the 9th grade when they took French, which I didn’t start till the next year. I liked it enough that after French 2 in the 11th grade I went to summer school for French 3 so I could jump into AP French as a senior.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 18, 2020 at 5:32 PM

  13. […] the same Liatris aspera, known as tall gayfeather and tall blazing-star, that you recently saw here (do have a look back at the second picture in that post for comparison),  but fasciation had greatly distorted the upper part of this budding specimen. The closer view […]

  14. […] 2020 of Liatris punctata, known as gayfeather and blazing-star. (You recently saw L. elegans and L. aspera in Bastrop.) In this portrait I played up the linear leaves of another gayfeather plant close […]

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