Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What will fall call forth?

with 22 comments

One of central Texas’s answers to the title question is Maximilian sunflowers, Helianthus maximiliani.
All these pictures are from the morning of September 25th along Orleans Dr.*

Like people, individual Maximilian sunflower flower heads can vary a lot,
so here’s another one in the same colony for comparison:

* Orleans Dr. is a neighborhood street without a neighborhood. That southeast Austin street and adjacent ones were once lined with houses, but nearby Onion Creek has flooded often enough to make living there untenable. A few years ago the city government bought out the homeowners and had the houses torn down. Google has only partly caught up to that reality. Here’s a correctly houseless view showing where I photographed the Maximilian sunflowers. At the same time, here’s a view that incorrectly shows houses that are now ghosts.

And let that be a lead-in to a quotation for today: “Are we not Spirits, that are shaped into a body, into an Appearance; and that fade away again into air and Invisibility? Oh, Heaven, it is mysterious, it is awful to consider that we not only carry a future Ghost within us; but are, in very deed, Ghosts! These Limbs, whence had we them; this stormy Force; this life-blood with its burning Passion? They are dust and shadow; a Shadow-system gathered round our Me; wherein, through some moments or years, the Divine Essence is to be revealed in the Flesh.” — Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 2, 2020 at 4:22 AM

22 Responses

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  1. That wonderful quote gave me goosebumps. Perfect, and in the first photo “Max” certainly seems to be calling something forth.


    October 2, 2020 at 8:13 AM

    • One thing that Max called forth was Me, and I was happy to oblige by making a bunch of portraits.

      Although I’d heard of Sartor Resartus, I’d never come across any passages from it till I found this one. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 2, 2020 at 8:25 AM

  2. All images of your fall flower are wonderful. I especially like the last photo where you effectively used other Maximilian sunflowers as the blurry background, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    October 2, 2020 at 9:04 AM

    • Yes, in the third picture I was thankful to be able to include out-of-focus Maximilian sunflowers behind the in-focus flower head that was my subject. Today I was out on the prairie for three hours photographing (among other things) more Maximilian sunflowers, especially some colonies of them. Now is a great time for fall flora here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 2, 2020 at 6:40 PM

  3. They are beautiful flowers, Steve, and I like the quote from Thomas Carlyle.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 2, 2020 at 9:48 AM

    • It’s quite a quote, isn’t it? I’d never come across it till a few days ago.

      Maximilian sunflowers are among the “biggies” here in the fall, along with goldenrod and poverty weed. I was out photographing all three for as many hours this morning.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 2, 2020 at 6:43 PM

  4. The vegetation lining Orleans Drive looks amazingly green for Colorado standards, especially during our current drought. But then Orleans Dr. is located in TX, not CO.


    October 2, 2020 at 10:15 PM

    • Central Texas has had its share of droughts, too, the worst recent one being in 2011, when 90% of the pine forest in Bastrop State Park, 30 miles east of here, burned down. I also know someone a bit to the west of Austin whose house burned down. In any case, people who aren’t from here sometimes think all of Texas is like west Texas, which has scant rainfall and parts of which are truly a desert. East Texas is a lot like Louisiana and gets plenty of rain. Austin’s in the middle: greener than some would expect but still not as lush as the eastern part of the state.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 3, 2020 at 7:36 AM

      • I guess I assumed most of Texas was lush and green, Steve. Thank you for the clarification. I shouldn’t be surprised–it’s a BIG state.


        October 5, 2020 at 4:23 PM

        • Then your assumption was the opposite of what I mentioned encountering in some other people, namely that Texas is a desert. Yes, Texas is big, 8% larger than France and 95% larger than Germany.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 5, 2020 at 4:30 PM

          • I really should have known better, Steve, and if I had stopped to think for a minute, I would have realized that my simplification, like most of them, was way off!


            October 5, 2020 at 9:14 PM

  5. Maximilian sunflowers are more widespread here this year, and I’m happy to see them. For the last many years I would spot them standing tall, just a small cluster of four or so. I noticed this year small colonies of them all along the Washita river on the outside of the tree line. I used to see cow pen daisies there, but this year those have dwindled greatly in numbers. We never know what we’re going to get from year to year, do we?

    I love the quote from Thomas Carlyle.


    October 4, 2020 at 7:17 AM

    • No, we never know from year to year. It’s good to hear 2020 has turned out to be a more prosperous year for the Maximilian sunflowers in your area. Too bad that coincides with a falling off of cowpen daisies. Oh well, next year things will be different. And yes, that’s quite a passage from Carlyle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 4, 2020 at 8:48 AM

  6. Clearly, I’m going to have to head even farther north and west to find these beauties. When I go searching again, I’ll have Geyata Ajilvsgi’s book with me. You may have mentioned it before, but the name didn’t stick with me. I’m not sure what it is that makes this plant so appealing, but I certainly enjoyed seeing these three ‘versions.’ The windblown look of the first is especially appealing.


    October 4, 2020 at 9:35 PM

    • The Maximilians in my area seem to be at their peak now. Yesterday I drove past the stretch of roadside where I’d found the white gayfeather mixed in with a bunch of purple ones. Not a single gayfeather did I see there, but several Maximilian sunflowers had appeared. Earlier I’d photographed a few closer to home, and three days ago a nice colony of them. I do hope you make it far enough inland soon enough to see some.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 5, 2020 at 6:11 AM

  7. All three are fine compositions.

    Steve Gingold

    October 6, 2020 at 5:05 AM

    • The USDA map shows Maximilian sunflowers in Middlesex County. Have you ever come across any there?

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2020 at 5:15 AM

      • No, but I’d have to visit there and I haven’t. I generally stay in the western part of the state. Tom Whelan lives in that county so he might have.

        Steve Gingold

        October 7, 2020 at 9:18 AM

  8. Wonderful flowers … such a great family. Interesting the variance in the flowers too Steve


    October 6, 2020 at 2:31 PM

    • We’re fortunate in Texas to have a bunch of sunflower species. The Maximilians predominate in Austin in the autumn.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 6, 2020 at 2:52 PM

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