Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 41 comments

On August 12th I spent some time on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin. Of the many textures I observed there then, this post singles out two. Compare and contrast, as schoolteachers are wont to say.

In the first you’re looking at a Texas spiny lizard, Sceloporus olivaceus, on one of those low construction fences that have become so common in central Texas (and presumably also everywhere else).

The second picture is a closeup of the brain-like chartreuse fruit of a Maclura pomifera tree—known as osage orange, hedge apple, and bois d’arc—that I found fallen on the ground.

Did you know that the words text and texture are both ancient metaphors? They come from textus, the past participle of the Latin verb texere, which meant literally ‘to weave,’ and then more generally ‘to fabricate.’ As a noun, textus took on the sense “the style of a work,” which is metaphorically how it is woven, which is to say its texture. The subjects of these portraits gave me a pretext for providing a bit of etymology that I hope has let you put things in context (two more derivatives of textus).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2020 at 2:38 AM

41 Responses

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  1. I am really enjoying the textures here, Steve. The etymology, something I am always fascinated in, was very interesting.

    Peter Hillman

    October 15, 2020 at 2:49 AM

    • I think most of us nature photographers are fascinated with textures. And some of us are likewise intrigued by etymology; I’ve certainly been known to combine the two.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2020 at 3:03 AM

  2. Both are quite interesting shaped textures. I really like the spiny lizard.

    Steve Gingold

    October 15, 2020 at 5:14 AM

    • The way I see it, the texture of the black covering on the wire fence adds to the overall effect.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2020 at 7:52 AM

  3. Good shootin’, Tex.

    Robert Parker

    October 15, 2020 at 5:37 AM

  4. After I looked at Nature’s fine examples of texture, I enjoyed reading the delightfully woven explanation of this ancient word. So when people are texting on their mobile devices, they are literally weaving their messages.

    Peter Klopp

    October 15, 2020 at 9:24 AM

    • That’s right: etymologically speaking, texting is “weaving” messages. And I’m pleased you find my explanations “delightfully woven.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2020 at 9:53 AM

  5. Good morning, Steve,
    What a coincidence: I just – a few minutes ago – picked up two “horse apples” from our Bois d’Arc trees [https://wp.me/p4uPk8-9W] to try and grow trees out of the seeds. I’ve had quite some success with that before:


    October 15, 2020 at 10:43 AM

    • I remember that you have those on your property. The 2014 post was a reminder of how many of the fruits you collected at one time. A friend of mine told me that they’re supposed to repel insects, but I don’t know how true that is. That aside, it’s good that you’ve used the seeds for their intended purpose, namely to grow new trees.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2020 at 10:52 AM

      • I just looked it up again, and the long and the short of it is – as far as I can see – that just spreading them around the house is of no use at all re insect repellent, and not even the juice will work unless it’s quite concentrated.


        October 16, 2020 at 10:18 AM

        • Even if they don’t work well as a repellent, I still like the fruits for their own sake. We were out walking this morning and brought a bunch of them home.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 16, 2020 at 5:41 PM

          • They’re highly interesting, not only their outside texture, but also their seeds when you (manage to) cut them open. But their juice is quite sticky.


            October 17, 2020 at 8:58 AM

            • I know what you mean. A couple of decades ago I cut one open to see what the inside was like. Just gathering some of these fruits from the ground usually leaves me with parts of my hands a bit sticky.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 17, 2020 at 9:04 AM

  6. Love the Texas spiny lizards, I think they’re so cute, with their craggy skin and stinky eye. At least, when I’ve seen them, they give me the stink eye. I’ve never seen bois d’arc fruit in real life, only in photos. How hard is the skin?


    October 15, 2020 at 12:56 PM

    • I wouldn’t have thought of this lizard “giving me the stink eye.” In fact I’m not sure I’ve encountered that expression, even though it’s in the dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/stink-eye) and I must have been on the receiving end of one plenty of times.

      The surface of a bois d’arc fruit is hard; you wouldn’t want one to fall on you. If you’d like to see some in real life, there’s a tree on the east side of Mopac at the south end of the pond that’s just south of the Mimi’s restaurant in the Arbor Walk shopping center. You could park in the Mimi’s parking lot and walk south a few hundred feet. Here’s how it looked two years ago:


      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2020 at 1:59 PM

      • That was in December, so the fruits had yellowed. I expect they’d still be green now.

        Steve Schwartzman

        October 15, 2020 at 2:00 PM

        • I know exactly where that is and it’s not far from where I live. I’ll check it out, thanks!!


          October 15, 2020 at 3:27 PM

          • I mentioned that place because I knew it wouldn’t be much of a jaunt for you. I haven’t checked the spot in the past month; there’s a possibility that not enough of the tree’s leaves have fallen yet to give as clear a view of the fruits as I had in December. Even so, if you walk in a bit toward the tree you might find a fruit that had fallen on the ground that you could take home.

            Steve Schwartzman

            October 15, 2020 at 3:36 PM

  7. It’s always tickled me that, just as huisache transformed into Weesatch, bois d’arc is known to certain Texans as ‘BO-dark.’ I went looking for a nearby beautiful, large Osage Orange last week, but ‘improvements’ at the nature center seem to have exchanged it for a new concrete walkway. I know a couple of people who swear the fruits do repel insects and squirrels, but they clearly don’t repel construction crews.

    I’d be hard-pressed to make a choice between these photos. The portrait of the lizard’s so crisp and clear. I’ve never seen one of these; is it larger than the anoles and such that are so common in this area?


    October 16, 2020 at 7:55 AM

    • What you say about repelling construction crews is funny, even if in a sad way.

      In adopting foreign words, each language wrangles them to fit the contours of the receiving language’s phonetic system. Sometimes the wrangling is better called mangling, as when Hawaiian turned Merry Christmas into Mele Kalikimaka.

      The Anglicized BO-dark led to Americans mistakenly thinking the first word in French bois d’arc means ‘bow,’ when actually it’s the arc that means that (compare the archer who is a ‘bow-er’).

      Here’s more information about the Texas spiny lizard, including its size:

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2020 at 8:15 AM

      • It seems that Osage orange received that common name because the Osage tribe used the wood for their bows. Apparently bow hunters and archers still favor the wood, which also was used for fence posts and wagon wheels because of its durability. I was surprised to find that the scientific name honors a geologist: William Maclura (1763-1840). It’s a reminder that Roemer arrived here primarily as a geologist, and published the first monograph on Texas geology.


        October 16, 2020 at 9:02 AM

        • Today we went walking in Leander (two suburbs north of Austin) and came across a bunch of Osage orange trees. A guy passing by with his dog said that the dog is attracted to the fruits fallen on the ground, of which there were plenty. I told him what they are and mentioned the way people have prized bois d’arc wood because it resists rotting.

          Speaking of biologists who started out with an interest in geology, Darwin may have been the most famous.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 16, 2020 at 5:27 PM

  8. Not to forget the subtext to your subjects, without which the context would make no sense.

    I wonder if the lizard lounged on the fence because it realized they shared a similar color and it would be well camouflaged (though not well enough for you, obviously).


    October 19, 2020 at 9:50 PM

    • Your first sentence reveals you to be a textbook case of a textualist. And I just learned that text-hand is ‘fine, large handwriting, used especially for manuscripts.’

      I’m on the fence about why the lizard was where it was. Your suggestion of camouflage is plausible, or perhaps the black material absorbed sunlight and provided a warm place to bask.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2020 at 8:49 AM

  9. Super textures Steve …


    October 20, 2020 at 1:34 PM

  10. Fabulous post, Steve, and I apologize once again for being away for too long. I was shocked to find an Osage orange in the middle of the street in the Bronx one day as I walked back from somewhere. I didn’t even know what it was but later I decided it must have fallen out of someone’s grocery bag. And somewhere in NY, in the metro region, I do remember seeing a hedge made from Osage orange. It must have been borderline hardy there.


    October 28, 2020 at 2:19 PM

    • Now that’s surrealistic: an osage orange in the middle of a Bronx street. Those fruits aren’t edible, so I’m not sure about one having been in someone’s grocery bag. On the other hand, when I checked the BONAP species distribution map just now, it looks like the tree may indeed grow in the Bronx (the map is too small for me to tell whether the marked area is Westchester or the Bronx or both). I think of the tree as growing in Texas and vicinity, cause that’s where I learned about it; now I know that it was around me when I was growing up in New York, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2020 at 2:33 PM

      • Maybe I misremembered – it may have been a different exotic tropical fruit…I think it may have been a durian. And maybe the Osage oranges I’m mixing that up with were on a tree, which is also a startling sight the first time. Oh, the memory fades! I think they are or were, few and far between in metro NY. The NY Botanical Garden says they have two. And the NYC Parks Dept. says there’s a big one (46′ tall) on a street corner in the Bronx. Oh, and there’s one on Staten Island that Frederick Law Olmsted planted at his home there!!! Who knew? This story about the disrepair the house has fallen into and the efforts to save it is fascinating. Down the wormhole again!


        November 11, 2020 at 7:39 PM

        • Down the wormhole indeed. I’d never heard of durian till my Philippine connections beginning 34 years ago. Yes, memory isn’t always accurate, even over relatively short periods. Witness testimony in court cases is notoriously unreliable and has led to some innocent people getting convicted.

          Thanks for the information about Olmsted. I don’t think I knew he lived on Staten Island, much less that his house is still standing (albeit in need of restoration). Olmsted spent a little time in Texas, too.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 12, 2020 at 1:29 PM

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