Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Maybe autumn’s big five

with 29 comments

I recently referred to the “big four” native plants that are prominent in central Texas in the fall. The number is arbitrary, and even when I said four I was thinking that I could well add asters as a fifth. With that in mind, here’s a picture of one of our native asters, Symphyotrichum subulatum, known colloquially as eastern annual saltmarsh aster, baby’s breath aster, slender aster, annual aster, and blackland aster. Some in Texas call it hierba del marrano (hierba is pronounced the same as its alternate spelling yerba); translated loosely, the Spanish name means pigweed, but I think most people find the flowers as attractive as pigs are alleged to do. Notice the endearing way the tips of the ray florets curl under.

The picture above comes from October 4th at Cypress Creek Park (where I photographed a snail on a valley redstem and also a late-season bluebell flower). Fortunately the aster was growing close to another plant (I’m not sure what it was) whose leaves had turned pleasantly red and yellow, and those colors made a good out-of-focus background to set off the aster. And from August 13th on the Blackland Prairie, here’s a view showing one of these flower heads from below:

The ancient Greek word astēr had the same meaning as its native English cognate star. The Greeks extended the word to designate a daisy-like flower that they saw as a stylized star, and we’ve continued the tradition. Greek asteroeidēs, which meant ‘resembling a star,’ has become our asteroid. Similarly, we call the typographical character * an asterisk, literally ‘a little star.’ And “there you are, little star.”

And if it’s a famous quotation you’re after, try Ralph Waldo Emerson’s exhortation to “Hitch your wagon to a star.” Or, with a floral reference, take these lines from Longfellow’s Evangeline:

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 16, 2020 at 4:37 AM

29 Responses

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  1. I do like the curl of the petals. Asters are late pleasures here as well.

    Steve Gingold

    October 16, 2020 at 4:56 AM

    • The curls remind me of bows made from ribbons.
      In contrast to you in a land of fall foliage, I have to play up whatever little bits of color I can find.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2020 at 7:51 AM

  2. The asters are an essential part of our traditional sojourn to the north woods, and I have missed them dearly this year. It’s great to see yours. The star reference hadn’t occurred to me before, but it’s quite logical and clear. Thanks again for the etymology.


    October 16, 2020 at 5:19 AM

    • For me, etymology is a shining star in the firmament of language.
      If you have to miss asters, tree ferns aren’t a bad substitute.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2020 at 7:58 AM

  3. it’s a very nice picture with that great background. I think the NY aster isn’t quite as showy as the one you have pictured, but it’s a beautiful color, very tough, popping up all over the place, and really appreciated in late fall.

    Robert Parker

    October 16, 2020 at 5:54 AM

    • The colorful background let me create a novel portrait of an aster. This is just one of several common aster species here, the others of which I haven’t noticed yet; they’ll be along soon, as we’re only now getting into autumn. Do you happen to know which aster species you remember from New York?

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2020 at 8:02 AM

      • No, I’m sorry, I just know it as “fall aster” or “wild aster,” and I think my parents call it “NY Aster.” It’s so common, I’ve never really even looked at it very closely.

        Robert Parker

        October 16, 2020 at 8:34 AM

  4. Asters are little stars in our garden right now – but how wonderful it must be to see them growing wild!

    Ann Mackay

    October 16, 2020 at 5:58 AM

    • As has happened with other kinds of flowers, given that I’m not a gardener, the only asters I know are the ones that grow in the wild here. We have several common species, with the biggest flowering yet to come as the season advances.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2020 at 8:05 AM

      • It seems that many of your wild plants are our garden flowers, so you probably have many more than I can possibly grow in my small garden! 🙂

        Ann Mackay

        October 17, 2020 at 6:04 AM

        • My county alone is home to probably a thousand native plant species. I don’t claim to recognize more than a few hundred at most.

          A couple of hours after my comment yesterday I found plenty of instances of another of our local aster species.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 17, 2020 at 7:15 AM

          • Wow, you are lucky! 🙂

            Ann Mackay

            October 17, 2020 at 7:43 PM

            • I suspect that a list of all the native plant species in your area will be a lot longer than you realize. I wasn’t aware of how many there are in my county till I consulted a botanist’s list.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 18, 2020 at 10:09 AM

              • True – I’d probably get quite a few surprises. Sadly, a lot of the fields around here are intensive arable farming and there’s all too little space left for wild plants, so there’s never a big expanse of anything other than the crops.

                Ann Mackay

                October 18, 2020 at 10:29 AM

  5. This plant’s another that disappeared from the Brazoria refuge this year, partly because of flooding, and partly because of the subsequent mowing. I just remembered that you asked about Anahuac. I don’t know how the refuge fared during Laura and Beta, but storm surge did close the road along the Bolivar peninsula; it would be worth a trip over there to see what’s what. And, now that a couple of weeks have passed, I’ll be interested to see if some of the plants that tolerate salt at Brazoria are starting to come back.

    I didn’t have to click the link to hear the song in my mind, but I most enjoyed the quotation from “Evangeline,” which I probably read but didn’t remember at the time.


    October 16, 2020 at 8:09 AM

    • I look forward to your Anahuac report, and if it’s favorable, to pictures from there. I’m not surprised to hear that storm surge caused the low-lying Bolivar Peninsula road to close. How well I remember driving along it after taking the ferry.

      I didn’t read “Evangeline” in school, but only after I met Eve, whose full name is Evangeline.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2020 at 8:21 AM

  6. The aster is so pretty. One can admire it from the front and from the back. ‘Ad astra’ takes on a new meaning, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    October 16, 2020 at 9:01 AM

    • I’ve often portrayed flowers from the back or from below, in addition to from above. The second part of the Roman saying you alluded to, Ad astra per aspera, reminds me of the difficulties I sometimes go through to get my pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 16, 2020 at 3:16 PM

      • Oh yeah, lying on your belly especially in the rain can be really rough at times. Haha!

        Peter Klopp

        October 17, 2020 at 9:09 AM

        • I don’t normally work in the rain, but lying on the ground in Texas leaves one open to plenty of other uncomfortable things.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 17, 2020 at 10:04 AM

  7. I have just come across your blog. You take super photographs. I am very taken with the ones of the charred wood.

    But I do love the beauty of the flowers. I used to take a lot of photos looking into the light, where the light shines through.

    I have seen you have quoted C.S. Lewis. He is a very great man, his works can sometimes be difficult to follow, but worth persisting. I think perhaps his Narnia books portray truth in a way that is easier to grasp. And the good thing about truth is that it sets you free, whatever that truth may be.


    October 17, 2020 at 6:37 AM

    • I appreciate your comments. Photography has been with me for a long time, with native plants as subjects for two decades. In my pictures I’ve often enough played up the translucence of things, especially leaves, with the light beyond them. Abstract patterns are another interest, as in the pictures of the charred trees.

      I’ve read the majority of The Abolition of Man and did find it difficult going, as you mentioned. I haven’t read any of his more popular works of fiction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2020 at 7:15 AM

  8. I think we’d feel differently about asters if they bloomed at a different time of year. If the spring, we would treasure their delicate, pastel beauty, if summer, we might barely notice them. But in the fall they are such a gift! This idea may work better in the northern parts of the country – maybe it’s not the same in Texas. But nothing is, right? 😉


    October 28, 2020 at 2:22 PM

    • Down here, as up there, asters are among the last flowers each year, and are therefore special. However, our warmer climate means we still see asters in November, well past the time that freezes have killed them off further north.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2020 at 3:10 PM

  9. Beautiful light and color combo in the first. Simple and sweet!


    October 31, 2020 at 1:18 PM

    • That’s a good way to put it. Except on a small scale, we don’t have your kind of fall foliage here. I took advantage of an unexpected opportunity for a colorful background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 31, 2020 at 1:32 PM

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