Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Paloverde by dusk and day

with 31 comments

Four years ago this evening, dusk was approaching by the time we arrived in Phoenix’s South Mountain Park, which is the largest municipal park in the United States. As sunlight faded, I used flash to photograph a paloverde tree (Parkinsonia microphylla or florida; there are two local species, and I don’t know which this was). The flash brought out the greenness of the tree’s branches—in fact palo verde means ‘green branch’ in Spanish. The next morning, on our way out of Phoenix, we stopped at South Mountain Park again. It seems that when paloverde branches die, they tend to turn orange.

We learned that paloverdes sometimes act as “incubators” for saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea), giving some degree of protection to the young ones until they get established.

Likewise for barrel cacti.

Did you know that our use of cactus to designate plants like these last two resulted from a mistake? It did. The Latin word cactus, from Greek kaktos, referred to a type of artichoke. Linnaeus, the great 18th-century scientific namer of species, understandably yet mistakenly thought that the spiny plants we now call cacti were akin to the prickly artichoke.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2020 at 3:40 AM

31 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Interesting history of the name Cactus. Even though I collect them I wasn’t aware of that.

    Steve Gingold

    October 17, 2020 at 4:57 AM

    • As is often the case, I came to that bit of botanical history through my interest in etymology. I seem to remember that sometimes Linnaeus took an ancient name and applied it to a recently discovered plant that he knew was different from the old one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2020 at 5:08 AM

      • Interseting! 🙂

        Ann Mackay

        October 18, 2020 at 6:34 AM

        • Or interesting, even, hehe! Darn typos…

          Ann Mackay

          October 18, 2020 at 6:35 AM

          • We could say it’s interesting that our thoughts don’t always intersect with our fingers when we type.

            Steve Schwartzman

            October 18, 2020 at 10:59 AM

  2. Fine set; first shot is wonderful!


    October 17, 2020 at 6:38 AM

    • Thanks. The first is different from my usual photographic fare because I used flash to augment the warm but faint light at the end of the day.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2020 at 7:19 AM

  3. Well I don’t know how they got prickly pear then. It doesn’t look anything like a pear.

    Jason Frels

    October 17, 2020 at 7:23 AM

  4. The size of the cactus is very noticeable in comparison with the accompanying tree. The cactus we have in our home is a dwarf.

    Peter Klopp

    October 17, 2020 at 8:36 AM

    • The saguaro’s species name isn’t lying: gigantea, which is to say giant. Now you’ve made me wonder whether anyone with a large home has ever had a saguaro as an indoor plant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2020 at 8:41 AM

  5. Interesting, an incubator! El palo, la vara, la rama … I learned about pale/paling/pallisade and “beyond the pale” while working one summer at Jamestowne, where the English settlement happened the same time as the plantation of Ulster, which had been outside The Pale (the English-controlled part of Ireland). So when I looked up the tree this morning, wasn’t too surprised that “palo” is from the same Latin, “palus.”

    Robert Parker

    October 17, 2020 at 9:22 AM

    • Those are good etymological sidelights—or I would say headlights, given the importance of language—not at all beyond the pale. The Texas panhandle has its scenic Palo Duro Canyon, while downstate New York and northeast New Jersey have their Palisades on the west side of the Hudson River.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2020 at 10:02 AM

  6. Interesting fact there about Cactus, hm, thanks for sharing.

    Really like your first photo of the paloverde tree, the flash creates a very cool effect against the setting sun. Sometimes the way flash lights things up just doesn’t work, exaggerates color and contrast, but here I think that really works. 🙂


    October 17, 2020 at 12:13 PM

    • I often avoid flash for the reason you mentioned, but in the first picture there was still enough ambient light to offset the glare and harshness that flash can produce. Without flash I probably couldn’t have brought out the green in all those branches, which went well with the last subdued colors in the sky.

      Etymology has a lot to teach us. I’m happy to pass along some of the things I’ve learned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 17, 2020 at 2:27 PM

  7. That first shot is especially beautiful; I love the spidery green limbs crawling through the pink and violet sky. It’s fascinating about the incubation of the saguaros and cacti. Plants know how to work and play well together.


    October 17, 2020 at 2:50 PM

    • I mainly put this post together for the sake of the first picture. The second and fourth, more informational than esthetic, also play up complexity, so an alternate title for the post could be “Jumble.” Speaking of playing together, I wish we could go on another trip to Arizona—or anywhere else.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 8:03 AM

  8. I, too, seldom use flash, but there are times when it can come in very handy. Yours gave us the sparkling green against the slate sky, a very complementary combination. And thanks yet again for another etymological tangent, o pal o’ mine.


    October 17, 2020 at 6:31 PM

    • I sure agree with you about flash, and this was one of those times when it came in handy to “give us the sparkling green against the slate sky.” I’d forgotten about the picture but rediscovered it when I started mining my archive for pictures from our big 2016 trip. In contrast, I always remember the importance of etymology.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 9:10 AM

  9. The thought of cacti being ‘incubated’ is somehow amusing. I’m so accustomed to thinking of protecting myself against cacti, it’s quite a reversal to think that they might need some protection themselves. Both photos with the cacti are interesting, and unusual.

    The colors in the first photo are pleasing; the second brought to mind the “tangled web we weave.” Granted, it’s not a web, but it certainly is as tangled as the plot of Marmion.


    October 18, 2020 at 6:20 AM

    • The main reason cacti have spines is to protect the plants from the many desert creatures that would otherwise eat them for their moisture. Yet you’re right, we often think cacti as predators and ourselves as their prey; my skin could tell a long tale of that.

      It’s been a month and a day since that quotation from Marmion got entangled with a post of mine. I’m always happy to have my photographs entangled with pleasing colors, as in the first one here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 10:05 AM

  10. Even though it’s likely not done consciously (as far as we can tell), I love the notion of the dying branches creating a protective scaffolding around the burgeoning cactus.


    October 19, 2020 at 10:03 PM

    • You’ve raised an interesting point about which one gets there first, the tree or the cactus? It would take a project of probably decades to monitor a terrain and note the portion of times each one came first.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2020 at 8:58 AM

  11. I remember learning that fact about Palo verde and Saguaros, too, and seeing it a number of times. You reminded me of the solace that another Phoenix park provided, north of the city – Phoenix Mountains Preserve. I drove up there one evening in February, three years ago, when Joe was in the neuro ICU at Banner Hospital. I desperately needed to be outdoors in a natural space for a little while. It was three weeks before he was well enough to get on a plane and begin rehab closer to home, in Washington State. And now, to look at him, you wouldn’t know anything had happened. We were lucky. (He’s not a fan of going back to Arizona!)


    October 28, 2020 at 2:29 PM

    • Oh, I didn’t know about that scary medical incident. I understand why Arizona holds no appeal for a return trip for him. During our two stays in Phoenix we never made it north to Phoenix Mountains Preserve, though we did go east to Lost Dutchman State Park and Canyon Lake.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2020 at 3:19 PM

      • It was beyond scary, it was life-changing. I decided to retire a little earlier than planned and we’re both in pretty good shape, so that meant more travel time, not to mention photography time. 🙂


        November 11, 2020 at 7:21 PM

        • Sounds like the right decision, though you’d gladly have come to it by a different route.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 12, 2020 at 8:58 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: