Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

White: familiar and unfamiliar

with 22 comments

On August 18th I spent time at Raab Park in Round Rock and photographed several things that were white. A very familiar one was Clematis drummondii, whose feathery strands you see above. (You may remember that I also made portraits of some actual feathers there.) Near the end of my stay I noticed a little group of low plants I wasn’t familiar with. I took pictures and hoped that later on I could figure out what I’d photographed. Thanks to a timely post in the Texas Wildflowers Facebook group, I’ll say that the plants seem to have been Nealley’s globe amaranth, Gomphrena nealleyi. Other species I’ve seen online do have a more globe-like inflorescence than this one. The scientific name of this species pays tribute to Greenleaf Cilley Nealley (1846-1896), a Texan botanist—and look how appropriate his first name was for the profession he pursued.

Nealley’s globe amaranth normally grows in south Texas, so perhaps it’s expanding its range. Botanist Bill Carr says it’s rare in Travis County, and the USDA map doesn’t have it marked for Williamson County, which is where I found my specimens. And speaking of globe amaranth, here’s a quotation for today:

“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.” — John Muir, Travels in Alaska  (1915).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 26, 2020 at 4:38 AM

22 Responses

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  1. It looks so fluffy and pretty – nice pictures!


    October 26, 2020 at 6:34 AM

  2. Those “feathery strands” are lovely! I see I somehow missed your “Two kinds of feathers” post! I often see bird feathers in the wild, and many times they’ve attached themselves to something else and they dangle or spin in the wind. And that amaranth sure looks top-heavy. I always ponder how slender stems manage not to yield at the weight of the blossom!


    October 26, 2020 at 7:27 AM

    • I also often find stray feathers in the wild. As you say, they sometimes attach themselves to other things. Either way, I’ve been taking pictures of them for years and have occasionally showed them here. Clematis drummondii is a very common vine here, one that I’ve often photographed in its late stage due to its featheriness. People colloquially call this species old man’s beard.

      The amaranth inflorescences did tend to lie more horizontal. I had to hold this one up a bit to get an unencumbered portrait.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2020 at 7:53 AM

  3. Sometimes I try to guess what you’re showing before clicking over to the post, and today I was right about the ‘familiar white.’ It’s so beautiful, in all its forms; I never tire of seeing it.

    Does the globe amaranth change from pink to white as it matures? I know that I’ve seen it, and I think I have some photos in my files. Initially, I thought it was some sort of clover, since the flowers were much smaller, and pink. I wonder if it develops like frog fruit, beginning with a smaller bloom, and then progressively elongating.


    October 26, 2020 at 9:03 AM

    • For the familiar white I also considered the bull nettle flowers I photographed at the same site. You tuned into the right one for your favorite flower color. When trying to confirm the identification given in Facebook’s Texas Wildflowers group I looked online and found that some of the pictures show pink. Whether that’s normal variation, or whether one color changes to the other (as in rain lilies, for example), I have no idea. I also don’t know the progression of blooming, as this was the one and only time (to my recollection) that I photographed this species. I was a stranger in a strange land in my own area.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2020 at 10:20 AM

  4. I love to look at the feathery appearance of a clematis seed head, even if it is only the garden variety in our yard. The northward march of plants and flowers is further evidence of global warming. I like the poetic quote describing the ‘storm of beauty’ of our universe of which planet earth is only a tiny dewdrop.

    Peter Klopp

    October 26, 2020 at 9:24 AM

    • John Muir knew how to write, that’s for sure, and he used words to express his enchantment with nature.

      If I’ve correctly identified this plant as globe amaranth, it has moved north by one county, and barely that, given that Raab Park is in the southern part of Williamson County close to Travis County (where, on the other hand, Bill Carr describes it as rare). Of course in other eras without as much or even any warming, some species have had their ranges expand, contract, or move. For millennia, people have purposely and also inadvertently disseminated many species; modern transportation has accelerated that enormously.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2020 at 10:28 AM

      • The knapweed invasion is a good example for us humans being responsible for the migration of plants and animals around the world.

        Peter Klopp

        October 26, 2020 at 4:24 PM

  5. The Universe is indeed beautiful in both its vastness and existence…although to what extent it exists is a constantly changing limit.

    Steve Gingold

    October 27, 2020 at 4:22 AM

    • To what extent existence exists: now that’s the most existential of existential questions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 27, 2020 at 7:36 AM

  6. Wow, that Muir quote is something else! 🙂


    October 28, 2020 at 2:01 PM

  7. I found my photo of a pink G. nealleyi , and after looking around at other, similar photos, I’m wondering if yours might be exhibiting an odd growth pattern. It’s clearly globe amaranth, but it sure looks different than any other I found. I’m wondering if it might be fasciated. How cool would that be?


    October 28, 2020 at 7:53 PM

    • If I remember right, other inflorescences on the plants there were also elongated. I don’t get the impression of fasciation, because these were long rather than unnaturally wide—but then I know so little about these things I could well be wrong. I don’t know if the following link will work for you, but give it a try. The first picture there shows inflorescences a little longer than the typical globular ones, though not nearly as long as the one I photographed in Round Rock.


      Steve Schwartzman

      October 28, 2020 at 8:38 PM

  8. Ha ha … the first image made me think of Albert Einstein!


    October 31, 2020 at 1:11 PM

  9. Apart from the beautiful plants, I’ve only heard of “Greenleaf” as a name once, belonging to John G. Whittier. I’m thinking his parents may have been flower children before that term became popular. It’s a particularly elegant name.


    November 4, 2020 at 10:00 PM

    • Now that’s a coincidence. A few hours ago on television we watched several 10-minute newsreel features from the 1940s about scenic places in the American west (Zion, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc.). In one of those the narrator quoted a stanza by John Greenleaf Whittier. I wasn’t familiar with it, and in fact I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything by Whittier, although I know who he was. I managed to track down the quoted passage online and found it’s from a poem called “Sunset on the Bearcamp”:

      Touched by a light that hath no name,
      A glory never sung,
      Aloft on sky and mountain wall
      Are God’s great pictures hung.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 4, 2020 at 10:20 PM

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