Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Poverty weed in all its glory

with 12 comments


Long-time readers know that as the end of each year approaches I never neglect Baccharis neglecta, a slight tree known most commonly as poverty weed. This year has been no exception. I began photographing poverty weed flowering back in September and turning fluffy in October. One of the nicest late-stage specimens came my way on November 15th on George Bush St. at US 290 in Manor. A brisk wind blew on the Blackland Prairie that morning, and enough bits of fluff had gone airborne to reveal the many little “stars” shown above. You’re free to imagine a kind of softly self-ornamenting native Texas Christmas tree.


And now for the answer to the question that’s been lingering for two days: what all the following English words have in common beyond the fact that in each of them a vowel letter and a consonant letter alternate.


Every pair of adjacent letters is a real word in its own right. For example, the adjacent pairs in TOMATO are TO, OM (as in the yoga chant), MA (meaning mother), AT and TO. In other letter pairings in the sample words, DO, RE, MI, FA, and LA are the names of notes. EN and EM serve as the names of letters and are also printing terms for widths corresponding to those typeset letters. AW is an interjection.

I forget which word it was that first made me realize consecutive pairs of its letters are independent words. Once the notion was in my head, I started playing around to see how many other words I could find with that property. I eventually came up with over 90, though some of those are contained within others, like PIT and TON inside PITON. Words with three or four letters make up the large majority. I found fewer words with five or six letters because the longer a word gets, the likelier it is that at least one adjacent pair will fail to be a word.

In almost all cases a vowel letter and a consonant letter need to alternate because there are hardly any pairs of consonant letters that can stand as real English words. One that does shows up at the beginning of SHOWER, where SH is a conventional spelling of the sound people make for somebody to be quiet; HO and OW are interjections, and ER indicates hesitation in speaking.

If you’re a fan of word puzzles and have nothing more pressing to do with your time, you might hunt for more words that have this property. You could also try it in another language. For example, Spanish HAYAS ‘that you may have’ yields HA ‘it has’; AY ‘ouch,’ YA ‘already,’ and AS ‘ace.’ For a German example, take EIN ‘a, an,’ which gives EI ‘egg’ and IN, the cognate of the same word in English.

Another way of extending the challenge is to find words in which every consecutive triplet of letters forms a word. For example, MANY produces MAN and ANY, while PAYER yields PAY, AYE ‘yes,’ and the informal YER.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 29, 2020 at 4:42 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with ,

12 Responses

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  1. My first thought of the poverty weed was that it looked like a Christmas tree that nature flocked and sprinkled with little star ornaments. That soft background is nice too. I had never heard of the poverty weed, and no wonder, because it doesn’t grow in my neck of the woods!

    You might know my busy life does not render time to investigate word challenges. I’m lucky to have time to get a blog post written or make time to watch a movie! But, I do enjoy word puzzles and hope one day my life won’t be so busy.


    November 29, 2020 at 6:43 AM

    • I’d have thought that Baccharis neglecta continues up into your part of Oklahoma; shows how much I know. You may still get your chance for a sight like the one in today’s picture: Baccharis salicina does grow in your part of the state, http://bonap.net/MapGallery/County/Baccharis%20salicina.png, and the pictures at https://tinyurl.com/yy3y9me6 show it turning fluffy like its relative in Austin.

      This upright poverty weed branch drew my attention because of its approximately conical shape and because of the way other branches filled in the background behind it. In the two decades I’ve been photographing this species in the fall, I’d never made a portrait like this one. Because of that and intrinsically I’m quite happy with it. I’ll probably show it here again in a different light.

      Yes, we’re aware how busy your life is. Might there be a way to give up some of the things you’re doing to make a little more room for the things you enjoy?

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2020 at 7:12 AM

  2. I like your self-adorned Christmas tree, Steve. Instead of needles, you would have all that fluff lying on the living room floor.
    This is a great puzzle that I could not solve although I am a passionate Scrabble player in three languages.

    Peter Klopp

    November 29, 2020 at 8:25 AM

    • Fluff there would be, that’s for sure. You’re one language ahead of me in Scrabble, as I’ve played in English and Spanish (and neither for decades). You’re a good candidate, then, to take up the consecutive-letter challenges I posed at the end of the post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2020 at 8:52 AM

  3. A clever puzzle as well as a bit disheartening that I didn’t solve it. The little Xmas tree is great, that at least instantly occurred to me.

    Robert Parker

    November 29, 2020 at 8:35 AM

    • The resemblance to a Christmas tree jumps right out, doesn’t it? I wouldn’t feel too disheartened about the word puzzle; it took me decades to realize the possibility of it (unless I thought about that in the past and didn’t pursue it).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2020 at 9:07 AM

  4. This truly is a unique image. I not only saw the Christmas tree immediately, I saw it lighted, with myriad little stars. It’s just fabulous. Managing to find the ‘tree’ is one thing. That you were able to capture that background’s nearly unbelievable. In this case, ‘awesome’ is just the right word: I’m in awe of this photo.


    November 29, 2020 at 9:29 AM

    • As someone with no poverty of poverty weed experience, you understand why this specimen called out to me, and as a photographer you appreciate how lucky I counted myself to have that great background. While I took other pictures of the poverty weed there, the sequence that included this picture really stands out. Probably no one else appreciated it, and one man walking along from the nearby convenience store gave me a bemused smile when he saw me taking my pictures of the poverty weed he otherwise might not have cast a glance at.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 29, 2020 at 11:10 AM

  5. That is a good puzzle!

    Lavinia Ross

    November 30, 2020 at 10:33 AM

    • It is. It’s another instance of suddenly tuning in to something that I’d not noticed in all the previous decades of speaking (or in this case writing) English as a native language. It means there may well be more discoveries.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 30, 2020 at 11:05 AM

  6. […] may want to compare these to the original color photograph that debuted here last […]

  7. […] neglecta) off against the morning’s equally wispy clouds. Two years ago I presented a poverty weed photograph with its colors partially desaturated. I experimented with this year’s Liberty Hill photographs by converting one almost completely […]

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