Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Late takes on Clematis drummondii

with 35 comments

I didn’t expect to be photographing one of my favorite subjects so late in the year: Clematis drummondii, a vine known endearingly as old man’s beard. The last times I’d taken pictures of any were late July and early August. In the first week of December I noticed a fluffy colony on the west-side embankment of US 183 just south of Braker Lane, a corner I often drive past as I leave my neighborhood. After telling myself several times that I should check out the Clematis, I finally did on December 10th. The first picture gives you an overview of the colony. You’ll be forgiven if a first glance made you think you were seeing a black and white photograph.

The backlighting that made the colony stand out in the first photograph also served me in the second, a macro view in which you’re seeing a span of maybe 2 inches. In the third picture I took a softer and less contrasty approach. Don’t you love the chaos in the two close views?

And speaking of chaos, did you know that it gave rise to the new word gas? Here’s the explanation in The Online Etymology Dictionary:

1650s, from Dutch gas, probably from Greek khaos “empty space”… The sound of Dutch “g” is roughly equivalent to that of Greek “kh.” First used by Flemish chemist J.B. van Helmont (1577-1644), probably influenced by Paracelsus, who used khaos in an occult sense of “proper elements of spirits” or “ultra-rarified water,” which was van Helmont’s definition of gas.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2020 at 4:44 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

35 Responses

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  1. The most gorgeous chaos I have ever seen and a great definition too.
    Happy Holidays to you and yours, Steve 🎄
    Best wishes for a healthy New Year!
    The Fab Four of Cley 🤶🏻🧚🏻‍♀️🎄🧚🏻‍♀️🎅🏻


    December 24, 2020 at 5:30 AM

    • Now that’s an accolade I welcome from you: “the most gorgeous chaos I have ever seen.”

      In this season we’ve finally seen the beginning of the end for one sort of chaos; that’s a great and appropriate holiday gift. May the coming year complete the return to normality for us all.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 7:03 AM

  2. Love the close-ups. There is a lot of this around here, also known as traveller’s joy, because you see it along the roadside. In fact there’s one in my garden which is very hard to get rid of!


    December 24, 2020 at 6:43 AM

    • I don’t believe I’ve ever seen your British traveller’s joy, Clematis vitalba, in person. Photographs show its feathery seeds looking similar to those of Clematis drummondii. More than a dozen years ago I researched my local species, and in doing so I found historical, literary, and folksy references to yours. For example, Sir Walter Scott wrote about “The favoured flower / That bears the name of Virgin’s bower.”

      Since the one in your yard seems determined to stay there, have you done much with it photographically?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 7:25 AM

  3. Your images are fine examples of beautiful chaos. They each have a snowy look to them, but I especially love the softness of that last image.


    December 24, 2020 at 7:01 AM

    • The beautiful chaos feels as soft as it looks, too. I hope you get to experience that one day, though it’ll have to be somewhere away from home because this species doesn’t grow in your area. One more reason to travel south and west.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 9:06 AM

    • Your mention of “snowy” makes me think now that it would be interesting to see a bit of snow or at least frost on one of these fluffy masses. The closest I’ve come is dewdrops and raindrops.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 10:03 AM

  4. The last picture is really marvelous.


    December 24, 2020 at 7:40 AM

    • Thanks for letting me know. For a couple of decades now I’ve been taking macro looks at what goes on in these seed heads, and I never get tired of it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 9:11 AM

  5. The old man’s beard is a good name for the plant producing such a fluffy chaotic entanglement of fibre. Merry Christmas to you, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    December 24, 2020 at 8:57 AM

    • And a true-to-life name for the photographer, too. “Chaotic entanglement” is a good way to describe what’s going on in the closeups. Happy holidays to you as well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 9:08 AM

  6. That makes sense because in a gaseous state the molecules are zooming around chaotically. “Chaotic entanglement”~I love that!


    December 24, 2020 at 9:46 AM

    • It makes sense indeed. This is yet another case in which etymology sheds light on science.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 9:57 AM

  7. Wow these are great, a wonderful exuberant chaos, I do love them!

    Robert Parker

    December 24, 2020 at 11:01 AM

    • And thanks for your exuberant (but not at all chaotic) assessment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 11:04 AM

      • I like these shots as much as any you’ve posted this year, definitely in the top ten for 2020.
        I enjoy running across the similar Clematis virginiana (I just looked it up) in NY, it doesn’t create such a cloud, but still fun to see.

        Robert Parker

        December 24, 2020 at 11:15 AM

        • Of course I’m happy to hear these pictures particularly got to you. Occasionally I think a certain photograph will reach people and am disappointed when it doesn’t. By pushing into abstraction and minimalism I sometimes lose people.

          Not familiar with Clematis virginiana, I, too, looked it up. Based on the photographs I saw, it seems to put on a greater show of flowers—which is what people presumably plant it for—and less of a show of feathery seeds, which is the main reason I’m drawn to Clematis drummondii.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 24, 2020 at 12:19 PM

          • You’re right that the flowers bloom in profusion, and they also have a nice, rich scent. You no doubt saw that the USDA lists it for only a few Texas counties; I’ve found it in Jasper County, where it’s listed, and in Tyler County, where it isn’t. This photo was taken at the edge of Hyatt Lake, near the Watson Rare Plant Preserve in Tyler County.


            December 24, 2020 at 8:20 PM

            • I didn’t even think to check whether Clematis virginiana grows anywhere in Texas. If Virginia creeper can creep its way to this state, so can that other vine. Your photograph certainly shows a profusion of flowers. I didn’t expect a scent as well, given that I’ve never detected a fragrance from any of the three species in Austin.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 24, 2020 at 9:57 PM

  8. These are beautiful photos, Steve, and I can also count on you for some interesting additional information.

    Lavinia Ross

    December 24, 2020 at 11:13 AM

    • Thanks. You might say interesting information is my middle name—if you allow a phrase to serve as a middle name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 12:21 PM

  9. These lovely photos evoke all the winter snow and ice that we generally don’t enjoy. I think I’d probably tire of lots of snow and ice, but I would never tire of these beauties–well done!!


    December 24, 2020 at 1:17 PM

    • Ah, an imagined transformation of seed plumes into snow and ice, and without paying the cost of frostbitten toes and fingers. As much as I dislike the cold of winter, which is one reason I left New York and worked my way down to Texas, I’d endure a little temporary freezing in order to work (photographically) with real snow and ice. As you implied, that does happen here every few years, and I’ve hurried out to take advantage when it does. These Clematis plumes, by the way, are still on the US 183 embankment two weeks later; I’m surprised they’ve lasted so long.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 1:52 PM

  10. Happy Christmas


    December 24, 2020 at 7:02 PM

  11. I did catch a glimpse of this plant in early December, four miles north of Kerrville on Highway 16, running along a fence and nearly as thick as in your first photo. I didn’t stop for photos at the time, as I’d been on the Willow City loop, it nearly was dark, and I was tired. I thought I’d go back and spend some time with it, but then automotive chaos set in, and that was the end of that. At least I have a spot to begin looking next year.

    I’m especially fond of the last photo. It looks like something Al Hirschfeld would scribble on his pad as he was warming up to do a caricature.


    December 24, 2020 at 8:00 PM

    • Now there’s a research project for a college student in the humanities: was Hirschfeld familiar with any species of Clematis, and if so, did he draw inspiration from their seed heads?

      I took the last photo, unlike the first two, with the sun behind me, and the incident light made for a softer portrait than the ones with the sun in front of me. Automotive chaos aside—and better yet, past—it’s good that you’ve staked out a spot to look for this species next year. I remember that stretch of Highway 16 from the fall of 2019, when some dead trees caused me to stop and take pictures:


      Steve Schwartzman

      December 24, 2020 at 9:52 PM

  12. Seem to have missed this when it was first posted. First impression of first shot was black and white, second and third photographs delightfully animated – would suggest to me, not chaos, but dancing filaments with misty white flowing chiffon robes or backdrop. But some dances do seem chaotic…


    December 26, 2020 at 3:35 PM

    • This was from only two days ago, so you didn’t miss it for long. I figured viewers might take the first picture to be black and white, given how little color there is in the image. You’ve got quite a good imagination in turning potential chaos into dancing filaments with misty white flowing chiffon robes. An illustrator could turn those photographs into what you’ve seen in them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2020 at 4:29 PM

  13. Gorgeous photographs, Steve, this is a big favorite!! All of them, I mean, but if I had to pick, the third one would be the one going on my wall. 🙂


    January 2, 2021 at 8:11 PM

    • Glad to hear these made a hit with you. I’ve photographed the late stages of this species so many times that I’m always on the lookout for new ways to portray it. It’s super photogenic, as you’ve seen.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2021 at 9:19 PM

  14. I especially like the last. The light processing and toning adds to a delicate feeling.


    January 3, 2021 at 2:59 PM

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