Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 21 comments

Had I ever seen flanges on the young limbs of cedar elm trees (Ulmus crassifolia)? Sure, it’s a common feature. Had I ever seen a flanged cedar elm limb looking as much like a zipper as the one I encountered in Cedar Breaks Park on Lake Georgetown on December 8th? No, and that’s why I’m featuring it here. The red in the background came from the many little fruits of a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua).

Did you know that zipper was originally a trade name? You may want to zip over and read about the history of the word and the device itself.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2020 at 4:36 AM

21 Responses

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  1. When I read ‘zipper,’ the first thing that crossed my mind was a praying mantis ootheca, since the only one I’ve found appeared to have been zipped up. This is just as obviously zipper-like, and a neat find. It mostly reminds me of zippers that have been pulled out of old boat canvas: usually accidentally and in frustration. Even plastic zippers can get stuck, and there are long discussions on boat forums about how to deal with them.


    December 28, 2020 at 7:53 AM

    • Speaking of getting stuck, I had to wade through bunches of dewberry vines and greenbrier vines to get in a good position to take this picture. The dewberry wasn’t bad, but even though I moved slowly the greenbrier kept grabbing my legs and I couldn’t avoid getting poked and scratched somewhat. The things we do for the sake of our pictures.

      Forget football cheers, a mantis cheer could be “Oh, oh, ootheca!”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2020 at 8:31 AM

  2. The “burning bush” winged euonymus is pretty popular for hedges around here, so I’ve seen lots of branches with “flanges,” but not serrated-looking like your photo. I see the zipper, but to me it suggested the cutters on a chainsaw chain. Here’s a link to an article about a zipper store in NYC; the article is ten years old, but I just checked and the store is still in operation.

    Robert Parker

    December 28, 2020 at 9:29 AM

    • More power to you for upgrading the zipper to a chainsaw chain. And for linking to that article about Eddie Feibusch. Don’t think I knew there are stores dedicated to nothing but zippers. I see the current address given on the website is in Long Island City, across the river in Queens. Probably Manhattan got too expensive. As for the “burning bush” euonymous, I had to look at online pictures to see its “wings.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2020 at 10:20 AM

  3. I found out that these winged branches are common for “Ulmus alata” that has his habitat from Newfoundland to Texas.


    December 28, 2020 at 10:24 AM

    • The species name alata means ‘winged.’ I’m aware of Ulmus alata from a cultivated one at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. The closest to here that the winged elm grows naturally is three counties away, so maybe someday I’ll see one in the wild. In the meantime, Austin has lots of cedar elms to keep up my F.Q. (flange quota).

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 28, 2020 at 10:34 AM

  4. This is pretty cool looking, and of course I like how you framed it against the possum haw. (so much fun to say). Like Robert, it put me in mind of the burning bush that runs rampant around here.


    December 29, 2020 at 10:28 AM

    • No burning bush around here, nor any Moses for that matter, but plenty of possumhaw, which I’m grateful to for brightening up the winter landscape. We’ve seen at least a little of it every time we’ve gone out driving recently.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2020 at 10:43 AM

      • Better possum haw than burning bush, which is non native and proving to be invasive. Very invasive.


        December 30, 2020 at 9:09 AM

        • I’m sorry to hear about the invasiveness of that alien plant. Sounds like some prescribed burns would be appropriate for burning bush.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 30, 2020 at 9:13 AM

  5. My first reaction to this was that you photographed a Burning Bush-Euonymus alatus (also seen by others) which wouldn’t be keeping with your native theme. Then I read what it actually is and was surprised at the similarity.

    Steve Gingold

    December 29, 2020 at 5:57 PM

    • As you’ve seen before, for me the learning goes the other way, starting with something native locally, in this case the cedar elm, and expanding to something exotic, the burning bush.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2020 at 9:40 PM

  6. That’s crazy cool, Steve! There’s an oft-planted landscaping shrub with flanges and its name is escaping me now – it has red leaves in the fall and it’s used as a hedge – surely you know it….ah, I remember, euonymus!!


    January 2, 2021 at 8:06 PM

    • Robert Parker in an earlier comment also suggested euonymous. For people familiar cultivated plants, that’s apparently a pretty well known one. My learning goes the other way, from a native plant out to something relevant in horticulture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 2, 2021 at 9:07 PM

  7. I’ve seen a few wild plants in Minnesota with similar structures, but can’t remember when and didn’t quite know what they were. Your zipper analogy is a good one.


    January 3, 2021 at 10:12 PM

    • That analogy zipped into my mind as soon as I saw this flanged branch. I still don’t know what the flanges accomplish.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 4, 2021 at 8:00 AM

  8. The fruit tree would make a good fabric pattern too.


    January 4, 2021 at 12:38 PM

  9. […] branches of cedar elm trees (Ulmus crassifolia) often have flanges and sometimes also lichens on them.They rarely add ice, but they did on January 10th as snow and […]

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