Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Cattails in sunrise light

with 29 comments

After the fog dissipated on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin on the morning of December 22nd
last year, I turned my attention to making pictures of dry cattails (Typha sp.) in golden-hour light.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like the way cattail seed heads shed their fluff?
The prominent arcs in the photograph below seemed especially graceful
(though I didn’t look graceful lying on the ground to get that picture).

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2021 at 4:32 AM

29 Responses

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  1. Ha ha!! I hope you found a non-soggy spot to lay in while you were photographing the cattails? It’s only been the last two years that the cattails have really taken over along the slough. They weren’t there before and I have no idea why, except maybe the previous owner kept cattle in the orchard and maybe they ate or trampled them. They are gorgeous! And all sorts of wild fowl love to tuck away and forage in them. That second shot is my favorite, but I also love the blue water and blue sky in the other two – the blue really showcases the reeds.


    January 6, 2021 at 8:19 AM

    • Even I, as eager as I am to get in a good position for a picture, won’t lie down in a soggy spot. I took the last photograph lying on terra firma. It’s good to hear that cattails have taken over your slough in the past two years, especially after not having been there before; I guess they know where they’re wanted. They’re gorgeous plants to look at, as you said, and they make good photographic subjects in several ways. In addition, what I’ve read says that parts of them are edible, though I’ve never sampled any.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2021 at 9:33 AM

  2. Cattail leaves often seem to be afterthoughts: less important than the seed heads. They certainly shine in your third photo; I like the sinuosity and the sense of movement as the leaves arc across the frame. The effect of the light on the broken reeds in the first photo’s wonderful.

    The fluff looks especially nice against the still-intact seed head; I like the way you captured the pattern created by those densely-packed seeds.


    January 6, 2021 at 8:35 AM

    • A lot of what I’ve done photographically with cattails has involved the seed heads, which are so photogenic as they go through the stages of their unraveling. In the past few years I’ve paid more attention to the leaves, whether fresh, drying out, or fully dried out. I don’t think I’d previously made a picture with arcs as prominent as in the final photo; sinuosity and sine curves are right up my trigonometric alley. I’ve also paid more attention the broken reeds that remain at the end of the season; a view like the first one reminds me of landscape photographs from Victorian times, except those were monochrome.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2021 at 9:45 AM

  3. The cattails are gorgeous in the golden light. The second photo is so beautifully composed, I really like gazing at it.


    January 6, 2021 at 8:37 AM

    • A good alliteration: gorgeous in golden light. My one quibble with the second picture is I wish I’d moved slightly so that the main bunch of fluff was slightly higher and a bit further right so as to fill a little more of the empty space there.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2021 at 9:48 AM

      • Oh, I don’t know. The empty space in this image is exactly what I admire about it, as it gives balance to the image overall.


        January 6, 2021 at 11:11 AM

  4. The razor-sharp image of the cattail and its fluff is truly impressive, Steve. You had to humble yourself to capture the graceful arcs. But who cares when the results are so beautiful. Happy New Year!

    Peter Klopp

    January 6, 2021 at 8:37 AM

    • Aye, and a happy new year to you, too. We’re already six days in, and on four of those I’ve taken pictures, including this morning. You may be aware that the word humble, which you used in connection with my lying down to get the third picture, comes from Latin humus, meaning ‘the ground,’ so the adjective is appropriate.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 6, 2021 at 9:57 AM

  5. I love the way they shed and how the wind carries it away. Up at the end of our street, there’s a couple of ponds on the golf course and one has a nice line of cattails growing by it. The wind blew all the fluff off the cattails and it was so thick it looked like snow. Then the gardener mowed them all down. Sigh. I haven’t seen the Bittern hanging out there since.


    January 6, 2021 at 10:46 AM

  6. You saved the best for the last! 🙂

    Eliza Waters

    January 6, 2021 at 6:32 PM

  7. The little river that flows out from our lake in Minnesota is blessed with a generous growth of cattails (or bulrushes), and we try to do a canoe run across the lake and down to the second bridge at lease once each summer. I have missed that opportunity this past year, but have fond hopes for a new one.


    January 7, 2021 at 1:01 AM

    • As time has passed, you’ve been missing things from your American home. I couldn’t remember whether New Zealand has cattails but the Internet reminded me of raupō:


      Wikipedia says: “Known as raupō in New Zealand, the plant was quite useful to Māori. The rhizomes were cooked and eaten, while the flowers were baked into cakes. The leaves were used for roofs and walls and occasionally for canoe sails. Māori introduced the plant to the Chatham Islands.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 7, 2021 at 7:39 AM

      • There’s a lot of information that I hadn’t realized. First, the NZ variety, raupo, also commonly called “bullrushes” (with an extra “l” which is missing in general North American literature) is Typha orientalis. There are two varieties in Minnesota, the native broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia) and, currently, a more predominant hybrid with narrowleaf cattail (Typha angustifolia). The newer and highly invasive hybrid is Typha x glauca, and there are intensive efforts to cull it. More details here, if your wish: https://www.nps.gov/voya/learn/nature/cattails.htm.


        January 9, 2021 at 1:50 AM

        • I’d read a little about Typha orientalis. I hadn’t heard, however, about the hybrid between the common local species in Minnesota (presumably elsewhere, too) and the invasive T. angustifolia. Botanist Bill Carr notes that in Travis County, which includes Austin, the common cattail is Typha angustifolia, called the southern cattail. Typha latifolia doesn’t seem to occur in this county.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 9, 2021 at 5:43 AM

  8. I especially like the curved reeds in the last image. It was worth the less than graceful ground eye view.

    Steve Gingold

    January 11, 2021 at 5:27 AM

    • For all the times I’ve photographed cattails, I don’t remember ever seeing this many curving leaves together yet spaces far enough apart for each to stand out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 11, 2021 at 7:04 AM

  9. Great shot of the cattail Steve …


    January 13, 2021 at 11:30 AM

  10. I like how the foreground blades bend forward and feel close and overhead.


    January 13, 2021 at 11:58 AM

  11. Seeing these three together is somehow very satisfying. Three different views, all compelling.


    January 14, 2021 at 1:52 PM

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