Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Spiderwort flowers in the shade

with 31 comments

Heavy shade behind the entrance building at McKinney Falls State Park on March 15th
led to this soft portrait of spiderwort flowers (Tradescantia sp.).

The vernal equinox for 2021 occurs today, so happy official beginning of spring to you. That English name for the season is the same word as the spring that means ‘jump up,’ because this new season is the time when plants spring up from the ground as the cold of winter fades. (That may sound like folk etymology, which is to say false etymology, but in this case it’s true.) English had earlier called the season lencten, the time when the days lengthen; the modern form of that word, Lent, became specialized as the name of the time in the spring that leads up to the Christian holiday of Easter. Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, and Italian call the spring primavera, and Romanian primăvară, literally ‘first spring,’ which is to say ‘early spring,’ from the Latin name of the season, vēr, and that’s why today is the vernal equinox. French calls spring printemps, literally ‘first time,’ and it is indeed a prime time for wildflowers. The Polish ophthalmologist L.L. Zamenhof, in creating the artificial language Esperanto, borrowed the French word in the form printempo. German calls spring Frühling, based on the früh that means ‘early.’ The Scandinavian languages call the season vår, a native cognate of Latin vēr. Now that you know all these words, there’s no excuse for not having some spring in your step today.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2021 at 4:39 AM

31 Responses

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  1. Those flowers are real beauties! You’ve done them proud.

    Ms. Liz

    March 20, 2021 at 4:45 AM

  2. I’ve yet to see spiderwort this spring, but they were blooming at the same time, in all the same places, where I found fringed puccoon in the past. Rather than looking for flowers to love in all the wrong places, I just cancelled my reservation in Gonzales and am heading in a more northerly direction, to celebrate the equinox around the Attwater Refuge and Schulenburg. Who knows what’s springing up there?


    March 20, 2021 at 6:05 AM

    • I agree it makes sense for you to say closer to home while waiting for farther areas to turn more floral. I’ll bet you’ll find some photogenic things springing up—maybe even a prairie chicken.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2021 at 7:22 AM

  3. A fascinating picture and lecture on the etymology of spring-related words. A poetic word for spring in German is Lenz related to lent and lencten. Let the flowers spring up. It’s equinox!

    Peter Klopp

    March 20, 2021 at 8:11 AM

    • In preparing this post I learned about the poetic German word Lenz and considered mentioning it, but ended up not. It’s the equinox, yet so far this year central Texas’s wildflowers haven’t been the equal of what we’ve come to expect here by now. We’re hoping the ice brought only a delay and not a suppression.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2021 at 8:25 AM

  4. Vey cute flowers. I’ve seen Tradescantia only in southern Brazil, there’s a common sp there ( forgot the species name). Yes we say prima vera. Prima = cousin Vera = real 😅

    Alessandra Chaves

    March 20, 2021 at 8:44 AM

    • I’ve never though of a Tradescantia species growing as far away as southern Brazil, but why shouldn’t there be one? In checking just now I found the genus comprises 70 species in the Americas.

      Vera is also a woman’s name, as in the Brazilians Vera Cordeiro, Vera Fischer, and Vera Holtz. Therefore Prima Vera could be interpreted as Cousin Vera.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2021 at 9:58 AM

      • I have a prima (cousin) named Vera 😉 in spring we used to joke her around “Lá vem a prima Vera” (here comes cousin Vera).

        Alessandra Chaves

        March 20, 2021 at 10:06 AM

        • How nice that you were able to make that play on words in your own family. In recent decades, parents have been giving girls the name Summer:
          If the same is true in Portuguese, you could say to people when someone of that name was expected to arrive, “Lá verão Verão.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 20, 2021 at 11:54 AM

          • now I am curious why the word for Cousin in Portuguese is primo/prima …

            Alessandra Chaves

            March 20, 2021 at 9:37 PM

            • The Latin word for cousin (on the mother’s side) was consobrinus/consobrina, which evolved through Old French to become the English word cousin (and the main part of consobrinus/a evolved, with a shift in meaning, to become Portuguese sobrinho/a). Latin consobrinus primus meant specifically a first-degree cousin. Eventually the noun got dropped, and the remaining primus then functioned as a noun that stood in for the whole original phrase. Latin primus in that sense became Portuguese primo.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 20, 2021 at 10:45 PM

              • I should add that it’s not unusual for a phrase consisting of an adjective and a noun to eventually be represented by the adjective alone. For example, in English we use principal to designate the head of a school; principal in that sense came into use as a shortening of the phrase principal teacher. Another example is the commercial we see on television; it was originally called a commercial announcement.

                Steve Schwartzman

                March 20, 2021 at 10:53 PM

  5. Such a lovely color! There is much beauty in the simplicity of these flowers. That is a very pleasing composition, Steve.

    I always learn new things here. Thank you!

    Lavinia Ross

    March 20, 2021 at 11:44 AM

    • You’re welcome, and thanks for letting me know you like the composition here. With this picture I didn’t follow my usual approaches. I keep trying new things, even after all these years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2021 at 1:56 PM

  6. I’m positively bouncing! I’m fond of spiderwort and you make it appear as elegant as any flower.


    March 20, 2021 at 1:57 PM

  7. These brilliant flowers absolutely jumped off the page, as it were, when I scrolled to your post!! Beautiful sight to see.

    Birder's Journey

    March 20, 2021 at 4:15 PM

    • The previous commenter was “positively bouncing,” and for you the flowers shown here “absolutely jumped.” This view of spiderworts apparently has what it takes to make some beholders dance a tarantella.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2021 at 4:21 PM

  8. One of my favorite flowers. So intensely colored. So dynamically structured.

    Johnny Crabcakes

    March 20, 2021 at 4:35 PM

  9. The spiderwort flowers are lovely. I used to grow them in Scotland but find they don’t survive long in this garden. (I think it’s too dry.) Happy spring!

    Ann Mackay

    March 20, 2021 at 8:02 PM

    • More people seem to be familiar with spiderworts than I thought. These flowers are indeed an early sign of spring, and therefore appropriate on this first day of the new season.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 20, 2021 at 8:24 PM

  10. My first exposure to the spiderwort was at my brother’s place in southwestern North Carolina, and I found myself immediately ensnared in its delicate web of beauty. It’s great to see them again, so thanks for this equinoctial treat.


    March 21, 2021 at 3:04 AM

    • You’re welcome. From what I’ve been able to find, nothing rhymes with equinoctial except other compounds of -noctial like trinoctial and interequinoctial. I also found an instance where picture-to-text software mis-transcribed binomial on a math worksheet as binoctial.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2021 at 8:25 AM

  11. We have these along our driveway and in the backyard. They are a bit aggressive but beautifully so as your image conveys.

    Steve Gingold

    March 21, 2021 at 3:51 AM

    • Ah, beautifully aggressive—now there’s a concept. Your remark about having spiderworts in your yard made me get up just now and go over to look out a side window. Below where icicles hung a month ago, a spiderwort was flowering, a descendant of a few Eve planted years ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2021 at 8:29 AM

  12. I love flowers with these deep, rich colors. And shade can do wonders for helping show off that color.

    Todd Henson

    March 21, 2021 at 9:08 AM

    • I probably should have mentioned that these spiderworts thrive in shaded and partly shaded places (though they don’t do so for the sake of photographers). I’m glad you brought it up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 21, 2021 at 9:40 AM

  13. That deep purple color is wonderful. I like that it is a grouping of 3 (or 6) and the focus is on the closest.


    March 24, 2021 at 11:08 AM

    • Normally I go for lots of sharpness. The heavy shade made me take a different tack, playing up overall softness except in the closest pair of flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 24, 2021 at 3:28 PM

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