Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Great purple hairstreak butterfly and Mexican plum blossoms

with 32 comments

On March 15th at McKinney Falls State Park many flying insects were drawn to the heady blossoms of a Mexican plum tree (Prunus mexicana). Among those insects was a great purple hairstreak butterfly (Atlides halesus). You can see that despite its common name, it doesn’t look purple. You can also see in the second picture the dense multitude of blossoms that adorned the tree.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 23, 2021 at 4:29 AM

32 Responses

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  1. Hairstreaks occasionally visited the flowers in our garden in Omaha, and I developed a great fondness for them. What fun to see one again, and such a nice portrait perched proudly on the plum.


    March 23, 2021 at 4:44 AM

  2. Nice of it to pose so nicely, and nicely composed photo.

    Robert Parker

    March 23, 2021 at 5:55 AM

  3. The abundance of the Mexican plum blossoms is a sure sign that old man Winter has retreated from your region. The sound of the buzzing insects must have been overwhelming, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    March 23, 2021 at 7:47 AM

    • I wouldn’t say it overwhelmed me, but I did hear it; you could say it whelmed me. Yes, winter’s been long gone here, with today’s high temperature predicted to be 84°F (29°C).

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2021 at 7:56 AM

  4. That purple hairstreak is great in every sense of the word. I don’t remember seeing one before; the colors are lovely. Of course, the plum tree is pretty darned impressive. I’ve not seen a collection of blooms like that yet this year. No wonder the hairstreak was attracted to it.


    March 23, 2021 at 8:14 AM

    • I found myself as drawn to the tree as the insects were—for a different purpose, of course. In addition to those Mexican plum trees, some of the redbuds in Austin have put out dense blossoms. Specimens of both trees are already beginning to leaf out. We’ll see if the huisaches do any flowering this year; the large one in my neighborhood still looks pretty bedraggled from the ice storm last month.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2021 at 8:33 AM

  5. What a nice surprise to find a purple hairstreak already! I noted some kind of woodland moth flitting around the other day, so we’ll be seeing more of that as the temperatures warm up. Trees and some flowers are beginning to leaf out and blossom the last couple of weeks, but nothing as showy as your Mexican plum. Redbuds especially are in full show. It won’t be long and I’ll be foraging for morel mushrooms. They pop up here when the redbud leaves look like little mouse ears.


    March 23, 2021 at 8:59 AM

    • We’ve also had gorgeous redbuds here for several weeks now, long enough that the first ones to blossom are already beginning to leaf out. And I know what you mean about those “little mouse ears.”

      Good luck with your morel mushrooms. We recently walked past a places where we’d gathered several pounds of them some years ago, but this winter we had only a little precipitation, so those mushrooms aren’t likely to flourish this season.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2021 at 9:11 AM

  6. We have that, too, but not so glorious. And I could not get close enough for the butterfly to show up that big.
    Great shots, Steve.


    March 23, 2021 at 9:01 AM

    • Thanks. It was quite a sight. I normally take insect pictures by getting close with my macro lens. Because this butterfly was too high up for that, I used my 100–400mm lens zoomed to it’s full length. Even then the butterfly is a relatively small element in the photograph, but that’s okay because the plum blossoms add interest in their own right.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2021 at 9:16 AM

  7. Whatever the name it is a beauty of a butterfly and the name’s appropriateness is similar to this Red-spotted Purple I posted a few years back that challenges the name although if one looks hard enough there is a bit of it there. And those flowers are plum beautiful too.

    Steve Gingold

    March 23, 2021 at 3:32 PM

    • I see what you mean about that red-spotted “purple.” Nice going with “plum beautiful.” I couldn’t have said it better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2021 at 5:22 PM

  8. Nice photography. I try to stay away from these things (flowers) since I’m very allergic.

    Alessandra Chaves

    March 23, 2021 at 5:14 PM

    • I empathize with you because I’m sensitive to plenty of things in nature, too. And yet you went into entomology, which must take you out into nature a lot.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2021 at 5:24 PM

      • It’s mostly pollen I’m allergic to. I wish biology took me out a lot. I went into biology because I like to be out, but now I work at an office and the samples come to me there so I can’t do some field work. To compensate for the fact that I have to be inside all day, I took on photography…

        Alessandra Chaves

        March 23, 2021 at 5:36 PM

        • Ah, for the moment an indoor entomologist. Photography’s a great pastime to get you out into nature, and naturally a worthy pursuit in its own right, especially when taken seriously, as you’ve been doing.

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 23, 2021 at 6:48 PM

  9. So glad to see some blooms for the emerging pollinators. That freeze killed so many flowering plants, I’ve read that insects like the migrating Monarchs are near to starving. Bad news!

    Eliza Waters

    March 23, 2021 at 6:20 PM

    • There are still noticeably fewer wildflowers out now than we’d expect near the end of March, so it makes sense that butterflies are having trouble finding nutrients. We keep waiting for the big wildflower surge but it hasn’t come yet. On the good side, I saw my first milkweed buds this morning, even if it was just a single plant.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 23, 2021 at 6:45 PM

  10. Mexican plums. I can imagine the intense scent from all those blossoms! I don’t think I have ever seen a purple hairstreak. Most of the butterflies I see in my areas are swallowtails.

    Lavinia Ross

    March 23, 2021 at 10:54 PM

    • We have a couple of swallowtail species here, too. They’re hard to photograph because even while nectaring they keep fluttering their wings. Hairstreaks tend to move their lower wings up and down, but only slowly, so it’s easier to photograph them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 24, 2021 at 7:45 AM

  11. So beautiful Steve lovely compositions ~ smiles hedy ☺️

    sloppy buddhist

    March 24, 2021 at 12:54 AM

    • Did Buddha ever talk about butterflies?

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 24, 2021 at 7:50 AM

      • Well Buddha’s always have a lot to say in my experience as a sloppy one 🤓😉 “Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present. What the caterpillar perceives is the end, to the butterfly is just the beginning. Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well”…compose a flutter by day ☺️smiles hedy

        sloppy buddhist

        March 24, 2021 at 8:40 AM

  12. I don’t think I’ve seen any like this before. They have a fascinating wing shape with those hair streaks down below. I’m just starting to notice some early season butterflies out and about.

    Todd Henson

    March 24, 2021 at 10:55 AM

    • Those little hair streaks act as false antennae. If a predator chomps down there, the butterfly may still be able to fly away with what’s left of its wings. When these butterflies are at rest they often move the lower wing up and down a little to make it more likely a predator will see the false antennae as being on the head of would-be prey.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 24, 2021 at 3:14 PM

  13. I like the lack of color then splash of color in your first image here!


    March 24, 2021 at 11:09 AM

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