Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Radial arrangements

with 26 comments

It occurred to me that two of the plants I photographed on April 11th in Round Rock display radial arrangements. The picture above shows the top of a lace cactus, Echinocereus reichenbachii. In the other view the radial (and always five-fold) arrangement characterizes the flowers of the most common milkweed in my area, Asclepias asperula, called antelope horns. You also get to see a butterfly that I take to be Callophrys gryneus, known as the olive or juniper hairstreak, though this individual didn’t show much green.

Speaking of radial arrangements, the word that that adjective comes from is Latin radius, which originally meant ‘a staff, a rod.’ The Romans later put the word to work metaphorically to designate ‘a beam or ray of any shining object.’ In a less radiant way, geometers came to use the word abstractly for ‘any line segment connecting a circle’s center to the circle itself.’ We also find that notion of ‘going out from a central point’ in Old-French-derived ray and the Latin-based verb radiate. And then there’s rayon, which appears to have been borrowed unchanged (except for pronunciation) from the modern French word for ‘ray’; the connection is that rayon has a somewhat radiant surface.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 26, 2021 at 4:41 AM

26 Responses

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  1. I love the structures that nature creates…and I now know more about the word rayon than I could have guessed! 🙂

    Ann Mackay

    April 26, 2021 at 4:55 AM

    • You could say etymology has cast its radiant ray on rayon. For the sake of nature pictures, I’d never want there to be any strictures on photographing structures or any distractions from portraying abstractions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2021 at 5:41 AM

  2. I see the dusting of green on the butterfly’s shoulders, nice!
    My first glance at your photo, I saw a coral or sea anemone, it’s a very attractive cactus.
    I was thinking that fivefold is a handy term, like pair, dozen, etc. I guess “penta” is instantly grasped, because of the Pentagon, but whenever I see quintet, sextet, septet, etc. I have to stop a second and think how many that is. And once you get past nine…no, no nonet, that’s enough.

    Robert Parker

    April 26, 2021 at 5:30 AM

    • It’d be nice if you could emulate this butterfly and start a fashion trend by going around with a dusting of green on your shoulders.

      Cacti often display geometrical designs that I’m happy to photograph; they also have attractive flowers (the prickly pears in my neighborhood are budding now, so it shouldn’t be long).

      And here’s a third thing: from what you say about having to stop a second before recognition comes, ordinal numbers are secondary to cardinal numbers for you.

      In closing, I’ll venture forth with a fourth thing: I’m surprised you’ve heard of “No no, Nanette.” The cardinal song from the show is “Tea for Two.” Did you know that P.D.Q. Bach modified the title for “No-no Nonette,” scored for assorted winds and toys?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2021 at 5:59 AM

      • No, that’s clever, I’ve never seen Schickele, I think he’s pretty much retired, but I’ve heard some of his deranged programs on the radio and got a huge kick out of it, I think my granddad had a couple of his albums, the covers were funny, too. My mom loves Broadway shows, as did her parents, and I grew up hearing this stuff, including the more obscure shows like The Rothschilds, Fiorello, etc.

        Robert Parker

        April 26, 2021 at 6:42 AM

        • You’re fortunate to have grown up with that Broadway background. I know I had a P.D.Q. Bach album in New York around 1971, and after I moved to Austin I attended a performance by Peter Schickele in the late 1970s.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 26, 2021 at 7:38 AM

  3. I’ll happily gaze at that cactus till my eyes glaze over😁


    April 26, 2021 at 6:21 AM

  4. I love these geometric patterns, Steve! It is truly astounding how much geometry can be found in nature.

    Peter Klopp

    April 26, 2021 at 9:47 AM

    • That’s for sure. It must be encoded in the DNA of species, but that raises the question of why some exhibit so much more symmetry than others. As I’ve said before: Variety is the species of life.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2021 at 10:03 AM

  5. Beautiful shots, Steve. Hairstreaks are so photogenic! Even though they’re tiny, if you can get a close-up and it’s not windy, it’s remarkable how intricate and lovely they are.


    April 26, 2021 at 10:00 AM

    • Agreed. The juniper hairstreak was one of the very first butterflies I became acquainted with when I began photographing native plants in Austin more than 20 years ago. If I remember right, I initially encountered olive hairstreaks at St. Edward’s Park in what is now my part of town but wasn’t then. I remember learning about the false antennae meant to get a predator to chomp down on a potentially expendable part of the wings rather than on the butterfly’s head.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2021 at 10:08 AM

  6. Steve, I like that you have been combining two of your passions in this blog.


    April 26, 2021 at 11:02 AM

    • Hi, Sally. A couple of years ago I stopped adding to my Spanish-English Word Connections blog. Lately I’ve been adding occasional language lore here, where I have a larger audience than I ever did there. I generally put extra stuff at the end of a post so people who are interested only in the nature part get that first and can skip the rest if they’re not interested.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2021 at 11:09 AM

  7. I especially like that lace cactus against the black background.

    Lavinia Ross

    April 26, 2021 at 11:21 AM

    • It’s very graphic, isn’t it? It would make a good poster in a high school geometry classroom.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 26, 2021 at 11:29 AM

  8. I really like natural things.


    April 26, 2021 at 1:16 PM

  9. The lace cactus is a nice shot.

    Steve Gingold

    April 27, 2021 at 3:46 AM

    • I make out 16 spirals, which is twice 8, which is a Fibonacci number. Decades ago I counted the interwoven spirals on a different kind of cactus and found they were the doubles of consecutive Fibonacci numbers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 27, 2021 at 6:30 AM

  10. For years I had a lace cactus that I named Godot, because I had to wait so long for it to bloom. I can’t quite tell from your photo whether the emerging bloom on this one’s viable or not, but it’s certainly attractive. I like the very faint hint of green in the image, and the way the star in the middle shines. The only juniper hairstreak I’ve seen was on an antelope horn and, naturally enough, in the hill country, where there are junipers aplenty.

    ‘Geometer’ stopped me. I’ve never seen the word used in the sense you’ve used it here. What came to mind was the family of geometer moths, the Geometridae. Their scientific name refers to the way their larvae, the ‘inchworms’, appear to measure the earth as they loop along.


    April 27, 2021 at 7:16 AM

    • I remember your Godot cactus, even as I can’t remember whether I read “Waiting for Godot” when I studied French a long time ago. Your mention of the “star” in the lace cactus makes me wonder if any species or group have come to be called star cacti for that reason. The word geometer etymologically means ‘earth measure[r].’ The subject we think of as geometry grew out of practical problems like figuring out how big a field was or how to guarantee that a building had square corners. As with other subjects, abstraction comes after physicality.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 27, 2021 at 7:36 AM

  11. Such wonderful textures and patterns … lovely details Steve … have a creative day ~ smiles hedy ☺️💫

    sloppy buddhist

    May 1, 2021 at 7:21 PM

    • I saw a lace cactus again this morning, the first since the one shown here. I was hoping maybe there’d be some lace cactus flowers by now, but no. My photo outing was indeed successful in other ways, including pictures of the prickly pear cactus flowers that are coming out in force now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 1, 2021 at 9:07 PM

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