Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

When is a dandelion not a dandelion?

with 42 comments

One answer to the question in today’s title is when it’s silverpuff, Chaptalia texana. As similar as its seed head is to that of a dandelion, nobody would ever confuse the two species’ flower heads, as you see from the silverpuff flower head below. Both of these photographs come from a wooded area in my neighborhood on April 28th. Because the woods were so shady, for once I used flash. That had two fringe benefits: good depth of field for my subjects and darkness beyond them.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 9, 2021 at 4:32 AM

42 Responses

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  1. The joys of childhood…. blowing the seed heads and chanting “what a clock is it” for the number of puffs to strip the seeds. That aside…. dandelions are a wonderful flower, sadly thought of as a weed by too many.


    May 9, 2021 at 5:30 AM

    • When I was growing up in the suburbs of New York City, everyone’s lawn had occasional dandelions in it. I’m referring to Taraxacum officinale, the Eurasian native that quickly conquered North America after it hitchhiked to this continent with explorers and colonists beginning in the 15th century. I’d say most people here think of that wildflower as a weed. Maybe one day I’ll get to photograph some dandelions in Europe, where they’re native. When we were kids of course we blew on dandelion seed heads, but I’ve not heard anyone in America connect that to clocks in the way you described.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 5:48 AM

      • It was fun…… you may be interested that plant conservation groups are trying to encourage us not to mow our lawns during May: “No-mow May”. Hope it is adopted.


        May 9, 2021 at 6:07 AM

    • You can put me in the “weed” camp. I am constantly pulling these things out of my yard.

      Jason Frels

      May 9, 2021 at 9:08 AM

      • As a native plant photographer, I pass them by. My years growing up in New York tell me that dandelions are hard to get rid of.

        Steve Schwartzman

        May 9, 2021 at 3:39 PM

  2. Silverpuff is a great name. My wife is trying to convince me dandelions are good for the lawn.


    May 9, 2021 at 5:49 AM

    • On a springtime trip north some years ago, as we passed through the Kansas City area I saw denser colonies of dandelions than ever before or since. It was quite a sight, a testament to the pervasiveness of that alien species. I doubt you’d get many of the people on whose properties those dandelions had sprung up to agree they were good for their lawns.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 5:57 AM

  3. I am not familiar with the silverpuff, and after checking out the map area they cover, I know they are not to be found here. They certainly are similar to the dandelion. We do, however, have a pasture and yard full of dandelions, which I am happy to report. From the distant street, people often comment on the sea of yellow and purple as they walk or pass by our little ranch. Dandelion and henbit flourish here in the spring months. A lot of wildlife enjoy dandelion. Gracie deer seeks them out specifically, enjoying the yellow heads, but also tending to eat the spent heads and stems. The other deer do not care so much for them. We had mallard ducks here one year that gobbled up every dandelion they could find. As for being a good pollinator, there is argument about whether they are a very valuable source for bees. I can tell you from observation that since the dandelions are one of the first wildflowers to bloom in spring, they do draw a lot of bees, butterflies, and various other insects – and continue all through the summer and fall, sometimes into winter. I always wonder how those naysayers acquire their information. The bees wouldn’t bother with dandelions if they weren’t important!


    May 9, 2021 at 7:48 AM

    • Henbit is pretty common in Austin in the early spring, too. While we have common (European) dandelions here, from what you say the ones on your property far outnumber what I’ve seen here. It’s interesting that only one of your deer has a fondness for eating dandelions. Apparently individual taste varies in deer as it does in people. I’ve never heard of mallard ducks gobbling up dandelions. Maybe people who want to get rid of dandelions should rent a flock of mallards. Once again I encourage you to record all your observations and contribute them to one or more Oklahoma organizations that keep such records.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 3:13 PM

  4. Splendid images, both of these. I especially like the graceful droop of the second one. So lovely!


    May 9, 2021 at 7:56 AM

    • “Graceful droop” is a quaint phrase. Silverpuff flower heads commonly twist around in varying degrees; in this case it was 180°. Most of the flower heads stay in a tight bundle, as you see here, rather than opening wide.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 8:03 AM

  5. Using the flash is a technique I have not used. After looking at the outstanding results of the silverpuff images I am tempted to give it a try on my next outing into the woods.

    Peter Klopp

    May 9, 2021 at 8:14 AM

    • My camera doesn’t have a built-in flash so I have to increase the weight of my camera bag by lugging one around with me, even though I don’t often use it. When you need it, though, you need it. Most cameras have a built-in flash, and I suspect yours does, so you might as well experiment with it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 3:16 PM

      • You guess it. My Canon camera has flash and is waiting for me to use it.

        Peter Klopp

        May 11, 2021 at 12:29 PM

        • All my Canons had built-in flash until I moved up to full-frame models. I miss the convenience of having instant flash when I want it. You can make good use of yours.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 11, 2021 at 2:21 PM

  6. Phooey. The new USDA site primly informed me that there were “no results found” for this plant. I cleared my cache, refreshed the page, and tried two other browsers, but no joy. This is the third species I’ve been unable to find on the USDA site, so BONAP it will have to be, combined with iNaturalist. It was handy to have county names available, so I hope the issues eventually resolve.

    Anyway, despite having compared this flower in its various stages to Houston’s ‘Dandelion Fountain,’ African trade beads, and a form of needlework called Bargello, I’ve yet to see one in its natural setting. It clearly doesn’t grow in coastal counties, or even the next tiers of inland counties. I suppose it’s possible I’ve seen a seed head in the hill country and thought it a Texas dandelion. The flower head’s especially attractive, with or without flash.


    May 9, 2021 at 10:00 AM

    • I expect your USDA problem is a temporary glitch. I can’t get the new site to find any species today, either. I just sent an e-mail reporting the problem. As for silverpuff, the forested places you go in the center of the state seem your most likely venues for turning up a few of these plants. I can’t remember if I’ve ever found any outside the Austin area, but the range maps show plenty of counties to the west are home to silverpuff.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 3:27 PM

  7. I like dandelions, and this silverpuff, too. Dandelions do have virtues for lawns – the long taproots help improve compacted clay soils.

    Robert Parker

    May 9, 2021 at 10:09 AM

    • I didn’t know about dandelions’ long taproots. Now that I’ve tapped into your knowledge, I do. I did know that dandelion greens are edible in salads, and I’ve even tried them that way.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 3:29 PM

      • Once or twice my dad cooked up dandelion greens, which his family used to eat once every spring as a “tonic,” can’t say as they’ll ever be one of my favorites. There’s a warm sweet & sour dressing that goes with it though, that’s delicious.

        Robert Parker

        May 10, 2021 at 1:13 PM

        • Then the way forward is to put that warm sweet and sour dressing on other greens or veggies that you do like.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 10, 2021 at 1:32 PM

  8. I believe that as children we used to call the top one “Pusteblume” [“pusten” = “to blow”] because we used to simply blow those tops off.


    May 9, 2021 at 11:24 AM

    • I wasn’t familiar with the verb pusten. Now that I am, Pusteblume seems quite an appropriate name for those wildflowers—more so than the ‘lion’s tooth’ name that English borrowed from French.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 3:31 PM

  9. Good job with the flash. it’s easy to overexpose. I photographed our foothills version today, Uropappus lindleyi.

    Alessandra Chaves

    May 9, 2021 at 8:37 PM

    • That species is new to me. Can’t say I’m surprised, as so many plants in the sunflower family produce this kind of seed head. When I use flash as my primary light source (as opposed to as a fill light) I switch to manual mode. I guess at a setting for the first picture, then adjust based on how it came out. I shoot in raw mode, and there’s a fair amount of tolerance at the bright end of the exposure range, so sometimes pictures that look overexposed on the camera’s display screen end up fine once I get them into Adobe Camera Raw.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 9, 2021 at 8:49 PM

      • I really only noticed it recently myself, as the park I went to was covered with them and they were reflecting the light like little spheres of silver.

        Alessandra Chaves

        May 10, 2021 at 8:39 AM

  10. But, did you make a wish? 😄


    May 10, 2021 at 9:26 AM

  11. Silverpuff, Chaptalia texana, is a new one for me. I like the dark background in these photos.

    Lavinia Ross

    May 10, 2021 at 10:39 AM

    • Given silverpuff’s range, I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it. The same is true even for many people here, as it was for me before I got interested in native plants. As for the dark background, it’s one of the standard approaches I’ve been using in some of my photography. A commenter wondered whether my recently increased use of it reflects my increasingly dark view of events in America; she may be onto something.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2021 at 11:39 AM

  12. I think observers with observational skills less developed than yours might confuse the two species, Steve. And there would be no shame in this.


    May 10, 2021 at 3:10 PM

    • A lot of these “puffballs” look alike, so as you say, there’s no shame in confusing them. At the same time, there’s something to be said for noticing that parts of the two species don’t match up.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2021 at 3:39 PM

  13. Is that like H. R. Pufnstuf?


    May 10, 2021 at 3:34 PM

    • I had to look that up. I see that “the Kroffts created the H.R. Pufnstuf character for the HemisFair ’68 World’s Fair.” At the time I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras, little suspecting I’d end up living not far from San Antonio, where that world’s fair took place.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 10, 2021 at 3:42 PM

      • H. R. Pufnstuf is not the sort of character that you should be acquainted with. I just figured that you would remember him.


        May 10, 2021 at 7:33 PM

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