Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Downy before bushy

with 21 comments

After I stopped along FM 2769 on September 21st to photograph some flowering Liatris spikes, an adjacent grass caught my attention as well. I thought it might be little bluestem, but it seemed downier than I was accustomed to from that species. Thanks to Floyd Waller for identifying the grass as bushy bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, which I’m used to seeing in its bushy phase toward the end of the year.

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Here’s a passage from the “Spring” section of Thoreau’s Walden that applies year-round.

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness — to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. 

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , ,

21 Responses

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  1. Looks as if the grass would be very soft to the touch. I do love the passage you’ve quoted, which reminds me of my childhood home, out in the wilds of the Scottish countryside. 🙂

    Ann Mackay

    September 26, 2021 at 5:39 AM

    • You’re right, these hairs were very soft to the touch. So is the fluffy mature stage that follows, though it’s differently soft.

      You must look back fondly on your Scottish childhood. You can declare Thoreau an honorary Scot—and if you do, I’ll bet you get off scot-free.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2021 at 9:45 AM

  2. I am not used to seeing bushy bluestem in this phase of growth – it has a light, feathery appearance. I also love the blurred browns and greens in the background. Thoreau’s words are timeless. I am thankful that I was exposed to so much of the outdoors and nature as a child. My sense of curiosity and adventure out there has served me well in my life. Nature is the great healer, nurturer and teacher.


    September 26, 2021 at 7:19 AM

    • These light, downy hairs threw me off, too, because I’m so used to associating bushy bluestem with its mature, densely fluffy stage, which I always look forward to in the fall and even winter.

      Relatively few Americans now grow up in rural areas the way you did. It’s clear that your childhood has left you with a deep and permanent appreciation of nature.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2021 at 9:20 AM

  3. Good job with the hairs!

    Alessandra Chaves

    September 26, 2021 at 7:58 AM

  4. I’ve seen little bluestem growing in upstate NY, but even though it apparently does grow wild in the Northeast, I’ve never seen this bushy bluestem, it’s got a nice featherly look to it.
    I absolutely do think of wild areas as a tonic, that certainly applies to my walks in the woods, and the feeling of being refreshed and breaking out of the ruts of the workweek.

    Robert Parker

    September 26, 2021 at 9:16 AM

    • That’s a good point. Our modern lifestyles—and especially workstyles—make jaunts into nature more important than they’ve ever been.

      The USDA map shows bushy bluestem on Long Island (though not in the Finger Lakes or anywhere else upstate), so I almost certainly saw some when I was growing up, even if it didn’t register. Apparently the closest bushy bluestem grows to Milwaukee is Illinois, but the map doesn’t give the county breakdown for that state.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2021 at 9:32 AM

  5. This is a very interesting grass variety that I have not come across in our region. Great shot, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    September 26, 2021 at 9:27 AM

    • Thanks. This vertical hairiness appealed to me.
      The range map shows bushy bluestem growing primarily in much warmer climates than yours. It’s common in my area, typically found in low areas with plenty of lingering moisture.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2021 at 9:36 AM

  6. Nice photo, Steve–love hairy plants! I just bought 3 Little Bluestem plants from Barton Springs Nursery. Sadly, I’m losing a shade tree in my front garden, but the up-side is that I can plant some full sun beauties and Little Bluestem has long been on my ‘want’ list.


    September 26, 2021 at 1:27 PM

    • Good for you and your little bluestem, which as you know looks great in the fall, when small portions turn yellow and even red. Your mention of losing a shade tree coincides with the removal, two days ago, of the huisache tree half a mile from our home which didn’t survive February’s freeze. After looking forward to its blossoms for sixteen years in this neighborhood, I was sorry to see it go. At least the many pictures I took of it over those years live on.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 26, 2021 at 1:43 PM

  7. Beautiful pairing. Images and words.

    Michael Scandling

    September 26, 2021 at 2:34 PM

  8. There were bits of fluff appearing on a few bushy bluestem at San Bernard on Sunday. In the past, I’ve tended not to notice the grass until it’s fully fluffed; I’ll have to look more closely. The Gulf muhly was beginning to turn, and it seemed there was less bushy bluestem and more Gulf muhly than in the past; it might only be that my previous visits have been later in the year, when the bluestem’s more obvious.

    I can’t get over the feeling that this stem is upside-down. I suppose it’s the orientation of the hairs at the top, along with the brown stem at the top and what seems to be green growth at the bottom. It certainly adds to the intrigue of the image.


    September 28, 2021 at 6:58 AM

    • The orientation does seem a bit strange, I’ll grant you. (Once again it could symbolize our country!) I checked a few pictures taken from farther back that show more of the plant, and there, too, I found instances of tan shading to green higher up. I also found instances where the little hairs point predominantly up rather than down—which you could say makes them less down-y.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 28, 2021 at 9:54 AM

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