Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Giant ragweed flowers and drying leaf

with 18 comments

On September 24th along the Brushy Creek Regional Trail in Cedar Park I noticed plenty of giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) flowering. The portrait above shows one inflorescence with some happily out-of-focus patches of blue sky peeking through the canopy of trees. (Not so happy was my nose: those yellow clumps in little downward-opening holders are pollen grains, which were getting released into the air whenever the breeze blew strong enough or something like a hapless photographer bumped up against the plant.)

Where I managed to get a clear shot of the sky I made a sculptural portrait of a drying and curling giant ragweed leaf. What let me stop down to f/25 for good depth of field was flash, which also caused the sky to register as a preturnaturally dark blue-indigo. But hey, what’s reality, anyhow? That’s a question I and a zillion philosophers have asked many times. We’re all still waiting for an answer.

For a different diagonal take on a drying leaf, check out this monochrome composition by Alessandra Chaves.

During one of my photographic stops along the Brushy Creek Regional Trail that morning several women walked past me and I heard a single sentence that one of them said to the others: “She spent $30,000 on her dog, including therapy.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 7, 2021 at 4:29 AM

18 Responses

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  1. Those cobalt blue backgrounds are especially attractive, as is the curved stem in the first photo.

    The scientific name of the plant amuses me. On the one hand, it evokes the generally positive associations of ‘ambrosia.’ On the other, trifida recalls John Wyndham’s post-apocalyptic novel The Day of the Triffids: the story of an aggressive plant species that kills people. Given my itchy eyes and occasional sneezing fits over the last couple of weeks, I’d say the ragweed is doing its best to imitate a Triffid.

    As for your overheard snippet, I can only hope the therapy was for the woman and not for the dog.


    October 7, 2021 at 5:30 AM

    • You read my mind twice. The recent connection is that I’d considered adding a final line to my text in which I said it wasn’t clear whether the therapy was for the dog or for the woman. I decided to leave that out and see if a commenter raised the question. You did.

      The other connection is with The Day of the Triffids. When I put together my original book version of Portraits of Texas Wildflowers, the entry for giant ragweed began this way:

      “In 1951 the English science fiction writer John Wyndham wrote a novel about plants that have a whip-like poisonous stinger and the ability to communicate with one another. The plants are also able to move about on three ‘legs,’ which explains why Wyndham called his creatures triffids, meaning literally ‘split into three.’ But there’s no need to resort to science fiction when a prolific plant in Texas has some of those same abilities, is a menace to human beings, and even partially shares a name with Wyndham’s creatures; that plant is Ambrosia trifida, whose species name describes the way the plant’s leaves are typically cleft into three lobes. One thing that makes this plant a monster is its height, which can reach 15 ft. Another is its success in colonizing land: some authors use the adjective ‘rank’ to describe its growth into dense colonies, and the species has been reported not only in 47 of the contiguous United States—the good citizens of Nevada may be too busy gambling to have noticed it—but also in most Canadian provinces. If, for more than a century, chinaberry and Chinese tallow trees have been replacing natives across the woods and prairies of Texas, and if more recently Chinese trade goods have taken root in the fields of American commerce, then Ambrosia trifida has done its patriotic best to reverse the imbalance by becoming an invasive species in the giant country across the Pacific.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2021 at 6:26 AM

  2. money well spent, either way — as long as they didn’t go into debt


    October 7, 2021 at 8:37 AM

    • I’m sorry I didn’t intervene in the conversation to get the particulars, assuming the woman would’ve told me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2021 at 10:41 AM

  3. I like that crinkly leaf. The textures and colors are lovely, especially against that blue background.


    October 7, 2021 at 1:54 PM

  4. Isn’t ragweed that plant that causes a lot of seasonal allergies? They are flowering in the fall? Beautiful texture photograph of the curled leaf, I think the color here added to the picture. Different tones of yellow. I often feel tempted to leave the color on mine, but I’m trying to stick to the black and white plan.

    Who had therapy, the lady or the pet?

    Alessandra Chaves

    October 7, 2021 at 5:36 PM

    • Yep, the allergenic plant you referred to is indeed ragweed, and we have several species here, including giant ragweed. We also have two species of a related plant, sumpweed, which likewise releases lots of pollen into the air and causes itches eyes and respiratory distress in many people.

      As you know, I usually find reasons to retain color in my photographs, including in my abstractions. I’m glad to hear the color worked for you here, as it did for me.

      I don’t know if the therapy was for the woman or for the dog. I wish now that I’d asked.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2021 at 6:36 PM

  5. Your portrait of the curling leaf is fascinating. I had the same Triffid thought as Linda.


    October 7, 2021 at 5:50 PM

    • “Fascinating” is fine with me; thanks.
      If you saw my reply to Linda, you know that I also had Triffid thoughts about this species more than a decade ago.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2021 at 6:39 PM

      • Yes, I did see your reply, and enjoyed the expanded explanations. I see that Wyndham was quite prolific, and I plan to read The Chrysalids, as time allows.


        October 9, 2021 at 2:02 AM

        • As a teenager I read plenty of science fiction but have read practically none since then. Almost everything I read now is non-fiction. A good novel might be fun for a change.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 9, 2021 at 5:16 AM

          • Both daughters are more into fantasy than sci-fi, and one that really drew me in was Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. I recommend it most highly.


            October 11, 2021 at 10:08 PM

  6. Love the backgrounds. And, as with other commenters, my reaction to the overheard conversation was, ‘therapy for the dog or the woman, or both’.


    October 7, 2021 at 6:27 PM

    • I wish now that I’d yelled out to the woman and asked who the therapy was for.

      You may remember my quip that the three most important things in a portrait are background, background, and background.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 7, 2021 at 9:44 PM

  7. I have no idea how much we are willing to spend on our dog. Bentley has cost us a few thousand over time which is easier to bear than all at once and $30,000 would certainly give us pause. Everyone is considering the therapy to be mental and not physical? If we had to put our dog down because of the cost to heal I would definitely need therapy.

    Steve Gingold

    October 8, 2021 at 5:04 AM

    • Unfortunately I don’t know any of the particulars. I wish I’d stopped those women to find out more, including whether the therapy was physical or mental, and of course whether the therapy was for the owner or the dog or both.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2021 at 6:01 AM

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