Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 31 comments

Buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum) produces heavily armed seed capsules, as this picture from December 16, 2021, in my neighborhood confirms. What the capsules lack in size, they make up for in skin-puncture power.

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…[N]egative information is attention-grabbing—it is literally processed differently in our brains—whereas… progress is mostly gradual and incremental. We’re not nearly as adept at spotting these trends as sudden and eye-catching disasters. Max Roser from the University of Oxford points out that newspapers could legitimately have run the headline ‘Number of people in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday’ every day for the last twenty-five years. But, as we’ve seen from academics’ detailed analysis of news values and criteria, the predictable isn’t newsworthy, because that’s how our brains work: we get the media we deserve and, to some extent, crave.

So wrote Bobby Duffy in Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. In addition to reading that book, you’ll find lots of interesting information at the Ipsos website that documents people’s misperceptions about many things. (Professor Duffy used to be the managing director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and global director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute.)

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

31 Responses

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  1. Autsch 😀


    January 12, 2022 at 4:41 AM

    • I’ve occasionally gotten poked by these, so your interjection is appropriate. Because we also use autsch, though with the English spelling ouch, I wondered whether one language borrowed the word from the other. I looked up the etymology and, sure enough, English took the word from Pennsylvania German in the 1800s. In recent years German has returned the favor by borrowing lots of words from English.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2022 at 6:55 AM

  2. Buffalo burs can be found in great numbers in the fields I walk across as I make my way to the Washita river, just a half-mile from here. If the landowner puts in wheat I don’t see so many – mostly they’re just along the edges of the field, but if the land lays fallow, the plants take over the entire area in one growing season. Buffalo burs and grass burs are so tough, they’ll often stick on our Kawasaki Mule tires, where they’re sure to transplant in other areas. They don’t travel well via mammals or birds, where the smaller and softer cockle bur loves to take a ride in hair and fur! If you’re looking for a positive here, the plant does put off a pretty yellow flower, and they’re drought resistant. And as you pointed out, those spikes do a good job of protecting the seed pod.


    January 12, 2022 at 7:44 AM

    • I think this is the first time you mentioned having a lot of buffalo burs near you. The USDA map at


      shows the “epicenter” for this species one state above you, in Kansas, where every county is marked for its presence. Of the lower 48 states, some have a scarce presence, but only Florida seems to lack the species entirely.

      I’ve occasionally showed buffalo bur flowers here, for example at

      And here’s a buffalo bur flower

      You’ve surprised me with your observation that buffalo bur seed capsules don’t travel well via mammals or birds. That apparently wasn’t always so, at least in the mammal department, because the name “buffalo bur” implies that the seed pods used to hitch rides on buffalos (bison).

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2022 at 8:34 AM

  3. I seldom get poked by a buffalo bur these days because the aggressive mowing policy around my immediate area tends to cut these down before the burs develop, leaving the room for Centaurea melitensis (Malta Star Thistle) to invade with its equally poking power.
    I’m currently a research subject for Ipsos … honestly, though, had to answer “Don’t know” or “Not sure” to many of the most recent survey – at least those won’t contribute to misperceptions.
    Ouch and Autsch !


    January 12, 2022 at 7:49 AM

    • You make an interesting point: the heavy mowing near you suppressed a native nuisance in favor of an aggressive alien one. Malta star thistle has unfortunately gotten established in a few parts of Great Hills Park, too.

      Interesting that you’re a research subject for Ipsos, which I’d never heard of till I read Duffy’s book. Like you, I think I’d be hard-pressed to put a number on the frequency of many things. Still, the fact that many people have at least a vague sense of how common something is and are willing to say so lets researchers show how well-established some misperceptions are—and how worthy of an “Ouch!” for their inaccuracy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2022 at 8:43 AM

  4. The Buffalo Burs remind me of medieval maces. They may not be lethal, but they certainly would be annoying and painful. When I saw Solanum I had to look, and sure enough: the flowers are remarkably like those of silverleaf night shade and others in that genus.

    For decades now, that attention-grabbing negative news has been described with the phrase, “If it bleeds, lt leads.” Global TV in Toronto put together one of my all-time favorite parodies in 1985. It’s just as relevant today. Your combination of the mace-like Buffalo Bur and your chosen text is especially apt; the media seem determined to keep clubbing us over the head with negative news.


    January 12, 2022 at 7:54 AM

    • Yes, as soon as you see buffalo bur flowers, those banana-like stamens leave no doubt that the species is kin to silverleaf nightshade and western horse-nettle. All three grow in Great Hills Park. Like you, I’ve long seen a resemblance of the seed capsules to medieval maces.

      I didn’t plan for the mace-like buffalo bur capsules to symbolize the news media figuratively clubbing us with bad and scary stories. Lately I’ve been preparing most of the nature parts of posts a week or two in advance. Then, when something sociopolitical comes my way that I want to feature, I look through the scheduled nature posts for one that doesn’t yet have anything attached to it. Sometime the two parts can be seen to match up symbolically, as here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2022 at 8:59 AM

  5. The spiked seed heads look like weapons out of medieval times. The spikes look intimidating.

    Peter Klopp

    January 12, 2022 at 9:44 AM

    • Linda (in the comment preceding yours) saw it the same way as you. Buffalo bur seed capsules have intimidated me from time to time. I handle them gingerly but the spikes have still gotten into my skin from time to time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2022 at 9:57 AM

  6. “What the capsules lack in size, they make up for in skin-puncture power” – I absolutely agree!


    January 12, 2022 at 10:59 AM

  7. I’m more used to “Buffalo, Brrr!” the winds coming off Lake Erie in the wintertime feel like they’ll cut right through you. I looked it up and see this plant is present in NYS, but I’m 99.9% sure I’ve never seen it. I’m not too sad about avoiding those spikes, but the yellow blossoms are very pretty.

    Robert Parker

    January 12, 2022 at 12:15 PM

    • “Buffalo, Brrr!” is a good one. It’s akin to Alexander Hamilton’s reaction: “Aaron Burr!”

      I see from the USDA map that buffalo bur has been found in Nassau County, where I grew up, and Cayuga County, where I later lived for half a year. If I ever saw buffalo bur in either of those places, it wasn’t consciously.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 12, 2022 at 12:40 PM

      • I remember you mentioned living in Union Springs for a while. I’ve walked several places in Cayuga Co. and mostly saw cows

        Robert Parker

        January 12, 2022 at 1:42 PM

  8. I know it’s been said before but “Ouch!” We’ve a few bur producers here but nothing as frightening as these.

    Steve Gingold

    January 12, 2022 at 5:28 PM

  9. Best


    January 13, 2022 at 10:57 AM

  10. Did you mean to imply that negative information grabs and stabs us, not unlike these fearsome buffalo bur seed capsules?

    My husband and I enjoy watching programs that have something positive to report, such as CBS Sunday Morning. We particularly like Steve Hartman’s segments, which always focus on human goodness.


    January 19, 2022 at 4:07 PM

    • As I understand it, psychologists have established that people on average worry more about loss than gain. Parallel to that is the fact that negative events garner more attention than positive ones, and as a result many (maybe most) news outlets follow the “If it bleeds, it leads” strategy. I watched CBS Sunday Morning for two or three decades, and I did so for the reason you mentioned: it featured what used to be called “human interest” stories. Beginning a few years ago, however, political stories began to creep in. Even if the political stories had been balanced, I wouldn’t have wanted them, because CBS Sunday Morning had always been a refuge from politics. Unfortunately the increasingly common political stories inevitably leaned in one direction only. It got to the point where I regretfully gave up watching the show. If you’d asked me the political orientation of the show’s original host, Charles Kuralt, or his successor Charles Osgood, I couldn’t have told you, because partisan politics was alien to the spirit of the show and they never ventured there. The current host, Jane Pauley, is avowedly leftist, and that may be why the show has veered in that direction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2022 at 5:03 PM

  11. Yes, we have noticed the increase in political stories, too. I assume the editors feel as though they can’t ignore what’s going on politically. Sometimes we watch those stories, often we skip them. But I think there is still enough content that remains above the fray. Sorry you don’t feel that way.


    January 19, 2022 at 5:10 PM

    • For a while after the politicization set in I followed the policy of watching until the first political story came up, then changing the channel and not returning. At times I didn’t even get 10 minutes into the show. Eventually I got so annoyed that I gave up my decades-long tradition of watching the show. I know there are still some worthwhile stories, but I got tired of having my good faith abused.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 19, 2022 at 6:30 PM

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