Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two atypical bluebonnet views

with 48 comments

It’s well past the season for bluebonnets now, but back on April 19th we were still hunting for colonies of Lupinus texensis. As part of our search we checked out a new place, Shaffer Bend Recreation Area, which borders the Colorado River a little east of Marble Falls in Burnet County. Drought* had dropped the river low enough that some bluebonnets came up in sand which I assume would normally have lain underwater. You see one of those bluebonnets in the top picture.

I was reminded of bluebonnets more recently when, as I walked through a temporarily remaining** piece of the Blackland Prairie in the southern fringe of Pflugerville on May 23rd, I noticed a couple of straggly stray bluebonnets barely still flowering. Much more common at the site were brown bluebonnet pods well on their way to drying out. Some even formed little radiating clusters: compare the one below to the green clusters above.


* For some strange reason, just about every occurrence of the word drought these days is in the phrase drought conditions. I have news for writers and people who speak on television: a drought is a condition. There’s no need to tack on the extra noun conditions—any more than there is to speak of inflation conditions, poverty conditions, or hunger conditions. People suffer financially during periods of inflation, not inflation conditions. They try to rise from poverty, not poverty conditions. If they fail, they may die of hunger, not hunger conditions.

** This is the property on Heatherwilde Blvd. where I was so sorry to see construction begin in 2021 and put an end to the dense wildflowers there each May. A rear portion of the property hasn’t yet been torn up, so I was able to enjoy it for at least one more spring, even if drought has kept the floral count well below average. (It could at least have suppressed the chiggers, but unfortunately it didn’t.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

48 Responses

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  1. Good one about the word conditionevent is another fun one to shake your head at — a wind event, a tornado event . . . .

    Anita Westervelt

    May 26, 2022 at 5:50 AM

    • Event has long been on my list of “category nouns” that people unnecessarily tack on to other nouns that are already sufficient unto themselves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 6:04 AM

  2. We used to in Australia refer to bushfire warnings or high risk. Now it’s referred to as “fire weather” hmmm, not impressed, especially in these days of manufactured weather, aka Geoengineering.


    May 26, 2022 at 6:25 AM

    • This may be the first I’ve heard of “fire weather.” I hope “semantic fire weather” will burn up unnecessary verbiage.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 6:35 AM

  3. Very nice picture. Alas, over here it doesn’t grow, too wet and too cold I think.


    May 26, 2022 at 6:42 AM

    • There may well be other lupine species that suit your climate.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 7:01 AM

      • There are but they are tall and they are floppy and not nearly as pretty.


        May 26, 2022 at 10:18 AM

        • We have a tall (but not floppy) species in west Texas that I’d like to see. One of these days….

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 26, 2022 at 10:38 AM

  4. The bluebonnet pods make a very attractive cluster. Or should I say your photography skills make them look very attractive?


    May 26, 2022 at 6:44 AM

    • For whatever reason—could I have been so unobservant?—I don’t remember ever noticing such star-like clusters before. Once I did notice several of them, there was no way I wasn’t going to try for a portrait. The dark-background approach emphasizes the geometry of the cluster.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 7:04 AM

  5. I found even later bluebonnets on the Willow City loop on May 8. Granted, there were only three clusters, and one was fairly well faded, but there they were. One group was combined with another Texas icon, and made for a great image — soon to be shown.

    The second photo reminded me of an artistic arrangement of baguettes. It’s really quite beautiful, and, as you say, unusual. I’ve seen groups that look like spread fingers on a hand, but I’ve never seen this star shape.


    May 26, 2022 at 8:49 AM

    • That makes two of us who’d never noticed the star-shaped pod clusters. Given all the looking we’ve done over the years, it seems we would have noticed at least a few of them if they’re common, so apparently they aren’t common. The fact that I found several in that area makes me wonder if there’s a genetic trait that accounts for it.

      As for artistic baguettes, I have to wonder if someone was hungry for breakfast. I’m always hungry for etymology, so I’ll point out that baguette is related to bacillus: both have the long shape of a rod or wand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 9:07 AM

  6. I used to start my freshman comp classes with George Orwell’s Essay, “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell cautions us, among many things, to be on alert when two or more words are always used together, as a sign that language is being cheapened, or even worse, manipulated.


    May 26, 2022 at 10:21 AM

    • It’s a great essay, one I keep going back to. Tattoos are popular now among college-age kids; I wish they would tattoo Orwell’s essay on their brains.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 10:32 AM

    • By the way, years ago in an article for Texas Highways I wrote “drought” and the editor changed it to “drought conditions.” Some editor.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 10:41 AM

  7. The pods are beautiful! I loved how you photographed these/this.


    May 26, 2022 at 10:23 AM

    • These “starburst” pods came as a welcome surprise after all the years I’ve been photographing bluebonnets. I processed the image in high contrast and burned in (as we used to say) parts of the background to eliminate elements that would distract from the pods.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 10:36 AM

      • I still say burn and dodge and the tools in our digital darkrooms are still named the same so…😃

        You did a really nice job both on the image and the processing en mon avis.


        May 26, 2022 at 12:06 PM

        • Merci. I was happy with the way I got the image to come out.
          It’s true: Photoshop (which I use) calls the tools Dodge and Burn. Fortunately I no longer have to cut a hole in a sheet of cardboard to do my burning.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 26, 2022 at 12:32 PM

          • Or use smelly chemicals. 😃


            May 26, 2022 at 1:01 PM

            • Definitely. I sometimes wonder if the fumes I breathed for years did any long-term damage.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 26, 2022 at 1:14 PM

              • I hope not!!


                May 26, 2022 at 1:22 PM

              • I’ve certainly heard of people who did darkroom work for many years and suddenly became so allergic to the chemicals that they had to give up completely. I’m very glad not to have to use chemicals any more!

                Ann Mackay

                June 2, 2022 at 5:41 AM

                • I’m glad for that, too. In the opposite direction, a few young people who grew up with digital photography have turned to chemical photography, which they find exotic.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  June 2, 2022 at 6:39 AM

                • There’s nothing quite like watching a print develop…and trying not to get any developer drips on your clothes! 🙂

                  Ann Mackay

                  June 5, 2022 at 6:59 AM

                • Ah yes, I remember the magic of an image coming up on the paper in the developer. I don’t recall chemical drips on my clothing; I did come to worry about chemicals on my hands, so I always wore rubber gloves.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  June 5, 2022 at 7:03 AM

  8. I have found that the Bluebonnets seem to like the decomposed granite path in my backyard more than they prefer more enriched soil – first photo reminded me of that. The second one reminded me that it was my response to my HOA regarding the brown seed pods that persuaded them to give me a variance to the requirement to have a sodded St. Augustine or Bermuda grass lawn. I suppose I could have shown the seed pods, but gave them the better looking photo of the front yard in full bloom from a month earlier.
    Now I’ll have to go outside in the Texas heat and see if I can find any star shaped clusters of seed pods in my collection in the backyard.
    As always, your posts, appeal to the aesthetic part of one’s personality and inspire one to emulate your technical skill and way of looking at things from a different point of view (even if one can not always get into the physical positions to see the same POV).


    May 26, 2022 at 10:54 AM

    • Well, decomposed granite is a kind of “sand,” isn’t it, and the bluebonnets at Shaffer Bend seemed happy to grow in sand.

      I’m thankful not to have to deal with an HOA. It’s good you were able to get a variance; a photo of flowers was a better persuader than one of brown pods. Good luck finding some radiating pod clusters like the one shown here. As much as I do often get into uncomfortable positions for the sake of photographs, the picture of the pods didn’t take any contortions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 11:51 AM

  9. ” I have news for writers and people who speak on television: a drought is a condition. ”

    You made me laugh. Thank you, Profesor!
    Unlike the ability to remember a person’s name or face or to etch something on my mind’s ‘eye,’ I do cherish the ability to recall the ability of a gifted teacher to brand information on the students’ psyche.

    Presently I can still recall the long-ago nuances of voice and body language when Mrs. Denton illustrated the use of the word, ‘Rue: ” You will RUE the day when —-”

    She was always calm and serene, and when she stepped into that fierce personality to illustrate the word? Branded forever in my psyche.

    The same when the driver of a truck said that his name was Miguel. I thought I repeated it well, but he immediately corrected me: ME-gale. (sp?)

    I could not pick that man out in a room with three others or three hundred, but I will forever cherish that lesson in enunciation!

    Thank you for: ‘a drought is a condition.’

    • In addition to the current Covid pandemic we’ve been enduring a much longer pandemic of people adding redundant (and therefore unnecessary) nouns that indicate a category. Years ago I started keeping a database of examples. Situation is another such noun. You may have noticed how many people speak of a “crisis situation” or “emergency situation” rather than just a crisis or an emergency. No one has yet found a vaccine against the RCN virus (redundant categorical nominalization).

      From your memories of Mrs. Denton all these years later, it sounds like she did a good job with you. I wonder if she’s still alive. If so, you could try to get in touch with her.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 3:06 PM

      • Unfortunately she died years ago, but I wrote her several times and told her what an impact her teaching had on me… I suspect that many of your students feel equally blessed to have experienced your gift.

    • Setting is another redundant noun. Think how many times you’ve heard someone say “in a classroom setting” or “in a hospital setting” rather than simply “in a classroom” or “in a hospital.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2022 at 3:15 PM

      • Yes, you are right, and would make a wonderful editor! Thank you for all of those reminders – perhaps a post will soon arrive that gives us a refresher with examples of ‘redundant.’ Yes yes, por favor!

  10. Nice take on the pod.

    Steve Gingold

    May 26, 2022 at 3:48 PM

  11. I find seed pods fascinating. Thanks for the tip about drought and conditions. It makes sense.

    Alessandra Chaves

    May 27, 2022 at 8:38 AM

    • I see you’ve got four seeds/pods images in your gallery:

      The structure of the English language, unlike the structure of the Romance languages, lets us string nouns together with no intervening words. When I was in high school I challenged myself to come up with the longest string of nouns that would still make sense. I came up with the “Jones Beach State Park beauty contest winner.” That ability to string nouns together may facilitate some people’s tendency to add an unnecessary category noun to a noun that doesn’t need any further specification.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 27, 2022 at 11:24 AM

      • I have a few. I wish I had more. For a native speaker of Portuguese, stringing nouns like this in English is difficult. I usually don’t string as many.

        Alessandra Chaves

        May 27, 2022 at 1:38 PM

        • It’s unusual to have as many nouns in a row as my example. Three in a row, however, isn’t uncommon, like a “beauty contest winner” and an “automobile mechanic survey.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 27, 2022 at 2:53 PM

  12. I’m glad you found these. That top photo is fantastic. The sand makes such a great backdrop for the plant and flowers to really stand out.

    Todd Henson

    May 28, 2022 at 3:27 PM

    • Maybe people who live near the Texas coast are used to seeing bluebonnets in sand. I’m not. Here in the center of the state it seemed strange, so naturally I had to take pictures of what for me is unusual ground to host these flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 28, 2022 at 3:31 PM

  13. […] Last Thursday’s post was the first ever to feature pictures from the Shaffer Bend Recreation Area along the Colorado River a little east of Marble Falls in Burnet County. During our inaugural April 19th visit I got to see a few huisache daisies, Amblyolepis setigera, a species I don’t find in Austin. The last time I showed you some was last year, when you saw a whole colony flowering in a place close to Shaffer Bend. Above are a huisache daisy bud and open flower head; the picture below shows an intermediate stage. […]

  14. I like the sand background for the bluebonnets – no distractions from the plant. 🙂
    I agree with you on the addition of unnecessary words. It weakens language and I do wish people would think before doing it!

    Ann Mackay

    June 2, 2022 at 5:45 AM

    • As you say, sand works well as an isolating element. I don’t often get to use sand that way, so this was a welcome opportunity.

      In a proper school system, teachers of English would point out to students the ways in which unnecessary words cheapen people’s speech and writing. Unfortunately our school system keeps moving farther away from being proper.

      Steve Schwartzman

      June 2, 2022 at 7:42 AM

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