Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Big and small

with 28 comments


Of the native perennial in Travis County known as leafcup and hairy cupweed, local botanist Bill Carr writes that it is “rare and local in and along margins of mesic deciduous riparian woodlands on terraces of perennial streams. Also known in Texas from Collins, Comal, Gonzales, Gregg, Nacogdoches and McLennan counties.” Where I know it from is along one stretch of Bull Creek, where I made opposite-side portraits on June 25th.


Regarding hairy cupweed’s scientific name, Smallanthus uvedalius, the authors of Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas say that its “derivation [is] unknown, not indicated by Linnaeus.” However, as Linda Leinen noted in a comment, the same book says in the previous paragraph that the genus is “named for John Kunkel Small, 1869–1938, American botanist and author of numerous works including Manual of the Southeastern Flora.” Greek anthos means ‘flower,’ and the flower heads of this species are coincidentally a little on the small side for a plant of this size. At the same time the Small in the name is ironic because the plant’s leaves are disproportionately large: Marshall Enquist says that they can reach 15 inches in length and width. According to Wikipedia, all the other species in the genus Smallanthus grow in Mexico, Central America, or South America. (And for a reason I don’t understand, Wikipedia lists the Texas species as Smallanthus uvedalia, with a feminine ending, but uses a masculine suffix for other species of Smallanthus.)



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Two days ago was the Fourth of July. To accord with that, Bari Weiss’s Common Sense blog ran the post “What We Love About America.” Many of the people who told what they love about America are immigrants.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 6, 2022 at 4:29 AM

28 Responses

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  1. pretty, pretty


    July 6, 2022 at 6:19 AM

  2. It’s interesting that the common name offered on the USDA site is ‘small hairy leafcup.’ When I saw that the plant’s listed for Gillespie County, I wondered if it might have been included in my book on Enchanted Rock, but it isn’t. I did find an interesting article about the genus. This species can be found on page 67, and near the bottom of page 71, these historical sightings were listed:

    “State Texas: Guadalupe, 1847–48, F. Lindheimer 437(GH); Guadalupe, September 1847, F. Lindheimer 637 (GH, K); Knoxville, 15 August 1894, A. Ruth 52 (GH);Comanche Spring, new Braunfels, etc., August 1850, F. Lindheimer 954 (G, GH); Terrant Co., 24 September 1923,A. Ruth 331 (GH); Comal Co., near New Braunfels, at KL Ranch campgrounds, 21 July 1996, M. Enquist 3099(GH); Gregg Co., 1 September 1941, C. York s.n. (GH); Huckley, 1884, F. Huroc. s.n. (GH); without locality and date, C. Wright s.n. (GH).”


    July 6, 2022 at 6:59 AM

    • Ah, ha! There’s a brief note in Shinners and Mahler’s that the ‘small’ in the genus’s name refers to a botanist with a large reputation rather than to a small flower: John Kunkel Small.


      July 6, 2022 at 7:09 AM

      • That goes to show how narrow a person’s focus can be. I’d gone to Shinners and Mahler’s to find out the origin of the name, and I’d noticed the “derivation unknown, not indicated by Linnaeus,” but not what appeared a few lines higher: “Named for John Kunkel Small, 1869–1938, American botanist and author of numerous works including Manual of the Southeastern Flora).” That raises the question of why the book says “derivation unknown, when it just told us the derivation.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 6, 2022 at 7:40 AM

      • I’ve rewritten my second paragraph to incorporate your information.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 6, 2022 at 7:53 AM

    • Good sleuthing. That’s quite an informative article. It mentions that the leaves of this species grow up to 30 cm long, which is about 12 inches; that’s 3 shorter than the figure I cited from Marshall Enquist. Maybe the soil in central Texas provides more nourishment than the soil elsewhere in the plant’s range. If I remember, I’ll carry a measuring tape and check how big the leaves are on the plants along Bull Creek.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 6, 2022 at 7:46 AM

  3. Interesting and adorable little flower. What I like about America is that electronics are cheap and bureaucracy is not too bad, at least yet.

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 6, 2022 at 10:42 AM

  4. So many botanical and other organisms’ names have a bit of mystery to them.

    Steve Gingold

    July 7, 2022 at 3:47 AM

    • And yet the origin of mystery poses no mystery: “Middle English misterie, from Latin mystērium, from Greek mustērion, secret rite, from mustēs, an initiate, from mūein, to close the eyes, initiate.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 7, 2022 at 6:17 AM

  5. If the plant is indeed named for Mr. Small, the juxtaposition of his name with the Greek anthos is kind of amusing, similar to starting one word in one language and ending it with another. Incidentally, this is a game my husband and I sometimes engage in.


    July 8, 2022 at 9:33 PM

    • Mixing languages can be fun indeed. Another form of playing is to take an idiom from one language and use its word-by-word translation in another language, where it doesn’t make sense. For instance, in Honduras we English speakers would say “It falls well with me,” translating a Spanish idiom that means “I like it.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 8, 2022 at 10:01 PM

      • We play that game, too, and it is fun. The only problem is that I might inadvertently translate something from German into English in a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak the former. Their quizzical look usually makes me realize what I did.


        July 8, 2022 at 10:22 PM

        • Given how well you know English, I don’t imagine you often do that inadvertently.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 9, 2022 at 6:28 AM

          • I don’t know why, but my language neurons seem to be crossing signals at times.


            July 9, 2022 at 3:14 PM

            • Your reference to crossing signals reminded me of German quer, meaning ‘crosswise.’ The Quersumme of a numeral is the sum of its digits. For instance, the Quersumme of 1358 is 17. I don’t remember when or how I learned the German term for this; it was a long time ago.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 9, 2022 at 4:42 PM

              • It’s interesting to learn where your neurons took you, but not really surprising, given your predilection for math. I hadn’t thought of a Quersumme for eons and have to admit that I had forgotten all about it.


                July 10, 2022 at 12:19 AM

                • Then we’re similar in not having thought about the term Quersumme for eons. Eon reminds me now of the guy who runs Tesla and SpaceX.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 10, 2022 at 6:35 AM

                • Keep free-associating, Steve. But I will not waste my time thinking about that guy who could do so much good on and for Earth with all his wealth, instead of vaporizing it into space (I don’t think his Tesla engines offset that waste). I know how judgmental that sounds, but I have little sympathy for individuals like him.


                  July 10, 2022 at 1:56 PM

                • You know I’m a big supporter of free speech and due process, so his advocacy for those things pleases me.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 10, 2022 at 3:40 PM

                • Free speech and due process should be supported by all of us.


                  July 13, 2022 at 6:00 PM

                • I wholeheartedly agree, of course, that we should all support free speech and due process. That’s why I’ve been appalled in the past few years (and especially since the pandemic) that increasingly many people in “the land of the free” say that those things needn’t be guaranteed.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 14, 2022 at 8:27 AM

                • And your mention of free-association is a convenient reminder that the First Amendment keeps the government from infringing on people’s right to free association.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 10, 2022 at 4:04 PM

                • Which, in turn, makes me think of a German folk song, “Die Gedanken sind frei.”
                  You can read about it here:
                  Or listen to it here:


                  July 13, 2022 at 5:58 PM

                • That’s an excellent follow-up. Thanks. I’ve never heard—or even heard of—that song. Long may people sing it.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 14, 2022 at 8:20 AM

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