Portraits of Wildflowers

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A colony of basket-flowers

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Along Pflugerville Parkway on May 26th I found a happy colony of basket-flowers, until recently known to botanists as Centaurea americana and now apparently as Plectocephalus americanus. But what’s in a (scientific) name? Flourishing today, withered and wind-wafted tomorrow.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 30, 2019 at 4:41 AM

Seven years

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Scientists tell us that over a period of seven years every cell in our body gets replaced. Not so with the “cells,” i.e. posts, in Portraits of Wildflowers, all of which are still here for your delectation. While a few of you have seen the post that started everything off on June 4, 2011, many of you have not, so here’s a copy of that first entry, which I entitled “Another Beginning.”

A basket-flower, Centaurea americana

In my “About This Column” page I noted that everything we create must have a beginning. The photograph shown here marked the beginning of what I think of as a new approach to nature photography for me. The date was May 3, 2000, and the place was Round Rock, a rapidly growing city north of Austin. I was in a field on one side of a cul-de-sac, a bit of prairie that members of the Native Plant Society of Texas had taught me was a good place to see lots of native species. That day I’d gone there alone so I could take my time photographing (other people understandably get impatient if I spend fifteen minutes or half an hour in the same spot, as I often do when I take pictures).

I was pleased to find a colony of basket-flowers, Centaurea americana, growing in the field, but they weren’t far from the road that had brought me there (which has since been expanded to a superhighway). In order to keep the road and the apartments across the way from ruining my picture, I leaned down so that my eyes would be closer to the level of the flowers. Not good enough: I could still see distracting things in the background. I ended up lying flat on the ground—a skin-threatening thing to do in Texas—and looking up at a single basket-flower so I could isolate it against the sky. The result was the picture you see here, which has become my best-known photograph. A view from this angle makes it clear why Anglo settlers called this a basket-flower.

(Here is information about Centaurea americana, including a map showing where the species grows.)

© 2011, 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 4, 2018 at 4:40 AM

Tumbling flower beetle on American basket-flower

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My first photo stop on May 1st was at the old Merrilltown Cemetery on Burnet Rd., at whose edges in past years I’d photographed plenty of American basket-flowers, Centaurea americana. Though it was still early in the season, a few basket-flowers had opened, and on one of them I found this tumbling flower beetle.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2017 at 5:00 AM


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Domed and Rain-Disheveled Basket-Flower 6374

Also from Tejas Camp in Williamson County on May 30, here’s a rather domed basket-flower, Centaurea americana. The rain a few hours earlier contributed to the flower head’s somewhat unkempt look.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 29, 2016 at 5:06 AM


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5 is a pleasant number. It’s a prime in its own right and is also the sum of the first two primes, 2 and 3. In addition (can you anticipate the pun?), 5 is the sum of the squares of two consecutive integers, 1 and 2. Those lesser integers 1, 2, and 3 are Fibonacci numbers, as is 5 itself. The most common stylized star that people draw has 5 points. Some plants have compound leaves with 5 leaflets. Other plants produce flowers with 5 petals or rays or stamens or sepals or bracts.

If I’m dwelling on the number 5, it’s because today marks the fifth anniversary of daily posts in Portraits of Wildflowers. Who’d have expected such day-after-day fidelity? Not I, going into it, yet WordPress tells me today’s post is number 1986 (on some days I did more than one). Breathe and drink and eat we must, but five years is a long time for a voluntary daily activity to last. Now I think it’s time to ease the pace a bit and not feel honor-bound, or maybe more realistically obsession-bound, to post every single day. There’ll still be plenty to see and show, especially as this has been a good wildflower spring. Here are two examples of that.

The first photograph portrays a colony of Gaillardia pulchella (firewheels, blanket flowers, Indian blankets) with some Engelmannia peristenia (Engelmann daisies) in the background along TX 20 east of Lockhart on May 3. Note in the lower left the seed pods of some Lupinus texensis (bluebonnets). The dark, dry vertical plants scattered among the firewheels seem to have been the remains of Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa).

Firewheel Colony with Engelmann Daisies and Bluebonnet Pods 2682

The second example of this spring’s great wildflowers comes from a still-undeveloped property along Louis Henna Blvd. in southern Round Rock on May 17. You’re looking at basket-flowers (Centaurea americana), Indian blankets (Gaillardia pulchella), greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium), and prairie bishop’s weed (Bifora americana).

Basket-Flower Colony with Other Wildflowers 4744

Now you’ve seen them. If you want to know the moral:
Landscapes are good when they’re abundantly floral.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman



Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 6, 2016 at 5:01 AM

Continuing wildflower profusion

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Basket-Flower Colony with Other Wildflowers 4853

The ample rain we’ve kept getting in central Texas this spring has continued to bring out good stands of wildflowers. Here you see a colony of basket-flowers, Centaurea americana, with some firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella, and a few square-bud primroses, Calylophus berlandieri, mixed in. Notice that many of the firewheels had already shed their red-and-yellow rays and become globular seed heads.

Oh well, if we’re talking about profusion I guess I should add at least one more picture of the dense wildflowers in that field. This second photograph has the distinction, I think, of being the only one taken at a focal length of 16mm ever to appear in these pages. In this wide-angle view are prairie bishop’s weed, Bifora americana; Indian blanket, Gaillardia pulchella; greenthread, Thelesperma filifolium; and a few basket-flowers, Centaurea americana.

Mixed Prairie Wildflowers 4941

I found these dense wildflower displays on a not-yet-developed property along Louis Henna Blvd. in Round Rock on the afternoon of May 17. We had rain that night and again on May 19.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 21, 2016 at 4:49 AM

A small white snail that climbed onto a drying basket-flower

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Small White Snail on Dry Basket-Flower 2998

This is from May 29th on the Pflugerville-Round Rock border. I can tell you that the basket-flower is Centaurea americana, but for me the snail remains Molluscus unknownus.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 30, 2015 at 5:37 AM

Basket-flower by other wildflowers

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Basket-Flower Flower Head from Side 3577

A month ago a flourishing colony of basket-flowers, Centaurea americana, appeared here, and yesterday a portion of a basket-flower served as a soft and pastel pedestal for a red admiral butterfly, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t show you a closer look at one of these flower heads in its own right. Today’s view is from Tejas Camp in Williamson County on June 1.

Most species in the Asteraceae, known as the sunflower family or daisy family or composite family, produce heads with two different-looking sets of small flowers: in the center are densely packed disk flowers, and radiating (i.e. ray-diating) out around them are ray flowers; think of your typical daisy and you’ll get the picture. Some species in this family, however, produce only one of the two kinds of flowers. That’s the case with the basket-flower, and even though you might think that it has white disk flowers surrounded by lavender ray flowers, all of them are disk flowers, despite the color difference. Not all that glitters is gold.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 26, 2015 at 4:59 AM

Red admiral butterfly on basket-flower

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Red Admiral Butterfly on Basket-Flower 3998

Here’s a ventral view of a red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) on a basket-flower (Centaurea americana) in Leander on the first day of June.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2015 at 5:32 AM

Austin had a sunny day yesterday!

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Basket-Flower Colony Flowering 3171

That’s right, after some 24 days of primarily overcast skies, drizzle, and rain, on May 29th the clouds dissipated and we had a clear and sunny day. The pent-up landscape photographer in me went out onto the Blackland Prairie along the Pflugerville-Round Rock border—wearing rubber boots, I should add, because of the water and mud in many places. I hoped the recent heavy rains hadn’t damaged the colonies of basket-flowers, Centaurea americana, that had been so good in that area in recent years. Some stands turned out not to be as dense as before, but others were, as you see here. The greenery in the upper left is Maximilian sunflower plants, which won’t flower for a few months yet.

UPDATE: This morning it’s back to an overcast sky with a 50% chance of rain.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 30, 2015 at 5:23 AM

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