Photographing the Tried and True Sheets: Part 2 – Capturing Flowers and Fruits

Written by Mary Free, Certified Master Gardener

Part One of Photographing the Tried and True Sheets explored how best to capture the forms of plants and trees in photographs. You can read part one here! This week, a closer look at capturing the best images when photographing fruits and flowers.

Echinacea purpurea: Mary Free
Creating images for the Tried and True Plant fact sheets required many trips to local public gardens and parks to find good specimens as well as many, many pictures to capture them to best advantage. In Part 1, we focused on images that portrayed growth habit or form; now we turn to flowers and fruits.

Capturing Flowers

A blooming period usually offers sufficient opportunity to find and photograph individual flowers at their peak. Capturing flowers en masse, like the Echinacea purpurea in the Sunny Garden, when most are full and fresh and not yet on the wane, requires more vigilance. Catching an insect on a particular plant requires both vigilance and patience.

Color, shape, structure and odor of a flower determine the type of pollinators that it attracts, so when pollinators were present, we tried to capture them close up as examples of the visitors you might expect on a particular species. Sometimes there was a plethora of pollinators. All it took was a little time and attention at the Sunny Garden to get some good pictures of the bumble bees and skippers busy feeding on the fluffy flower heads of Liatris spicata. The two pictures also illustrate a Liatris characteristic of flower spikes blooming from top to bottom.

Liatris spicata & Bee: Mary Free Liatris spicata with bee & moth: Mary Free

Other times, pollinators appeared unexpectedly. When the monarch butterfly landed on a host milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, also in the Sunny Garden, the camera was in its case rather than in hand. There was hardly time to retrieve it, turn it on and try to focus before the monarch flew away. Other insects on A. tuberosa offered less of a photographic challenge. The brightly colored, large milkweed bug nymphs are easy to spot, and since their wings are still developing, they cannot take flight. They congregate on the pods to eat the seeds, helping to regulate the spread of milkweed. Monarch caterpillars blend in better with their surroundings. Once they are located chewing the milkweed leaves, though, these slow-moving insects are accommodating subjects.

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Capturing Fruits

Fruits follow flowers, but they can disappear as soon as they ripen if they are wildlife favorites. Once the cone-like fruits of Simpson Garden’s Magnolia virginiana ripen and split open, they fall to the voracious appetites of migrating songbirds. The berry-like pomes of Amelanchier arborea in the Quarry Shade Garden are delicious in pies and jams but you would be lucky to harvest any before the birds devour them. (This native tree is a good alternative to the popular, non-native cultivar Bradford pear, which is becoming increasingly invasive as birds drop the seeds in native habitats.) In both instances, the fruits pictured are not fully mature.


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On the other hand, you can marvel at the opened, mature fruits with dangling orange-red seed coverings, that lend the common name Heart’s-a-Bustin’ to Euonymus americanus. These fruits are not fit for human consumption and since they are only minimally eaten by songbirds and turkeys (the latter are not common at Glencarlyn Library), these fascinating fruits decorate the shrub until late in the year.

Next week: Photographing the Tried and Trues – Part 3: Capturing Foliage and Bark

About mgnv

Master Gardners of Northern Virginia
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