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The many styles of winter Echinacea

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

It is easy to admire flowers in the summer. They have vibrant colors. They give off fragrance. And, for invertebrate lovers like me, they are often beacons for bees, butterflies, beetles, and spiders. In winter, we have to focus our senses to appreciate the more structural beauty of flowers.

Echinacea is a genus of flowering plant commonly referred to as "coneflower." There are several species in the genus, with habitat preferences ranging from dry gravely soil to the more mesic prairies of the east. The showy pink to purple flowers are visited by butterflies, moths, and many species of native bee. In the winter, their seed heads break down as they are ravaged by birds and the elements--leaving behind sculptures as unique to each flower as hair styles on the sidewalks of New York City.

On a warm February morning, after last week's heavy snow, I decided to go appreciate the seed heads in our backyard. As a photographer, I appreciate things by photographing them. And as is often the case, I took my camera out with the intention of snapping a few photos before returning inside. No need to change out of my sweatpants and slippers, I would hate to miss the good light. I would only be out for a few minutes, so changing would be a waste of time.

...After taking about 400 photos of seed heads from a single species (Echinacea purpurea) over the course of an hour, I realized my clothes were soaked and my feet were purple.

One of my favorite parts about photography is getting to live every moment twice. Going through photos on the computer after an outing is sometimes just as fun as the outing itself. I spent some time scrolling through the variety of seed heads in my Lightroom folder. Each one feels so personified and unique. Some were almost completely intact, while others were nearly bald. However, the ones I found most appealing were in a disheveled state somewhere inbetween. Here are a few of my favorites and a little bit about the photographic information, for those interested in those details.

Which styling is your favorite?

In February, it is rare to find an Echinacea with the majority of its spines in tact. Photographed with a 100mm 2.8 macro, ISO1600, 1/500th, F4.5.

I call this look the "rabbit ears," with just two vertical spines remaining. Photographed with a 100mm 2.8 macro, iso 1600, 1/400th, F4.5.

A rather asymmetrical Echinacea is no less lovely. Photographed with a 100mm 2.8 macro, iso 500, 1/320th, F5.6.

From directly above, the "bald" Echinacea looks like a sun. Photographed with a 100 2.8 macro, iso 1600, 1/320th, F7.1 (focus stack of two images).

The low side light emphasizes the textures left behind from the fallen spines. iso500, 1/320th, F5.6.

This Echinacea had a spine clinging on by a strand of animal hair (likely our dog, Clover). iso400, 1/320th, F6.3.

The messier the better, if you ask me. iso400, 1/400th, F4.5.

A nice little tuft on top--playful, with just enough formality. iso800, 1/320th, F5.0.

Favoring one side. Adventurous and bold. iso1600, 1/800th, F6.3.

The flying saucer. iso800, 1/320th, F5.0


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