Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Three plus one equals four, but the flowers of trailing four o’clocks are three in one

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Trailing Four o'Clocks 1869

On my way along the Apache Trail from Phoenix to Canyon Lake on September 29th, I couldn’t help noticing ground-hugging colonies of magenta flowers by the side of the road (see the first photo, which looks mostly downward). Thanks to George Miller of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, I now know that these are trailing four o-clocks, Allonia incarnata. Here’s a closer look at one of the flowers.

Trailing Four o'Clock Flower 1885

The scientific name of this wildflower teaches us that plants in the genus Mirabilis aren’t the only ones that people have called four o’clocks (even if some wildflowers in that genus go by other popular names as well, like the angel’s trumpet you recently saw). I’ve learned that the genus Allonia includes just two species, and that what appears to be a single flower is actually three flowers; the six lobes in the upper right of the close-up photo delineate one of those flowers, and you can count six lobes clockwise and counterclockwise from that flower to see the other two  flowers that complete this triune inflorescece. That just gave me an idea for what I would call an inflorescent bulb: turn on the power and out comes a flower. Of course some bulbs already give rise to flowers, just not at the speed of light. Oh well, flights of fancy aside, you’re welcome to read a down-to-earth Wikipedia article about the two-species Allonia genus.

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This is another entry from the saw (as in the past tense of see) part of the see-saw that’s been oscillating between pictures from my trip to the American Southwest in late September and more-recent pictures showing what’s been going on in Austin.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 23, 2014 at 5:45 AM

I thought I ought

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Yellow Lichen Along the Apache Trail 1871

Click to enlarge.

In this morning’s post I mentioned the yellowish lichen that I noticed on September 29th was common on rocks along the Apache Trail northeast of Phoenix, so I thought I ought to give you a closer look at some.

I also thought I owed you an explanation of the rhyming title. Did you know that ought comes from the old past tense of the verb owe? To say you ought to do something is to say you owe it to yourself to do it.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 22, 2014 at 12:50 PM

Canyon Lake

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Canyon Lake, Arizona 1896

I’d never heard of Canyon Lake, which is about an hour down the Apache Trail (which I’d never heard of either) heading northeast from Phoenix, but this is how a portion of the lake looked on September 29th. Notice the extensive yellowish lichen on the rocks in the distance, as well as the photograph’s square format.

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This is another entry from the saw (as in the past tense of see) part of the see-saw that’s been oscillating between pictures from my trip to the American Southwest in late September and more-recent pictures showing what’s been going on in central Texas.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 22, 2014 at 5:46 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Okay, so here’s the spider

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Argiope aurantia Spider and Small Feather 8238

Click for better clarity and contrast.

Now you get to see the Argiope aurantia spider that spun the web that snagged the feather that caught the attention of the photographer in Great Hills Park on October 19th.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2014 at 12:32 PM

Small white feather caught in spiderweb

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Small White Feather Caught in Argiope aurantia Web 8244

A few posts ago you saw an October 19th photograph of a hover fly on frostweed flowers in Great Hills Park (in fact only about a hundred feet from the place where, a month later, I took the frostweed ice trick picture you saw last time). Another thing I found during the October jaunt was a small white feather caught in the web of an Argiope aurantia spider. I tried my hand at a bunch of photographs, but due to the low light and the breeze—even a little air movement causes a lot of feather movement—I had trouble getting the whole feather in focus at the same time. In this image fortune favored me and most all the parts came out sharp.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2014 at 5:29 AM

Cold enough

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When I checked the outside temperature around 8 o’clock in the morning on November 17th, I saw that it was 34° F (1° C). Had the overnight temperature dipped below freezing, and had any frostweed (Verbesina virginica) done its magic ice trick? An easy way to find out was to check the frostweed plants in a portion of Great Hills Park just half a mile downhill from my home. When I got there I saw that most of them were untouched, but about a dozen stalks showed the characteristic curls of ice I was hoping to find, and that I then spent a good while photographing. Here’s one of them:

Frostweed Ice Scrolls 7165

If you’re unfamiliar with frostweed’s ice trick, one of the strangest and most beguiling phenomena in nature, you can check out the explanations and photographs in posts from this season over the last three years:

2011

2012

2013

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 20, 2014 at 5:33 AM

A different profile with the sun behind it

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Giant Ragweed at Sunrise 7498

The last two posts showed the backlit profile of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix, but now you’re seeing a different sort of profile with the sun beyond it. Move forward from September 29th outside Phoenix to October 17th inside Austin, when I pulled a Steve Gingold by being out and ready for pictures so early in the morning that it was still dark. Where, I’d asked myself, might I have a good view toward the east to photograph the sunrise, and I decided to check out the site of the former Mueller Airport, which has been undergoing redevelopment for a decade.

Now that you know the setting, you can understand that in the background of this photograph you’re seeing not a range of mountains but a pile of dirt at a construction site (though your imagination can still make a mountain out of what would have been a very large mole hill). As darkness gave way to dawn, the brightening eastern sky silhouetted this giant ragweed plant, Ambrosia trifida, that I chose as one of my subjects. If you’d like to know what a giant ragweed plant looks like when there’s light on it, you can check out a post from three years ago.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 19, 2014 at 5:23 AM

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