Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Blue curls and firewheel

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Been a long time since I showed you any blue curls, Phacelia congesta. In Allen Park on May 15th
I spotted one flowering close enough to a firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, for me to contrast their colors.


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Today is Juneteenth, which became a national holiday this week. The name is short for June Nineteenth, which was the day in 1865 when Union forces brought the news to Galveston, Texas, that all former slaves were now free. This is the first new American holiday since Ronald Reagan signed into law the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for a speech he gave in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963, that has become known as “I have a dream” because that line figured repeatedly in the speech. Here’s a portion:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”…

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I’m all for that, and I expect you are, too.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 19, 2021 at 4:40 AM

A colorful limestone overhang

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I live in northwest Austin’s Great Hills neighborhood, which is home to the unsurprisingly named Great Hills Park. An isolated arm of the park, seldom reached because getting there entails walking in a creek and pushing past various obstacles, houses a long limestone overhang. Given the geography and the position of the sun throughout the year, direct light doesn’t fall on the overhang’s ceiling or most of its back. An approaching visitor will initially see the inside of the overhang as very dark, though eyes do get somewhat accustomed after a person has been under the overhang for a bit. Even so, the dimness makes it hard to appreciate the ways in which seeping water over eons has colored the stone. I used flash to light up the formations and reveal the pastel colors that you see in these two images, both from June 10th.


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Did you hear about the family in Edinburgh that has six living generations?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Thryallis Thursday

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Galphimia angustifolia, a member of the botanical family Malpighiaceae, is a slender little native plant I seldom come across. After I saw a stand of it near the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail on June 13th I went back the next morning to take photographic advantage of my find. Vernacular names for this species are thryallis (apparently a Greek word meaning ‘wick’) and narrowleaf goldshower. Notice how the flowers express a fiveness, with the petals starting out very slender and abruptly widening farther out. Each flower is red, orange, or yellow, and sometimes all three kinds appear on the same plant. Flower diameter is no more than 3/8 of an inch (9mm), so this picture is much larger than life.

On the technical side, I used a ring flash and chose a shutter speed of 1/400 and an aperture of f/20 for good depth of field. That small an aperture also rendered the bright sky a dark blue.


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Yesterday I linked to the testimony of Xi Van Fleet, a woman who managed to escape the terror of the Chinese Communist regime, only to find years later that her school district in northern Virginia has been indoctrinating its students. I also recently learned about Yeonmi Park, who had a harrowing escape from North Korea in 2007 at the age of 13. After making her way to America, she eventually enrolled at Columbia University, my alma mater (alas), where she had a reaction similar to Xi Van Fleet’s. You can hear Yeonmi Park’s story in an online article that includes a video.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 17, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Waterfall Wednesday #2

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Last week you heard how on June 3rd, before the day turned and stayed rainy, I drove three miles to a tributary of Bull Creek where a picturesque waterfall was flowing at full strength. In addition to many straightforward photographs taken at slow shutter speeds like an eighth or a half of a second, I experimented with even slower shutter speeds and zoomed the lens or otherwise moved the camera while the shutter was open. I’ve included two of the results here, each from a four-second exposure. Look how different these views are from the ones you saw last week; in particular, they’re more abstract and less recognizable.


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Yesterday I mentioned the horrendous depredations of the Anti-Cultural Revolution in China under the dictatorship of Mao Zedong. Today I’m following up with the story of Xi Van Fleet, a woman who managed to escape the terror of that Chinese Communist regime. She was fortunate to find freedom in America, but now she’s dismayed to discover that her school district in northern Virginia is indoctrinating its students by using some of the same kinds of techniques and lies the Chinese dictatorship did to keep its people brainwashed and in bondage. You can read about her testimony in a New York Post article from last week.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 16, 2021 at 4:23 AM

Wildflower carpets continuing into June

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Here from Mourning Dove Lane and US 183 in Leander is a field that was still wonderfully flowerful on June 7th. Dominating everything else was Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheels, Indian blankets, and blanketflowers. The two kinds of white flowers toward the back were bull nettle (Cnidoscolus texanus) and white prickly poppies (Argemone albiflora).

Because I show pictures here at a size of about half a megapixel, you often miss details apparent in the full 50-megapixel photographs my camera takes. The image below is a strip across the bottom of the photograph above. Click the strip to enlarge it and see more details. The white flower at the left is Texas bindweed (Convovulus equitans). Near the middle of the strip is the pod of a milkweed, probably antelope horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula). The purple inflorescence a little farther right is a horsemint (Monarda citriodora). Notice how many of the firewheels had already become seed heads.


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“The Cultural Revolution, formally the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a violent sociopolitical purge movement in China from 1966 until 1976.” So begins the Wikipedia article about what I choose to call the Anti-Cultural Revolution because it destroyed culture and killed people. “Estimates of the death toll from the [Anti-]Cultural Revolution, including civilians and Red Guards, vary greatly, ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million.”

Elements of that horrific movement have now come to America, where crazed mobs, both in person and online, persecute people for having said or done something that the fanatics don’t like, even if the thing was decades ago and the people weren’t yet adults. As in the North Korean dictatorship today, a supposed offender’s family, friends, and associates also are deemed worthy of punishment. Thankfully, some Americans are speaking out against such destructive fanaticism. If you’d like to learn more about a recent incident, you can listen to Bari Weiss‘s half-hour podcast “America’s Cultural Revolution.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 15, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Monday milkweed

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Only occasionally do I come across Texas milkweed, Asclepias texana. Yesterday morning along the Upper Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail was one of those times. To give you a sense of scale, I’ll add that each little flower in the cluster is only about a quarter of an inch (6mm) long.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 14, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Two quite different takes

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On May 15th in Allen Park I found a nice group of silverpuff plants (Chaptalia texana) with prominent seed heads. I took the top picture by natural light, of which there wasn’t a lot, so the resulting broad aperture of f/2.8 led to a dreamy portrait with little in focus. For the closer view below I used my ring flash and an aperture of f/13 so I could keep a lot more details sharp. Fireworks, anyone?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Brown-eyed Susan colony

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Here’s a wildflower that hasn’t appeared in these pages for a good while: Rudbeckia hirta, known as brown-eyed Susan or black-eyed Susan. (Maybe Susan’s the sister of the Barbara whose buttons you saw last time.) Mixed in are a few firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella, many of which had already gone to seed by the time I took this picture at Tejas Camp in Williamson County on June 7th. Among some of the brown-eyed Susans I found the basket-flower, Plectocephalus americanus, that’s shown below. Sometimes my hair looks like that, except for the pink.


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My country’s current administration is changing the word mothers to birthing people in some official documents. Honest. At least greeting card companies have 11 months to update their products for May 8, 2022, which will be the next Birthing People’s Day. A whole lot of changes are gonna have to get made. Whereas ma and mom were pet forms of the now discredited and unspeakable m-word, I guess children will fondly call the people who birthed them their bir. And of course the verb smother will have to be changed to sbirthingperson. As in: Google, Facebook, and Twitter keep sbirthingpersoning the expression of truths they don’t want you to know.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 12, 2021 at 4:34 AM

White makes its rounds

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Here are two takes on white. Above is a flower head of Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia caespitosa) in Allen Park on May 15th. Who the eponymous and alliterative Barbara was is anyone’s guess. The same photo session yielded the portrait below of a firewheel (Gallardia pulchella) with white ray tips, though in that white you can see traces of the customary yellow that’s dominant in the firewheels farther back. The ring flash I used for the top picture accounts for the darkness surrounding the flower head. For the other picture I went with natural light—or did natural light go with me?

Along those lines, here’s Austin Dobson’s poem “The Paradox of Time”:

Time goes, you say? Ah no!
Alas, Time stays, we go;
Or else, were this not so,
What need to chain the hours,
For Youth were always ours?
Time goes, you say?—ah no!

Ours is the eyes’ deceit
Of men whose flying feet
Lead through some landscape low;
We pass, and think we see
The earth’s fixed surface flee:—
Alas, Time stays,—we go!

Once in the days of old,
Your locks were curling gold,
And mine had shamed the crow.
Now, in the self-same stage,
We’ve reached the silver age;
Time goes, you say?—ah no!

Once, when my voice was strong,
I filled the woods with song
To praise your ‘rose’ and ‘snow’;
My bird, that sang, is dead;
Where are your roses fled?
Alas, Time stays,—we go!

See, in what traversed ways,
What backward Fate delays
The hopes we used to know;
Where are our old desires?—
Ah, where those vanished fires?
Time goes, you say?—ah no!

How far, how far, O Sweet,
The past behind our feet
Lies in the even-glow!
Now, on the forward way,
Let us fold hands, and pray;
Alas, Time stays,—we go!

Dobson took his inspiration from a famous sonnet by Ronsard, which you’re welcome to read in the original and in an English translation.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 11, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Red admiral on basket-flower

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From May 7th on the Blackland Prairie in southern Round Rock, here’s a red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) on a basket-flower (Plectocephalus americanus). According to a Wikipedia article, Johan Christian Fabricius gave the name Vanessa to this genus of butterflies in 1807. The name itself has an interesting origin: “It was invented by the Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift for Esther Vanhomrigh, whom Swift had met in 1708 and whom he tutored. The name was created by taking ‘Van’ from Vanhomrigh’s last name and adding ‘Essa’, a pet form of Esther.” Speaking of the author best known for writing Gulliver’s Travels, I’ll add that the English adjective swift meant ‘moving quickly’ before it got applied to and became the name of a bird that moves quickly. And because I moved so quickly from nature to words, let me come back to our basket-flower and point out that the genus name Plectocephalus (which recently got changed from Centaurea) is made up of Greek elements meaning ‘plait’ and ‘head,’ because the flower heads of this species remind people of little woven baskets.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 10, 2021 at 4:34 AM

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