Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for June 2011

Conjoined rain-lilies beginning to shrivel

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Twin rain-lilies, Cooperia pedunculata.

Among our most ephemeral wildflowers, rain-lilies last only a couple of days. As the tepals wither, they become more and more tinged with a color that ranges from pink to magenta, as shown here. Photographed in mid-May by the side of the Mopac expressway, these are the only conjoined rain-lilies I recall ever seeing. The swelling at the base of the twins’ shared stalk is the plant’s ripening ovary.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman (who sometimes likes pictures that are unusually elongated, whether horizontally or, like this one, vertically; and whose mind, tuned as it is to word associations, woke up at 5:30 in the morning a few days after this post with the thought running through his head that this photograph could be titled Withering Heights).

(For more information about this species, including a clickable map showing where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 30, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Snow White

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Detail of a rain-lily, Cooperia pedunculata.

The tepals of a rain-lily are delicate and translucent, and their edges have a visual texture surprisingly like that of snow or ice. Unlike this morning’s equally close view of a rain-lily, this one lets you see the color that can appear in the tip of a tepal.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(For more information about this species, including a clickable map showing where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 29, 2011 at 9:41 PM

More white

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Close view of a rain-lily, Cooperia pedunculata.

The clammyweed I found in my neighborhood the other day was a bonus: I’d gone out that morning to look for another white flower, the rain-lily, several of which I’d begun seeing around town a few days after a sudden and much-welcome rainfall, the only one in a month. Shown here is a detailed and somewhat abstract view of a rain-lily. It’s a soft portrait, with my focus being selectively on some of the pink veins in the otherwise bright white of the tepal at the right. Those interspersed lines of color, as appealing as I found them, and as you may find them too too, are a sign that this flower had already peaked in freshness; by the next day the pink would have spread and turned to magenta as the flower shriveled into non-existence.

As I mentioned when posting the detailed picture of a bluebell a couple of weeks ago, some people don’t like views that crop off parts of the subject. Over the past decade I’ve taken many pictures that show a full rain-lily flower, so, not wanting to repeat myself, a few years ago I began experimenting with more abstract views like this one (though I still take pictures of complete rain-lilies too).

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(For more information about this species, including a clickable map showing where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 29, 2011 at 6:31 AM

The view from the top

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Click for greater clarity.

Generally I avoid aiming straight down because that view usually includes lots of distracting details on the ground. Once in a while, though, aiming down portrays a subject in an appealing way and shows things that a side view doesn’t. Compare yesterday’s view of clammyweed with today’s, in which the white petals stand out as individuals and reveal their unusual shape and their distribution.

If you’re wondering about the red areas that are more noticeable in today’s photograph than in yesterday’s, here’s what Ellen D. Schulz wrote in her 1929 book Texas Wild Flowers: “The flower has an unusual appendage in the form of a red gland at the base of its petals.” Now you know.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 28, 2011 at 11:42 AM

Welcome to the Texas Hill Country

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It may seem from many of my recent photographs that I live on the prairie. For most of my years in Austin I did live on the prairie side of town, and I enjoy going back there to take pictures, but seven years ago we moved westward to the Great Hills neighborhood on the other side of Austin. We’re now about one mile inside the Texas Hill Country, so just minutes from home I can walk in canyons and on hillsides and along creeks in areas that because of their terrain aren’t likely ever to be developed (hooray!).

A couple of days ago I went to one of those neighborhood places that I’m happy to visit from time to time, and there to my delight I found a native plant that I don’t encounter all that often and that many of you have probably never seen or heard of, even though I was surprised to learn that it grows throughout large parts of North America. Known by the botanical mouthful-of-a-name Polanisia dodecandra ssp. trachysperma, it’s commonly called clammyweed (or the internally rhyming sandyseed clammyweed), though I think a name like gooeyplant or gooflower would be better, because this species exudes droplets of liquid that make it gooey to the touch. And of course I’d replace the weed part of the name: people may call it a weed, but I’m always fascinated by the plant’s flowers, with the implied motion of their many stamens shooting off in so many directions (and making photographing them a challenge). So now, following the better part of a century after T.S. Eliot,

You don’t have to ask “What is it?”
You’re free to make your visual visit.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(For more information about clammyweed, including a clickable map showing the many places where the plant grows, you can visit the USDA website.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 27, 2011 at 7:38 AM

Pennant dragonfly

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Click for a larger size and more clarity.

As I walked from one large stand of sunflowers to another two days ago, I noticed a dragonfly perched on a dry stalk on higher ground nearby. I put on my Canon 70–200mm telephoto lens and 1.4x converter to take a series of shots looking somewhat upward at the dragonfly. In this picture I positioned myself in such a way that the insect, which I take to be a pennant dragonfly, appeared against a patch of blue sky rather than against the clouds that you can see in yesterday’s picture of the sunflower colony.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 26, 2011 at 7:10 AM

Prairie redux

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Sunflower Colony 4955

“I haven’t been back to any of the three bluebell colonies I recently found on the prairie in northeast Austin….” So saying, I headed back to the prairie, where the bluebells have begun to go to seed. But the sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) just keep on coming in the heat: new buds and flowers mix with the rayless dark disks of predecessors that they will follow soon enough. There’s a wild energy in the randomness of a large colony, with parts of plants going every which way. How to capture that in a rectangle? Here’s one attempt.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman, for whom the ray folded down onto the disk of the large sunflower at the left makes the picture.

– – – –

P.S. In a bit of botanical-literary synesthesia brought on by the word ray, I hope you won’t mind if I cite the famous poem by Byron:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that ‘s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 25, 2011 at 7:49 AM

Bluebell bud opening into a flower

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Unfolding of a bluebell bud, Eustoma exaltatum

I haven’t been back to any of the three bluebell colonies I recently found on the prairie in northeast Austin, but I’ll take you back to something I saw when I visited the third of them. As the bud shown here began unfolding, it revealed a portion of the flower’s bright yellow, fuzzy-looking, two-lobed stigma. The two patches of orange below it are anthers. Each of the five elongated purple tubes surrounding and towering over the yellow and the orange would soon unfurl into a broad petal. For an earlier stage in the process, see last week’s photograph of a bluebell bud; for a later stage, see the recently posted photograph of fully open flowers.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(The website of The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has more information about bluebells, also called bluebell gentians and prairie gentians.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2011 at 6:50 AM

Sunflower stalk

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Stalk of a sunflower, Helianthus annuus.

But it isn’t just the flowers of the sunflower that attract me, whether fresh or fading: here a flower head is relegated to an indistinct patch of yellow visible through the notch of the branching plant in the foreground. How could I not be attracted to this rough beauty, with its alternating regions of chartreuse and maroon, and its white hairs that are coarser than my own?

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 23, 2011 at 6:52 AM

Fading sunflower blowing in the prairie wind

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Click for better color and clarity.

When a sunflower has passed its prime, its yellow ray flowers shrivel and its central disk begins to dry out. The wind met this sunflower in that stage last week on a still-undeveloped piece of prairie at Austin’s former Bergstrom Airport.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Look here for information, including a clickable map showing where the species grows, about the “common” sunflower, Helianthus annuus, which I find uncommonly attractive.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 22, 2011 at 7:53 AM

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