Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for June 2011

Dropping with the drought

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Fallen leaves and fruit of Juniperus ashei.

The most common native tree in many of the hilly parts of Austin is the Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei, colloquially called cedar. Perhaps a dozen of these trees inhabit my yard, and in dry spells they shed some of their scaly leaves, which join the female trees’ previously shed grayish-purple fruits on the ground. Together the fallen leaves and fruits are dense enough in places to form an opaque blanket, as this picture taken yesterday morning confirms.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Check the USDA website for more information about Juniperus ashei, including a clickable map showing where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 21, 2011 at 5:20 AM

More about bluebells

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Bluebells, Eustoma exaltatum.

So I’m bouncing around between bluebells and mountain pinks, with bluebells again this morning. Here’s how they look from above, where you can see their “good mouths”—that’s what Eustoma means—wide open. Today marks three years to the day since I took this picture on the prairie in northeast Austin.

© 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 20, 2011 at 7:03 AM

Mountain pink bud

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A tapering bud in front of an unfolding flower of mountain pink, Centaurium beyrichii.

The bud of the bluebell is long and tapering, and its length corresponds to that of the bell-shaped flower it will become. Also elongated, and tapered even further to a bulletlike point, is the bud of the mountain pink. At first white-tipped, its shape and color give no clue to the type of flower that will emerge: neither white nor, once fully open, tall and narrow. Have botanists plotted the distribution of correlations between the shapes of the buds of many species and the shapes of the flowers they give rise to? If so, let them speak.

Let’s move from the statistical to the photographical, and I’ll explain how I managed to get such a neutral background in this photograph. Following a technique I’ve mentioned once before in this column, I got down low to the ground and held my camera in a position where the bud and flower happily lined up with a shadowed portion of the trunks of a group of Ashe juniper trees in the near distance. The trees were far enough away that my aperture of f/7.1 was sufficiently large to render them completely formless yet small enough to keep the nearer side of the bud in focus. The flower, by virtue of being behind the bud—ah, virtuous flower—is pleasingly out of focus but remains recognizable. An active imagination may do more than recognize: it may see a yellow-headed dancer facing forward with upper body thrown back and pink arms upraised.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Look here for more information about Centaurium beyrichii, including a clickable map that shows where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 19, 2011 at 7:27 AM

Mountain pink anthers

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Anthers of mountain pink, Centaureum beyrichii.

Here’s a close view of the stamens of mountain pink, with their bright yellow, corkscrew-shaped anthers. Notice that some pollen has worked its way up onto the vertical petal, most likely the result of the wind blowing the petal and the anthers together. (I’ve kept this image large so you can see the details.)

I took the photograph yesterday at the entrance to the preserve called Wild Basin, which is on the hilly side of Austin where mountain pinks “belong.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Look here for more information about Centaurium beyrichii, including a clickable map that shows where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2011 at 4:25 AM

Pink joins purple

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Mountain pinks, Centaurium beyrichii.

When I went to the prairie in northeast Austin four days ago to photograph sunflowers, I found a dense group of bluebells some distance behind the sunflowers. Because I’ve seen bluebells growing in that part of town in other years, I was pleased but not surprised, except perhaps for how well the flowers were doing in the continuing drought. But surprise there was, and it came as I wandered away from the main colony of bluebells to look at some smaller groups of them; for then I came across another species that found sustenance on the floor of the sump: mountain pinks! In the photograph above, all the flowers and buds belong to a single mountain pink plant. The purple in the upper left of the picture is from the nearby cluster of bluebells in the background.

As the name mountain pink suggests, this plant is common in the Texas Hill Country that begins on the west side of Austin, where it can seem to grow right out of the limestone cliffs. Only once before had I found this species, Centaurium beyrichii, on the prairie side of town. That was in 2006, on US Highway 290, where a pioneering colony had sprung up. I photographed it several times then and I went back each year in May and June to observe and photograph yet again, until finally last year the site was destroyed during the construction that’s turning the highway into a toll road. A sad and familiar story: one more natural place gone. So let the newfound little group be this summer’s consolation.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Look here for more information about Centaurium beyrichii, including a clickable map that shows where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 17, 2011 at 6:28 AM

A bluebell bud

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Bud of a bluebell, Eustoma exaltatum.

If, as Wordsworth wrote, “The Child is father of the Man,” then the Bud is mother of the Flower.

Who could tell, without already having seen it, that a bud like this will soon become a flower like the bluebell shown yesterday?

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 16, 2011 at 6:48 AM

Detail of a bluebell flower

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Base of a bluebell flower, Eustoma exaltatum.

A dense colony of wildflowers, like yesterday’s bluebells, is pretty in the aggregate, but I often prefer taking a close look at a single flower. In this case make that part of a flower; although some people don’t like a truncated view, I find that it emphasizes abstract forms.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 15, 2011 at 7:31 AM


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Click for increased clarity and considerably greater size.

It was a colony of sunflowers that waylayed me yesterday morning on the south side of Wells Branch Parkway just east of Dessau Rd. on the Blackland Prairie, but the large field south of the sunflowers proved to hold much more. Almost missing it, I drove south on Dessau Rd., when suddenly I caught a telltale glimpse, a patch of violet, across the road to my left; the tale the color swatch told was bluebells, Eustoma exaltatum. Three times in ten days now I’ve happily found some in that far northeastern part of Austin, and each time in a sump that, cracked though the ground was, must have retained enough moisture for the bluebells to thrive in the continuing drought. Shown here is the main stand of yesterday’s colony, the densest of the three. The predominantly vertical brown strokes are the dried out remains of last year’s bushy bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, a native grass that turns wonderfully fluffy when it goes to seed in the fall.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Look here for more information about bluebells, which, even more than bluebonnets, aren’t blue.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 14, 2011 at 6:40 AM

Just can’t get enough of those sunflowers

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Sunflowers, Helianthus annuus.

Headed out this morning intending to go back to the sunflower colony I visited last Friday; took a circuitous route; got waylayed by another sunflower colony that, like Bob Dylan’s answer, my friends, was blowing in the wind; never made it to the intended goal, but who cares?

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(Look here for information about Helianthus annuus, including a clickable map showing where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2011 at 3:40 PM

Predation on the rays of a sunflower

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Crab spider biting a tiny caterpillar

Although lady beetles eat aphids and other insects, I’ve seldom seen them do so. In contrast, I often come across the remains of spiders’ meals in their webs, and sometimes I find their prey still live in their grasp. I witnessed one such encounter on an early sunflower a month ago in the prairie restoration at Austin’s old Mueller Airport. You can get an idea of the scale of the little drama shown in the photograph from the fact that the body of the crab spider, which Spider Joe Lapp has identified in a comment below as Mecaphesa dubia, was less than half an inch long from fore to aft. I watched for a good while as the tiny caterpillar continued to writhe in a vain attempt to break loose from the spider’s firm grip, a grip that never faltered even as the spider dragged the caterpillar around on the sunflower from time to time in response to my close presence and movements as I kept taking pictures.

Update on August 23, 2011: Valerie Bugh has identified the tiny (and doomed) caterpillar as belonging to the flower moth genus Schinia.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2011 at 6:45 AM

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