Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for July 2011

A pretty fly

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A tiny fly taking nectar from a sunflower; click for more detail.

As I was photographing the young sunflower shown in yesterday’s post, a tiny yellowish-tan fly landed on it. Lost in thought, or whatever condition an insect is in when it works on a wildflower, this pretty fly paid no attention to me as I focused on it rather than on the sunflower while I kept taking pictures. Had this sunflower not survived the mowing, there would have been less in the field to sustain the fly and other insects that likely also paid visits there.

In the enlargement below you can better see that the fly has a bit of pollen on its “beak,” or proboscis. Also notice the pattern of cells on the fly’s compound eyes.

Update: in a comment below, Sarah suggested that I submit a picture of this unknown (to me) fly to bugguide.net for identification. In less than an hour someone identified it as Poecilognathus, which is a genus of what are called bee flies because of their resemblance to bees.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 31, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Resilient sunflower

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In spite of the mowing that I talked about in the previous post*, nature is resilient, and amid the ruins of the sunflower stalks was one that, for being small and low, ended up with a twisted stalk but nevertheless survived and was growing. On that stalk I found the opening sunflower you see here. Come back tomorrow and you’ll see what else I was lucky enough to photograph on it.


* In a gesture that favors the resilience over the cutting down, I put up this post just 12 hours after the last one rather than waiting till the next day.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2011 at 12:05 PM


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A sunflower stalk after mowing.

In my perpetual race with the mowers, I didn’t manage to beat them to the low-lying land in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and Mopac in north Austin last month. Nevertheless, I went there on June 28 to see the aftermath—which the etymologist in me will tell you was originally after mowth, which is to say ‘what’s left after mowing.’ I found the remains of various sunflower plants, like the one shown here, cut down in their prime. Is there a sunny side to the mowing down of sunflowers? Well, now at least we know that their stalks are filled with whitish pith.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2011 at 12:02 AM

Sunflower as mandala

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Maturing disk flowers of Helianthus annuus; click for greater detail.

If you thought we were done with sunflowers* for this year, you may rethink your thinking. In spite of the drought in Texas, sunflowers have been thriving in Austin for months, and I’ve kept photographing them. Over the next few weeks I’ll sprinkle some sunflower pictures, whether recent or from seasons past, into whatever other species we’re looking at.

This oval mandala shows the universe in the maturing disk of a sunflower that was growing wild on the prairie at Austin’s former Mueller Airport in mid-June of this year.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman


* Newcomers to this column, and those who never tire of sunflowers, may want to look back at the eight previous posts involving them:

Sunflower’s new leaves

Sunflower colony

Lady beetle

Predation on the rays of a sunflower

Just can’t get enough of those sunflowers

Fading sunflower blowing in the prairie wind

Sunflower stalk

Prairie redux

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2011 at 6:10 AM

Phlox predominant

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Click for greater size and clarity.

Here’s another picture showing how flowerful the spring of 2010 was. On April 12 of that year, Eve (my wife) and I drove east out of Austin into neighboring Bastrop County, where we spotted this wonderful display. The land was private property, but I put on my longest lens, walked up to the fence line, and did the best I could from there. The rich purple flowers are phlox (probably Phlox drummondii); the yellow ones are Texas groundsel (Senecio ampullaceus); the red are Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa). As always, click the image to see more detail.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 28, 2011 at 5:55 AM

Coreopsis bud

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Click for a sharper image.

Yesterday you saw a broad colony of goldenwave, Coreopsis tinctoria. Now, also from the wet spring of 2010, here’s a very different view of the same species, a close-up of a bud beginning to open. The location was the Mueller Greenway, a prairie restoration that’s part of the redevelopment of Austin’s former airport. The contrasting color is from a pink evening primrose, Oenothera speciosa, out of focus in the background. Note the bits of white pollen from another species (probably one of the nearby pink evening primroses) that are wasted in the places where they ended up.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2011 at 5:55 AM

Auld Lang Syne

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Click for more detail and much larger size.

Readers of this column know from repeated comments I’ve made that 2011 has brought one of the worst droughts ever recorded in Texas. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a few days to show you how lush things were here only a year ago. That lushness was especially evident last spring, when I photographed this dense colony of coreopsis (perhaps Coreopsis tinctoria) at Brushy Creek Lake in Cedar Park, a suburb just north of Austin. One common name for this wildflower and closely related species is goldenwave. You may imagine from looking at this photograph, and I’ll confirm from having been there, that the wind really can blow a dense colony of these flowers into golden waves.

(For those interested in the craft of photography, point 8 in About My Techniques is relevant here.)

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Clematis cloud

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A "cloud" of Clematis; click for more detail.

Clematis drummondii is a vine that’s fond of climbing on and over other plants, even to the point of covering them with a living—and for them smothering—cloud of fibers. In the case of what appears to be some Brazilian and therefore alien verbena poking up at the far left, so much the better.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 25, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Climber on the climbing Clematis

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On a Clematis drummondii plant near the one shown in yesterday’s picture I noticed a tiny dark fly, perhaps a quarter of an inch long, on one strand. It held its position for some time, so I was able to take pictures from different angles. Click for more detail.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 24, 2011 at 5:55 AM

Clematis drummondii Swirls

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Clematis drummondii dénouement; click for more detail and larger size.

My online version of the New Oxford American Dictionary defines dénouement as “the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.” But in the dénouement of the Clematis drummondii narrative I’ve been spinning for the past few posts, the fertilized flowers’ strands are drawn not together but apart, where as feathery and glinting fibers they tangle and swirl and send my photographic mind swirling too.

It is this stage in the plant’s development and the drier one that follows that have earned it the colloquial name old man’s beard. But a rather small old man it is: everything you see in this view occupies just a couple of cubic inches. The green-turning-reddish object just below the center of the photograph is a seed core, with each seed attached to one of the shiny fibers that may allow it to be blown away when the core eventually loosens and all the mature seeds come undone.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(For those interested in photography as an art and craft, see points 1, 8, 9, and 15 in About My Techniques.)

(You can visit the USDA website for more information about Clematis drummondii, including a map showing where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 23, 2011 at 6:00 AM

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