Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for July 2011

Clematis drummondii against the sky

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And here is a view of Clematis drummondii from farther away, with a clear sky as backdrop.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s pièce de résistance: a view from inside the swirling wonder that a dense display of these strands can become.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 22, 2011 at 6:20 AM

Looking more closely at Clematis drummondii

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A closer look at the strands of Clematis drummondii

Continuing with yesterday’s look at the strands of Clematis drummondii, here’s a closer view, one taken from a position that produces less sheen, so you can see that each strand has a reddish core partially covered with many very fine hairs. It’s the hairs that glint when the sunlight hits them at certain angles. Each strand emerges from one of the plant’s seeds, which grow in a cluster around the flower stem. You can see half a dozen seeds, still green at this stage, near the bottom of the photograph.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 21, 2011 at 6:10 AM

A seed that I planted

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Clematis drummondii glinting in the sunlight.

When I began this column some six weeks ago I put up about half a dozen posts in short order so that anyone coming upon the blog would have several things to look at. I primed the pump, to use a figure of speech. But to use another, and a botanical one, I metaphorically planted a seed: in some of those first posts I showed photographs of early stages in the flowering of Clematis drummondii, a plant that I’m fond of portraying. In the June 7 post I included two pictures of a Clematis drummondii bud beginning to split open, and the next day I showed a picture that looks down on an emerging flower. The following day I put up a view from the side of a flower that had opened even further, as well as a close-up of the “starburst” phase of a flower. And then I fell silent on the subject of Clematis drummondii, but it was a silence I knew I would break after the plant entered its most photogenic phase.

The time to break that silence is now, now that Clematis drummondii has been doing its thing in central Texas. You may want to take a moment to follow the above links back to the earlier stages of the plant because the past is, after all, prologue, and only a few readers of this post are likely to be familiar with this species. Today’s photograph reveals that the fertilized flowers of Clematis drummondii produce strands that shine when the sun hits them at the appropriate angle and makes them look almost metallic. The silvery glints that you see in this photograph are from reflected sunlight; I didn’t use any flash here.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 20, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Red yucca

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Buds of red yuca, Hesperaloe parviflora; click to enlarge.

Fleecy clouds last week pulled me to Mount Bonnell, a high place above the Colorado River with a vista downward onto a swathe of west Austin and upward into the unobstructed sky. Along the path I found some budding red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora, a species that is native farther west in Texas but that has been so widely planted as an ornamental that it now occasionally grows in Travis County on its own. As is my wont, I lay on the ground so I could look up at the red yucca (which isn’t a yucca, but a member of the century-plant family) and position it against the sympathetic sky: background, background, background.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 19, 2011 at 6:00 AM


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Exuviae of a cidada; click for more detail.

Two days ago I was looking at the blog Backyard and Beyond and learned a new word: exuviae. Entomologists (biologists who study insects) use this Latin plural to designate the cast-off exoskeleton of an insect that has molted. The word came at a good time, because when I was at Bull Creek last week I discovered not only a tiny grasshopper that looked like it was wearing military camouflage, and not only dozens of roughstem rosinweed plants in full flower, but also on a leaf of one of the rosinweeds the exuviae of the cicada (or maybe I should say ex-cicada) that you see here. Such sloughed-off “skins” often last for quite a while, during which time they’re exposed to the elements and can get as dirty as this one.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(For the technically minded, points 1, 2, 5, and 8 in About My Techniques apply to today’s photograph.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 18, 2011 at 6:55 AM

A tiny find

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My first find along Bull Creek earlier this week was dozens of roughstem rosinweeds in bloom, one of which appeared in yesterday’s post. Another find, much less conspicuous and much less conventionally pretty, came from a part of the creek that still had water, though only enough to form a large puddle. I saw something gray, probably not even an inch long, hopping near the edge of the water. At first I took it to be one of the very tiny frogs we have here, but I was having trouble seeing it because, as I soon discovered, it has a natural camouflage that lets it blend in with the sand, pebbles, rocks, decaying leaves, and other odds and ends that litter the shoreline of the creek. When I got close with my macro lens I was surprised to see that the object of my interest wasn’t a frog at all. Make a guess if you will from the roughly life-size image below, then click to enlarge it and find out what the little creature was. If you guessed right before seeing the enlarged picture, please say so in a comment and we’ll all proclaim you a notable naturalist.

Update on August 23, 2011: thanks to Valerie Bugh for identifying this little creature as a pygmy grasshopper (also called a grouse locust) from the family Tetrigidae. She says it’s in the genus Paratettix, probably P. mexicanus. I knew about the existence of dwarf dandelions, but not till now about pygmy grasshoppers.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 17, 2011 at 6:33 AM

To Have and Have Not 3

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Roughstem rosinweed, Silphium radula; click for more detail.

Yesterday’s post showed a section of Bull Creek in northwest Austin as it appeared in March. Three days ago I went to a portion of the creek not far from there to see how things were looking. Long stretches were completely dry, and those shorter ones that were still wet held stagnant water; nowhere did I see any flow at all. But amidst all the “have not” there is always some “have,” and what that area can currently claim to have in abundance is roughstem rosinweed (Silphium radula). Dozens of these stiff-stalked plants, whether erect or more likely leaning over, are now flowering brightly up and down the shady paths adjacent to both sides of the creek. Some people mistake them for sunflowers, which are relatives. One thing I’ve noticed about this species of rosinweed is a tendency at a certain stage for its stamens to rise and form a crown around the pale green disk at their center. Welcome to the coronation.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(For the technically minded, points 1, 2, and especially 4 in About My Techniques apply to today’s photograph.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2011 at 7:20 AM

To Have and Have Not 2

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Trunks of black willows, Salix nigra, reflected in Bull Creek.

As I said yesterday, once upon a time we had water. Just four months ago, even if the land was dry, it was conspicuously less parched and barren than now. Here’s a view of the trunks of some black willow trees, Salix nigra, reflected in Bull Creek as it flowed through St. Edward’s Park in northwest Austin on March 10.

Texas isn’t France (though it’s about the same size), but water is water, and we can easily see how it inspired the Impressionist painters.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 15, 2011 at 6:00 AM

To Have and Have Not

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Click for greater detail.

Yes, once we had water. Ponds along whose banks I’ve taken pictures in years past have dried up. A week ago I went to Waller Creek, a place in central Austin where I’ve occasionally photographed, and found that it too was completely dry. I remember that I was there in the fall of 2006, when, looking down through my camera’s macro lens at bubbles and algae on the surface of the slow-moving creek, I could have repeated García Lorca’s words: “Verde que te quiero verde,” “Green how much I love you green.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 14, 2011 at 7:04 AM

Adieu to camphorweed

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A Syrphid fly on camphorweed; click for more detail.

As we bid goodbye for now to camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris, I’m reminded that it’s not just spiders and I who visit this species. In 2009 the Syrphid fly shown here hovered about and finally landed as I was photographing some camphorweed on the the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. I’m also reminded that before Europeans brought honeybees to the Americas, the flowers that had evolved here somehow managed to get themselves pollinated with never a word of English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese being spoken.

Update on August 23, 2011: Valerie Bugh has confirmed that the Syrphid fly is Toxomerus marginatus.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2011 at 5:44 AM

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