Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for August 2011

Bulrush meets minimalism

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Bulrush leaf turning colors; click for greater detail.

When I was at the pond between Parmer Lane and Center Ridge Dr. on the prairie in northeast Austin on August 11, I used my 100mm lens as a telephoto to take the picture of bulrushes (genus Schoenoplectus) shown yesterday. While at that location I also used the lens the way I most often do, as a macro, to take close-up pictures of a bulrush leaf that intrigued me because it was drying out and turning the warm colors you see here, which were enhanced by the sunlight coming through the leaf from behind. Consider this an example of minimalism, whose credo is “Less is more.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Bulrushes blowing

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Bulrushes blowing; click for greater detail.

It dawned on me in early August that if we’re in a drought I should look for ponds and creeks that still have some water in them, because where there’s water there are plants that are more likely to be doing well. That strategy led me on August 10th to Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock, where I photographed some drying cattails blowing in the wind. The next day I went to a pond between Parmer Lane and Center Ridge Dr. on the prairie in northeast Austin. There I photographed some bulrushes (genus Schoenoplectus) that were likewise being buffeted by the wind. Note several cattails in the background; note also that British English uses bulrush for both of the types of plants that American English distinguishes as bulrushes and cattails.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2011 at 5:56 AM


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This is a “housekeeping” sort of post. I’d like to remind readers who have subscribed to this column by e-mail that, as convenient as that method is, you don’t get to see the comments that people add. People have offered many good insights, and there have been plenty of questions and answers. In a case like


the comments have a lot more information than the original post, and one commenter has added a video.

In some cases, a helpful person has identified species that I wasn’t able to; a couple of examples are

A Tiny Find


Predation on the Rays of a Sunflower.

The upshot of all this is that you might want to check back from time to time to browse comments and see what new information has been added.

I’d also like to remind readers that links within a post (which may show up as colored text in the e-mail version of the post) often lead to more information on the subject. For example, in the post entitled

It was fasciation, I know

the link that appears as

Dr. T. Ombrello wrote

explains more about fasciation. Sometimes the links are tangential, as when

the classic song

in that same article lets you listen to Nat King Cole singing the song “Fascination.” As I said, tangential, but pleasant.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2011 at 5:44 AM

Posted in nature photography

Not of any use

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Wasp on Euphorbia marginata in Brushy Creek Lake Park. Click for more detail.

“They’re just weeds,” said the employee of the parks department when I stopped him and asked why the large colony of snow-on-the-mountain plants had been mowed down. “They’re no use to anything.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2011 at 6:01 AM

A closer view

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As I mentioned in the last post, although the mowers at Brushy Creek Lake Park cut down the dense snow-on-the-mountain colony in the park’s meadow shortly before the plants had a chance to flower, the destroyers left a few stray individuals at the fringe of the colony close to the lake. Those plants did complete their development, and you can see the flowers in this lake-backed closeup of part of one plant.

Or you may think you see the flowers, but this species, Euphorbia marginata, isn’t quite what it appears. From a distance, and even from closer up, many people assume that the long, tapering, white-fringed structures with green running down the center are petals, but those are actually modified leaves called bracts. Most people who make it past that illusion assume that the “scallops” of the white collar at the center of each flower group are the petals, but that also turns out to be false. The five (if none have come off) would-be petals are actually gland appendages, together making up what is generally called an involucral cup, more specifically known in this family as a cyathium. No, the real flowers are the nondescript, pale yellowish-green little things at the center of each scalloped ruff, hardly what we normally think of as flowers. But in spite of our misconception the plant seems to have no trouble with its own conception and manages to get fertilized and produce seeds in abundance—at least if the mowers don’t fall prey to their conception of these plants as weeds and cut them down before they can flower.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2011 at 5:54 AM

Something there is…

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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” wrote Robert Frost, but today my lament begins “Someone there is that doesn’t love a wildflower.” Readers who have been following this blog since at least August 1 may recall that in my post for that day about a colony of snow-on-the-mountain plants that was growing tall and healthy but hadn’t yet flowered, I wrote: “I’ll go back to this location in late August or September, and if no one has cut the plants down I’ll report on what they look like when they’re all brightly bracted.”

You can probably tell where I’m going with this: when I returned on August 20 to that location—a park!—I found that the mowers had indeed destroyed almost all the stands of plants in the large colony, along with a mound of sunflowers. We’re in the middle of the worst drought in most people’s memory, and here was one native plant that had managed not only to survive but even to thrive in spite of the heat and the lack of water. But “No,” said the mower men “we can’t have a park covered with tall wildflowers. We’d much rather have a barren, parched, broken, dusty field of stubble.” (If you insist on a dose of sadness and indignation, click the brown thumbnail to see how the same patch of ground that bore the plants in the August 1 photograph looked on August 20.)

As if to taunt me, the mowers had spared a few snow-on-the-mountain plants standing close to the edge of Brushy Creek Lake, a tiny remnant of the wildflower field that should have been. Why the destroyers left those few plants I don’t know, but the lucky survivors let me show you a current picture of snow-on-the-mountain plants when they produce their beautiful white-fringed bracts and little flowers:

Snow-on-the-mountain, Euphorbia marginata; click for more detail.

Now imagine what an acre largely covered with these flowering plants would have looked like.


Update on August 31: Two days ago I e-mailed the director of the parks district that includes Brushy Creek Lake Park, explaining what had happened and pointing him to this post. The next day he called me and said that after my e-mail he went out to the park and confirmed the details for himself. He said that he has issued new orders: from now on, the large meadow in the park will be mowed only once a year, probably in late November. If a situation should arise that a mower thinks might warrant mowing at another time, that person will have to get permission from the director or assistant director.

Let’s hope that the new policy goes forth as planned, and that no mower chooses to ignore it or claims after-the-fact ignorance of it following another act of devastation.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2011 at 5:55 AM


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Firewheel or Indian blanket; click for greater sharpness.

Now that firewheels have come up, thanks to yesterday’s photographs of a fasciated one, here’s what a normal flower head of Gaillardia pulchella looks like. You can see why this flower is also known as Indian blanket. This picture is from April 27 of this year in northwest Austin.

You can visit the USDA website for more information about Gaillardia pulchella, including a state-clickable map showing the many places that the species grows.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2011 at 5:56 AM

Fasciated flowers

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Click for greater clarity.

After yesterday’s post about the fasciated stalk of a Liatris mucronata plant, John Mac Carpenter asked whether flowers are ever subject to that deformity too. I said that they are, and here’s an example to prove it. You’re looking at a fasciated flower head of Gaillardia pulchella, commonly called Indian blanket and firewheel. The darker disk that you see in the middle would normally be at the center of a “wheel” of colorful rays, but in this case the disk makes an upside-down U perpendicular to the plane of the U made by the visible rays, continuing over the top of the center and down the back of the flower head; in other words, the view from the opposite side is about the same as the view shown here. If all that is hard to visualize, here’s a picture of the same flower head from a position 90° to the side:

Click for greater clarity.

I found this deformed flower head on the ranch of our friends in Marble Falls, a town in the Texas Hill Country about an hour west of Austin, on May 8, 2010. That was one of the best seasons in recent years for wildflowers, thanks to lots of rain in the winter and spring.

You can visit the USDA website for more information about Gaillardia pulchella, including a clickable map showing the many places that the species grows.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 25, 2011 at 6:00 AM

A clarification

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It occurred to me, and was confirmed by a question, that many viewers of the last post won’t be familiar with the plant featured there, Liatris mucronata. Here, then, is a look at some normal spikes of that species, from which you can see how freakish the fasciated one in the previous photograph is. As a bonus, in the background you get a hint of the purple flowers that are due on this species in September, drought permitting; the flowers account for the common names blazing-star and gayfeather.

This picture is another golden oldie from a decade ago, taken on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin with an early digital SLR camera. What intrigued me in this scene was the way the tip of one spike had gotten caught near the tip of another.

For more information about gayfeather or blazing-star, as this species is colloquially called, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2011 at 1:01 PM

It was fasciation, I know*

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Liatris mucronata Fasciated 1226

If the seed head of eastern gamagrass shown in a recent post was deformed, so was the stalk of the Liatris mucronata plant shown here, which I found growing on the prairie in far north Austin on August 2. In contrast to the eastern gamagrass, this plant was suffering from what botanists call fasciation, a word based, with some imagination, on the Latin fascia that meant ‘a strip of material, ribbon, band, bandage, swathe.’ As Dr. T. Ombrello wrote: “One interesting type of mistake that is occasionally found in plants is known as a fasciated or crested growth form. It is usually the result of a growing point changing from a round dome of cells into a crescent shape. Subsequent growth produces a flat stem. In some cases fasciation is the result of several embryonic growing points fusing together, with the same flat-stem appearance.”

The deformed flower stalk of eastern gamagrass shown in the recent post was one of a kind: the other nearby plants of that species were normal. In contrast, the Liatris mucronata in today’s photograph was one of several fasciated plants of that species growing in close proximity.

Update: see the following post to compare a few normal spikes from this species.


* The title of today’s post is an allusion to the classic song that begins with the line “It was fascination, I know.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2011 at 5:56 AM

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