Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for September 2011

Nature comes to me for a change

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Squirrel in Ashe Juniper 6748

Like many of us, I spend a lot of time at the computer doing research, processing photographs, writing articles, sending and answering e-mail, etc. To provide a bit of balance, I’ve arranged things so that if I turn my head 45° to the right of my monitor, I find myself looking out through a second-story window. Just five feet beyond the glass is the trunk of a good-sized Ashe juniper tree, Juniperus ashei, with its characteristic bark that peels loose and hangs down in strips. I often see squirrels bounding around on the trunk and branches of the juniper, and sometimes one of the squirrels catches sight of me and peers intently back through the window at me. And then we sit eying each other for a while; I think I have the advantage in those encounters, because I know I’m a man seeing a squirrel in a tree, but I don’t think the squirrel knows what I am, or that I’m sitting at a computer monitor with a phone, a keyboard, a cordless mouse, and a slew of external hard drives spread out before me on the desk, or even that it’s a squirrel. But then it has secrets in its life that I can only marvel at, like the way it runs down a branch so fast that I can hardly see the motion, and jumps to one neighboring branch after another without ever falling out of the tree.

But we were talking about stare-downs, and yesterday afternoon was the occasion for another one of those. It went on a lot longer than usual, starting when the squirrel was in the notch created by a large branch diverging from the juniper’s trunk. That was the usual scenario, but yesterday, after that phase, the squirrel moved off down the branch till it was twice as far away, turned around, and kept staring back for another interval that was even longer than the first. Today’s photograph comes from that second interlude. The sky was overcast (though it couldn’t manage to deliver a drop of rain), and the scene was backlit, but I put my longest lens on the camera and did what I could with the dim light and the brighter opportunity.

I’d planned to post the next picture from the Elisabet Ney Museum show today, but the squirrel intervened. Back to the other pictures soon enough.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2011 at 5:43 AM

Drying sunflower stalk

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As I’ve said repeatedly in this blog, the uncommon “common” sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is one of my favorite local species. That’s a good thing, because at least some sunflower plants can usually be found flowering in central Texas from late May through October or even November, fully half the year. But it isn’t just the famous flowers that grab me; I’m fascinated by all the plant’s parts. Here you see a close-up of its conspicuously hairy stalk as it begins to fade. Note the baby leaves at the lower left that have dried out and turned white before they’ve had a chance to mature.

I took this photograph on August 29 at Austin’s Elisabet Ney Museum, whose grounds are being restored to a native prairie. As has been true all week, today’s picture is one of twelve that are currently on display at the museum.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2011 at 5:53 AM

Skeleton-plant flower center

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Lygodesmia texana: click for greater detail.

Where yesterday’s photograph presented a horizontal, external view of the architectural base of a flower head of Lygodesmia texana, today’s photograph looks at the center of the flower head from above. This member of the sunflower family is often called the skeleton-plant because its slender and rising stem lacks obvious leaves. Another characteristic of the species is that its stamens tend to arc over and create a sort of cage above the center of the flower head. For more information about Lygodesmia texana, including a clickable map showing the states in the United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA websiste.

I made this photograph on August 29 at Austin’s Elisabet Ney Museum, whose grounds are being restored to a native prairie. As has been the case all this week, today’s photograph is one of twelve that are currently on display at the museum.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 28, 2011 at 5:43 AM

Skeleton-plant flower base

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Lygodesmia texana: click to enlarge.

You are looking at the base—and an architectural one it is—of a flower head of Lygodesmia texana. This member of the sunflower family is often called the skeleton-plant because its slender and rising stem lacks obvious leaves. What the two little spheres on the leftmost green bract are, I don’t know. I do know that I made this photograph at Austin’s Elisabet Ney Museum, whose grounds are being restored to a native prairie, and that the brown in the background is a token of all the vegetation parched by the continuing drought. I also know that in the next post you’ll find out what a skeleton-plant flower head looks like when seen from above.

For more information about Lygodesmia texana, including a clickable map showing the states in the United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA websiste. For more information about the approaches that went into the making of this photograph, see points 1, 2, 4, 5, and 14 in About My Techniques.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 27, 2011 at 5:42 AM

Scarlet pea

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Behold the small flowers of scarlet pea, Indigofera miniata. This plant, a member of the legume family, lives close to the ground and might easily go unnoticed but for its flowers, which range in color from pink or salmon to the more saturated red of this specimen. I took the photograph at Austin’s Elisabet Ney Museum, whose grounds are being restored to a native prairie. As was the case yesterday, today’s photograph is one of twelve that are currently on display at the museum. For those not familiar with Elisabet Ney, a German artist who settled in Texas in the 1800s and specialized in sculpture, I encourage you to take a look at the museum’s website and Wikipedia.

For more information about Indigofera miniata, including a clickable map showing the states in the United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA websiste.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2011 at 5:24 AM

Silverleaf nightshade flower

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Click for greater clarity.

 

Yesterday’s post featured the bud of a silverleaf nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium, one of the most common wildflowers in central Texas. The plant’s buds open into flowers with five petal-like lobes that tend to fold back, and from the center of that folded-back purple cowl protrude five richly yellow, banana-like stamens that surround a lone pistil that protrudes even farther than they do. From the base of each stamen there’s a line of yellow that arcs out into the adjacent purple; you can see three of those radiating yellow arcs without much trouble, and with a little effort you can make out a fourth to the left of and slightly behind the column of stamens.

This photograph is one of twelve that as of today are on display at the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin. That exhibition came about after the museum’s director saw the two photographs of turk’s caps that I took on the grounds there in June and that I posted in this blog on August 5 and August 6. She invited me to display them at the museum as part of Austin Museum Day, and I accepted. To have enough for a small show, I made two more trips to the property, which is currently being restored to a native prairie, and took more photographs. It’s encouraging to see how many local species can reappear on a piece of ground when given the chance.

For those not familiar with Elisabet Ney, a German artist who settled in Texas in the 1800s and specialized in sculpture, I encourage you to take a look at the museum’s website and Wikipedia.

Readers in central Texas are welcome to stop by the museum at 304 E. 44th St. today between noon and five o’clock to take in the art and say hello. (Anyone who wants to jet in from farther afield is welcome too.)

For more information about Solanum elaeagnifolium, including a clickable map showing the many places in the United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA websiste.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2011 at 4:50 AM

Silverleaf nightshade

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One native plant that has flourished since the spring and has paid no heed to this year’s drought is silverleaf nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium (and why do botanists have a thing for hard-to-spell names with three vowels in a row?). Common on roadsides all over central Texas, where at least some plants can usually still be found flowering right into the cold of winter, this nightshade is covered with soft hairs that give it a grayish-green appearance (gray being the poor man’s version, the true version in this case, of silver). Look at this photograph of a silverleaf nightshade bud and tell me if it doesn’t look like it’s made of felt. Touch it if you will but taste it not, because like other nightshades it’s poisonous.

For more information about Solanum elaeagnifolium, including a clickable map showing the many places in the United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA websiste.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 24, 2011 at 5:47 AM

Blazing-star

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This morning Lynda asked why people have sometimes called Liatris blazing-star. This picture of Liatris mucronata may provide an answer: if you look up and down the center of the flower stalk, you can count at least a dozen stars—stylized ones, of course.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2011 at 10:08 PM

Liatris on the prairie

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On August 24th I showed a decade-old photograph of Liatris mucronata as a foretaste of what September might hold for us in central Texas. The drought has desiccated most fields here, including the one in this picture taken on September 14th, but the Liatris—known as gayfeather and blazing-star—has managed to flower nonetheless. Sometimes this species puts up an undivided flower stalk like the one at the right; at other times a single stalk will rise two or three feet and then suddenly branch out, perhaps densely, as do the left and center stalks here.

The location is the cul-de-sac at the south end of Meister Lane in Round Rock, the same place where (again, a decade ago) I took the picture of the basket-flower that appeared as this blog’s first photograph. The northern border of the lot has expanded from a country road to a superhighway, and one corner of the property has been built on, but the rest of this piece of prairie has somehow so far survived. For its own sake and the sake of photographs yet to be taken there, let’s wish it luck.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Clammyweed revisited—and visited

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Two-tailed swallowtail; click for greater detail.

Those of you who have been subscribers to this blog since the last week of June may recall the photographs of clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra, taken from the side and the top. For whatever reason, I’ve noticed more of this drought-defying species in 2011 than ever before. My latest encounter with it was just yesterday, when I found some growing in the completely dry bed of Barton Creek in south Austin. As I was looking at the plant, a two-tailed swallowtail butterfly, Papilio multicaudata, began fluttering about as it gathered nectar from the clammyweed flowers.* Swallowtails are among the largest of all butterflies that we have in this part of the world, with a wingspan of from 3 to 5 inches, and I’ve usually found them to be quite skittish. This one, though, probably eager to get whatever nourishment it can during the drought, let me get close and take lots of pictures. Occasionally a too-sudden movement of my camera startled it away, but after flying about for a while it always came back.

Note—if you can take your eyes off this attractive butterfly—that the clammyweed is satisfying insects in at least two ways: the destructive way of whatever ate all those little round holes out of the leaves at the left, and of course the non-destructive way of the swallowtail.

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* When I posted this entry I misidentified the butterfly as an eastern tiger swallowtail. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a two-tailed swallowtail, but as you can see from the first comment on this post, Shelly pointed me in the right direction. Thanks to Shelly, and also to Val Bugh for further confirmation. Live and learn.

© Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2011 at 5:54 AM

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