Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for October 2011

Inadvertent Halloween

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Click for greater detail.


October 19 found me wandering uphill through the woods adjacent to Stillhouse Canyon in northwest Austin, where I came across this partly decayed leaf of what appears to be a redbud tree, Cercis canadensis. I was fascinated by the way the white, reticulated portion of the leaf contrasts with the backlit orange that largely surrounds it. This being October, the color and rounded shape of the leaf, as well as the eaten-out pattern of white, reminded me of another rounded orange member of our native plant world that has come to be an emblem of Halloween, which not coincidentally is today.

For those interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 2, and especially 4 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s photograph.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 31, 2011 at 5:34 AM

More from the mountain side

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On August 2 I introduced you to a wonderful native plant called snow-on-the-mountain, Euphorbia marginata. You first saw this species flowering on August 27 and had a closer look at its flowers and bracts on August 28. You also saw snow-on-the-mountain in a few posts after that.

Then time passed, and by mid-October most of these plants were past their floral prime and had gone on to produce their small, green, three-lobed seed capsules. That was the stage of the plants you see here, which sprang up on land that had been at the bottom of a pond until the drought of 2011 caused so many small bodies of water to evaporate.

I’ve noticed that sometimes the stems of snow-on-the-mountain, which typically have a reddish or orange cast, can be contorted, as is the plant in the foreground of today’s landscape. Notice how its stem emerges from the ground heading downward at about 45°, then gradually turns in a semicircular arc that leaves it growing almost opposite to its original direction. At that point the plant seems to have woken up to gravity, and the stem begins curving a bit the other way and heads largely upward and parallel to its neighbors. The strong curving of the stalk at its base strikes me as a strange phenomenon, and that’s why I want to show it to you. Happy strangeness.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 30, 2011 at 5:09 AM

Aftermath of a drama

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A green lynx spider with a bee; click for greater detail.

The last four posts have featured photographs showing stages in the development of jimsonweed, Datura wrightii. Just minutes into the October 24 photo session that led to those pictures (and many more), I came across the aftermath of a little drama* that had taken place on one of the jimsonweed flowers. I’d noticed that quite a few bees were attracted to those blossoms, and apparently a green lynx spider, Peucetia viridans, had noticed that attraction too and had lain in wait; here you see the result of that watchful waiting. As a bonus, though maybe an anticlimactic one, you get to see more details of a jimsonweed flower: its pistil and some of its flattened stamens that are curiously reminiscent of the bee’s wings that are temporarily near them.


* This is the second little drama of this type I’ve presented so far, the first being on August 23 in a different color scheme, with the victim still struggling, but ultimately with the same fatal outcome as shown here.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 29, 2011 at 5:35 AM

Jimsonweed thorn apple

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Jimsonweed fruit; click for greater detail.

For the past three days you’ve seen stages in the development of the toxic plant known colloquially as jimsonweed and scientifically as Datura wrightii:

an end-on view of a bud beginning to unroll;

a fully open, trumpet-shaped flower;

the plant’s strange fruit as it begins to form.

And now you get to see what the plant’s forbidding fruit looks like when it matures. Some have called this a thorn apple, and that seems appropriate for such a prickly globe. I don’t know if this one has split open of its own accord or if something external has broken into it in spite of its formidable defenses, but the hole conveniently lets you see what the seeds inside look like. Note that the mature thorn apple has turned downward, which is the opposite orientation from that of the fruit in its early stage that you saw last time.

For more information about Datura wrightii, including a state-clickable map showing the many places in the United States where this plant grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 28, 2011 at 5:25 AM

Jimsonweed fruit forming

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Jimsonweed fruit forming; click for greater detail.

And this is what the strange fruit of jimsonweed, Datura wrightii, is like when it’s still forming. Looks like green flames, don’t you think?

For more information about Datura wrightii, including a state-clickable map showing the many places in the United States where this plant grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 27, 2011 at 5:22 AM

What the bud became

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Jimsonweed Flower 6866

In the last post I showed you a picture of a yellow bud, which I described as roughly cylindrical, about an inch and a half across by six inches long. Then I asked if you could guess what the flower would look like once it emerged. Here it is, fully unrolled, with much of the original creamy yellow turned to pure white. This is jimsonweed, Datura wrightii, which produces some of the showiest blooms we have in Texas, measuring a good six inches (15 cm) across the flared end of each fully unfurled flower.

But as beautiful as jimsonweed’s white flowers are, this is also a dangerous plant: all parts of it are toxic. Because this species of Datura is also hallucinogenic, every year there are people who ingest some form of it and get sick, and unfortunately some of them even die. But over the centuries and millennia, enough ancient and modern ingesters have lived and valued their visions for jimsonweed to have earned the alternate English names sacred datura and angel trumpet.

For more information about Datura wrightii, including a state-clickable map showing the many places in the United States where this plant grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 26, 2011 at 3:21 AM

A bud beginning to unroll

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Bud unrolling; click for greater detail.

While driving past a construction site in the Hill Country west of Austin yesterday, I was pleased to find several native plants of a certain species that I see from time to time, but not all that often. The plants had some fully open flowers, but they also had some long, narrow buds that were just beginning to unroll. That was the case with the bud shown here, which I photographed looking straight down from the top. For once I won’t tell you what this is—though some of you may recognize it—but next time I’ll show you how different a fully open flower of this species looks from the roughly cylindrical bud you see before you, which was about an inch and a half across and about six inches long. For those of you who don’t know what this is, see if you can imagine what the emerging flower will be like; to my mind, it’s like trying to figure out what a butterfly will look like from its caterpillar.

Till tomorrow, then.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 25, 2011 at 5:20 AM

Not wanting to be remiss

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Goldenrod flowering; click for greater detail.

I don’t know how it happened, but I haven’t shown you a single picture of goldenrod, Solidago altissima, which has been flowering in Austin for the past month. So here’s a goldenrod plant I photographed at the edge of a waterless Bull Creek on September 28. Note that the buds have opened at the tip of the flower stalk but are less advanced farther down. There’s no extra charge for the wispy clouds that complement the goldenrod.

If you’d like more information about Solidago altissima, including a clickable map showing the many places in North America where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 24, 2011 at 5:32 AM

Hemipenthes scylla

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Hemipenthes scylla bee fly on broomweed; click for more detail.

Hemipenthes scylla: that’s what entomologists call this little bee fly that characteristically hovers and darts back and forth for a long time before making up its mind to settle somewhere. This particular bee fly—one of many of its species that I’ve noticed in Austin recently—finally landed on some broomweed, Amphiachyris dracunculoides, on October 7, when I returned after some brief rain to the place where I’d photographed the gumweed shown in yesterday’s post. Valerie Bugh, who was good enough to identify this small (probably not even half an inch from wingtip to wingtip) insect for me, wrote: “There are a lot of different bee flies active now — their larvae are parasitoids of other insects so I guess the drought wasn’t too bad for them this summer.” In contrast, although I’ve been seeing small and isolated broomweed plants blossoming for a couple of months, the drought seems to have suppressed the large colonies that in other autumns have turned whole fields yellow-green with their thousands of tiny flower heads seen from afar.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 23, 2011 at 5:35 AM


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In July I reported on camphorweed, a yellow wildflower named for the camphory scent of the tiny droplets the plant exudes. Not to be outdone by its sunflower family relative, gumweed positively oozes resin, even to the point that its flower heads are bathed in a clear camphor-scented goo. The gumweed shown here is Grindelia nuda, a species that lacks ray flowers, which is why it is “nude.” Those more modest than botanists have called it curlytop gumweed, based on the upward-curving green bracts that prominently surround the yellow disk flowers.

I looked straight down at this gumweed on the cloudy morning of October 7 and had to use a wide aperture to let in enough light. That made getting the flower head in sharp focus difficult, but it also caused the leaves and the ground below the flower head to go pleasingly out of focus. I was forced to stop photographing not long after I started because of some strange wet stuff that began to fall from the sky. It lasted only a short while, though, and a couple of hours later I came back and continued taking pictures.

For further information about Grindelia nuda, including a clickable map showing the places where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 22, 2011 at 5:29 AM

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