Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 2011

Early spring to early winter

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Tetraneuris scaposa; click for greater clarity.

Happy official beginning of winter, even if those of you in northern regions laugh at a greeting that should have come a month or two ago as measured by your weather and not my calendar.

I went out photographing in northwest Austin on December 20, and while the skies have been mostly overcast for two weeks and the land here is beginning to take on its subdued winter look, I still managed to find a few wildflowers: several fresh new goldenrods; some scattered little broomweeds looking rather the worse for wear; a sadly bedraggled aster; and exactly one of what you see here, Tetraneuris scaposa, a small member of the sunflower family that’s quite common in the Texas Hill Country and is known as four-nerve daisy. The little daisy that I found two days ago was in great shape but not in a great place to photograph, so I’ve used an image from the November 14 session that also produced pictures of flameleaf sumac turning colors. This is what a four-nerve daisy flower head looks like when it’s part-way open, before the stage when all its yellow rays point outward rather than upward. Note the pale green “nerves” in the yellow rays that give this daisy its common name. Also notice how soft and fuzzy the green bracts are that surround the yellow rays.

Some species of plants bloom in the spring and only in the spring. Others bloom primarily in the spring but can often be found flowering to a lesser degree in the fall as well, and that second group includes our four-nerve daisy, which in 2011 has survived a couple of frosts and made it all the way to the official beginning of winter. For more information on Tetraneuris scaposa, you can visit the USDA website, which includes a state-clickable map showing where this species grows.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2011 at 5:14 AM

Greenbrier in autumn, part 4

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Backlit greenbrier leaf; click for greater detail.

The pictures in the last three posts showed that greenbrier leaves can become colorful in the fall. Today’s image—the last in the series—gives an even closer view of the venation of one of these leaves. To take this photograph I sat on the ground with the leaf between the camera lens and the afternoon sun. That arrangement led to a bright, translucent leaf that revealed a great deal of detail, and it caused the shadowed trees in the background to appear very dark. The contour of this lower end of the leaf reminds me of the southern part of Africa, even though the two are somewhat different. You could also see a resemblance to the southern part of India if you’re willing to slight Sri Lanka. And if you look at the dark reddish-brown, almond-shaped spot at the top center and see it as some sort of slanted eye, then you have an imagination as susceptible to suggestion as mine at the moment.

Like the last two pictures, this one came into being on the partly sunny afternoon of December 17 in the relatively new “panhandle” of St. Edward’s Park that’s on the east side of Spicewood Springs Rd. in my northwestern part of Austin. For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern United States where Smilax bona-nox grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2011 at 5:13 AM

Greenbrier in autumn, part 3

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The picture in the previous post revealed how colorful greenbrier can become in the fall, but that closeup didn’t let you see an entire leaf, so I’m adding this view that does. Note some common features of greenbrier leaves: the small prickles on the perimeter, the irregular light-colored patches in the interior, and the overall lobed shape. Though that shape can be a conventionalized heart, it’s safe to say that only someone with the most prickly of personalities would give this plant as a Valentine.

For those interested in the technical side of photography, I’ll add that because greenbrier leaves are curved surfaces, I was surprised to be able to get almost all of this leaf in focus at an aperture as wide as f/5. I’ll also add that greenbrier leaves have a somewhat shiny coating that can show up as a distracting sheen in photographs of them, but I managed to avoid that here.

This picture, like the last one, comes from the partly sunny afternoon of December 17 in the relatively new “panhandle” of St. Edward’s Park that’s on the east side of Spicewood Springs Rd. in my part of Austin. For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern United States where Smilax bona-nox grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2011 at 5:10 AM

Greenbrier in autumn, part 2

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Greenbrier tendril and colorful leaves; click for greater detail.

If it’s dangerous to walk through stands of greenbrier—and it is—at least the plant’s stiff, lobed leaves compensate a little by acting as small sources of warm colors in the fall (and occasionally earlier in the year). In addition to the leaf in this photograph that’s clearly attached via a red stalk to the viny part of the plant, the orange glow in the background comes from another greenbrier leaf far enough away to be out of focus (and to appear rounder than it really is, thanks to the way lenses render such things).

I took this picture on the partly sunny afternoon of December 17 in the relatively new “panhandle” of St. Edward’s Park that’s on the east side of Spicewood Springs Rd. in my part of Austin. For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern United States where Smilax bona-nox grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2011 at 5:10 AM

Greenbrier in autumn, part 1

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One native plant that’s quite common in central Texas is greenbrier. Its genus name, Smilax, sometimes makes me, a promoter of native plants, want to do anything but smile; and as for its species name, bona-nox, which means ‘good night,’ anyone who has to walk around in the dark on ground where this plant is growing will not have a good night of it. Today’s picture makes clear why I’ve said what I’ve said. And yes, greenbrier is usually green, but here you see a piece of a plant that has dried out and turned tan by late autumn. This picture, taken December 12, comes from the lot on the east side of US 183 south of Braker Lane that has been mostly cleared in preparation for new construction. (This is the lot that has provided pictures for various posts this summer and fall, and along whose western edge the grackles gather at dusk.)

For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern part of the United States where you can have this vine’s thorns tear into your clothing and skin, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2011 at 5:34 PM

Distinctly indistinct

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You’ve seen pictures in this column of bald cypresses and bulrushes, but not the two together. You’ve also never seen a picture in these pages of the kind of weather shown here now, so you’ll understand why I couldn’t pass up this first opportunity for blog fog. Because the mist on the morning of December 9 made everything look so indistinct, I’ll point out that you can find the bulrushes forming a dark green band across the bottom of the picture; in the upper left is the most prominent of the bald cypresses, whose “needles,” like those in the close-up of August 11, have turned warm colors.

Although fog is rare in Austin, in the first half of December we had several. I photographed this one at Laguna Gloria, once a private estate on a cove of the Colorado River, but for decades now a home to an art museum.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2011 at 5:08 AM

Fall color in mid-December

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Cedar elm; click for greater detail and sharpness.

A week of mildly wet weather in Austin has coincided with the rapid appearance of fall color in some of our trees, so when the rain relented yesterday I went out under the still-gray afternoon skies to see what I could see after days spent mostly indoors. In parts of my neighborhood I found plenty of cedar elm trees, Ulmus crassifolia, whose leaves were turning their characteristic late-autumn colors of yellow and orange. The one shown here was in Great Hills Park, which you may have heard me say several times is just half a mile downhill from where I live.

Veteran readers of this blog have seen a cedar elm once before, in August, when I provided a picture of one of its brand-new leaves that reminded me of marzipan. For more information about Ulmus crassifolia, including a clickable map showing the places in the United States where this tree grows, you can visit the USDA website.

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Addendum: I meant to point out that the green leaves in the lower right are greenbrier, a very common native vine with sharp prickles on it.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2011 at 5:04 AM

A different white

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I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that my Great Hills neighborhood in northwest Austin is an ancestral home to white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). These rather small deer thrive in the wooded canyons that are a feature of this eastern edge of the Texas Hill country, but they come out, especially in the evening and at night, to walk through the streets and across people’s front yards in search of plants to eat. When I’m making my way through the woods in search not of things to eat but of things in nature to photograph, it’s not unusual for me to startle a deer and have it snort and run away.

Much less commonly, just once every few years, I’ve come across what you see here, an antler that a deer has shed. So it was on December 7, when I had mostly finished photographing the cold and delicate white of frostweed ice, that I discovered lying on the ground this cold but durable white emblem of a male deer. You are looking at the end that once attached to the deer’s head and that became visible only after the antler had fallen off.  At the bottom of the photograph you see the bifurcation leading into the two branches of the antler, which aren’t included in this abstract view.

If you’d like to read more about deer antlers, here’s an article and another article. And if you’re interested in the craft of photography, points 1, 2 and 4 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s image.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2011 at 5:15 AM

Misty days, mistflowers not yet missed

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Ageratina havanensis; click for greater detail.

The last (and only) picture of Ageratina havanensis that you saw in this column showed the flowers and buds of a white mistflower bush I photographed in the shade of a cliff on the afternoon of October 31. Since that time, and at various locations around Austin, the species has continued budding and blooming, and it is still doing so in this misty, drizzly middle of December. Because these plants have been so constant in their flowering I thought I should give you another look, but with a different background, and from a different angle that lets you see the unexpectedly saturated red at the base of the flowers’ corollas.

Today’s view is from a November 30 session on the aptly named Floral Park Dr. in my northwestern Austin neighborhood. Great Hills Park is just down the street, but this photograph comes from a fringe right along the road where the grounds maintenance people have managed, in spite of themselves, to leave some native plants alone. I worked late in the afternoon, when the sun was low and the autumn light was getting faint, and although I took plenty of pictures by that natural light alone, for this image I turned on the camera’s flash to get a little more depth of field and to reveal the details of the plant that otherwise could have been lost in the shadows below the much brighter flowers.

As I mentioned last time, in the United States Ageratina havanensis apparently grows only in Texas, with Austin being on the far eastern edge of its range; at least that’s what the USDA map shows. The species name havanensis implies that this plant was first identified in Cuba, and it grows natively in Mexico as well, so this is one of those cases where Texas provides the northernmost habitat for a tropical species.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 15, 2011 at 5:11 AM

Mostly monochrome

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Marsh fleabane colony gone to seed; click for greater detail.

Although I’ve still been finding a few wildflowers in Austin in the second week of December, it’s true that on the whole the landscape dulls down toward the end of the year, as you in cooler climes get to observe sooner than we do down here in central Texas. One example of that desaturation is this colony of Pluchea odorata, marsh fleabane. (If you’d like a reminder of how different these water-loving wildflowers look in the springtime of their lives, if not of the year, the post of September 10 will do the trick.) I took this picture on November 23 at a pond that’s hidden away in a hollow of my hilly neighborhood in northwest Austin. During the drought these plants sprang up on damp ground that had once been below the water of the pond, and then the little bit of rain that we finally had in the fall brought the water level back up to the point you see here. Because this picture has such a limited color range, it reminds me of an old sepia-toned black and white photograph.

For more about Pluchea odorata, including a state-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

December 14, 2011 at 5:15 AM

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