Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for January 2012

What some buds had already become

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You’ve heard that when I visited the Mueller Greenway on January 27th I found a Coreopsis tinctoria plant fully three feet tall with plenty of buds and flowers on it already. To yesterday’s closeup of a coreopsis bud let me add this picture of a nearby part of the same plant so you can see what the buds open up into. Yes, I’ll admit that like the rays of the Engelmann daisy from two posts back, those of the lowest of the three flower heads here also look a bit bedraggled, but for a species that normally flowers in April and May to have any flowers at all in January is quite an accomplishment, so let’s be charitable and forgive a few brownish spots and rumpled tips. In any case, the two smaller flower heads were still free of any imperfections and are probably now, four days later, fully and immaculately open. In addition to the flowers, I was intrigued by the curves that the stalks make on their way upward; you saw a trace of that curving at the bottom of yesterday’s picture of a bud.

Although I found just one coreopsis plant on my visit to Mueller last Friday, this species can form large and dense colonies when conditions are right. That was the case in the spring of 2010, as you can see if you go back to a picture that I posted nostalgically during the drought of 2011.

For more information, and to see a map showing that Coreopsis tinctoria grows in northern Mexico, almost every American state, and parts of southern Canada, you’re welcome to visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 31, 2012 at 4:51 AM

More spring in January

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When I visited the Mueller Greenway on January 27th I found more than Engelmann daisies coming to life: I was also happily surprised to come across a coreopsis plant fully three feet tall with plenty of buds and flowers on it already. The bloom period for this species, Coreopsis tinctoria, doesn’t normally begin until April, so it was another instance of spring coming in January this year. The photograph above is a closeup of one of the plant’s torch-like buds as it’s beginning to open; shades of the red and bright yellow already prominent at this stage will continue on into the fully developed flowers. The tiny white flecks on the red bracts that you see here are common on coreopsis buds, but I don’t know what they are.

For those of you who are interested in the craft of photography, points 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 14 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s image.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 30, 2012 at 5:11 AM

The winter without a winter

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A winter without a winter: that’s what we’ve been having here in Austin, with afternoon high temperatures for the last few weeks usually in the 60s and even 70s. One consequence is that all the usual Eurasian invasives think it’s April in the old country and are acting accordingly: when I went to the Mueller Greenway on January 27th I saw flowers of henbit, sow thistle, pin clover, dandelion, and white sweet clover. Because those are all alien in Texas (and the rest of the Americas), I won’t show them in this blog.

But now for the good news: when I visited the Mueller Greenway I discovered that a few of our native wildflowers have likewise been confused by the warm weather and are also flowering before their usual time. What you see in the picture above is an Engelmann daisy, Engelmannia persistenia, a plant with fuzzy lobed leaves and yellow flowers; the ones here are looking a bit bedraggled, as if awakened prematurely from a sound sleep, which in a sense they were, because this species doesn’t normally bloom in Austin until March and April. Notice that underneath the flowers are several buds, the lowest of which is beginning to open. In the vicinity of this plant I found at least two dozen others of the same species, and although only a few of them had buds and flowers, all the rest looked healthy and developed enough to follow suit soon. So welcome to an Austin springtime in January!

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 29, 2012 at 5:11 AM

… and blue

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You’ve heard me say that Great Hills Park is my neighborhood park, and fortunately one that because of its terrain is bound to remain almost totally undeveloped. On the afternoon of January 19, with temperatures in the upper 70s, I went photographing along an upper branch of the unnamed creek that runs through the park and whose presence is among the reasons the land can’t be built on. At one point, when I’d just finished balancing my way across the creek on some concrete steps, I suddenly glimpsed a large bird of a type that I don’t remember ever seeing before. It was aware of me and it was wary of me, but I quietly switched to my longest lens, cranked up the ISO on my camera to deal with the dim light in the woods, and began taking what pictures I could.

When I got home, excited at having photographed such a picturesque bird, I looked through my copy of John L. Tveten’s The Birds of Texas and managed to identify what I’d seen: it was a yellow-crowned night heron, Nyctanassa violacea. The bird was attracted to the water pooled up in that part of the creek, and that’s why I found it there that afternoon. In addition to new friend bird, you may recognize a couple of twining friends from recent posts: the sinuous, bark-covered form in the foreground is a mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis, while the smooth and slender green vines behind it are rattan, Berchemia scandens. But I doubt you’ve paid much attention to the vines when you’ve had this stately heron right in front of you.

For someone who’s not a bird photographer (I don’t have the requisite enormous telephoto lens and heavy-duty tripod), I’ve lucked out several times recently. One of those, in keeping with the red theme that today’s picture of a blue bird has put an end to, was when I found a mockingbird in a possumhaw tree just two days earlier. To see mockingbirds in suburban-style neighborhoods here is nothing new, but to find a heron like this in one of those neighborhoods—my own—surprised me. It’s one more reason to be grateful for the presence of Great Hills Park. (And thanks to Marie Laing, coincidentally a subscriber to this blog, who was instrumental in getting the land set aside as a park.)

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2012 at 4:51 AM

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Red, white

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The last two posts have presented what is either Chamaesyce hypericifolia or Chamaesyce nutans. Yesterday you saw a detailed view of the plant’s richly colored fruits. Today, concluding this three-part weed-dispelling series, I’d like to show you a closeup of one of the plant’s stems. Like so many members of the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family, this one has in it a white latex that emerges when the plant is bent, crushed, or broken. Not the milk of human kindness for those whose sensitive skin reacts to it, that latex, coolly white here against the dominant red of the stalk that it’s on and of others behind, is a drop that the minimalist photographer readily drinks in.

Today’s little adventure in red and white comes to you once again from the Mueller Greenway, a piece of the Blackland Prairie being restored on the east side of Austin. For more information about Chamaesyce hypericifolia, and to see a state-clickable map of the places across the southern United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 27, 2012 at 5:18 AM

Loss of weediness

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Chamaesyce; click to see a larger and clearer view.

Yesterday’s post showed a view from several feet away of Chamaesyce hypericifolia or Chamaesyce nutans, in either case a plant that many people are likely to call a weed. But casting aside the adage that familiarity breeds contempt, I have to wonder whether a much closer look at this plant, which weedsayers almost never get to see in such detail, could fail to woo them into appreciators of plants like these. Who wouldn’t enjoy looking at these tiny fruits, only an eighth of an inch across, laid out so richly red against a sky of clear blue? Wouldn’t you?

Today’s colorful photograph from November 16, 2011, comes to you courtesy of the photographic playground known as the Mueller Greenway, a piece of the Blackland Prairie being restored on the east side of Austin. For more information about Chamaesyce hypericifolia, and to see a state-clickable map of the places across the southern United States where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 26, 2012 at 5:09 AM


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Chamaesyce; click for greater detail.

I’m on record as having written that “One man’s weed is another man’s wildflower—and I’m that other man.” That said, I’ll grant that some species strike even me as weedier-looking than others. More of us than not probably use the term weed to describe a plant that springs up in the cracks in sidewalks or the edges of roads, or alongside (and even inside) dilapidated buildings, or on pieces of land that have been abandoned or disturbed. But of course the fact that a plant springs up in such places is a sign of how resourceful and adaptive that species is.

The genus Chamaesyce, in the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family, includes species that people incline to think of as weeds. I came across multiple occurrences of one member of this genus when I visited the Mueller Prairie Restoration on the east side of Austin on November 16, 2011. Although I figured I was right about the genus of the plants, which grew 2–3 feet tall, the species eluded me, so I sent some photographs to Joe Marcus at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, who quickly answered: “It appears to be Chamaesyce hypericifolia, a tropical weed that is native from far south Texas to Brazil but now spread throughout much of Texas. It and C. nutans are very similar and I’m not sure I can say for certain which it is.” As the thorough Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas points out: “Because pubescence, stipule, fruit, and seed characters are critical in determining species of Chamaesyce, a hand lens is essential.”

Although my macro lens could have served that purpose, determining exactly which species of Chamaesyce I was looking at wasn’t and isn’t critical for this column, where pictures are the primary thing. So look at today’s picture: weedy or not, isn’t there something charming about the chaos of all these stalks in such close company? This strikes me as a magenta or fuchsia counterpart to the chartreuse Mexican devilweed stalks you saw a closer view of recently, even if the Chamaesyce isn’t as “strictly erect” a plant as the Chloracantha.

Tune in next time for such a different view of this Chamaesyce that you’d hardly guess it’s the same plant.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 25, 2012 at 5:08 AM

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