Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for February 8th, 2012

A down that precedes an up

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In order to end a down day with a better sort of down, here’s another wildflower picture I took on February 1 on the Mopac embankment. This view shows the typically drooping bud of a greenthread, Thelesperma filifolium, as well as the characteristic green “prongs” that frame it; later the flower stalk will right itself and open into a daisy with yellow rays and a dark orange-brown center.

This week’s mowing down of a few dozen or a few hundred greenthreads, though unfortunate and unnecessary, is ultimately not so great a loss: this is one of the most common wildflowers in Austin, and some of them may come up even on the same ground later in the season. Just this morning, while doing my damage assessment, I noticed that a few groups of fully flowering greenthreads have survived along Mopac because they’re growing close to or under highway guardrails where the mowers couldn’t get at them.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Battlefield report

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The developing Mexican hat that you saw on February 3: mowed down.

The dozens of flowering gaura plants, of which you saw one on February 2: mowed down.

The little kidneywood bush on which you saw a sulphur butterfly in this morning’s post: mowed down.

The anemone that you saw on February 4: not a trace remains.

Scores of fully open greenthread flowers, which I didn’t show you: all mowed down.

Here we are, after the horrendous drought of 2011 that left the land barren and brown, finally in a respite that may or may not last, with all sorts of wildflowers beginning to come up on the embankments and in the median of the expressway called Mopac, and the mowers have cut it all down. Yes, cut down all the wildflowers that we pay to have seeded along the highway.

Last August I reported on the massacre of snow-on-the-mountain plants in Cedar Park, and that wasn’t the first such incident, so nothing of this sort surprises me. I’ve given up trying to figure out why mowers hate wildflowers, but they do. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder they don’t mow each other down in their obsession to cut everything to within a few inches of the ground.

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of wildflowers from a week ago.

But I walked the scene of carnage this morning, and I can report one saving grace: the goldeneye and the mistflowers and some budding agarita survived the assault because they’re close to a limestone outcrop along the west margin of the access road where the mowing machines can’t easily get at them.


Update on February 9. This morning I spoke with Clint Dube, a maintenance supervisor at TxDot (the Texas Department of Transportation). He said that the agency normally does its mowing on Mopac after the first hard freeze of the winter. This year, however, Austin didn’t get a hard freeze. What we did get was intermittent rain, and Mr. Dube said that the wet ground prevented mowing until now, which was 3–4 weeks later than he would have liked. Let’s hope that in future years the mowing will take place sooner.

There was still a question of the height of the deck on the mowing machines. Perhaps it could have been set higher than it was to spare some of the wildflowers, and he said he’ll look into that. I don’t think he knew that so many wildflowers were already coming up. I’ve e-mailed him links to last week’s blog postings so he can see some of the pretty things that got cut down.

One last thing: it turns out that the seeding of wildflowers on parts of Mopac was funded by a private party. That may have spared the taxpayers in this instance, but I can’t imagine that the people who did pay for the seeds will be happy to learn about the fruits of their labor getting cut down prematurely. I also have to wonder how willing those people will be to fund future projects once they find out how many of the seeds they’ve paid for have gone to waste.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2012 at 10:53 AM

Dainty sulphur

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Click for a sharper view of things, including the scales on the wings.

It wasn’t only native plants that I photographed on the morning of February 1, though you do see part of a just-getting-started kidneywood bush, Eysenhardtia texana, in this picture. Of more obvious interest is the butterfly, which was uncommonly docile and didn’t fly away or even move when I got very close with my macro lens. Was it ailing? I don’t know. And I don’t know that much about butterflies in general, but accounts in a couple of field guides make me think this could be a dainty sulphur, Nathalis iole. If there are any lepidopterists out there who can say for sure, please chime in.

The drought of 2011 kept butterfly numbers down, so although I’ve been writing this column for eight months now, today’s post is only the fourth to deal with a butterfly. The other three showed a panorama of a swallowtail on a thistle in a meadow of wildflowers, then a closeup of a two-tailed swallowtail on clammyweed, and finally a monarch on a rain-lily. In the past couple of weeks, which have seen some rain, I’ve noticed that a lot of small sulphur butterflies have suddenly appeared; their presence on February 1 was a welcome chance for another picture of this type.


UPDATE: Dan Hardy of the Austin Butterfly Forum confirms that this is indeed a dainty sulphur, Nathalis iole.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2012 at 5:39 AM

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