Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for February 11th, 2012

Light and dark on green

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It’s common to see insects on prickly pear cacti, Opuntia engelmannii. When I was wandering in a natural area in my neighborhood on July 19, 2011, I came across this insect, sometimes colloquially called a leaf-footed bug because of the way the dark portions of its rear legs flare out, reminding people of tiny dry leaves.

It’s also common to see small white masses on prickly pear pads. Usually those are made by cochineal insects, and that’s what I initially thought I was seeing here. I may have been right, but from the way this bug had gotten caught in the white fibers, I have to wonder if maybe this white had been created by a spider. At this point I don’t know whether the little disembodied pieces in the upper left are from spider prey or are remains of cochineal insects. If there are any entomologists in the audience who can clear this up, please let us know. In any case, there’ll be more about cochineal soon.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 11, 2012 at 1:16 PM


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Click for greater sharpness.

When Costco came to Austin about a decade ago, the designers of the project spared some of the trees on the property, which now stand on what have become several raised islands of earth floating, during business hours, in a sea of cars in the large parking lot. It was on one of those islands last October that I found and photographed a rain-lily flower that was opening after some much welcome rain. On February 1 of this year, after I spent time on the west side of Mopac taking the pictures you’ve been seeing on and off for the past ten days, I stopped at the Costco, which wasn’t in my neighborhood when it was built but is now (we moved). There I was happy to see, scattered about on one of the raised islands in the parking lot, a couple of dozen little wildflowers known as silverpuff, for the dandelion-like puffball that typically develops when the seed head matures.

Chaptalia texana, as botanists know this small plant, is one of those species in the sunflower family whose flower heads, each about an inch long in this case, typically remain constricted and don’t open up into something looking like a daisy.* In addition, this is one of those local members of the sunflower family, like the four-nerve daisy, that’s covered with down, as you see here. You’re also seeing the typical nodding posture of one of these flower heads, which can droop a lot farther and end up pointing straight down (why can’t we say “end down pointing down”?).

Like some of the other species I’ve reported on recently, this is another one that was flowering at least a month before the normal beginning of its bloom period. Austin is at the northeastern edge of silverpuff’s range, as you can confirm at the USDA website. And if you’re interested in the craft of photography, you can confirm that points 1, 2, 4, 6, and 14 in About My Techniques apply to today’s image.


* Bob Harms has conjectured that there are actually two species of Chaptalia involved here, one whose flower heads open a fair amount and another whose flower heads stay mostly closed.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 11, 2012 at 5:47 AM

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