Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for February 16th, 2012

Keeping to the straight and narrow

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In most cases the pads of the prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmannii, are roughly oval or elliptical, but it seems that in 1906 botanists were made aware of a variety of the species near San Antonio whose pads are long and relatively narrow. This being Texas, the shape of the pads reminded people of a cow’s tongue, which is why the variety is now classified as Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis, where that last word means ‘having the form of a tongue.’

Because of its unusual shape, this variety has since been grown in other parts of Texas and even other states. It also has sometimes sarcastically been given another name, “lawyers tongue,” to which you may or may not add your assent, but to which I’d certainly add an apostrophe.

It was on August 24, 2011, when I was out looking for early occurrences of snow-on-the-prairie near the Austin-Pflugerville boundary line, that I found the specimen shown here, with its one dark red tuna peeking out at the upper right. In order to get this view I had to make my way gingerly through a stand of poison ivy, then crouch down carefully and aim upward to frame the cactus against that morning’s clear blue sky. That’s typical of the risks we run and the contortions we go through for our art—just another day in the life of a nature photographer—but you don’t see any of the hazards in the resulting image.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 16, 2012 at 1:29 PM

Blue curls

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Just like little girls,
These had many curls,
Right in the middle of the forest.

Okay, in spite of the dark brown background this wasn’t exactly the middle of the forest—it was the roadside edge of a wooded lot adjacent to a hotel and across from the Gateway shopping center in northwest Austin—but what is poetic license for if I can’t drive with it now? And what I’m driving at in this post is Phacelia congesta, known colloquially as blue curls. At the budding stage shown here you see the curls but not yet the blue. It’s coming. (And what’s already come from this location is the picture of the white anemone and the one of the agarita flowers.)

In the United States, Phacelia congesta is found primarily in Texas, with a little spillover into New Mexico and Oklahoma; you can see that at the USDA website, where the Texas map implies a presence in Mexico as well.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 16, 2012 at 5:47 AM

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