Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for February 2012

A yellow more surprisingly late than the last one was early

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Anyone who knows goldenrod knows that it’s a fall-blooming plant. In 2011 I was surprised to find one still flowering in my neighborhood on January 19—something that three days of below-freezing temperatures in the first week of February certainly put an end to, if the flowering had even gone on that long. This year, though, with no real winter in central Texas, things have been strange, as you’ve been seeing in these pages for the past few weeks. Two days ago, on February 21, I found this small goldenrod miraculously flowering in northeast Austin. Did I say it’s been a strange winter?

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 23, 2012 at 1:28 PM


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Click for greater clarity.

Another precocious wildflower I found on February 19 at the Mueller Greenway in east-central Austin was Gaillardia pulchella, known by the picturesque names Indian blanket and firewheel (and I’ll add that this firewheel, or at least the ground beneath it where I knelt, was pique-turesque and cost me my first two fire ant bites of 2012). The flower head was just opening—and doing so a good month or two before its traditional time—but hadn’t yet formed the familiar “wheel” whose wide rays, which are mostly red and tipped with yellow, form the “spokes.” At this stage you can recognize a family resemblance to the rays of a four-nerve daisy.

For more information, and to see the many places where Gaillardia pulchella grows in the United States and Canada, the USDA website beckons.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 23, 2012 at 5:47 AM

A blue that isn’t blue, violet that isn’t a violet, and a sage that is wise only in the ways of nature

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Say hello to Salvia farinacea, called mealy blue sage, even though it’s not blue but violet. (If these flowers were blue, then what color would the sky behind them be? And of the many flowers that are this hue, how did the violet get to impose its name on the color of all of them?)

Add this to the native species you’ve seen here recently that have bloomed well before their customary time, which in the case of mealy blue sage is April and May. I photographed this one on February 19 at the Mueller Greenway in east-central Austin.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 22, 2012 at 5:31 AM

Visitors to Tetraneuris scaposa

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The other day you saw Tetraneuris linearifolia, one of two very similar species that share the vernacular name four-nerve daisy. Today’s picture shows the other species, Tetraneuris scaposa, and it shows that I was hardly the only one visiting it on the afternoon of February 15 in northwest Austin. If you’ve been checking this blog for a while, you’ve often heard me talk about how I sit and lie on the ground: those low vantage points reveal a lot that would go unnoticed if I were standing up and looking down at my subjects. In particular, a lot of insects hang out underneath flowers, and so do the spiders that stalk them. I’m assuming that the green insects are aphids; in addition to the two larger ones, there are several smaller ones that are harder to see. As for the spider, notice the net-like patterning on its abdomen and how long its legs are. After looking at several sources, I’m thinking that this is a spider in the genus Tetragnatha, but if anyone can be more precise, please let us know. (Update on Feb. 28: Spider Joe Lapp says that this is likely to be Tetragnatha laboriosa; from a different picture I sent him of the spider he was able to tell that it’s a male.)

As for the four-nerve daisy, if you look at the rays in the 1 o’clock and 5 o’clock positions, you can count the four “nerves” that give these flowers their common name. I don’t know what caused the reddish area on the ray at the upper right. I do know that the downiness covering the stalk and the receptacle of the flower head is a prominent characteristic of both of these Tetraneuris species (and we recently saw a similar fuzz on silverpuff, their not-so-close sunflower family relative). For more information, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where Tetraneuris scaposa grows, you can visit the USDA website.

On the technical side, it may look like I used flash for this picture, but I didn’t. Yellow is a difficult color to photograph in bright sunlight, which was the case here, and in exposing for the intense brightness of the yellow rays I ended up with a background that is close to black. For that and other photographic considerations, you can see points 1, 3, 4, 10, and 18 in About My Techniques.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 21, 2012 at 5:40 AM

Another gift from Costco

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Do you remember three-seeded mercury, Acalypha phleoides? If not, you may want to take a moment and look back at the colorful picture of it from last November. It’s yet another species that never entirely stopped flowering through our warm winter.

On the morning of February 15th I stopped to get gas at my neighborhood Costco, the place that has already brought you pictures of a rain-lily and silverpuff. Because of that history of small native species on the raised earth islands in the store’s large parking lot, I looked around a bit after filling my tank and noticed a little clump of three-seeded mercury that not only was flowering but also had many small drops of water on it from the overnight rain we’d had. The sky was still overcast, and with the trees on the island blocking a portion of even that low light, I knew that this would be a job for a dedicated flash.

I drove home, got my camera and ring light, and returned to the spot. Above is one of the pictures from the resulting session. The span of female flowers that you see here represents a real height of about an inch.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 20, 2012 at 5:48 AM

Not Titania but Tinantia

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This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

And yet men and women have called this the false dayflower to distinguish it from the “true” and related dayflower that blooms later in the season. And botanists, even on a midsummer night, call the genus not Titania but Tinantia. The species in this case is anomala, but what’s anomalous about it I don’t know: looks pretty nomalous to me (and just plain pretty, too).

I found at least a dozen of these “false” dayflowers at the edge of the same undeveloped property that played host on February 9 to the white anemone, the blue curls, and the agarita that you’ve seen in the past week. In the United States, Tinantia anomala grows only in central and southwest-central Texas; I often find it flowering in Austin in late March, April and May, but as was true for several species I’ve shown in these pages recently, this appearance in early February was another first for me.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 19, 2012 at 5:45 AM

Like a beast with his horn

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Click for greater clarity.

In spite of the way things look in this picture from March of 2011, the drought hadn’t reached anything close to its later severity. The plant depicted (in small part) is an agave, Agave americana, and most of its leaves were still green; it’s normal for an agave’s older, lower leaves to gradually die and dry up, and that’s what you see here. I found the rippling texture of this dry leaf more interesting than the features of its still-living fellows, so I took close photographs of several parts of it. When I saw the results later I couldn’t help thinking of a phrase from one of Leonard Cohen’s best-known songs: “like a beast with his horn.” And crossing that line from the plant to the animal kingdom, I seem to see an eye on the left side of this would-be reptilian scene: another case of a vivid imagination.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 18, 2012 at 1:02 PM

Tetraneuris linearifolia

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Back in the fall you saw a photograph of a four-nerve daisy bud as it was beginning to open. That picture showed Tetraneuris scaposa, one of two similar species that share the vernacular name. Because of the mild winter we’ve had in central Texas, both species seem never to have gone completely away as 2011 passed warmly into 2012. Now we’re in February, which normally marks the beginning (but far from the peak) of both flowers’ bloom period, so I’ve been happy and not at all surprised to see increasing numbers of these daisies with diminutive flower heads usually only a bit more than half an inch in diameter. I know that the one shown here was Tetraneuris linearifolia because I observed its leaves, which are different from those of the other species. Notice the tiny insect that happened to be on this flower head when I photographed it on Valentine’s Day along River Place Rd. in far northwest Austin.

For more information, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 18, 2012 at 5:46 AM

A trace of red

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Marsh fleabane gone to seed; click for greater sharpness.

Just as it’s true that “Not all that glitters is gold,” it’s also true that not all that doesn’t glitter isn’t gold (there can be dull gold, for example). Well, I’m here today to tell you that, in spite of a seeming lack of resemblance, the plant that you saw blossoming on August 9 and in a later stage on November 23, marsh fleabane, Pluchea odorata, is a member of the same botanical family as sunflowers, asters, thistles, tatalencho, mistflowers, and Mexican devilweed. Many of the insect-pollinated plants in this huge group share a trait: after their flower heads go to seed, they turn fluffy, like a dandelion (which, though not native to the Americas, also belongs to this family). Today’s picture is a much closer view than the previous one of marsh fleabane, and it reveals that before the plant turns gray it can retain some of its red floral color even as it dries out and gets fuzzy. The receptacle that is revealed at this time appears to many people as the conventionalized sunburst or starburst that is another widely shared family trait. (You saw a variation on the theme in a photograph of goldeneye.)

I took this picture on August 9, 2011, at Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock, a large suburb north of Austin. That was the same place where, on a follow-up visit, I first photographed the Mexican devilweed that appeared in a post last month.

To find out 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. For those interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 7, and 18 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s picture.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2012 at 1:22 PM

Blue curls, but not true blue

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Click for greater clarity.

Yesterday you saw the still-white buds of Phacelia congesta, colloquially called blue curls, as I photographed them on February 9 at the edge of a lot in an otherwise mostly developed part of northwest Austin. A nearby plant had advanced farther, so now you get to see the curls as well as some opening and fully open flowers, and to observe the progression of color from left to right. I’ll add that this is another of those many cases where some people have used the word blue to describe what for me is clearly violet or purple. What’s not clearly discernible is the line in our imagination that separates the world of animals from the world of plants; one crossover comes from the curling buds of this species, which have earned it the alternate colloquial name caterpillars.

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.

For those among you who are interested in the craft of photography, points 1, 2, 4, 9, and 14 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s image.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2012 at 5:47 AM

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