Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for March 2012


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Bluebonnets have been heavily promoted and even mythologized in Texas, but all that acclaim, however warranted—up to a point—has had the unintended consequence of taking attention away from many other wildflowers that should be better known. Some of those can also form large colonies, two examples being the greenthreads and firewheels you saw earlier this week. Today’s post introduces another one, prairie verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida. On the overcast afternoon of March 27th I found this huge colony, only a part of which appears in the photograph, on US 290 just east of US 281 in the Texas Hill Country south of Johnson City.

“Okay, we’ve got all that, including the wow factor, but what are we supposed to make of the bellicose title of today’s post?” I’m glad you asked. Unfortunately the vertical green plants mixed in among the verbenas are a type of European thistle. The native verbenas are doing a good job of checking them, but there’s a continuing war in which the various species that evolved here are fighting against invasive ones from elsewhere, usually Eurasia. The battle you see taking place has been going on for some time, and the relative strengths of the two adversaries are about the same as I remember seeing them some half-dozen years ago in this very field. Come on, verbena, do your thing and drive out the invader!

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 31, 2012 at 5:43 AM

Bush sunflower from behind

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The bright yellow bush sunflower in the previous post, which I photographed on March 11 on Great Northern Blvd. in north-central Austin, might pass for a regular sunflower when seen from above, but the view from the side or below can show a reddish-brown coloring that Simsia calva doesn’t share with its much more familiar relative. Like the common sunflower, this is a hairy plant, as you clearly see here. While the common sunflower can be found just about everywhere, the bush sunflower grows natively in Mexico and, within the United States, only in Texas and New Mexico.

For those interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 3, 4, and 8 in About My Techniques are relevant to this image.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2012 at 1:37 PM

What is this?

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“What is this?” That’s what I repeatedly asked myself on March 11 on Great Northern Blvd. as I kept seeing more and more of these flowers. My first thought was some kind of goldeneye, but the only Viguiera in Bill Carr’s Travis County plant list is Viguiera dentata, which wasn’t this (in spite of the fact that some goldeneyes in Austin, which normally fade in December, had miraculously maintained a few flowers through the winter and well into March).

After I got home I did some checking and comparing and finally realized I’d photographed a native plant I’d been seeing for a decade in Marshall Enquist’s Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country and wondering year after year when I’d ever encounter one. But 2012 has been a crazy year, and I’d finally come across bunches of what turned out to be the long-sought bush sunflower. The familiar sunflower is Helianthus annuus, but the bush sunflower isn’t even in the same genus: it’s Simsia calva. Happy new for me, and happy sunflowers in March for all of us.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2012 at 5:26 AM

A wider view of dense bluebonnets

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By coincidence, my wife Eve has been attending a three-day seminar at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, the place outside of which I photographed a bluebonnet colony on March 26. When I went to pick her up there yesterday at 5 PM, I took a picture of an even larger colony of bluebonnets in a field inside the campus, so here’s a broader view than the one you saw in the last post.

This photograph has the distinction of being the first one I’ve ever shown here that I took on my iPhone 4s. I’m not about to abandon my fancy DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera), but I think you’ll agree that the phone did a pretty good job. It even attached the latitude, longitude, and altitude of the location (30,23.27N, 97,43.67W, 243.00 m), though it didn’t record the scent of the bluebonnets. Guess we’ll have to wait for the iPhone 5 for that feature.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2012 at 1:13 PM

Dense bluebonnets

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In the picture that you saw two days ago of colorful wildflowers on an embankment of the expressway called Mopac, bluebonnets played the smallest role. But bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis, are also known to form dense colonies, and to prove it here’s a photograph of a group of them I found on Burnet Rd. outside the J.J. Pickle Research Campus shortly after I left the Mopac site on March 26.

When it comes to the blue in bluebonnets, the rods and cones in my eyes have always seen the color as more violet or purple than blue. I talked about the same color discrepancy last year when I showed pictures of bluebells. Of course colors fall along a continuum, and different people draw different dividing lines between adjacent colors in the spectrum. I’ll add that no matter what you call the color of these flowers, when they occur in large numbers they give off a distinctive and heady scent: you can even buy bluebonnet perfume, bluebonnet eau de toilette, etc.; just do an Internet search and you’ll see.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2012 at 5:37 AM

Wild garlic

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These pages have recently shown you two white-flowered members of the lily family, crow poison and death camas. Another local member of the family is wild garlic, Allium drummondii, whose flowers can be white but often range through pink and violet to reddish-purple. The open flowers in this emerging cluster were about half an inch across. I photographed them on Great Northern Blvd. in north-central Austin on March 11. Since then I’ve seen lots of wild garlic flowers all over central Texas.

Allium drummondii grows in Mexico and in the parts of the central United States shown in the USDA map.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 28, 2012 at 5:44 AM

Wildflowers in the wind

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Yes, the wind was blowing yesterday afternoon when I got out of my car near Mopac and Braker Ln. to take pictures of some dense wildflowers on the embankment of the highway. You may remember that in early February, before an unfortunate mowing, precocious spring wildflowers had already been coming up on the median and embankments of the expressway.

One kind of flower that got mowed down then was Thelesperma filifolium, known as greenthread because of the thread-like segments of the plant’s leaves. On February 8th I showed you a greenthread bud that I’d photographed before the mowing. I later said that these are among the most common wildflowers in Austin, and that most likely they’d grow back along Mopac, even in the same places where they’d gotten mowed down.

Well, here we are seven weeks later, and the greenthreads have indeed come back. In the picture above, they’re the many flowers you see with yellow rays surrounding smaller brown disks. The mostly red flower heads are called firewheels or Indian blankets, Gaillardia pulchella, of which you saw an early one opening in the post of February 23. The bluish-purple flowers are bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis, making their first appearance in this blog.

This is the kind of wildflower display Texas is duly famous for!

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 27, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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