Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for March 2012

War

with 14 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

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

with 27 comments

Click for greater clarity.

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?

with 19 comments

“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

with 20 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

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

with 25 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

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

with 26 comments

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

with 44 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

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

Survival

with 29 comments

Yesterday’s post told you about a venerable huisache tree, Acacia farnesiana, that I used to enjoy visiting and photographing, but that I found out on March 23 had recently been destroyed to make way for a new building. That tree was growing close to a creek in northeast Austin called Tannehill Branch, which continues under the adjacent street and forms the northern boundary of Bartholomew Park. The creek also nurtures half a dozen well-established huisaches growing along it. Those trees offered—and being in a park will continue to offer—some consolation for the destroyed huisache; I spent the better part of an hour taking of photographs of them, including this one in which the nearest branches lean forward and in so doing create a ring of flowers surrounding the center of the tree:

Click for greater size and clarity.

This location on Tannehill Branch is close to the spot where one of the strangest events ever recorded in Texas history took place. It has nothing to do with plants or photography—the picture above has given you your daily dose of those things—but it’s such an unusual and compelling story that I’ll include it here for those of you who would like to keep reading; just be aware that you may find some of the details disturbing.

The following account of what happened is from the 1890 edition of an 1888 book with a long title (as was common back then): Indian depredations in Texas : reliable accounts of battles, wars, adventures, forays, murders, massacres, etc., together with biographical sketches of many of the most noted Indian fighters and frontiersmen of Texas. The author was John Wesley Wilbarger, a brother of the Josiah Wilbarger described in the account. The Hornsby mentioned in the first sentence was Reuben Hornsby, one of the first Anglo settlers in what is now Austin; Hornsby Bend along the Colorado River near Austin’s current airport was named after him.

UPDATE. On the website of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission I confirmed the surprising identity of the person who illustrated Indian Depredations: “T.J. Owen, better known as the author William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).”

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 26, 2012 at 5:29 AM

In memoriam: huisache

with 29 comments

I used to live on the east side of Austin, slightly north of what was then Mueller Airport. Behind a convenience store across the street from the airport’s northern boundary was an undeveloped lot, and it was there that the colors of a flowering huisache first caught my attention. It was a venerable tree, one of those with several large trunks that leaned so far outward from the center that they became horizontal and then in several places arced downward somewhat.

In December of 2000, when Austin had one of its rare ice storms, the weight of the accumulated ice bent the huisache’s branches much farther down, even onto the ground:

Click for greater size and detail.

The picture makes it look as if the storm destroyed the tree, but it rebounded after the ice melted, and by the time spring came the huisache looked (and smelled) like its normal self, all covered with yellow-orange puffballs.

Now come forward from December 13, 2000, to March 23, 2012: inspired by all the other huisaches I’d noticed flowering around Austin this spring—two of which you’ve seen here recently—I drove over to my old neighborhood. First I photographed some huisaches that I was aware of that had soon grown up on the old airport property when it was left to itself after the new airport opened; yes, these are fast-growing trees. Then I pushed on to the convenience store, where I was suddenly saddened to see that the property behind it is now a construction site, and a building is springing up where my huisache had sprung up years earlier. An ice storm didn’t kill the tree, but development did.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2012 at 5:45 AM

Huisaches are wide

with 18 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

There was widespread interest in the flowering huisache tree, Acacia farnesiana, that appeared in these pages on March 22. That post’s photograph was a close one, and it let you see individual flowers, but it happened to be vertical, so this time I thought I should explain that a huisache often has multiple trunks that lean out from the tree’s center as they grow. In that case the overall effect is horizontal, and today’s picture gives you a feel for that wide huisache gestalt. As your gaze sweeps from left to right, be aware that everything in this photograph is part of a single tree. Quite a sight for the eyes, and quite pleasant for the olfactory.

I took this picture on March 21 when I was on my way home from McKinney Falls State Park in southeast Austin (this may be the first picture you’ve seen here from that part of town). I purposely drove along some streets I rarely travel, just to see what I might find. As I passed the grounds of an Austin Energy depot, I noticed several large huisaches on the property, so in I went. I parked and then walked over to an area surrounded by a fence with razor wire on top of it; I don’t know why that area was so well protected, but it was, and all the huisache trees were inside it (and no, I don’t think Austin Energy was trying to protect them). As I walked past the sliding gate to enter that enclosure, I wondered what would happen if someone closed the gate and I got locked in. I almost found out. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, but after I wandered around taking pictures for 15 minutes, I suddenly noticed that the gate had been slid almost all the way closed and the last workers were leaving. I quickly headed for the exit and ended up being the last person to get out through the narrow opening before the workers closed the gate completely. As I’ve said before: the things we do for pictures.

Huisache trees grow in Mexico and across the southern tier of the United States, as the state-clickable map at the USDA website confirms.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 24, 2012 at 5:20 AM

%d bloggers like this: