Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for May 2012

Why is it called a basket-flower?

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Now you see why Centaurea americana is called a basket-flower.

In contrast to the flower head in yesterday’s post, which was mature and showing the first signs of fading, the one you see here was especially fresh and vibrant, and the bracts of its “basket” even seemed to glow as if fashioned of gold leaf (oh, would that they had been, for my sake).

The date and location are the same as last time: May 18 on a piece of the Blackland Prairie in southeastern Round Rock. To see the many other places in the United States where basket-flowers grow, you can consult the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 31, 2012 at 5:32 AM

Bedazzled by a basket-flower

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It’s May, the time when basket-flowers come to central Texas. Botanists call the species Centaurea americana. I call it wonderful.

Date: May 18.  Place: a piece of the Blackland Prairie in southeastern Round Rock. The technique I used in making this picture is similar to the one I explained in detail when posting the picture of a cattail last December. In short, I got close and aimed the camera in such a way that the basket-flower blocked the sun.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 30, 2012 at 5:27 AM

Cenizo

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Here’s something you haven’t seen in these pages till now: Leucophyllum frutescens, a shrub or small tree that’s native across portions of the southern third of Texas but is widely planted in many other places for its great displays of flowers. Those flowers are small and last only a few days before falling to the ground, but they often appear in large numbers, as you see here, and there are usually several rounds of blossoming each year, beginning once the temperature gets hot. One of the common names for this bush is cenizo, a Spanish word based on the ceniza that means ash, because the plant’s small leaves are an ash-gray shade of green. I photographed this cenizo on the front lawn of a house in my neighborhood on May 24.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 29, 2012 at 5:49 AM

The punctuation of antelope-horns with wispy clouds

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In this view it’s not the antelope-horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula, that’s wispy, but the clouds. Seeing that we had a sky like that on the afternoon of April 12, 2011, I went over to Loop 360 at the south end of my Great Hills neighborhood and followed a path that took me up onto a cliff overlooking the busy highway—the adjacent intersecting street is even named Bluffstone—but I wasn’t interested in the cars below. At one point I got down on the ground and looked upward at perhaps 45° in such a way that wisps of cloud framed this globe of milkweed flowers between an opening angle bracket and a closing parenthesis.

(And speaking of parentheses, a pair of which this last little paragraph is conveniently nestled inside of, how could I not be reminded of a certain poem by e.e. cummings? I’d say more about punctuation, but you already get the point.)

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 28, 2012 at 5:43 AM

Two steps backwards

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In the last post you saw how a single seed of an antelope-horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula, gets carried away from its point of origin as intended, but not always with the best of landings. Before that you saw an array of seeds and fluff in their last minutes of contact with the pod that nursed them. The chaos of that release is in contrast to what came before it, which I didn’t mention then but which I would be remiss in not telling you about now. The truth is that the seeds develop in an interwoven, tightly packaged, and quite orderly way. In this picture you see a drying pod and the breeze as they’ve just begun conspiring to turn order into disorder.

I took this picture on June 25, 2011, in the same meadow that got mowed to the ground half a year later but that recovered in the spring of this year. For those of you who are interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 2, 4, 6 and 18 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 27, 2012 at 5:44 AM

Not everything in nature is useful

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In the last post I showed the seeds and silky fibers that were being turned loose after the pod of an antelope-horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula, had split open. While photographing the spilled contents of the pod, I noticed that some of the seed-bearing fluff had gotten snagged on nearby plants, where it did neither species any good. You recognize that the other species in this case is Gaillardia pulchella, called firewheel or Indian blanket, at the stage where its seed head is beginning to dry out. Note the unusually sinuous stem leading to the spherical seed head. The orange patches in the background came from other firewheels that were still flowering.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 26, 2012 at 5:42 AM

A literal podcast

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And now, after a four-part foray into fields of bright wildflowers, we return to milkweed. When I stopped along E. 51st St. on May 14 to photograph the Liatris mucronata that had unexpectedly flowered there, I also found that a pod of antelope-horns, Asclepias asperula, had matured enough to pop open and begin casting forth its seeds. As you see in this closeup, the seeds are more or less flat but prone to curve and twist somewhat, so that they look a bit like minuscule potato chips. Silky fibers attached to the seeds let the wind easily carry off the little featherweight bundles.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2012 at 5:41 AM

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