Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for August 2012

Prairie wind blowing snow-on-the-prairie

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On August 15, about an hour and twenty minutes before I took the picture that you saw yesterday, I took this one, which gives you a closer look at the plant picturesquely called snow-on-the-prairie. Botanists know it as Euphorbia bicolor, with the two colors being the (snowy) white and the green that dominate this scene. I’d stopped along US 290 near Elgin, some 25 miles east of Austin, and although it was still only about 9:30 in the morning, the prairie wind was already blowing, so I used a speed of 1/500 second to stop the sometimes frenzied motion of these slender and therefore easily buffeted plants.

This species grows throughout the eastern third of Texas; the east side of Austin is at the western edge of the plant’s range.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2012 at 6:03 AM

When the land gets overused

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When people overuse their land, certain plants that are good colonizers tend to take over. That’s what I observed on August 15 as I drove on TX 95 near the tiny town of Coupland on the Blackland Prairie northeast of Austin, where I saw three opportunistic native species growing on the opposite side of the barbed-wire fence that lined the road. Today’s photograph shows that view, minus the fence.

The prominent plants with elongated white bracts and often reddish stalks are the picturesquely named snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. The clustered yellow flowers are buffalo bur, Solanum rostratum. The green plants forming a fringe across the background are broomweed, Amphiachyris dracunculoides. While snow-on-the-prairie and broomweed are at their most prominent in late summer and fall, buffalo bur puts out flowers for much of the year and is therefore not the seasonal indicator that the other two are.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2012 at 6:03 AM

A closer look at the green dragonfly

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Here’s a closer look at the green dragonfly that you saw in the last post and that I’ve tentatively identified as a female eastern pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis. In a comment on this morning’s entry I mentioned that I often take a few preliminary pictures even if I’m farther away than I’d like to be just in case the animal I’m photographing gets spooked, takes off, and doesn’t return. I gradually get closer and closer, hoping that my subject stays put and comes to accept me as merely another nearby object. This dragonfly eventually did, as you can tell from such a close view.

The white hexagons on the dragonfly’s compound eyes may make you think I used a flash, but I didn’t.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2012 at 1:11 PM

A good year for dragonflies

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2012 has been a good year for dragonflies in central Texas, as you see here. After looking at a guide to dragonflies of Texas, I can say that this seems to be a female eastern pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis. The flowers in the background are Thelesperma filifolium, known as greenthread, a name that accords with the color of the dragonfly, even if greenthread’s disk flowers are brown and its ray flowers yellow.

This picture comes from an August 1st morning along the Brushy Creek Regional Trail in Cedar Park, a rapidly grown (and still growing) suburb on the northern fringe of Austin.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2012 at 6:01 AM

So much going on here

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Yes, yes, there’s so much going on in this August 17th view of the Blackland Prairie in southern Round Rock. Most prominent, of course, is the eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, about three feet tall, flowering away in its rich purple in front of all the tan and brown that fills most of the rest of the picture, and contributing some tan of its own in the dying, drying leaves on the lower portion of its stalk. In the background is a dried-out colony of basket-flowers, Centaurea americana. The equally dry seed stalks two-thirds of the way down the left edge of the photograph and in the lower right corner are horsemints, Monarda citriodora. The branching brown plant near the right edge of the picture, likewise spent and dried out, is prairie parsley, Polytaenia nuttallii. You can follow those three links if you’d like to be reminded of the way the flowers of those species looked when they were fresh, yet the plants persist in these desiccated forms much longer than the time they spent in their green and flowering earlier lives.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2012 at 6:10 AM

Assassin bug on eryngo

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Here’s an assassin bug, Apiomerus spissipes, on a flowering eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii. Do you see the appendage that’s folded back under the insect’s head? When the assassin bug attacks its prey, it unfolds that appendage and uses it to pierce the victim’s body and suck out what’s inside. Say gruesome and you won’t be wrong.

If you can take your eyes off this fierce and colorful predator, especially if the previous two sentences make you all the more eager to change the subject, you may want to look at the lower left corner of the photograph for a good view of the eryngo’s stamens and their bluish-purple anthers.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2012 at 6:11 AM

Like little purple pineapples

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The flower clusters look like little purple pineapples, but they’re not. The leaves and bracts have sharp spines that might lead you to mistake the plant for a thistle, but it’s not. This is eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, a richly purple token of late summer and early autumn that turns out to be a member of the carrot family: surprise after surprise.

I photographed this eryngo on August 9 on a yet-undeveloped piece of prairie adjacent to Interstate 35 in northeast Austin. The barrel-shaped part of the inflorescence was about an inch high.

Eryngo grows primarily in the south-central United States, as you can see on the state-clickable map at the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2012 at 6:04 AM

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