Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for August 2012

Silverpuff through the summer

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Do you remember the silverpuff that appeared in these pages back in March as a bud and as a flower? This little wildflower, which Bob Harms reports can be split (though not easily) between Chaptalia texana and Chaptalia carduacea, has continued to appear sporadically on mostly shaded ground in the months since then. On August 13th along Harrogate Dr. in my northwestern part of Austin I found a few that were in the puffball stage you see here. Unlike the more common and better known dandelion, which also turns itself into a globe of fluff but is an aggressive European alien in the Americas, silverpuff is native to Texas. Travis County (which includes Austin) and adjacent Bastrop County mark the northeastern corner of silverpuff’s range.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2012 at 6:16 AM

Annual pennyroyal

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Even if you walked through natural areas in central Texas with your eyes closed—a dangerous proposition, I admit—you’d usually know when you had passed close to annual pennyroyal, Hedeoma acinoides. The slender flowers, barely half an inch long at their longest, have no appreciable scent, but the little plant’s foliage smells like lemon, especially when trodden upon or otherwise crushed.

I took this picture of annual pennyroyal, which is making its first appearance in these pages, on August 8 in my Great Hills neighborhood of Austin.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 21, 2012 at 5:58 AM

Cattails swept into Bull Creek

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In mid-July central Texas got plenty of rainfall, so the creeks came up and flowed plentifully for a while. Here’s a view of Bull Creek on July 16. The still-rapid water had pulled these cattail leaves into the flow, and I was intrigued by the way it caused them to undulate. Note also the texture on the surface of the flowing water.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 20, 2012 at 6:12 AM

A tiny bee fly

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One month ago today, on the morning of July 18, as I was finishing up a couple of hours of taking pictures in Great Hills Park and was almost back at my car, I noticed a small spiderweb in an axil of a broomweed plant, Amphiachyris dracunculoides, that had begun putting out some flowers. (July is a bit early for this plant to flower, but I’ve seen it happen before, and 2012 has been an accelerated year for many species.) Although my initial attention went to the spider, eventually I noticed a bit of movement near one of the broomweed flower heads and was pleased to find this tiny fly, probably not even 3/16 of an inch long, keeping busy gathering nectar. Notice how its proboscis is inserted into one of the disk flowers that’s just beginning to open.

Entomologist classify this type of insect in the Bombyliidae, or bee flies, and this particular one is in the genus Poecilognathus. I can’t be certain about the species, but it might be Poecilognathus unimaculatus. These minuscule flies are actually quite common in Austin, but their size prevents most people from becoming familiar with them. Without a macro lens, I doubt I’d ever have known what I was seeing.

In order to stop down my lens for greater depth of field, I turned on the camera’s flash; that accounts for the black background, even though I took the picture in daylight.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 19, 2012 at 6:16 AM

Autumn in the heat

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Afternoon temperatures in central Texas have been in the 90s every day this month, and sometimes even slightly over 100°, but my eyes tell me that in floral terms we’ve already passed into autumn. For some time now I’ve been finding species of native plants that bloom in the fall, and yesterday on the prairie in far north Austin I came across this goldenrod, Solidago altissima, that was already fully in flower. Note the giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida, in the background.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 18, 2012 at 6:06 AM

A tear about to fall

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And here’s a more abstract view of a “widow’s tear” about to fall from the tip of a spathe of a dayflower, Commelina erecta. You can see upside-down trees inside the drop of liquid, which acted like a lens.

Like the last two photographs, I took this one near Lake Travis on July 19. Unlike yesterday’s picture, not all of the spathe is sharp this time, as I chose to focus on the drop, which is the most important element.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 17, 2012 at 6:15 AM

Widow’s tears

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The last post showed a dayflower, Commelina erecta. At the bottom center of that picture, taken near Lake Travis on July 19, was an edge-on view of a keel-like green appendage called a spathe. For whatever reason, the spathe in this species fills with a clear liquid. A slight pressure on opposite sides of that appendage (provided by yours truly, following what I take to be a great Texas tradition) causes drops of the stored liquid to emerge near the vertex of the spathe, as you see in this sidelong look.

Those drops probably account for a colloquial name of this plant, widow’s tears. The most common name, dayflower, comes from the fact that the flowers last only one day, then turn to mush. In a comment on yesterday’s post, shoreacres pointed out a connection between the two names by quoting from the biblical book of Psalms, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning,” and pointing out that that amounts to a span of one day.

And if you’re willing to let your imaginations take flight, don’t you find that this spathe looks like the beak and eyeless head of some fantastic green bird?

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 16, 2012 at 6:09 AM

Dayflower

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I was wandering near Lake Travis on July 19 and noticed a few scattered dayflowers, Commelina erecta. This view from somewhat below makes clear that in addition to the two conspicuous blue petals, each dayflower has a pale and smaller third petal. Centered beneath the blue petals, it often gets overlooked, but now you get to look it over.

For those of you who are interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 3 and especially 4 and 8 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 15, 2012 at 6:15 AM

Pastel mud tubes on limestone wall

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“Little lamb, who made thee?” asked William Blake in 1789. In 2012 I’d like to ask what made these narrow tubes on the wall of a limestone overhang in Austin’s Great Hills Park. I saw no builders or residents when I took this picture on July 23, but I’m assuming some species of mud dauber wasp had created this pastel cliff dwelling, now abandoned, like the much larger one at Mesa Verde that I wasn’t reminded of at the time, but that I have been since I put together this post.

UPDATE: In 2014 I finally got to visit Mesa Verde.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2012 at 6:01 AM

Snagged feather blowing

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Another thing I found on July 20 when I wandered along the east bank of Waller Creek adjacent to Chesterfield Ave. in north-central Austin was a small feather that had gotten snagged on a drying stalk and was blowing in the breeze. It takes only a wee bit of wind to make a feather do a lot of moving, so I raised the shutter speed on my camera to 1/500 of a second to try to stop most of the motion. Many of my attempts failed, but this one came out reasonably well.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2012 at 6:11 AM

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