Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 2012

Sycamore leaf and clouds

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Sycamore Leaf Turning Colors 9337

As the calendar year draws to a close, here’s another (but probably not final) look at some color from the last part of 2012. You’re seeing the leaf of a sycamore tree, Platanus occidentalis, a species in which saplings often hold their initial leaves upright. I took this photograph in a dry portion of the bed of Bull Creek on November 26. Had the water been flowing there then, this new sycamore probably wouldn’t have survived. Happy emblem to you all as we prepare for the one-way crossing of the creek that separates 2012 from 2013.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 31, 2012 at 6:23 AM

The expected on the unexpected

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Click for greater clarity.

About a month ago I was driving in north-central Austin and thought I spotted a Texas thistle flowering, something I’ve never seen with Cirsium texanum, which normally blooms in the spring and fades away by summer. I decided to go back the next day and check it out, but there was one little problem: I couldn’t remember exactly where I’d seen the might-have-been thistle.

Two or three weeks went by, and then, on a sunny December 18th, when I was almost back at my car after a photo foray at Twin Lakes Park and the Brushy Creek Regional Trail in Cedar Park, I found not only a Texas thistle flowering in December but an orange sulphur butterflyColias eurytheme, nectaring on it.

As was true with the red admiral you recently saw here, this butterfly was so caught up in what it was doing that it mostly didn’t mind my getting close and taking pictures. Even when I unintentionally frightened it away a couple of times, it quickly came back and started right in on the flowers again.

John and Gloria Tveten have interesting things to say about the orange sulphur butterfly, in case you’d like to read more. I bought their book years ago and recommend it to anyone who wants a good field guide to the butterflies of eastern (and central) Texas.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2012 at 6:19 AM

A native grass, take two

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Click for greater sharpness and considerably larger size.

—Tell me verbatim.

Panicum virgatum.

—That’s which grass?

That’s switchgrass.

—That’s a rich grass.

The 29th of December.*

—A season that I’ll remember.


* In 2011, I should say,
which makes it a year ago today.


If pointers on nature photography are what you seek,
Check out items 6 and 15 in About My Technique.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2012 at 6:20 AM

A different view of flameleaf sumac

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Flameleaf Sumac Leaflet Curling 0946

Click for greater clarity and size.

On the overcast and misty morning of December 6th I took pictures along Great Northern Blvd. in central Austin of a prairie flameleaf sumac tree, Rhus lanceolata, that still had plenty of color on it. The light was low but I didn’t want to introduce the harshness of flash, so I ended up using a high ISO and a wide aperture to take pictures in which only parts of my subject were in focus. I thought these would likely be the last photographs I’d take of colorful flameleaf sumac leaves for 2012, but you may recall that December 25 provided an unexpectedly late chance to take more.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 1, 2, 9, 18, 20, and the seldom-invoked 11 in About My Techniques apply to this photograph.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2012 at 6:21 AM

Still more red and green

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It’s been over a year since I posted a new picture of a Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus aroboreus, but that wildflower’s rich red against the bright green of its stalk and the duller green of the surrounding woods in Great Hills Park seems like an appropriate color combination for a post-December-25th post (though the picture is from October 15th*).

Note the slender insect at the left edge of the flower. Notice also the tiny granules near the tip of the staminate column, which remind me of caviar or minuscule pearls. It’s hard to see those granules, but you can click the icon below for a magnified view. You’ll also be able to get a better look at the little red “sea anemones” at the tip of the column.

Turk's Cap Flower 0215A

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


* I wasn’t aware of October 15th having any significance, but the historyorb website lists things that happened on that date in various years. Some October 15th events are:

533  —  Byzantine general Belisarius formally enters Carthage, having conquered it from the Vandals.
1520 — King Henry VIII of England orders bowling lanes at Whitehall.
1582 — Many Catholic countries switch to Gregorian calendar, skip 10 days.
1860 — 11-year-old Grace Bedell writes to Lincoln, tells him to grow a beard.
1880 — Köln cathedral is completed, 633 years after it had begun.
1905 — Claude Debussy’s “La Mer” premieres.
1924 — Pres. Calvin Coolidge declares the Statue of Liberty a national monument.
2012 — Steve Schwartzman photographs a Turk’s cap flower in Great Hills Park in Austin, Texas.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2012 at 6:14 AM

More red and green

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Flameleaf Sumac Turning Colors by Clouds 4159

Christmas day in Austin started out mild, with the temperature in the low 60s, but by night it had dropped to near freezing and the sky had completely clouded over. While things were still pleasant in the morning I went to the Arbor Walk Pond, where I welcomed—or it welcomed me—a stand of prairie flameleaf sumac, Rhus lanceolata, that had kept its leaves on even into the last week of the year but was now on the color curve to losing them.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 3, 18, and the newly added 24 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2012 at 6:18 AM

Christmas cactus

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Appropriately enough for today’s date, here’s a photograph of a dense and intricate Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, known as (desert) Christmas cactus and (desert) Christmas cholla, as well as pencil cactus and tasajillo. Notice how woody the stems become when tasajillo ages, and also in this case the way those woody stems bent downward as they grew.

I photographed this Christmas cactus at the Spring Lake Natural Area in San Marcos on November 15th, during the same session that brought you pictures of hierba del marrano, ball moss, and most notably a bird holding a frog in its bill.

To see the places in the southwestern United States where Cylindropuntia leptocaulis grows, you can check out the state-clickable map at the USDA website. In addition, tasajillo is native in parts of northern Mexico.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2012 at 6:16 AM

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