Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Some updates, several of which are downers

with 38 comments

1)  In the first year of this blog I showed a photograph of a monarch butterfly on a rain-lily. In William Leach’s book Butterfly People I recently learned that it was American entomologist Samuel Scudder who gave the monarch its enduring vernacular name. In doing that, he rejected the alternate names “storm butterfly” and “milkweed butterfly.” Scudder was also responsible for the common name of the viceroy butterfly, which mimics the monarch and so is presumed to gain protection from predators that avoid the monarch because of its noxious taste (thank you, milkweed chemicals).

2)  Thanks to Dan Hardy of the Austin Butterfly Forum for telling me that the little butterfly you saw here a few days ago is most likely an orange skipperling, Copaeodes aurantiacus. According to Stephen G. Williams, as mentioned by John Tveten, that is the most common skipperling in Austin.

3)  In February of this year I showed a picture of an early-flowering huisache tree and speculated that the land it was on might not last long. That land is now a construction site and the huisache is gone.

4)  As I predicted only a couple of months ago, the last remaining wild sunflowers at the construction site of a hotel in my neighborhood were recently pulled out. I photographed sunflowers there in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but now that sunny series has ended.

5)  In a post entitled “The vanishing prairie” in May of this year I showed a photograph of many flowering plants on the west side of Interstate 35 in far north Austin. I noted that “the southern half of a large field there had become a construction site, but the northern half of the field lay still untouched and dense with wildflowers, most likely for the last time.” The construction has grown and now covers more of the site, though a portion of the land is hanging on—who knows for how much longer. I don’t like having a post without a picture, and the surviving bit of prairie is looking barren now at the end of the summer—which is normal, but not photogenic—so here’s another photograph from my visit on April 28. The white flowers are old plainsman, Hymenopappus scabiosaeus; the yellow are greenthreads, Thelesperma filifolium; the bits of purple at the right are prairie verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida.

Greenthread and Old Plainsman Colonies 1564

Click for greater clarity.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 16, 2013 at 6:14 AM

38 Responses

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  1. [sigh] I guess people need land to build houses etc but it is a shame that some of the natural beauty of these plots isn’t preserved. Of course in England you do sometimes find preservation orders on old trees and the like, but I doubt wildflower meadows. Great post Steve, though not all good 😦


    September 16, 2013 at 6:28 AM

    • Yes, people need places to live, so new buildings have to be built. I’m hoping for better planning that would accommodate people yet still leave more of nature intact than is now the case.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 8:15 AM

  2. Humans are invasive. 😦

    Midwestern Plant Girl

    September 16, 2013 at 6:31 AM

  3. Some of those points are painful, but not unexpected as you say. Maybe someday we’ll learn to love our naturally occurring plants and work our construction sites around them. The photo is bittersweet and lovely.

    Mad Queen Linda

    September 16, 2013 at 7:11 AM

    • Even after years of wandering in and photographing places like the one in the picture, I’m still surprised that some people—maybe even many or most—think of wildflowers like these as weeds. I’ll borrow the sigh from the first comment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 8:21 AM

  4. Always sad to hear when open land is taken over by developers, but happy that you were able to record all those beautiful flowers, plants and trees while they had their day in the sun. Love this shot of Texas wildflowers!


    September 16, 2013 at 7:25 AM

    • In some cases I’m pretty sure I was the last person ever to appreciate a parcel of land for what it was. At least in those cases I can show people pictures of the way the place once was.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 8:24 AM

      • You are a historian in your own special way. Perhaps, in that sense, there could be a future possibility that some of these new construction sites could be enticed to include a small passel of land re-seeded with the plants that grew there. Do you know any powerful people who could do that for you?


        September 22, 2013 at 4:16 AM

        • That’s a good suggestion, but I’m afraid I don’t know any powerful or influential people. I’ve had the idea of seeing whether the companies that set up business on those tracts would want to hang photographs of how the land used to look.

          As for history, I’ve sometimes been sorry in recent years that I didn’t take up that profession.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 22, 2013 at 6:26 AM

  5. I have so many “once upon a time stories” of the places I’ve wandered around in. Most have ended exactly as you describe. So sad!!! How many big box stores and shopping centers and office buildings do we really need? The comment about Humans being invasive is oh so true…

    Agnes Plutino

    September 16, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    • You’ve been at this longer than I have, Agnes, so your “once upon a time” list is probably longer than mine. I still keep photographing on that large tract north of Howard Ln., east of I-35, and south of Wells Branch Parkway, but more and more sections of it have kept disappearing to development in the last few years. I see buildings and roads now in places where I used to roam unimpeded. The memories survive, and in many cases so do photographs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 8:28 AM

  6. Not long after we moved into our house in 2002, a large wooded area across a creek behind us got developed. For the entire summer of 2003, the bulldozers and wood chippers were eating it alive. That was a most depressing time. The noise was awful, always in the background. Now the area has houses. And, they aren’t even attractive buildings.

    Jim in IA

    September 16, 2013 at 8:03 AM

    • I’m sorry but not surprised to hear you’ve had a similar experience. There’s nothing special about Texas in that regard, except that because of the warm climate and relatively good economy more development has been taking place here than in many other regions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 8:31 AM

      • Our Iowa City to Cedar Rapids corridor escaped the brunt of the 2008 recession in good shape. Things did slow down some. But some construction still continued.

        North Liberty, the town just 2 or 3 miles to our north, is the fastest growing community in IA. Their infrastructure can’t keep up.

        Jim in IA

        September 16, 2013 at 9:44 AM

  7. Big, cosmic solutions (aka “waving the magic wand”) don’t work. So. Why not get after this on the local level, where the disconnect between proclaimed values and actual behavior can be stark?

    For example, there was a recent battle between (ahem) some “slobs” and some “snobs” at a local HOA meeting. The “slobs” wanted to be allowed to put clotheslines in their yards – you know, to make use of all that solar and wind power that used to dry laundry. The “snobs” were utterly opposed. It would ruin the uniformity of the neighborhood and make it look tacky. But the issue’s not dead, and a few more people have signed up as supporters of domestic wind and solar.

    Why not take on the same battle for the flowers? A friend is battling to be allowed to turn her back yard into a meadow. The powers that be say nope, can’t do it. It’s got to be grass, and it has to be mowed within an inch of its life. But now, a few more people are paying attention. Perhaps a cadre of determined and slightly obnoxious homeowners taking on HOAs or city officials on behalf of looser flower regulations could begin the process of educating about the importance of the flowers.

    Oh, don’t I have ideas? But an experience this weekend reminded me that dealing with the problem right in front of us may be a first step toward solving larger problems. And we need to do it. Just calling humans “invasives” makes me a little nervous. We’re a part of nature, too – we just need to find ways to better live with the rest of the natural world.


    September 16, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    • I’m aware of some HOA battles in Austin of the type you mentioned. A few years ago I participated in one by writing a letter of support to the authorities on behalf the native-plant-planting homeowners, whose yard is fortunately still full of native plants, even right out by the street. Having the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center here helps, too. There’s also the Native Plant Society of Texas, whose Austin chapter contributed $1000 a few years ago toward the buying back of some land that a defunct HOA in my part of town had lost for non-payment of taxes; that repurchased land is now going to be appended to Great Hills Park. So there are small victories here and there, but I’m sorry to say that most people still seem to prefer a blah lawn and a mowed-to-death highway right-of-way. Getting attitudes to change is a very slow process.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 9:33 AM

  8. Cela me fend le coeur à chaque fois que je vois sacrifier la nature pour des routes et des constructions sans aucun d’état d’âme! J’espère que tu pourras encore photogaphier ces belles fleurs de prairie pendant quelques temps.


    September 16, 2013 at 10:02 AM

  9. Thank you, Steve.
    As Austin is slowly becoming my new home, I greatly appreciate your photographs and your concern for the diminishing natural places in Austin. We live on Grace Lane in west Austin and new construction has torn up what was a pretty, flowerful hillside at the end of our road. So much of what differentiated Austin from Houston and Dallas is disappearing. Still a miraculous city. — Michael and Ariana Vincent-McIver

    Michael McIver

    September 16, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    • Ah, so Grace Lane is not as naturally graceful as it once was. I’ve been meaning to come check it out, and from what you say there’s more urgency now.

      In contrast to the prairie side of Austin, which is flat and easy to build on, your hillier and wealthier side of town is home to the various sections of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Almost none of the prairie is being preserved, alas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 10:55 AM

  10. RIP wilderness. And what of *us*?


    September 16, 2013 at 12:31 PM

    • In the colonial period the U.S. population was some 95% rural. Now the rural population makes up only 15% of the total. The implication seems to be that fewer Americans than ever before are close to substantial areas of nature. I’m grateful for the surviving bits that I can visit in and around Austin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2013 at 1:15 PM

  11. Take paradise and put up a parking lot…
    Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…

    Thomas Peace (author)

    September 16, 2013 at 2:53 PM

  12. Humans…can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. There is a reason why I choose the solitude of nature over hanging out with civilization.

    Steve Gingold

    September 16, 2013 at 4:41 PM

  13. Just heartbreaking. As many times as it can be said…. The US needs to implement sustainable development practices before it’s TOO LATE. Other countries have already done so, for pete’s sake. Thanks for tracking the lost nature so beautifully.


    September 16, 2013 at 8:24 PM

  14. You’re right – humans are invasive. At some point, there isn’t going to be anywhere left to go. Thanks for documenting its original state in such a beautiful way!


    September 16, 2013 at 11:34 PM

    • I’m reminded of Thoreau’s words: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Some of that wildness will survive only in pictures, but I’m optimistic that some will survive for real.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2013 at 6:02 AM

      • I know Thoreau is right, and I hope you’re right, too! In Portland, the focus is on building up within the city, instead of allowing sprawl. Your post made me appreciate that even more.


        September 17, 2013 at 8:31 AM

  15. I can’t like this. There needs to be an…awww that really sucks button!


    September 17, 2013 at 6:25 AM

    • Now that’s a clever thought. Maybe you should write to the WordPress folks. In the meantime, you can like the messenger (and the pretty picture) if not the unfortunate message.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2013 at 6:37 AM

  16. It distresses me so much that one of the prime indicators of our economic health is new home starts. Meanwhile inner cities are dying, with blocks on blocks of empty buildings. I, also, have a growing list of “once upon a time” places that now live only in my heart.


    September 22, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    • I think eventually many of those rundown inner city sections will get redeveloped, if for no other reason than that people can buy properties there at bargain prices.

      Even with this sad subject of disappearing land, I like your description of “‘once upon a time’ places.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2013 at 5:41 PM

  17. “Like” isn’t really right for this, as much of what you report is tragic.

    Susan Scheid

    September 30, 2013 at 8:26 PM

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