Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for September 2014


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Yesterday morning I heard on a local television station that 6.7 inches (17 cm) of rain had fallen overnight on a part of the Bull Creek watershed just a few miles from where I live in northwest Austin. That’s a lot of water, so I headed out to take pictures in several places, the last of which was a waterfall on a tributary of Bull Creek. Old Spicewood Springs Rd. passes within about 50 ft. (15 m) of it, but because of the dense vegetation and the declivity of the terrain the waterfall isn’t easily visible from the road, and I suspect many or maybe even most of the people who pass by have no idea it exists. (That was true of two City of Austin workers who were taking pictures from the road and whom I told about the falls.) Not only is the waterfall hard to see, but it’s hard to get to when the creek is flowing full and fast. Nevertheless, your intrepid correspondent pushed down the slope through the brush and then cautiously worked his way upstream alongside and just as often in the creek to photograph this great sight. And oh yeah, you’re finally getting some cottony water, thanks to a shutter speed of 1/4 sec.

Large Waterfall in Bull Creek Tributary 9996

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 20, 2014 at 5:27 AM

Not crop circles

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Ruellia nudiflora Flower with Circles 8033

While you’ve probably all heard about the hoaxes called crop circles, here are some strange little circles that I doubt any hoaxer would have taken the time to create. These tiny pale rings are in the petals of a wild petunia*, Ruellia nudiflora, a common wildflower that thrives in Austin’s summer heat. I don’t remember ever seen anything like this, so if anyone has an explanation for these marks, please speak up. One thing I’m sure didn’t create them is miniature alien spacecraft, but if any of you can parlay that into a fad for Petal Circles, I want my share of the royalties.

I took this picture on July 18th during the same jaunt through Great Hills Park that brought you a picture of a turk’s cap flower.


* Don’t be fooled by the common name. The wild petunia that’s native in Texas belongs to the acanthus family, while garden petunias come from South America and are in the nightshade family.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2014 at 5:13 AM

Doing our respective things

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Variegated Fritillary Butterfly on Rain-Lily 7216

When I was photographing on September 9th at the end of Perry Lane near 45th Street I was fortunate to have a variegated fritillary, Euptoieta claudia, land on one of the nearby rain-lilies, Cooperia drummondii, and stay there long enough (over three minutes!) for both of us to do our respective things. Notice the chunk missing from yonder wing.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2014 at 5:33 AM

Can you say svelte? (Alternate title: the return of rain-lilies)

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Rain-Lily Flower with Blue Sky 7041

We had some rain in Austin on September 4th and 7th, so by the 9th a fair number of rain-lilies (Cooperia drummondii) had come out. I photographed this one (and many another) where Perry Lane dead-ends on the west side of Mopac near 45th St.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 17, 2014 at 5:43 AM

Carolina mantis

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Carolina Mantis on Leaf 7054

From way back on July 7th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center here’s a Carolina mantis, known scientifically as Stagmomantis carolina. Aren’t you intrigued by the ringed conical structures at its rear? I’m also intrigued by the thought that a praying mantis is a preying mantis.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 16, 2014 at 5:31 AM


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This morning I got a notification from WordPress saying: “Congratulations on writing 1,337 total posts on Portraits of Wildflowers.” Not 1,000 or 2,000 or 1,500 or even 1,300, but precisely 1,337. I may be in my prime, but 1,337 isn’t even a prime number, because it factors into 7 x 191. Inscrutable are the ways of WP.

Now that you’ve been inveigled by a number, I’d better give you something botanical. Here’s some powerful purple in a mostly soft picture of that anything-but-soft plant you saw last time, eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, viewed from the top down. The location was once again the Elisabet Ney Museum on August 28.

Eryngo Viewed from Top 5228A

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 15, 2014 at 1:35 PM

It’s time again for those little purple false thistly pineapply thingies

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Eryngo Flower Head 5242

So there I was at the Elisabet Ney Museum on August 28th, as you’ve heard a bunch of times. Not far from the Maximilian sunflowers, and contrasting nicely with their yellow, were the purple flower heads of an eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii. Despite appearances, this plant isn’t related to pineapples or thistles but is in the same botanical family as carrots, parsley, and celery. Just because eryngo isn’t a thistle doesn’t mean its spines don’t hurt. They do.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 15, 2014 at 5:46 AM

A yellow world

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Poecilognathus Fly on Maximilian Sunflower 5374 Detail

So there I was at the Elisabet Ney Museum on August 28th photographing Maximilian sunflowers, Helianthus maximiliani, when I caught sight of an old friend of mine, a tan fly in the genus Poecilognathus that’s only about a quarter of an inch (6mm) long. The nectar in the sunflower’s disk flowers* had attracted it, but I outdid the tiny fly by being attracted to it as well as to the flowers*.


* If you’d like a reminder of why the word flowers is in the plural here, you can have one.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 14, 2014 at 5:33 AM

How do Maximilian sunflowers differ from common sunflowers?

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Maximilian Sunflower Head from Behind 5343

Yesterday’s picture of a Maximilian sunflower, Helianthus maximiliani, at the Elisabet Ney Museum on August 28th might have made you think the plant could just as well have been a common sunflower, Helianthus annuus. One difference, as you see here, is all the long, slender, and oh-so-gradually tapering bracts beneath the head of a Maximilian sunflower. In contrast, the common sunflower has wide, relatively flat bracts that suddenly narrow only near their tips, something you can confirm in a picture posted here last year.

The background in today’s picture looks dark because I set the camera’s aperture to be small enough (f/14, for good depth of field) and the shutter speed to be fast enough (1/400 sec., to stop movement) that even the clear blue sky wasn’t bright enough to register well on the camera’s sensor with those settings. The same would have been true for the sunflower but I illuminated it with a flash, which of course had no effect on the sky.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 13, 2014 at 5:44 AM

First Maximilian sunflowers for 2014

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Maximilian Sunflower Head 5322

When I visited the prairie restoration at the Elisabet Ney Museum on the morning of August 28th, I saw my first Maximilian sunflowers, Helianthus maximiliani, flowering this year. Compare the asymmetrically developed head of this Maximilian sunflower to the one on a roughstem rosinweed that appeared here not long ago.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 1, 2, 4, 7 and 18 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 12, 2014 at 5:39 AM

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