Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 2014

Another December wildflower

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Clematis drummondii Flower Opening 0686

Another wildflower I saw this month was Clematis drummondii, known colloquially as old man’s beard because of the wispy strands this vine’s fertilized flowers produce. Here I looked down at a bud that was opening along the margin of Great Northern Blvd. in north-central Austin on December 3 at the same time as quite a few bush sunflowers were doing their floral thing there too.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2014 at 5:27 AM

From both sides now

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Bush Sunflower from Below 0723

The sunflower you saw last time wasn’t Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower that grows across much of North America. No, it was Simsia calva, known as a bush sunflower, and today’s photograph from below shows some of the differences between the two. I’d say the single most distinguishing feature is the brown veins on the underside of the bush sunflower’s otherwise yellow rays. That brown coloration isn’t visible from above, as you can confirm by looking back at yesterday’s photo.

As with the previous picture, this one comes from December 3 along Great Northern Blvd. in north-central Austin. Also like the last photograph, this one was taken outdoors with no artificial backdrop of any sort. The morning was heavily overcast, in fact even misty~drizzly, so I had to use a flash. The nearest vegetation beyond the sunflower was far enough away that the flash had essentially no effect on it and it remained lost in the relative darkness of distance.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2014 at 5:15 AM

Sunflowers in December

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Bush Sunflower Flower Head 0810

The thought of sunflowers in December is a strange one for many of you, and even for lots of people in Austin, but the fact remains that an observer of nature here does stand a good chance of seeing a few sunflowers near the end of the year. As confirmation, here’s a picture I took on December 3 along Great Northern Blvd., a place in north-central Austin I’ve come to rely on for bush sunflowers, Simsia calva.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2014 at 5:27 AM

Muted colors

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Switchgrass Drying Out with Blue Sky 9476

It isn’t only bright colors that signal late fall in central Texas. In fact the opposite is true, with muted and subtler colors usually predominating. As an example, take this stand of switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, at the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County on November 26th. Still, I’ll grant you that the saturated blue sky on that day did a lot to raise the grass’s subdued tones into a brighter realm.

If you’re interested in photography as a craft, you’ll find that points 2, 5, and 15 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2014 at 5:36 AM

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Where else to find a tree cricket but on a tree?

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Female Tree Cricket on Flameleaf Sumac Fruit 0484

Click for better clarity.

You’ve recently seen pictures from the park behind the Arboretum on November 30 showing flameleaf sumacs (Rhus lanceolata) with their colorful fall foliage. When I’d gotten back near my car I stopped to look at another flameleaf sumac that wasn’t as attractive as the other two but that rewarded my attention with the presence of an insect on one of the tree’s clusters of drupes. My guess, based on the prominently jointed rear legs, was that it was some type of grasshopper, but after doing a little research I think it’s a female tree cricket, Oecanthus varicornis. In particular, this species seems to be known as a different-horned tree cricket (different from what?). I didn’t hear it make any noise, but if you want to listen to the stridulation of a male of this species, just follow the link that appeared a few sentences back.

Sound or no sound, how about those antennae that are longer than the rest of the insect’s body? (Why the two are unequal in length on this individual, I don’t know.) If you’d like a closer look at the “face” of the tree cricket and the way the antennae emerge from its head, you’re welcome to click the icon below for an enlargement.

Female Tree Cricket's Head 0511

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2014 at 5:21 AM

Virginia creeper leaflet like a flame

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Virginia Creeper Leaflet Turned Red by Flameleaf Sumac 0441A

On the rocks near the upper of the two flameleaf sumacs that appeared here the other day I noticed some strands of Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, a vine whose leaflets can also look flame-like. Here, then, to complement the broad and distant view you saw five weeks ago, is a closeup of one such flame. The color in the background is from the lower of the two flameleaf sumacs I spent time photographing along the path behind the Arboretum on November 30.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2014 at 5:26 AM

A closer look at rattan leaves turning yellow

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Rattan Vine Leaves Turning Yellow 0891

Click for better clarity and color.

And here from December 8th in Great Hills Park is a closer look at how colorful the leaves of the rattan vine, Berchemia scandens, can become in the fall, especially when backlit. Notice the clusters of little blue-black drupes that this vine produces at the end of the year. (A drupe is a fleshy fruit with a seed-containing shell inside it. Some familiar edible drupes are peaches, cherries, plums, mangos, apricots, and olives.)

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2014 at 5:51 AM

The complexity and intricacy of rattan

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Rattan Tangle with Yellow Leaves by Ashe Juniper 0167

Rattan, Berchemia scandens, is a common presence in the woods on Austin’s hilly west side. This vine, which is woody in its own right, offers two colors during most of the year, a dull green and a dull brown, both of which are in evidence here. In November or December there’s the addition of yellow as the vine’s deciduous leaves prepare to fall away; you see some of that in the distance near the upper right, where the leaves in the canopy are at their densest. In contrast, the closer rattan leaves in the upper left are still almost completely green. The tree in the foreground on which the vine has climbed is the familiar Ashe juniper, Juniperus ashei.

This photograph comes from the woods behind the Arboretum in northwest Austin during the same November 30th venture that brought you the pictures of flaming flameleaf sumacs in the last two posts.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2014 at 5:49 AM

And this was the upper

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Prairie Flameleaf Sumac Turning Colors 0235

That is, the upper of the two flameleaf sumacs that I mentioned photographing along the switchback path leading down through the park behind the Arboretum on November 30th. This view looks almost directly overhead.

There’s no need of a ruse, and no one rues photographing Rhus lanceolata, unless it’s that there aren’t more of them and that their colors don’t last even longer. This picture is from two weeks ago, and while large and wonderful displays like the one you’re looking at are gone till next fall, a few colorful flameleaf sumac leaves still survive here and there around Austin.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 15, 2014 at 5:20 AM

Just when I thought…

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Prairie Flameleaf Sumac Turning Colors 0304

… that I was done photographing flameleaf sumac for 2014, along came the afternoon of November 30th and I found myself at it again. How could I not, when intermittent sunshine lit up two Rhus lanceolata trees along consecutive bends in the switchback path leading down through the park behind the Arboretum? This was the lower of the two trees.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2014 at 5:32 AM

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