Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 2015

20 days later

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Three-Leaf Sumac Turning Colors by Cedar Elm and Yaupon 0992

In the previous post you saw some three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata) turning colors in the shelter of a sotol in the Chisos Basin of Big Bend National Park. Twenty days later, on December 13, after an overnight rain I walked through Great Hills Park in my Austin neighborhood and saw another three-leaf sumac turning bright colors. It was sheltered, too, but this time beneath two kinds of trees, cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia) and yaupon (Ilex vomitoria). Yaupons aren’t deciduous, and that’s why you see so many green leaves here.

The fact that everything was still wet or at least damp caused colors to appear more saturated than during drier times, including the next day, when I returned and found that the lichen on the tree trunks had already lost the pale green cast that I couldn’t help noticing when I took this picture.

If you’ve wondered why I’ve posted some (or even all) of the fall foliage photographs that I have, I ask your forbearance. In cold climates many of these pictures wouldn’t show anything special, given the great autumn displays that deciduous trees regularly put on up there. Down here in warm Texas, however, fall foliage is limited, and my purpose is to make people appreciate what little of it we do have in this part of the country.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2015 at 5:28 AM

Sheltered colors

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Colorful Rhus triloba in Shelter of Sotol 0295

Several times during the Trans-Pecos visit I noticed Rhus trilobata, known as skunkbush and three-leaf sumac, which also grows in Austin. Like other Rhus species, three-leaf sumac has compound leaves that tend to turn colors in the fall. That’s what you see happening to this sapling in the shelter of some sotols, Dasylirion spp., in the Chisos Basin at Big Bend National Park on November 23.

A lot is going on in this little scene aside from the emergence of the prominent red in the sumac. Notice how the sotol’s fresh leaves contrast in color and linearity with its tan ones. Less conspicuously, note that what was once a sotol flower stalk now lies fallen and gray on the ground in the lower left corner of the photograph. And then there are those scraggly dead branches of some other plant reaching in from the opposite corner.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Not all stalks so tall are sotol

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Agave with Seed Stalk by Rock Outcropping 9207

After showing you a so-tall sotol, I thought I should show you another tall-stalked plant that grows in the Chihuahuan Desert, the agave, also known as the century plant. Several species of Agave grow in the area but I don’t know which one this is.

In the foreground, notice the so-called cow’s tongue prickly pear, a variety that was found a little over a century ago near San Antonio and has been cultivated in other places since then. People also plant agaves in many locations outside their natural range; that’s the case in Austin, for example, where they’re a common sight.

Today’s photograph comes once again from the grounds of old Fort Davis on November 20.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2015 at 5:16 AM

Berlandiera lyrata

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Chocolate Daisy Flower Head 9278

In the collection Chantefables et chantefleurs (Sing-fables and Sing-flowers) the 20th-century French poet Robert Desnos included “La Fourmi” (“The Ant”):

Une fourmi de dix-huit mètres
Avec un chapeau sur la tête,
Ça n’existe pas, ça n’existe pas.
Une fourmi traînant un char
Plein de pingouins et de canards,
Ça n’existe pas, ça n’existe pas.
Une fourmi parlant français,
Parlant latin et javanais,
Ça n’existe pas, ça n’existe pas.
Eh ! Pourquoi pas ?

An ant 59 feet long
With a hat on its head:
That doesn’t exist, that doesn’t exist.
An ant pulling a float
Full of penguins and ducks:
That doesn’t exist, that doesn’t exist.
An ant that speaks French,
That speaks Latin and Javanese:
That doesn’t exist, that doesn’t exist.
Hey! Why not?

In that spirit, I’m tempted to ask: A flower that smells like chocolate and grows in the desert? Hey! Why not? Why not indeed, when Berlandiera lyrata, known as chocolate daisy, fits the bill. I found this one on the grounds of old Fort Davis on November 20.

DID YOU KNOW?  Vanilla and chocolate, which serve as the two most popular flavors of ice cream, both originated in Mexico.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2015 at 5:30 AM

Alligators in arid Trans-Pecos Texas?

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Alligator Juniper 9649

Okay, not real alligators, but alligator junipers, Juniperus deppeana, whose rough and patchy bark reminded people—probably people who came from the bayou country in far east Texas—of the skins of those reptiles. I photographed some of those atypically barked junipers on November 20th along TX 118 in the mountains northwest of Fort Davis. The picture below even gives the alligator an eye (and also puts an end, I think, I hope, to the recent spate of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images).

Alligator Juniper Trunk Detail 9653

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 17, 2015 at 5:39 AM

Home away from home

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Goldeneye Flowering in Fort Davis 9457

Although 400 miles west of home in the Trans-Pecos, I noticed a few old friends that also grow natively in Austin. Pecan and cottonwood and mesquite trees were among them, and so was Viguiera dentata, a bush known as goldeneye or sunflower goldeneye. Here you see one flowering on the grounds of the old Fort Davis on November 20. Thanks to Prof. Michael Powell of Sul Ross State University for confirming the identification.

Before leaving Austin for west Texas I’d noticed a few flowers on several goldeneye bushes in my Great Hills neighborhood, but nothing to write home (i.e. to you) about. Within a couple of weeks of my return, though, I found that some of the goldeneyes in northwest Austin were putting on a good show. Below is an example of one from Arboretum Blvd. late on the afternoon of December 4.

Goldeneye Densely Flowering 0660

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2015 at 4:40 AM

A live yucca

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Yucca Gone to Seed with Wispy Clouds 9872

After yesterday’s downward-looking view at the earthbound remains of a yucca that seemed to me to be a headless porcupine, I thought I should show you an upward-looking view of a tall yucca from November 22 in the western portion of Big Bend National Park. It may be a Faxon yucca, Yucca faxoniana, which one of my books says can grow to 9m (29 ft.).

If you haven’t gotten enough of the imagining game, you’re invited to check out the pair of wispily masked baby-blue eyes in the sky peering down over a likewise wispy nose.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 15, 2015 at 4:52 AM

Another thing that looked to me like a headless animal

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Yucca Stump Remains 0507

This time I saw a headless porcupine but it’s actually the dried-out remains of the lower part of a yucca plant—a common sight in the Chihuahuan Desert. The depression at the left is the place from which the plant’s tall stalk once emerged.

I took this picture on the west side of US 385 inside Big Bend National Park on November 23rd.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2015 at 5:20 AM

A would-be desert denizen

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Big Bend Mound Like a Headless Camel 9891

This mound in the western part of Big Bend National Park attracted me when I drove by on November 22nd because it looked like a camel that had knelt on the desert sand. All that was missing was a snout.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 13, 2015 at 5:33 AM

Arrowleaf mallow

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Arrowleaf Mallow Flower 9384

On the grounds of old Fort Davis on November 20 I found this little wildflower. Thanks to Prof. Michael Powell of Sul Ross State University in Alpine for confirming that it’s an arrowleaf mallow, Malvella sagittifolia. Below is a view at a different angle of a second specimen I found nearby.

Arrowleaf Mallow Flower 9390

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 12, 2015 at 4:37 AM

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