Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for February 2016

On schedule

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Texas Mountain Laurel Flowers 5497

It’s not unusual in Austin to see Texas mountain laurel, Sophora secundiflora, flowering in February. Take as proof the one I stopped to photograph in the prairie restoration at Austin’s former Mueller Airport on February 17th. The patches of light in this image keep making me think of a stained glass window.

Texas mountain laurel is always a harbinger of spring, but if these flowers make you leap for joy a little more than usual, it may be because 2016 is a leap year and February 29th its leap day*. By the way, it’s an unwarranted leap of faith to believe that every fourth year is a leap year. That’s mostly true, but century years whose first part isn’t exactly divisible by 4 are not leap years: 1900 wasn’t a leap year and 2100 won’t be either, because 19 and 21 aren’t exactly divisible by 4. In contrast, 2000 was a leap year because 20 is divisible by 4. The next century leap year will be 2400, but somehow I don’t think any of us will be here to leap up and welcome it in.

Oh well, we can still welcome Wordsworth’s little poem:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.


* And notice how I leaped** over the second occurrence of is in “2016 is a leap year and February 29th is its leap day.” Is is understood to repeat in the shortened version, and it doesn’t even depend on what the meaning of is is.

** American English generally leaps over the form leapt and lands on leaped.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 29, 2016 at 5:03 AM

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I wasn’t the only one attracted to algae

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Red Admiral Butterfly on Algae 5108

Click for greater clarity.

I’ve taken more photographs of algae in 2016 than in any previous year, but I wasn’t alone in my attraction when I launched into still another round of picture-taking on February 13th in Great Hills Park. There I found this red admiral butterfly, Vanessa atalanta, extracting minerals or other nutrients from water that was in contact with the algae.

In the two weeks since then, I’ve seen more red admiral butterflies than any other kind. In all weeks I see the “red” in the red admiral as distinctly orange.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 28, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Early huisache flowers

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Huiache Tree Flowering 5424

I photographed this huisache tree (Acacia farnesiana) at Shoal Creek Blvd. and Foster Ln. on February 16th, the earliest I think I’ve ever seen a huisache tree flowering.

The next time I passed this tree was February 25th, 9 days later, by which time I found the flowers already diminished and faded. In contrast, the huisache tree I know in my neighborhood a few miles away from this site hasn’t flowered at all. Perhaps it still will this year; perhaps it won’t.

The numbers mentioned above will certainly have reminded you that 3 squared + 4 squared = 5 squared. Today is February 27th and 27 = 3 cubed, yet there are no positive integers A, B, and C such that A cubed + B cubed = C cubed. We can easily conceive such a thing but the universe doesn’t allow it.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 27, 2016 at 5:08 AM

Abstract patterns in wood

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Bark Patterns 4508A

Click for significantly larger size.

Who would I be if after two posts of generally landscape-y pictures from the Red Trail in Bastrop State Park on February 10th I didn’t also highlight at least one of the abstract patterns I found on the surfaces of the dead trees? This was by far my favorite, and it soon reminded me of designs from the Art Nouveau movement in Europe in the late 1800s. No doubt similar patterns in nature inspired some of those designs.

The photographers among you might wonder if I converted this image to black and white to emphasize the patterns. I didn’t. This is a color photograph, and there are faint traces of brown mixed in with the predominant gray. Speaking of which, yesterday Steve Gingold suggested converting the first photograph in this Bastrop series to black and white. I took him up on that, and if you’d like to see the result, you can go back to that post and scroll down in the comments.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 26, 2016 at 4:58 AM

But not all was desolation

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Yaupon with Fruit by Burned Pines 4495

Much of what I saw along Bastrop State Park’s Red Trail on February 10th was dead, the remains of the great fire of 2011, but at the same time I saw many signs of life in the burned-out forest. The first photograph shows a fruiting yaupon tree, Ilex vomitoria, an evergreen relative of the possumhaw you’ve more often seen here.

In the second picture you can see that although some 90% of all the loblolly pine trees, Pinus taeda*, in the Lost Pines Forest were destroyed in 2011, new ones have kept springing up and providing patches of vibrant green amid the shades of brown and gray.

Pine Sapling Among Dead Trees 4576

Below is a closer look at that new growth. How about those long needles?

Loblolly Pine Sapling Detail 4585


* I’ve just learned that taeda was the Latin word for ‘a pitch-pine tree.’ By extension it could also mean (ominously, for Bastrop) ‘a pitch-pine torch.’

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 25, 2016 at 5:03 AM

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Burned Tree Remains in Bastrop State Park 4653

I hadn’t been out to Bastrop since June of 2015, so on February 10th I drove the almost 50 miles from where I live to make an early 2016 visit. Many of you will remember that most of the trees in Bastrop State Park and adjacent areas burned down in the horrendous Labor Day forest fire near the end of the drought in 2011. Not surprisingly, the landscape is still largely one of devastation. These scenes are from the park’s Red Trail, which I don’t believe I’d ever wandered along on any of my visits during the four decades I’ve lived in Austin. Notice in the second photograph how a portion of the trunk’s bark remains incongruously standing on its own.

Burned Tree Trunk Remains 4442

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 24, 2016 at 5:03 AM

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Toxomerus marginatus

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Toxomerus marginatus Bee Fly on Prairie Fleabane Daisy 4770

Toxomerus marginatus is the scientific name of this tiny bee fly that you see on the flower head of a prairie fleabane daisy, Erigeron modestus. When I say tiny, I mean tiny, at most a quarter of an inch (6mm).

Today’s double portrait is from February 11 at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 23, 2016 at 5:04 AM

Maximalist Monday

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Winter Tangle 3810

After I prepared this morning’s post, the twin spirits of yin~yang and alliteration descended upon me and I realized that I could just as well have given you a post called Maximalist Monday with a densely detailed photograph taken conveniently close to the one of the minimalist mustang grape vine. Now I have.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 22, 2016 at 10:39 AM

Minimalist Monday

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Mustang Grape Vine Looped 3946

Here to start off the week is a strangely and geometrically looped mustang grape vine (Vitis mustangensis) that I came across adjacent to the Mexican devilweed at Muir Lake in the town of Cedar Park on February 4th.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 22, 2016 at 5:03 AM

Mexican devilweed

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Mexican Devilweed 3841

Chloracantha spinosa (which used to be classified as Aster spinosus but is the only species in its current genus) has an off-putting common name: Mexican devilweed. Having seen this native plant only a few times, I was devilishly happy to come across one on February 4 at the edge of Muir Lake (dammed-up Buttercup Creek) in the town of Cedar Park, just a few minutes’ walk from the scene you saw in the previous post.

The little puffball seed heads tell you that this is another member of the sunflower family, like the silverpuff that recently appeared here. Leaves on this species tend to be tiny or absent, but the green (Greek chlor-) stems carry out photosynthesis. The linked source gives a bloom period of May–October, and closer to home Shinners and Mahler’s Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas says June-October, but here was Mexican devilweed flowering at the beginning of February. A rear guard? An advance guard? A freak? Take your pick.

If you’d like to see the places in the southwestern quadrant of the United States where Chloracantha spinosa grows, you can consult the USDA map.

So much for an informational picture. Now let’s get serious with this closer and more-abstract view of a devilweed flower head striving to open:

Mexican Devilweed Flower Head Opening 3864

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 21, 2016 at 5:03 AM

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