Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Green triangularity times two

with 40 comments

At least twice in the past month I’ve photographed plants that I noticed growing in the approximate shape of a triangle (at least as a two-dimensional photograph renders them). The first came on August 24th, when a mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis, that had covered the broken remains of a dead tree caught my fancy at Parmer Lane and Blue Bluff Rd. south of Manor. A greenbrier vine, Smilax bona-nox, had also climbed onto the mound; that accounts for the yellow-orange leaves near the photograph’s bottom edge.

I photographed the other green triangle on September 7th at the base of a cliff along Bull Creek near Spicewood Springs Rd. Even during a drought the rocks still seeped enough water to support some southern maidenhair ferns, Adiantum capillus-veneris. I don’t know what the mixed-in plant species are.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2019 at 4:43 AM

40 Responses

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  1. What an interesting shape


    September 18, 2019 at 4:57 AM

  2. Beautiful, Steve. I especially love the fern photo.

    Lavinia Ross

    September 18, 2019 at 7:51 AM

    • I’ve gone to that stretch of Bull Creek many times and can count on finding at least some ferns there. In contrast, the other area is out in the open on the prairie and much of it has unfortunately been getting turned into a subdivision for the past two years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2019 at 7:59 AM

  3. Geometric patterns are everywhere. One just needs to train one’s eyes to see triangularity, squareness, and polygons in great numbers. Great find, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    September 18, 2019 at 9:52 AM

    • Either I’ve been well trained or I’m naturally attuned to mathematical patterns, or both. Having taught math on and off for decades most likely has something to do with it, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2019 at 12:25 PM

  4. Even though the shapes are similar, it seems they were built differently: the grape vines working their way upward, and the ferns falling downward with the water seeps.

    The ability of the maidenhair fern to cling to such an apparently hostile environment always intrigues me.
    The way these are framed by the rock is especially pleasing. The white rock looks more like the inside of a chert nodule than limestone; whatever it is, the contrast with the ferns is lovely.


    September 18, 2019 at 6:54 PM

    • Grape vines clearly work their way upward. I don’t have enough experience with maidenhair ferns to know whether the ones shown here started at the top and worked down, as you suspect, or went the other way. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’d ever seen a triangular formation of maidenhair ferns before this one. I just did a quick look-back at all the pictures I’ve posted of the species and, sure enough, no other configuration was triangular or even close to it.

      Speaking of apparently hostile environments, I’ve often found plants of various kinds growing in difficult or even seemingly impossible places. I know you have too.

      The rocky cliffs along this stretch of Bull Creek are intriguing, both as backdrops for plants and in their own right in places where no plants grow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 18, 2019 at 9:09 PM

  5. I think the human eye is attracted by and seeks patterns in nature. Recognizing them likely provided us with some evolutionary advantage at some point, and now we simply enjoy their aesthetics. 🔺


    September 18, 2019 at 9:19 PM

    • Ah, the evolutionary take on this. Speaking of patterns, counting down from octagon, heptagon, hexagon, and pentagon, we’d expect the next two to be tetragon and trigon. In fact those Greek-derived words exist in English but got largely bumped by the longer Latin-derived quadrilateral and triangle.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 19, 2019 at 2:18 AM

      • I like tetragon, but I never liked anything to do with trigon, especially trigonometry. But we had already established that fact.


        September 20, 2019 at 4:37 PM

        • But now you’ve learned something that your math teacher may never have told you: trigonometry originated as the study of trigons, which is to say triangles. When I used to teach trigonometry, at the beginning of the first class I’d ask students what trigonometry is, and when no one could tell me, I’d have fun by asking: “You mean you don’t know what trigonometry is but you signed up for a whole course about it?” Of course then I’d go on to explain the word, including the fact that the gon part is historically the same word as English knee: a trigon has three “knees” (i.e. angles).

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 20, 2019 at 4:48 PM

          • I don’t remember that my math teacher(s) ever tried to explain anything that made sense to me, or to reach me at a level where I could connect. As words and their meanings have fascinated me for a long time, etymology might have been one angle to get to my non-mathematical brain.


            September 20, 2019 at 5:19 PM

  6. Trigons inside tetragons; very nice ring to it. In the first photo, the tip of the trigon looks like the hand of someone trying to escape from the entanglement of vines.


    September 19, 2019 at 6:18 AM

    • A nice ring indeed. And if we take “ring” to mean “circle” we’ve got an “infinigon” because a circle can be conceived as a polygon with an infinite number of infinitesimally small sides.

      Does your vision of a hand trying to escape imply a fondness for gothic fiction? I’m reminded of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 19, 2019 at 8:12 AM

  7. Isn’t it funny how we get attracted to something like a shape or color and suddenly we see it everywhere? Although as a former math teacher, the simplicity of the lines would have appeal anyhow.

    Great pictures. I enjoyed the foliage!



    September 19, 2019 at 7:54 PM

    • As you point out, when we’re attuned to something we’re more likely to notice its occurrence. That’s one argument for a good general education in elementary and secondary school. I just read The Knowledge Gap, which documents how little knowledge American schools have imparted to students over the past several decades.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 19, 2019 at 8:37 PM

      • I see it with the newbies in the workplace. You’d think to get an accounting degree they could write a letter with some organization and a point to it, check spelling and grammar. But nope. That’s one of the skills I’ve had to teach them all (even some older co-workers!).


        September 19, 2019 at 8:41 PM

        • In my local Trader Joe’s yesterday I had to point out to management that the .99¢ price on the sign advertising an item meant they were selling it for a penny. No matter how many times I’ve drawn that mistake to their attention, it has kept happening for the three years the store has been open. Of course it’s not just Trader Joe’s: people in many stores make the same mistake. Even worse is that when I’ve pointed the mistake out to employees and explained it, they often still don’t understand what’s wrong.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 19, 2019 at 9:02 PM

  8. Nice observation of the various shapes that repeat in Nature.

    Steve Gingold

    September 23, 2019 at 3:41 AM

  9. Is greenbrier a ‘desirable’ plant? I got the impression that Okies do not like it. I am not sure I like it either, but I got seed.


    September 24, 2019 at 11:52 PM

    • If we’re talking about the same plant, Smilax bona-nox, I’m pretty sure most people don’t like it:


      Steve Schwartzman

      September 25, 2019 at 5:27 AM

      • Oh my! What I found was not that nasty! I did not confirm the identity of it, but took seed anyway. I probably would not have done so if it looked like this.


        September 26, 2019 at 11:55 PM

        • It’s hard for me to imagine anyone would plant a thorny vine like greenbrier. It has scratched me every so often over the years.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 27, 2019 at 3:53 AM

          • Heck, while working on a ‘habitat restoration’ project in the middle of San Jose, I needed to procure poison oak because some so-called ‘landscape designer’ prescribed it. (By the way, poison oak was not originally very common in that region.) What was even weirder was that there is a nursery that was happy to supply it. What is weirder than weirder was that they had the variety that was specific to that region of the Santa Clara Valley.


            September 29, 2019 at 9:30 AM

            • What you say is surprising. I’d never have expected nurseries to trade in such noxious species.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 29, 2019 at 11:02 AM

              • I found it to be pretty disturbing. Poison oak is not at all endangered or rare. If it is intended to live in the riparian zone of the Guadalupe River, it will do so without any help. So-called ‘environmentalists’ are just so unreasonable with their demands. No real horticulturists or ecologists were consulted for these projects.


                September 30, 2019 at 12:28 AM

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