Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for September 2020

Dewdrops on yellow and red

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On the sunny morning of September 25th we walked around in and near southeast Austin’s Springfield (Neighborhood) Park for the first time in ages. We found that the recent cool-down of overnight temperatures had brought plenty of morning dew. The first picture shows a dewdrop-covered head of Helenium amarum var. amarum, known as yellow bitterweed. I was also happy to find the year of the Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) continuing, with some new flowers appearing even this late in the season:

And here’s a related quotation for today: “Manners are the happy ways of doing things…. If they are superficial, so are the dewdrops, which give such a depth to the morning meadow.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2020 at 4:38 AM

Gayfeather

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While driving along FM 2769 in far northwest Austin on September 15th I caught a glimpse of some telltale purple flowers spikes off to the side and quickly pulled over so I could walk back and take my first pictures for 2020 of Liatris punctata, known as gayfeather and blazing-star. (You recently saw L. elegans and L. aspera in Bastrop.) In this portrait I played up the linear leaves of another gayfeather plant close behind my subject.

As an accompanying quotation, here’s the ending of Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”:

   Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
   Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
   To me the meanest flower that blows* can give
   Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

* English has two unrelated verbs to blow. The common one means ‘to move or cause to move in a current of air.’ The other blow, now at best archaic and unknown to most people, is the one Wordsworth intended; it means ‘to bloom’ (in fact bloom and blossom are related to this blow as well as to Latin-derived words like floral, florid, flourish, Florida, and flower). I could have used both kinds of blow for the first goldenrod in yesterday’s post.

UPDATE: I just found out that full-blown comes from the archaic blow, which makes sense: full-blown is ‘fully flowered.’ Isn’t it funny how we can use a phrase for our whole life and never realize what it’s actually saying? I guess I’d always assumed the expression referred to an object like a balloon that someone had blown up to its maximum size.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2020 at 4:00 AM

Blowing in the wind, and not

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What I saw blowing in the wind along Pflugerville Parkway on September 19th was goldenrod (Solidago sp.). A couple of plants had already fully flowered on an undeveloped property but were close to the road and to some election billboards—illegally placed, of course—that made getting a decent background difficult. Thanks to my mat for letting me lie down in a briar patch to strain for good photographic angles. I’d had an easier time in Bastrop 13 days earlier when I photographed my first goldenrod flowers of the season:

The illegally placed election billboards I mentioned provide a lead-in to a thought for today. Suppose you’re trying to determine how prevalent a certain thing is in a given population. The science of statistics requires that you get a sample that’s random and also large enough to greatly reduce the likelihood of being unrepresentative (which occasionally happens just by chance, like being dealt a straight flush in poker). Unfortunately, many in the news media violate those principles by choosing to present only occurrences that support a certain ideology, while purposely not reporting occurrences, often much greater in number, that contradict that ideology.

Let’s concoct an example. Suppose I’m a member of the Green Eyes Party, and I claim that adults with green eyes are rich. I go out searching until I eventually find four wealthy people who happen to have green eyes, and I produce a lavish documentary about them. At the end I say: “See, it’s clear that adults with green eyes are wealthy.” In so doing, I violated the axioms of statistics—and fairness!—because I included only green-eyed adults who are rich; I didn’t include many of them; and I didn’t take into account the much larger number of green-eyed adults who aren’t rich.

So when you hear on the news or elsewhere that X is a common occurrence, or that there’s an “epidemic” of X, do your best to find out whether large-scale, properly gathered statistics show that X really is common. In unfortunately many cases you’ll discover that X is actually rare but seems common only because certain interests are heavily promoting it.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 28, 2020 at 4:34 AM

From river primrose to eryngo

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In the previous post I showed you the flowers of a native plant that was new to me, river primrose (Oenothera jamesii), bunches of which I found along the north fork of the San Gabriel River in Williamson County on September 16th. The yellow flowers are large, so you won’t be surprised to see, as you do above, that the plant’s buds are also sizable, maybe 4 inches long in this case. But what, you ask, is that rich purple in the background? It’s eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii), whose inflorescences some people liken to little purple pineapples, and others to thistles, given how spiny the plant is. Strangely, though, eryngo turns out to be in the same botanical family, Apiaceae, as parsley, dill, anise, cumin, and celery. Because I’ve teased you with eryngo as a background glow, I guess I’ll have to show you one in its own right.

In an unrelated fact for today, see if you can get your arms around the fact that embracery is a legal term meaning ‘an attempt to influence a court, jury, etc., corruptly, by promises, entreaties, money, entertainments, threats, or other improper inducements.’

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 27, 2020 at 4:34 AM

A new tall yellow

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On September 16th we drove the 25 miles or so to Tejas Camp in Williamson County. Walking along the edge of the great meadow there, we saw nary a flower of any kind, just the opposite of the way the field had looked in the late spring of 2016 when it was covered with wildflowers. Still we kept on. Things changed abruptly after we followed a side path over to the north fork of the San Gabriel River. The parts of the river bed without flowing water had become hospitable ground to many kinds of native plants. The most conspicuous, because some of them were taller than a person and had plenty of long-stemmed yellow flowers on them, was river primrose (Oenothera jamesii), which I don’t remember ever seeing before. Below is a close-up of one flower.

A view from the side is also worthwhile.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “Deliberate much before you speak or act, because you can’t call back what you’ve said or done.” — Epictetus, Fragments.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2020 at 4:31 AM

It’s snow-on-the-prairie time

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Went out onto the Blackland Prairie in Manor on September 19th.
Saw snow-on-the-prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) in several places.
Couldn’t decide which view to show, so am showing two.

If you’re interested in the art of photography, points 6 and 15 in About My Techniques are relevant.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2020 at 4:30 AM

Flowers along Bull Creek

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You’ve seen reflections and curious rocks from my foray in Bull Creek Regional Park on August 26th. Now for a floral touch. Above is a species I don’t often find and that has appeared here only twice before: autumn sneezeweed, Helenium autumnale. (You recently saw another Helenium species that I come across much more often.) Contrasting with that yellow were the buds and flowers of a nearby marsh fleabane, Pluchea odorata.

And here’s an unrelated thought for today: “Impossible things never happen. But improbable things happen a lot.” — Jordan Ellenburg in How Not to Be Wrong. Of those improbable occurrences, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has referred to the ones with great consequences as black swan events.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 24, 2020 at 4:15 AM

Paloverde parts

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From August 25th at Mopac and US 183, here are the ever cheery flowers of a paloverde tree (Parkinsonia aculeata). I also did a closeup of one of the tree’s drying pods.

Below is a minimalist view of a paloverde leaf whose curling tip had turned reddish.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today:
“Sensible people don’t grieve over what they don’t have but rejoice in what they do have.”
Epictetus, Fragments.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2020 at 4:41 AM

Non-linear mealy blue sage

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The stalks of mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea) are known to depart from straight lines.

These pictures from August 25th at the intersection of Mopac and US 183 confirm that.

The stalk in the third picture loops us around into a quaint little article called “Dangerous Amusement” that appeared in The Philadelphia Medical Journal on August 10, 1901:

“Loop-the-Loop” is the name of a new entertainment which goes further in the way of tempting Providence than anything yet invented. The “Loop” is an immense circle of track in the air. A car on a mimic railway shoots down a very steep incline, and is impelled around the inner side of this loop. Part of this journey, of course, is made “heads down,” the people in the car retaining their places by the great centrifugal force. The authorities at Coney Island are said to have prohibited “looping-the-loop” because women break their corset strings in their efforts to catch their breath as they sweep down the incline, and moreover, a young man is reported to have ruptured a blood vessel in his liver. We predict other accidents from this contrivance yet. No person with a weak heart or bad arteries should try it.

Loop the Loop opened in 1901 and was discontinued in 1910.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2020 at 4:08 AM

A predilection to turn red

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The leaves of smartweed plants (Polygonum sp.) tend to turn yellow and red. On August 25th I positioned myself with the sun in front of me so that its light would transluce this smartweed leaf and saturate the red. Cameras don’t like looking into the sun—which is to say photographers generally don’t like it—because the light bouncing around off the lens elements can create unwanted artifacts. That’s how there came to be orbs at the top of this picture. Technically it’s a defect, and I could easily remove it, but you may find it’s a smart look for a smartweed leaf. The plant’s stems also noticeably have red in them:

The answer to yesterday’s question asking which independent country has the lowest population density is Mongolia, with only about 2 people per square mile. Eliza Waters quickly came up with the right answer, and Peter Klopp soon followed.

When we look at a globe of the world, we’re accustomed to seeing countries represented in proportion to their areas. For a change, you may want to check out a map that represents countries according to their populations (click the map there to enlarge it). You’ll notice some countries appear smaller or even much smaller than you’re used to seeing them (e.g. Canada, Mongolia, Australia, Ireland, Russia, Algeria, Saudi Arabia), and others larger (e.g. Nigeria, India, the Philippines, Japan, Bangla Desh).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2020 at 3:51 AM

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