Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Another of autumn’s big four

with 39 comments

I tend to think that when autumn comes to central Texas we have a botanical “big four” here. I could even split them into two groups of two according to color: yellow Maximilian sunflowers and goldenrod, plus white snow-on-the-prairie (or -mountain) and poverty weed. It’s the last of those, Baccharis neglecta, that you see above in a September 30th photograph from Pflugerville. (The small yellow fruits in the foreground are silverleaf nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium.) The zillions of little white flower heads that from a distance make this delicate tree seem frosted are quite an insect magnet, as you see in the closeup below showing a hoverfly (Toxomerus sp.) and a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata).

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today. “For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 13, 2020 at 4:23 AM

39 Responses

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  1. I was entranced by the exquisite insects in the second photo, especially the ‘spotted cucumber beetle’ 🙂

    Ms. Liz

    October 13, 2020 at 4:37 AM

    • Both of those insects are common in Austin, though I don’t believe I’ve ever photographed the two together.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 7:04 AM

  2. Most local places where I’ve found silverleaf nightshade in the past have been mowed down: no doubt a part of tidying-up efforts post-flooding, as well general management. I miss seeing them, but it looks like we’re going to have a bumper crop of Baccharis ourselves. We also have B. hamifolia as well as B. neglecta. We talked about them in the past, and I resolved to learn to identify each of them. I still can’t distinguish them with certainty, so it’s time to get busy.

    I often see cucumber beetles on flowers like firewheel, but I can’t remember seeing one on a shrub like this. Despite being such a major crop pest, they certainly are cute. Lucky you, to have the beetle and the hoverfly so close to one another.

    shoreacres

    October 13, 2020 at 5:33 AM

    • Lewis’s words — “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts” — reminded me of variations of the line: “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting.” Yeats usually gets the credit, but the Quote Investigator untangles the source nicely.

      shoreacres

      October 13, 2020 at 6:20 AM

      • To my mind, the mind needs both. The dominant approach to schooling in the United States in recent decades has given short shrift to knowledge in favor of the supposed panacea called “critical thinking skills.” It’s hard to form an opinion about X if you don’t know much about X.

        Steve Schwartzman

        October 13, 2020 at 7:30 AM

        • I’ve not noticed lack of knowledge about ‘X’ stopping many people.

          shoreacres

          October 13, 2020 at 7:33 AM

          • All too true! When’s the last time you heard someone say: “Sorry, I don’t know enough about that to have an opinion”?

            Steve Schwartzman

            October 13, 2020 at 7:45 AM

    • I remember talking about those two Baccharis species. The drawings on p. 323 in Shinners and Mahler’s shows a difference in leaf shapes between Baccharis neglecta and Baccharis halimifolia. To further complicate things, there’s a third species, Baccharis texana. Bill Carr says it’s rare in Travis County, and he describes a place where it was found in 2002; unfortunately that place has been undergoing lots of development recently. Over by you, Matagorda County is marked for Baccharis texana. I mentioned in my reply to Ms. Liz that I don’t recall ever photographing a hoverfly and a cucumber beetle together.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 7:16 AM

    • By the way, silverleaf nightshade is so widespread in Austin that even mowers can’t make it uncommon.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 7:53 AM

  3. I will have to look more closely and see if there’s hoverflies around, since I’m very wary of being stung, I think I’ve probably glanced at them, and shied away thinking they were wasps or bees of some sort. I was just reading about them a bit, and see that they’re harmless mimics. Is it unusual to have a predator that is also a pollinator?
    The quotation is also interesting to me, a bit complex and not sure I entirely understand it, but I do think that trying to avoid reading about, and debating, difficult and complicated concepts leaves people accustomed to simplistic thinking, and then easy prey for propagandists.

    Robert Parker

    October 13, 2020 at 5:34 AM

    • In answer to your question I found this: “A wasp’s diet varies between species. In most instances, wasps feed their larvae bits of insects that they have killed and chopped up, but the adults feed on sugars from nectar, aphid honeydew or a sugary liquid produced by their larvae.” I cite that because I’ve often seen wasps on certain kinds of flowering plants, presumably gathering nectar, and in so doing acting as pollinators. Here’s an example from this time of year:

      https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/wasp-on-the-mountain/

      As for the C.S. Lewis quotation, a seven-paragraph synopsis of the short book it’s from is available at

      https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-abolition-of-man/summary

      I’m currently working my way through the original, which I don’t always follow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 7:42 AM

    • By the way, the hoverfly shown here is pretty small, and it often hovers quite a while before landing. Because of those two characteristics, you wouldn’t mistake it for a bee.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 7:50 AM

  4. That picture with the insects is a PERFCT shot, Steve!

    Pit

    October 13, 2020 at 8:53 AM

    • Thanks for your encomium. I was glad I could “populate” the closeup with a pollinating pair.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 9:06 AM

  5. Having spent one-third of my life in the classroom, I whole-heartedly agree with the quote, especially with the phrase: The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.

    Peter Klopp

    October 13, 2020 at 10:21 AM

    • Then happy irrigation to you, from one long-time teacher to another. I see that the German word is Bewässerung, which would come into native English as bewatering.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 1:02 PM

  6. What a wonderful tree that is. I like the abundance of the first photo and I appreciate seeing the closeup of the flowers with those handsome insects posing for you like fashion models. The quote is one that I hope most early childhood educators are exposed to.

    bluebrightly

    October 13, 2020 at 11:48 AM

    • The flowers sure are abundant on poverty weed now, and I look forward to them every year at this time.
      I’m glad you like the C.S. Lewis quotation, which was new to me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 1:05 PM

  7. Beautiful photos! I was in the Round Rock/Pflugerville area just recently and admired a field full of these beauties. In a mass, they’re frothy and fluffy. I find the soft color soothing, as well.

    Tina

    October 13, 2020 at 5:41 PM

    • Thanks. Yes, those frothy and fluffy masses are great to see at this time of year. I think you saw them at their peak, judging from the ones I’ve noticed as I’ve driven around in recent days.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 13, 2020 at 5:52 PM

  8. The insects are wonderful!

    Do you any type (s) of Willows there? Ours are changing colors now and are lovely.

    circadianreflections

    October 13, 2020 at 10:45 PM

    • Yes, we have the black willow, Salix nigra, which is quite common here at the edges of ponds and creeks. In the fall its leaves can turn yellowish, but not normally a bright enough shade to attract attention.
      Both of the insects shown here are also common.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 14, 2020 at 1:19 AM

  9. Your zillions of white flower heads are beautifully highlighted by your cornflower Texas sky.

    tanjabrittonwriter

    October 14, 2020 at 1:55 PM

  10. Do you know why it’s called povertyweed? Also, I was disappointed to find I couldn’t enlarge your closeup with a click or two. Still, cornflowers will always be wonderful.

    krikitarts

    October 15, 2020 at 1:50 AM

    • If I tell you that other names for poverty weed were Roosevelt weed and Depression weed, you may guess the reason for the names. During the Dust Bowl days, after many farms failed, this plant apparently had a propensity for springing up in large numbers on those abandoned properties. The picture at https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/interpenetrating-colonies/ gives you a sense of how prolific it can be.

      The new WordPress editor’s default is for inserted photographs not to be clickable. As the second picture in this post is already full-size, or something close to that, I didn’t change the default.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 15, 2020 at 2:23 AM

      • Are you using the new block editor regularly now, and are you happy with it? It seems not at all user-friendly to me, and I’m really resisting the switch.

        krikitarts

        October 16, 2020 at 9:18 PM

        • I used it some for a while so I could try to figure it out. Mostly I’m still using the old editor.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 17, 2020 at 3:37 AM

  11. […] I recently referred to the “big four” native plants that are prominent in central Texas in the fall. The number is arbitrary, and even when I said four I was thinking that I could well add asters as a fifth. With that in mind, here’s a picture of one of our native asters, Symphyotrichum subulatum, known colloquially as eastern annual saltmarsh aster, baby’s breath aster, slender aster, annual aster, and blackland aster. Some in Texas call it hierba del marrano (hierba is pronounced the same as its alternate spelling yerba); translated loosely, the Spanish name means pigweed, but I think most people find the flowers as attractive as pigs are alleged to do. Notice the endearing way the tips of the ray florets curl under. […]

  12. ‘Big Four’ here refers to the trees that reliably develop good color in the locally mild autumn weather; sweetgum, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and ginkgo, (which is more information than you needed).

    tonytomeo

    October 18, 2020 at 7:55 PM

    • In this case, “big four” was a term I created ad hoc, rather than a phrase that’s in general usage. From what you say, the same term in your area has an established meaning. Chinese pistache has been planted a fair amount in Austin, and I have to be careful late in the year to distinguish it from our local native sumacs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 18, 2020 at 9:50 PM


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