Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 2020

Wildflowers at the end of the year

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On December 29th I went over to the strip of land between Arboretum Drive and the Capital of Texas Highway to photograph some Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) that I figured would be there. And they were there. The sky was heavily overcast and the breeze didn’t stop blowing, but you do what you can with what you get. I set a shutter speed of 1/640 to contend with the wind, which actually blew some of the ray flowers into uncharacteristic positions that allowed for novel portraits. Because the light was low I used flash; that sometimes left the clouds looking unnaturally dark, which created the extra drama you see above. As time passed the sky remained overcast but turned lighter shades of gray, as shown in the picture below of a different Mexican hat flower head about half an hour after the first one.

Adjacent to the Mexican hats, most of the goldeneye bushes (Viguiera dentata)
had gone to seed but a few were also still pushing out new flowers:

And so this fatal year has reached its final day.
Are better times to come? It’s “yes” we hope to say.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 31, 2020 at 4:36 AM

More Texas red oak

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Among the last displays of colorful fall foliage in Austin each year is that of the Texas red oak, Quercus buckleyi, as seen here from Great Hills Park on December 15th. (The oaks are young and slender; the large trunks are from other kinds of trees.) Now it’s two weeks later and I’m still finding some red Texas red oak leaves, including a few in our back yard.

Sensorily and psychologically it seems that red is the most fundamental color, and it’s a truism of linguistics that the first color word a language creates is the one for red. The Indo-European language root representing the color red has been reconstructed as *reudh-, which is still recognizable thousands of years later in native English red and ruddy. Red-related words English has acquired directly or indirectly from Latin, which is a cousin of English, include rufous, rubeola, ruby, rubidium, rubicund, rubefacient, rubella, robust, rouge, roux, and russet. (If you’re puzzled about robust, it’s based on Latin rōbur, which designated a type of red oak tree; robust conveys the strength of that tree rather than its color.) From Greek, also a relative of English, comes the erythro– in technical terms like erythrocyte and erythromycin.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 30, 2020 at 4:39 AM

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Late-in-the-year scenes along Brushy Creek

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On December 17th we walked a section of Brushy Creek in far north Austin that was new to us. In the first picture you see how the slender leaves of a black willow tree (Salix nigra) had turned yellow and fallen onto the creek’s surface next to a colony of cattail plants (Typha domingensis), some fresh and others dried out. Nearby it was dead cattails that did the falling:

The image below shows dry goldenrod plants (Solidago sp.)
on the creek bank by dense tangles of vines and now-bare branches.

If you’re interested in the art and craft of photography, point 15 in About My Techniques pertains to all three of the pictures in today’s post. And if you’d like to go off on a bit of a maximalist tangent, you can check out Victorian interiors and certain modern décor.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2020 at 4:41 AM

Zipper

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Had I ever seen flanges on the young limbs of cedar elm trees (Ulmus crassifolia)? Sure, it’s a common feature. Had I ever seen a flanged cedar elm limb looking as much like a zipper as the one I encountered in Cedar Breaks Park on Lake Georgetown on December 8th? No, and that’s why I’m featuring it here. The red in the background came from the many little fruits of a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua).

Did you know that zipper was originally a trade name? You may want to zip over and read about the history of the word and the device itself.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2020 at 4:36 AM

Filling the frame on a sunny afternoon

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Here’s to expressing complexity explicitly: on the sunny but cool and breezy afternoon of December 3rd I made this fill-the-frame or more-is-more view showing a forest of bare stalks and dry cattails (Typha domingensis) at a pond along Kulmbacher Drive in far north Austin. The stalks might have been the remains of giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida), or perhaps of the slenderpod sesbania (Sesbania herbacea) you saw in pictures from the same pond last year.

And here’s a relevant quotation: “Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and begin to think multidimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience—to appreciate the fact that life is complex.” ― M. Scott Peck, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, 1993.

In searching the Internet for a quotation about complexity, I found this one often misquoted, with an extra to inserted, creating the phrase “…and to begin to think multidimensionally….” That’s wrong because it makes “to begin to think multidimensionally” a third thing we should abandon the urge to do, after the urge to simplify and the urge to look for formulas and easy answers. Somebody accidentally inserted the extra to, and since then many people on the internet have propagated the mistake.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2020 at 4:30 AM

Strangely somnolent squirrel

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During a walk in the already large and still expanding Sunfield subdivision in Buda on December 12th, the Lady Eve caught sight of a squirrel on a tree branch just a few feet above us and called my attention to it. Despite the barking of a nearby dog and my taking a bunch of pictures over a span of 11 minutes, said squirrel never budged from its perch. In fact its eyes closed for a few seconds at a time before reopening, as if sleep were calling in the middle of the day. If only all my live subjects were so docile or so in need of a nap.

I take this to have been a fox squirrel, Sciurus niger, which is common in central Texas (including right outside my window at home). The tree seems to have been a sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, which grows abundantly in east Texas and can occasionally be found in the wild as close as one county to the east of mine, but which some people plant in the Austin area.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2020 at 4:36 AM

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The holly and the ivy

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Ilex decidua is a native Texas holly known as possumhaw. Where many hollies have prickly leaves and are evergreen, this one has soft leaves that it sheds by the end of the year, as the species name decidua indicates. The falling off of the leaves makes it easier to see the tree’s bright red little fruits, of which there can be multitudes. The photograph above from Bell Mountain Blvd. on December 1st shows a stage at which the leaves had paled and were gradually falling off. Three weeks later we got curious about how this already colorful little group of possumhaws was coming along, so we went back. The second picture shows almost no leaves left, nor had birds or anything else reduced the dense red splendor.

As for the ivy in this post’s title, let me back up to November 15th and add an item to the bright autumn leaves series you’ve been seeing on and off here for weeks: it’s Toxicodendron radicans. You might say that when it comes to colorful small-scale fall foliage, nothing can touch poison ivy.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2020 at 4:34 AM

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Late takes on Clematis drummondii

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I didn’t expect to be photographing one of my favorite subjects so late in the year: Clematis drummondii, a vine known endearingly as old man’s beard. The last times I’d taken pictures of any were late July and early August. In the first week of December I noticed a fluffy colony on the west-side embankment of US 183 just south of Braker Lane, a corner I often drive past as I leave my neighborhood. After telling myself several times that I should check out the Clematis, I finally did on December 10th. The first picture gives you an overview of the colony. You’ll be forgiven if a first glance made you think you were seeing a black and white photograph.

The backlighting that made the colony stand out in the first photograph also served me in the second, a macro view in which you’re seeing a span of maybe 2 inches. In the third picture I took a softer and less contrasty approach. Don’t you love the chaos in the two close views?

And speaking of chaos, did you know that it gave rise to the new word gas? Here’s the explanation in The Online Etymology Dictionary:

1650s, from Dutch gas, probably from Greek khaos “empty space”… The sound of Dutch “g” is roughly equivalent to that of Greek “kh.” First used by Flemish chemist J.B. van Helmont (1577-1644), probably influenced by Paracelsus, who used khaos in an occult sense of “proper elements of spirits” or “ultra-rarified water,” which was van Helmont’s definition of gas.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2020 at 4:44 AM

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Texas has many things inimical to human skin

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On November 20th I worked my way into the median on E. Howard Lane to photograph some fruit-bearing possumhaws and yaupons (Ilex decidua and vomitoria, respectively). On a couple of the trees I noticed several furry little tan or grey bundles that I later learned aren’t bundles of joy, at least not where human skin is concerned. Fortunately I didn’t touch any of the critters, which bugguide.net has identified as Megalopyge opercularis, known as the southern flannel moth caterpillar, puss caterpillar, asp, and perrito (Spanish for ‘puppy’). The Bugguide entry for this species includes a cautionary note: “Occasionally, in outbreak years, puss caterpillars are sufficiently numerous to defoliate some trees…. However, their main importance is medical. In Texas, they have been so numerous in some years that schools in San Antonio in 1923 and Galveston in 1951 were closed temporarily because of stings to children….” You’re welcome to read a more recent account of envenomations.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 23, 2020 at 4:18 AM

Ambushed bushy bluestem

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On November 15th, while wandering through the field in Manor adorned with myriad fluffy seed heads of bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) and goldenrod (Solidago sp.) that you saw in a post last month, I spied something that looked unusual and that I couldn’t initially identify. After I got closer I could tell that a plant had gotten wrapped up, presumably by a spider, but in a way I hadn’t seen before. Then I noticed the green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) that must have done the deed. Eventually I realized that what the spider had wrapped up into a nest was a bushy bluestem seed head. Notice the spiderlings, of which there were plenty more than shown in this picture. You get a closer view of the green lynx in the following picture:

As relevant quotations for today, you can listen to Rudy Francisco reading his poem “Mercy,
which he indicates is after Nikki Giovanni’s “Allowables.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2020 at 4:22 AM

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