Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Tansy mustard buds opening

with 51 comments

From Gonzales on March 19, here are the opening buds of tansy mustard, Descurainia pinnata. What you’re seeing wasn’t much more than an inch across. The red in the background came from phlox flowers.

And here’s a passage from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty that’s every bit as germane today as it was in 1859, and probably even more so:

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly*, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.

* Mill is using vulgar in its original meaning, which referred to ‘the common folk, the populace.’ The word later developed the pejorative sense that now dominates.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2021 at 4:40 AM

51 Responses

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  1. Beautiful


    March 29, 2021 at 4:52 AM

  2. 1859? Could have been written yesterday! I always enjoy your photos Steve, but do keep these quotes coming as well. I am feeling very much as an individual not in harmony with society right now. 😃


    March 29, 2021 at 4:57 AM

    • Some people might think 1859 is a typo for 1959, but 2019 is closer to the mark. What’s going on now terrifies and depresses me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2021 at 5:26 AM

      • Yes, I can now imagine how it felt for many people here in the 1930s and 1940s.


        March 29, 2021 at 4:56 PM

  3. It seems really bad at the moment – the news is scary.

    Ann Mackay

    March 29, 2021 at 5:33 AM

    • As prescient as John Stuart Mill was, he couldn’t anticipate the way modern mass media would facilitate suppression.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2021 at 5:37 AM

      • True – but the lone voices must try to use the mass media too (e.g. Twitter). It’s a struggle, but voices can be heard. Unfortunately, the suppressors are too often heavily armed.

        Ann Mackay

        March 29, 2021 at 5:41 AM

        • The rejoinder had been, “Well, if you don’t like Twitter’s policies, go start up a competitor of your own.” So a bunch of people did start their own competitor, and then after it had become popular, Apple and Google within hours of each other stopped letting users put it on their phones. Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller, has begun banning books that dare to question the latest orthodoxies—but for $22.49 you can still buy a copy of Mein Kampf there (I just checked). Things took such a radical turn last year that even though this is a nature photography blog, and nature offers solace from the craziness, I felt I had to start saying something, however tiny my little corner of the Internet is. Have we so soon forgotten how the tyrannies of the 20th century got started, and the immense harm they did? As Santayana said (and as I quoted him last July 28), “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          March 29, 2021 at 6:09 AM

          • That’s truly disturbing. There shouldn’t be so much power in the hands of these big companies. But it’s good that you are using your voice!

            Ann Mackay

            March 30, 2021 at 5:17 AM

            • It certainly disturbs me, and I’ve taken some comfort in finding out that it disturbs other people here too. The big question is what to do that stands a real chance of stopping the growing assaults on reason, reality, and free expression.

              Steve Schwartzman

              March 30, 2021 at 6:11 AM

  4. Somewhat ironically, your photo today provides a reminder of how difficult it can be to recognize and change firmly held beliefs — even when they’re not true.

    I’ve assumed for at least three years that mustard was an invasive plant. I suspect I’ve been confusing it with the dreaded Rapistrum rugosum. Now, I’m going to have to examine the evidence: all those plants growing along the highways in assorted local counties. I don’t have a clue whether I’ve been seeing mustard or ‘bastard cabbage’ — or both. It’s even more confusing that some mustards (like Brassica nigra in California) are invasive, and online articles often refer to them only as ‘mustard.’


    March 29, 2021 at 6:50 AM

    • Part of the confusion comes from the fact that Brassicaceae, the botanical family that includes cabbage and various types of mustards, is often called “the mustard family.” If you look at a picture of a tansy mustard plant, for example https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/flower/tansy-mustard#lboxg-5, you’ll see it grows tall and rather slender; you wouldn’t confuse it with the invasive Rapistrum rugosum, called both wild mustard and bastard cabbage, that’s flowering along many of our highways now.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2021 at 7:53 AM

  5. Always welcome


    March 29, 2021 at 7:50 AM

  6. Thanks for the beautiful photo and another excellent quotation.


    March 29, 2021 at 8:07 AM

  7. Excellent quote and timely, too. Gorgeous photo. Tansy mustard would be a good name for a rock band.


    March 29, 2021 at 8:14 AM

    • I leave it to you to start up the Tansy Mustard rock band. You and the other members could dye your hair yellow and style it to resemble the inflorescence in this picture. I’ll take free publicity pictures of you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2021 at 8:29 AM

  8. I like the reddish-orange background you have chosen or perhaps created for these lovely flowers very much.

    Peter Klopp

    March 29, 2021 at 9:24 AM

  9. And yet those in the majority desperate to hold their power cry about the tyranny of the minority and how it forces them to cater to the whims of a few selfish people. For being a “majority”, which you think would hold a good sampling of the population, their world is very small and limited.


    March 29, 2021 at 11:08 AM

    • And the tansy is precious. We are just beginning to bloom here in Western PA.


      March 29, 2021 at 11:09 AM

      • Not surprisingly for a state this much farther south than Pennsylvania, some locations in Texas are beginning to look pretty floral. After the horrendous freeze here in mid-February, we’re not as far ahead of you as usual.

        Steve Schwartzman

        March 29, 2021 at 5:41 PM

    • I often find it hard to know who the majority is. Peo[;e who are in the majority on one issue may be in the minority on another. That’s why it’s so important not to suppress anyone’s opinion. Too many people in the media are reflexively labeling statements “disinformation” just because they disagree with those statements, without regard for the truth or possible truth of the assertions. Let everyone be heard, and let the evidence lead to the truth.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2021 at 5:48 PM

  10. 👍🏻


    March 29, 2021 at 12:17 PM

  11. Very contemporary quote. I often do not say much that could be perceived as political, but it seems as though a lot of things have become politicized, so it gets harder and harder to tip-toe and walk on eggshells around people. It is exhausting. The last year’s pandemic made it much worse, because lots of people were stuck at home and doubled on social media use. Nice photo. The fields here are covered with mustard.

    Alessandra Chaves

    March 29, 2021 at 3:33 PM

    • I’m no longer working at a job, so I sympathize with you about having to walk on eggshells for fear of losing your position. I’m worried, though, that if people are intimidated into silence, the orthodoxy and oppression will only get worse. They say there’s strength in unity, so if you’re aware of other people who feel the way you do, perhaps you could speak up together. You could lodge an official complaint about a hostile work environment—again, better if several employees could do so together—or even go further step of filing a lawsuit. I realize that’s expecting a lot.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2021 at 5:55 PM

    • I just came across an article about the need for solidarity against ideological oppression:

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 31, 2021 at 7:22 AM

    • And here’s something else you may appreciate: https://podcasts.apple.com/ch/podcast/bari-weiss-on-state-media-cancel-culture-anti-semitism/id1532976305?i=1000506170962&l=en

      It’s a conversation between Megyn Kelly and Bari Weiss from January 21. Bari Weiss, who is a liberal, worked at the New York Times but finally resigned after pressure from young people on the staff who are part of the cancel culture.

      At the linked page, you can click Play beneath the photograph at the upper left, or you can click the box that says “Listen on Apple Podcasts.”

      There are a couple of commercials but you can skip through them by clicking the little circle with a 30 in it, which will advance you 30 seconds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 3, 2021 at 5:55 PM

      • That was very good. It’s very sad 😞 …

        Alessandra Chaves

        April 4, 2021 at 12:23 PM

        • I appreciate you taking the time to listen. I, too, found it very sad. This is far from the country I grew up in. Toward the end of the conversation Bari Weiss expressed more optimism than I’ve been able to muster.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 4, 2021 at 1:27 PM

          • Thanks for pointing the podcast out to me. I have a son in his 20s and I worry about him not having some things I did have, freedom of speech and freedom to have a sense of humor. He is fully aware of what he does not have. Little can be said and nothing is funny anymore, but I did hear the message of hope. Hopefully the young people will be courageous enough to make a better world for themselves, but also they are those who’ve got the most to lose… tough times.

            Alessandra Chaves

            April 4, 2021 at 1:47 PM

  12. You have given a large voice to such a tiny flower! It is a beautiful, radiant and joyful composition.

    Lavinia Ross

    March 29, 2021 at 7:47 PM

    • I like the way you put that: giving a large voice to such a tiny flower. Call it floral amplification. I’m pleased you see the picture as joyful.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 29, 2021 at 9:05 PM

  13. A veritable floral fireworks display.


    March 29, 2021 at 8:52 PM

  14. Terrific capture, Steve.

    Jane Lurie

    March 29, 2021 at 11:49 PM

  15. nice idea☻♥


    March 30, 2021 at 1:08 AM

  16. That’s a pretty impressive spray for just one inch.

    Steve Gingold

    April 8, 2021 at 5:56 PM

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