Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A visit to Bastrop

with 23 comments

On March 26th we visited Bastrop State Park for the first time since last fall. Almost 10 years ago a disastrous fire destroyed the majority of trees in the park, and the landscape is still full of burned dead trunks, both standing and fallen. The charred pine trunk in the photograph above was on the ground. I don’t know why the resin in the upper part of the picture picked up so much blue.

In contrast to that log, take this opening flower of plains wild indigo, Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea, a species that makes its debut here today.

If you’re wondering what a full inflorescence looks like, the last picture will show you,
complete with the kind of insect that I assume was eating the flowers.

Four posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and the next and the next and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another example.

Every person has a birthday. A year consists of 365 days—or 366 if you want to count February 29, which occurs only about a fourth as often as other days, thanks to leap year—so there are 365 or 366 possible birthdays. You’re naturally curious, and you get to wondering about groups of people, and how likely or unlikely it is that at least two people in a group have the same birthday (the day, not the year). In particular, you get to wondering how large a group of randomly chosen people it would take for there to be a 50-50 chance, i.e. 50%, that at least two people in the group share a birthday.

Many folks would answer that “common sense” tells them they’d need a group half as big as 366, namely 183 people, for there to be a 50-50 chance of a matching birthday. The truth is that with a group of only 23 randomly chosen people in it there’s about a 50% chance two or more people in the group will have matching birthdays. (I won’t go into the math, though it’s not difficult). By contrast, in a group of 183 people there’s a virtual certainty of at least one matching birthday.

You could also turn things around and ask how likely it is that in a group of 23 people there’ll be at least one pair of matching birthdays. Many folks might pull out a calculator, find out that 23 is about 6% of 365, and conclude by “common sense” that there’d be only a 6% chance of a pair of matching birthdays. You’ve already heard that in fact there’s about a 50% chance.

Here’s a way to confirm this without trying to rely on “common sense.” Stand on a busy street and ask people passing by what their birthday is. Mark the dates on a yearly calendar to keep track of them and see if there’s a match. If necessary, keep going until you’ve asked 23 people and still haven’t found a match. Then repeat the experiment a bunch of times. With enough repetitions, you should find that about half of the time you’ll get a matching birthday pair.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 12, 2021 at 4:22 AM

23 Responses

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  1. The top photograph look rather like an abstract painting. And the indigo intrigues me – so many of our ‘garden’ plants have their wild relatives with you. (Mine is a blue one, Baptisia australis, which I think is native with you too?)

    Ann Mackay

    April 12, 2021 at 6:17 AM

    • You know that I’m fine with having a photograph come across as an abstract painting.

      Not remembering Baptisia australis, I looked it up and found that it does grow in Texas, but only in a few counties more than 200 miles north of Austin. In my travels I’ve encountered a few other Baptisia species, including that one:

      White false indigo

      Kansas: one out of five

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 12, 2021 at 6:29 AM

      • Nice photograph of the Baptisia Australis in the ‘Kansas’ post. I’m getting envious of your fantastic range of wildflowers in the US! 🙂 The white Baptisia is lovely too – very elegant. 🙂

        Ann Mackay

        April 12, 2021 at 6:59 AM

        • When you consider how large the United States is, it’s not surprising we have a fantastic range of wildflowers. Texas is among the best.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 12, 2021 at 8:03 PM

  2. Quite often in architecture articles, you’ll see “carbonized wood” being used for cladding on homes, it’s often surprisingly attractive, as is the tree in your shot. I hope someone will explain the blue color. And I like your debutante portrait. I took a quick look at an article about that flower, and saw that “Baptisia” isn’t a religious reference, but refers to dyeing, which is the first thing that comes to mind with “indigo.” I guess it’s common sense to expect that baptisia and baptism have a common root?

    Robert Parker

    April 12, 2021 at 7:55 AM

    • A reputable book says that the genus name Baptisia comes from Greek baptis, which connoted dyeing or dipping, and sure enough, baptism comes from Greek baptein, meaning ‘to dip.’ Indigo was used for dyeing, as you said.

      I’ve heard of carbonized wood in housing. It certainly attracted me as a photographer.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 12, 2021 at 8:11 PM

  3. I’m curious; are you using the block editor now, and has it begun adding links as blocks of text?

    I enjoyed that first photo, both for the texture of the trunk and for the resin, which looks like a flow of liquid jewels. I see amber and topaz, which certainly makes sense in terms of the amber, since that stone is petrified resin. I knew there was naturally occuring blue topaz, but I just read that clear topaz sometimes is colored to create blue stones. Might your blue resin be reflecting the sky?

    Both this plains wild indigo and Baptisia sphaerocarpa are common here, and are coming into bloom. The B. sphaerocarpa is listed as green wild indigo in many sources, but the flowers are a beautiful yellow. I’m hoping to find both when I get back to Brazoria; the roadsides and pastures there usually are filled with them.


    April 12, 2021 at 8:05 AM

    • I am using the block editor when composing posts. In this case, though, I replied directly to a comment the way I’ve always done, and suddenly the result is as you see it. Ah, the ever-inscrutable WordPress.

      As for the blue, I conjectured it could be coming from the sky, but I don’t know. I wish I’d paid more attention when I was there; maybe I could’ve ruled out that possibility by closely shading the area to see whether the blue persisted.

      Happy hunting for both wild indigos near you. The only place I know to find this one is in Bastrop.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 12, 2021 at 8:21 PM

  4. Many people see only the devastation when a fire rages through a forest. The fact is that forest fires are part of a forest’s life cycle and is needed to produce new life.

    Peter Klopp

    April 12, 2021 at 8:20 AM

  5. Beautiful photos. Uncommon common sense! 😳 🤓 🧐 😎


    April 12, 2021 at 9:54 AM

  6. I really like the lemon-yellow Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea, I wonder if I can find seeds? Must look!

    Eliza Waters

    April 12, 2021 at 6:09 PM

  7. Wonderful portrait. Is that beetle really a petal skeletonizer? It could be, but that inflorescence seems to be intact.

    I. J. Khanewala

    April 12, 2021 at 10:23 PM

    • When it comes to insects, I know very little—including whether the one shown in the third picture was eating the petals. That they had been nibbled I’m not in doubt; if you look at the upper group that’s the farthest to the left, you’ll see evidence of it. In person I could see it even more clearly. In fact for the sake of my pictures I tried to find a developed inflorescence that didn’t have damage, but I couldn’t find one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 13, 2021 at 5:27 AM

  8. Those look like little angel wings on those lovely blooms. Bluish pitch is something I’ve seen reported a number of times, including from one tree farmer friend up here. I don’t know what the explanation is. I am sorry that tree is charred, hopefully not dead. The photos is very artistic though. Nice composition.

    Lavinia Ross

    April 15, 2021 at 9:44 AM

    • Now I see your little angel wings, which I hadn’t before. As for the charred tree, I’m afraid it’s 10 years beyond the point of no return. New trees began springing up in the first spring past the great fire, but only young people will live to see the Bastrop forest once again looking the way I remember it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 15, 2021 at 12:31 PM

  9. Really relatable. I just started my own travel blog and then covid hit and I could not travel anymore from my country. No travel planning for me at all. 😦


    May 27, 2021 at 1:31 PM

  10. […] Birthdays […]

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