Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two views of a pink evening primrose flower

with 54 comments

In the first view the pink evening primrose flower (Oenothera speciosa) serves as a backdrop for a Texas bindweed flower (Convolvulus equitans). For the second picture I lay on the ground and aimed upward so the pink of the flower would play off the blue of the sky as much as possible.

I made these portraits on April 20th at the same place in Austin where I photographed a cucumber beetle and greenthread flowers.

* * * * * * * * *

Two days ago I mentioned that if you run fast you move quickly but if you stand fast you don’t move at all. A word like fast that has opposite meanings is called a contronym or Janus word or auto-antonym. You’re welcome to read an article that gives other examples of such words. If you’re aware of contronyms in any other language, I’d be glad to hear them.

* * * * * * * * *

Now here’s a new English language challenge: can you come up with a sentence containing the words “adopted finished stirred”? The three words must appear exactly that way, with no punctuation marks or other words between them, and the full sentence must be grammatical. I’ll give a solution in a couple of days.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 30, 2021 at 4:35 AM

54 Responses

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  1. I already know I love the pink evening primrose but the Texas bindweed flower is new to me. Prettiest bindweed I’ve ever seen .. LOVE the maroon centre!

    Ms. Liz

    April 30, 2021 at 4:58 AM

  2. Good morning, Steve.  How about the word “cleave”? One can “cleave” a watermelon to share and also “cleave to” a philosophy. Thanks for a new word for me- “contronym”.                                                                         
    Michael Michael L. McIver, Certified Advanced Rolfermcrolf@aol.com
    2524 Nottingham St.
    Houston, TX 77005


    April 30, 2021 at 5:20 AM

    • I’d been thinking about you guys. Hope you’re both still okay.

      You hit upon one of the classic examples of a contronym. Here’s the history. Two unrelated Anglo-Saxon verbs with opposite meanings coincidentally sounded similar. The one that meant ‘split’ was clēofan and the other that meant ‘cling’ was cleofian. As the language developed into modern English, both of those verbs ended up coming out the same, namely cleave.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2021 at 6:18 AM

  3. I have a few evening primrose that show up north of the house each year. I think they would do better if they got full sun. Believe it or not, the woodlands continually encroach into the yard, so many plants that used to flourish and get full sun are either snuffed out by shade from growing trees or numerous new growth of tree saplings choke them out. Primrose are such a delicate plant as your images reflect. They’re one of my favorite wildflowers.

    Recently, a cattle rancher friend noted some people stopping along an exit off of I-44 to Lawton to photograph a huge expanse of wildflowers, mentioned “those weren’t wildflowers – it’s just a bunch of damned bindweed”. I suppose to a farmer, bindweed is a nuisance. We allow it to grow everywhere around here. It loves to climb fences.


    April 30, 2021 at 7:12 AM

    • For me as a native plant photographer, a wildflower is a wildflower, whether Texas bindweed or something else. I understand, though, why farmers and ranchers see bindweed as an enemy. Do you know if your bindweed is the same species as the Texas one, Convolvulus equitans? As for the woodlands encroaching on your yard, do you plan to remove trees and saplings to keep your yard from getting overgrown?

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2021 at 8:00 AM

      • We do remove trees that pose a threat to structures… like the house! We are still working on removing a tree line of both grown trees and saplings that grew up around the rock house. They’ve snuffed out some of the historic iris Forrest’s grandmother planted back in the 40’s and 50’s, or they’ve shaded them so much they don’t bloom. We’re still trying to restore the iris beds two years after his mother’s passing. We also try to keep trees from setting up in the fences along city power lines. It’s constant work to battle saplings. However, we do transplant oak seedlings, as we are trying to establish a better acorn crop for the deer in this area. I also allow elm and redbuds to flourish in areas too. It’s all about the deer!


        April 30, 2021 at 8:38 AM

        • It just occurred to me there’s a certain irony or appropriateness—take your pick—in someone named Forrest cutting down trees. Deer are the beneficiaries of so much that you do.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 30, 2021 at 8:42 AM

  4. Very interesting! Languages are really fascinating. In Portuguese, I have to think. Can’t recall any for the moment.

    Alessandra Chaves

    April 30, 2021 at 7:36 AM

      • I think “ empréstimo “ is more of a local thing. In school I learned that the verb “emprestar “ means letting someone use what you have. If you borrow you need to say “ tomei emprestado” . However when I moved to São Paulo, just 200 mi south, people would say “eu emprestei” and the meaning would be given by the complement “dele” ( I borrowed) or “ à ele” ( I let him have it). Which reminds me of one thing. In Portuguese there’s no neutral pronoun. This irritated the liberals greatly. They want to change our grammar to a como for the idea that gender is a construct. Lots of taxpayer money is wasted discussing these things while a great proportion of the population lives in misery.

        Alessandra Chaves

        April 30, 2021 at 10:18 AM

        • It’s good that you can resolve the ambiguity by adding a phrase like “dele” or “ à ele.” As for a neutral pronoun, I’m sorry to hear that the gender wars have reached Brazil. One manifestation of that in the United States is the clumsy term Latinx, which only ideologues use. Because all nouns in Spanish and Portuguese are either masculine or feminine and require the agreement of adjectives that modify them, it’s unlikely that something so deeply rooted in those languages could be artificially done away with. On the way from Old English to modern English the language lost the gender of its nouns, but that happened as a natural simplification and not for ideological reasons.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 30, 2021 at 10:48 AM

          • I really like to read the things you write, so articulated! It’s rare for people these days to write so well. More power to you. Lots of friendships are being lost to ambiguity and incomplete understanding of the written language. This happens daily on social media, where people are encouraged to write few, short sentences (Twitter for example, how can one be precise in 200 words?). I really hope that they do not artificially change the Portuguese language to fight something as basic as gender. I wish we rather chose to fight hunger, illiteracy, tropical diseases, corruption in government and a shrinking economy.

            Alessandra Chaves

            April 30, 2021 at 12:22 PM

            • Thanks. I’m with you in your desire “to fight hunger, illiteracy, tropical diseases, corruption in government and a shrinking economy” in Brazil.

              The fact that I’m getting along in years makes it seem all the more important for me to say and do whatever I can now to fight against the rapid move toward totalitarianism in this country that used to think of itself as “the land of the free.” The suppression of speech and the disregard of due process are inherently un-American. And the denial of biology and genetics is anti-reality.

              Steve Schwartzman

              April 30, 2021 at 1:02 PM

              • I hear you. I feel similarly about Brazil where I enjoyed freedom of speech while growing up. It is interesting that, like most Latin American countries, Brazil outside of the large urban centers is predominantly Christian, mostly Catholic , on the conservative side with regard to gender, family, abortion, drugs and sex, have REAL problems to feed and educate their families and are satisfied with their pronouns. In contrast, there seems to exist a very vocal middle class minority composed of people who have plenty of time and resources to discuss and push the Congress about issues most citizens are not concerned with and do not want changed. It’s a mystery of democracy. I think it’s fine to argue against nature and biology when most of the populations is fed, healthy, educated and employed and there are no real immediate problems to address, like hunger, but certainly not before that.

                Alessandra Chaves

                April 30, 2021 at 6:52 PM

                • It’s similar here: many of the those pushing the radical ideas are pampered, upper middle class people, mostly white, indoctrinated in leftist ideology at school, apparently trying to atone for their feelings of racial guilt. The United States has its share of real problems, including that many students who come out of 13 years of schooling know very little about the world; many can’t read or do math effectively. The radicals who can’t stop blaming everything on racism are in fact guaranteeing with their educational policies that minority students ending up knowing even less than white students. I could go on for a long time, but I’d better stop.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 30, 2021 at 8:38 PM

                • I know that there are serious real problems in the USA as well. Up until I finished my Ph.D., I lived in poor neighborhoods in MD, where I also taught biology in a community college. My students lacked basic background knowledge, discipline and self confidence to learn and to achieve. They were generally satisfied with a passing grade (a D), showed no curiosity typical of people their age and were for the most part alienated from the news. It was a sad thing to watch and I found no effective way to help them. Very sad.

                  Alessandra Chaves

                  April 30, 2021 at 10:34 PM

                • Having taught at a community college, you’ve seen for yourself how poorly prepared many students are. Their lack of curiosity is a shame; it’s also an indication that they don’t belong in college. American educationists and politicians keep pushing the unsound idea that everyone should go to college. All that does is further water down the quality of colleges.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  April 30, 2021 at 10:49 PM

  5. Bindweed is a nuisance of immense order but I enjoy finding it at field edges around here. We have a few in our front garden but so far they have behaved themselves.
    That is odd about you having links in boxes. I’ve not seen it on any other blogs. Have you queried those in the know at WP?

    Steve Gingold

    April 30, 2021 at 7:51 AM

  6. There are a few in French that I can think of, but the first one that comes to mind is the word “personne” which means both “a person” and “no one.” (By the way, I posted a pink flower today that is not pink).


    April 30, 2021 at 8:57 AM

    • Personne is a good one. French is peculiar in the way that it added qualifiers to its negative particle ne: ne…pas (not a step), ne…rien (not a thing), ne…personne (not a person), etc. As the ne weakened phonetically, its negative sense ended up getting transferred to the more pronounced qualifier in each pair.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2021 at 9:11 AM

      • Nicely explained.


        April 30, 2021 at 9:26 AM

        • Not for nothing—which is a double negative rather than a two-part negative—did I spend years of my life as a teacher. I’ll add that another Romance language, Catalan, also has two-part negatives, but while lots of Americans study French and learn about its peculiar negation, hardly any Americans study Catalan.

          Steve Schwartzman

          April 30, 2021 at 9:43 AM

  7. Lovely portrait of a primrose, Steve!
    Now I know where the word steadfast comes from.

    Peter Klopp

    April 30, 2021 at 8:58 AM

    • And I’m fast to add that steady, from the noun stead, has a sense similar to that of steadfast.

      One clarification about the flower: it’s in the evening primrose group, which despite the second part of the name doesn’t belong to the same botanical family as the primroses, Primulaceae. Evening primroses are in Onagraceae.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2021 at 9:29 AM

  8. How about louer in French and lease in English! It’s interesting that they are both contronyms (and share the same meanings in their respective languages). And another one I have always liked in French is “terrible.”


    April 30, 2021 at 9:44 AM

    • Yes, louer and lease (and rent) have that ambiguity. I see them as part of a broad relationship that I’ve referred to for a long time as the duality principle. For example, there can be no receiving unless someone or something is simultaneously giving. People sometimes end up linguistically confusing the two poles in such pairs. For example, the colloquial “That’ll learn ya” corresponds to the standard “That will teach you.”

      As for terrible in French, there’s a connection to terrific in English, which started out with the negative sense of ‘causing terror’ but ended up primarily as a positive that means ‘great, wonderful, fabulous.’

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2021 at 10:03 AM

  9. At first quick glance, I thought the foreground flower was a Drummond’s phlox, but bindweed works too! Nice set of shots!


    April 30, 2021 at 2:38 PM

    • Thanks. I seem to see white phlox flowers less often than the other colors it comes in. Texas bindweed flowers are always white, albeit sometimes with a blush, and unlike phlox they’re around for much of the year. Brief diversity versus long-time sameness/

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 30, 2021 at 4:23 PM

  10. Okay, I can not put any more thought into fitting those three words together.
    I can not remember any of the contronyms either, although I heard of a few of them. ‘Dusting’ seems funny to me because it means both the removal of dust, as well as the application of dust, as in insecticides and such. I mean, ‘dust’ can mean the opposed of itself. Is that a contronym?
    ‘Left’ and ‘right’ are not contronyms, but really could be described as something that does not mean something else. I mean, the right side still sounds like the correct side to me. The left side sounds like something left behind.
    The definitions of black and white also intrigue me, since one is the absence of all color and the other is the combination of all color. . . . So black absorbs all color and reflects nothing back, while white absorbs nothing and reflects all back. Yet, if mixing pigments, mixing all colors produces black, and white lacks pigment. How does that work if the colors reflect the color of light that they are percieved as? Shouldn’t black reflect all colors and appear as white? Well, I know it makes sense somehow.


    May 1, 2021 at 1:33 AM

    • Yes, you’ve hit it with dust. Other words in that semantic category are seed and pit.

      Left and right are antonyms but not contronyms. You’re correct that pairs like left and right, up and down, east and west, are defined relative to something else and to each other.

      I wish I knew more about colors. My understanding is that there are least two systems of color, including the additive and subtractive systems. Mixing colors as light rays produces a different result from mixing the same colors as pigments.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 1, 2021 at 7:03 AM

      • Exactly, that is what is so weird about additive and subtractive. They are the opposite, but somehow accomplish the same thing. ‘Adding’ different pigments gets the finished productive to reflect (subtract) a particular color rather than absorb it. Now I am confusing myself.


        May 2, 2021 at 4:23 PM

  11. The combination of the bindweed and pink evening primrose is delightful. I usually see purple bindweed (or tie-vine) (Ipomoea cordatotriloba) but this year I’ve found this species, too. White is nice, but white with an accent color can be even better, and this one’s especially appealing. I’ve confused this one with Ipomoea pandurata, the wild sweet potato, from time to time.

    The addition of the unfocused foliage in the photo of the primrose is a happy one. Sometimes a clear blue sky’s just right, but the background you choose adds to the overall effect of delicacy: it’s red, green, and blue writ pastel.


    May 1, 2021 at 8:35 AM

    • Texas bindweed’s leaves are quite variable, often deeply lobed with wavy margins. That feature distinguishes this species from some of its Convolvulaceae relatives like Ipomoea pandurata.

      These two pictures shown together come across to me as quite the pastel pair. I seem to have done right in pairing them up. It wasn’t planned, nor did the possibility even occur to me when I took the pictures. Usually when I’ve shot a pink evening primrose flower from below I’ve chosen a combination of angle and f/stop that keeps the remnant bud sheath in focus along with the petals.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 1, 2021 at 12:13 PM

  12. Ok I tried to think of one in Japanese yesterday but couldn’t but by chance I just came across one so I couldn’t resist sharing it. It’s the kanji 対 which when pronounced タイ (Tai) means opposition/antithesis. But when pronounced ツイ (Tsui) it means pair or couple with a more positive connotation. Perhaps not a perfect contronym but I was glad to come across it today.


    May 1, 2021 at 7:37 PM

    • I know nothing about Japanese. Does the fact that the pronunciations are different mean that these are really separate words that happen to get written the same way? An example in English is the noun lead (the chemical element) and the verb lead.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 1, 2021 at 9:00 PM

  13. Yes it’s sort of like that, although the meaning at the core of the kanji/pictogram is intrinsic to how both “words” (connected with the pronunciations) will be interpreted. So in this case, there is a sense of “relationship,” positive and negative, that ties both meanings to the kanji.


    May 2, 2021 at 6:28 AM

    • In summer school at the University of Texas in 1984 I wanted to take an introductory course in a foreign language. I narrowed my selection down to Greek, Hebrew, and Japanese. Had I gone with Japanese rather than Hebrew, I’d have been better able to understand your clarification.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 2, 2021 at 7:18 AM

  14. I like the second for the translucence and underside vantage point.


    May 4, 2021 at 12:49 PM

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