Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A bluebell flower

with 32 comments

On a sunny June 18th I photographed some bluebells (Eustoma sp.) that were coming up in Cypress Creek Park. Sixteen days ago you saw a distinctively shaped bud of this species, and now from the same session here are two portraits showing an opening flower. As I’ve said a zillion times, bluebells are purple.


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I recently read the book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. The author, physicist Steven E. Koonin, was Undersecretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration, so is in no way a “climate denier,” meaning a person who denies that the climate is changing. The book’s title, however, indicates that Koonin takes issue with the widely bruited-about notion that climate change is “settled science.” Basing his book entirely on data gathered by the American government and the United Nations, he offers a rational assessment of the current climate situation, free from the hysteria and catastrophism that characterize so many activists and politicians.

As Koonin wrote in a Wall Street Journal essay in 2014: “Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is ‘settled’ (or is a ‘hoax’) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.” (Apropos of that, just last week someone who has worked for decades in a technical field at the University of Texas told me the atmosphere there has become so oppressive that an employee dare not even bring up the subject of climate change.)

I’m attentive to language, so I appreciate one point Koonin makes in Unsettled: some people, especially environmental activists, use “climate change” to mean only that portion of the change in climate attributable to human activity. That usage is misleading because it excludes the not-insignificant changes in climate attributable to natural causes such as volcanic eruptions, the wobble in the earth’s axis, and the varying intensity of the sun’s radiation reaching the earth. Distinguishing between natural causes and human causes of climate change turns out to be a difficult problem. Failing to consider the natural and perhaps quite large component of climate change that is natural ends up making the human-caused component seem disproportionately influential and urgent to deal with—which of course is what activists want.

In April I recommended environmentalist Michael Shellenberger’s rational book about climate change, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. Now that Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters is out, I recommend it, too.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2021 at 4:42 AM

32 Responses

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  1. My first thought on the bluebell was the “cup” flower, which looks like it’s holding hope for a shower of rain. I wonder how a purple flower is called a bluebell? Both are lovely images.

    I will be checking out both of those books. I have to admit when faced with someone who mentions climate change or global warming fears, I have to step away. It’s overwhelming the number of people who carry on with the narrative that have no real basis for what they say. Both of these books look like good reads.

    Littlesundog

    July 16, 2021 at 5:18 AM

    • As languages evolved, names for primary colors, especially red, came first. Each color name covers a range of frequencies of light, and the range that color word X covers in one language can differ from the range the roughly corresponding color word covers in a different language. In English, where blue leaves off and purple begins isn’t the same for everyone. Blue is a more “basic” or “primary” color than purple, so even for a color that’s a little (I’d say at times a lot) on the purple side of the blue/purple border, the primariness of blue influences some people to push the color over to the blue side. It’s quite a complicated subject.

      As for the climate question, I’m relieved that two people, both leaning politically left personally (as far as I can tell), have amassed large amounts of data to make a reasonable case about climate change. Koonin distinguishes between what we can do, should do, and will do. Happy reading when you get the time.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2021 at 6:54 AM

  2. There’s nothing like a blue sky to bring out the not-blue in a bluebell. In the first photo, the bracts remind me of crossed fingers; I wonder if the flower’s hoping for something. It’s interesting that you managed to intensify the purple in the petals in the second photo. I’m accustomed to seeing that deep purple in the center, but not in the petals. I like the effect.

    shoreacres

    July 16, 2021 at 6:49 AM

    • An alternate version of my three most important things in photography being background, background, and background is processing, processing, and processing. With today’s second picture I processed for a darker look, and that had the side effect of deepening the purple.

      As for the blue~purple boundary question, I remember another exchange of comments with you in which a bluebell against a blue sky made the color distinction really stand out.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2021 at 7:03 AM

  3. The tip of the bluebell. Obviously purple.

    Steve Gingold

    July 16, 2021 at 7:00 AM

    • As obvious as that no familiar American English word rhymes with purple. Scottish English apparently has curple and hirple, and there’s an Indian mongoose called a quirpele.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2021 at 7:09 AM

  4. It’s a visual delight the bluebell against the background of the sky, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    July 16, 2021 at 8:04 AM

  5. I agree that bluebells are purple, especially as seen by the lens. We may have slightly different views on climate change but I’ve made a note of the books you recommend. I do find it a scary subject with whole host of issues. I’m sure many people would be surprised that the north pole is not a constant and perhaps even that native trees in the UK are just the ones that came back after the last ice age before the country was cut off from Europe by sea. What’s for sure is that climate is not fixed and will vary considerably from what we have grown up with, rather than stay the same. And that as a society we are playing with fire and with things we do not understand.

    susurrus

    July 16, 2021 at 12:53 PM

    • Another vote for purple: good for you.

      The magnetic north pole does indeed move around, and even more surprising is the fact that during some periods in the earth’s history the north~south polarities have reversed themselves.

      Both of the titles I recommended are excellent in sticking to the facts that scientists know. I do hope you’ll have a chance to read those two books.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2021 at 1:03 PM

  6. That’s just lovely with the blue sky!

    circadianreflections

    July 16, 2021 at 1:39 PM

    • “Blue skies shining on me, nothing but blue skies do I see.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2021 at 1:44 PM

      • LOL! Now, I’ll have an earworm!! 😂

        circadianreflections

        July 16, 2021 at 8:29 PM

        • It’s by Irving Berlin, but according to Wikipedia, “the song was composed in 1926 as a last-minute addition to the Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy. Although the show ran for only 39 performances, ‘Blue Skies’ was an instant success, with audiences on opening night demanding 24 encores of the piece from star Belle Baker. During the final repetition, Ms. Baker forgot her lyrics, prompting Berlin to sing them from his seat in the front row.”

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 16, 2021 at 11:00 PM

  7. Modeling climate is complicated and so is finding causation in correlation. One thing that pisses me off is that often the climate change narrative is used to avoid responsibility. For example a lot of the environmental problems in California have to do with land use. Historically our marshes have been drained, rivers have been dammed, water has been diverted to desert areas for human occupancy. People build their houses in the chaparral, a biome ruled by fire. It’s dry everywhere and fires are larger and more aggressive every year. All these factors plus invasive pests have changed the microclimates in California but the politicians and the public alike insist on blaming them exclusively on global warming. Blaming something you can’t control rather than trying to fix what you can control and change helps absolutely no one.

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 16, 2021 at 7:06 PM

    • Well said. You may be aware that after a multi-story condominium collapsed near Miami two weeks ago, someone on CNN asked whether the collapse was a consequence of climate change. And as you say, politicians of a certain ilk are ready to blame almost anything on climate change—at least when they’re not already blaming it on racism.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 16, 2021 at 10:01 PM

      • I don’t dispute however that we need to destroy less, use less energy, conserve nature and learn to be satisfied with less as to allow other species to thrive alongside with us. This about the collapsing building was funny. Had to be cnn.

        Alessandra Chaves

        July 16, 2021 at 10:39 PM

        • Several months ago I heard someone lamenting the loss of the old CNN, which really was a news channel.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 17, 2021 at 6:37 AM

    • Cathy (below) says she completely agrees with your comment.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2021 at 2:17 PM

  8. What ever happened with the upcoming Ice Age that science proved was starting back in the mid 1970s?

    tonytomeo

    July 17, 2021 at 1:27 AM

    • Things change!

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2021 at 6:34 AM

      • Did the Ice Age come and go without anyone noticing?

        tonytomeo

        July 17, 2021 at 10:58 PM

        • The big question is how much of current warming to attribute to natural causes versus human causes—and how to deal with the portion that people cause. Both of the books I recommended offer possibilities for that last part.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 18, 2021 at 6:12 AM

          • If we wait long enough, we will be more concerned with the next Ice Age.
            A bigger question is in regard to the sources of much or most of the data. How can we have such ridiculously precise records of weather and summertime temperatures in San Jose from five centuries ago when the people who lived there just two centuries ago kept no such records, and thermometers were invented only three centuries ago? There is no way of knowing how much warming is caused by human activity, or how to deal with it, until ‘real’ data is examined.

            tonytomeo

            July 18, 2021 at 12:11 PM

            • We’re hindered by a lack of accurate (or any) records from more than a century or two ago. Scientists have been able to infer a fair amount from tree rings, ice cores, and various other kinds of physical evidence. For more specifics, check out Koonin’s book.

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 18, 2021 at 2:55 PM

  9. I completely agree with the comment above by Alessandra. With the latest horrible floods in north-west Germany and Belgium everyone is shouting about climate change, but there are so many factors involved.

    Cathy

    July 17, 2021 at 9:19 AM

    • I told Alessandra you agree with her comment. As you point out, nowadays there are people who attribute every natural disaster to “climate change,” even though natural disasters have occurred for as long as people have existed (and much longer).

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 17, 2021 at 2:20 PM

    • One maybe related example: where I grew up, Rio de Janeiro, every year there are very bad floods. This since I remember, in the late 60’s and 70s. This has to do with trash and debris rolling down the hills where the Atlantic Forest has been cut off to give way to low income, illegal housing, also known as slums. The debris accumulates in the sewage system and when it rains a lot, because it rains a lot in the tropics, rivers also flood. Floods have gotten worse as uncontrolled urbanization progressed, and have killed more people because more people establish homes near rivers. We never fixed those problems, but now some blame our annual floods on global warming. I do not exclude, a priori, that global warming may be implicated in a number of recent natural disasters, but I can’t stand it when people simply assume that it’s the case without any evidence. In my country of origin, instead of cleaning sewage systems, working on re-forestation, and removing illegal housing from the public lands, we now blame the consumption of fossil fuels for our problems and do even less to solve them.

      Alessandra Chaves

      July 17, 2021 at 3:25 PM

      • That’s a good example from your own experience. As you say, too many people jump to say global warming is responsible for this or that occurrence, without even trying to find evidence. But the problem is more general, with some people claiming things even when the evidence disproves their claims.

        Steve Schwartzman

        July 17, 2021 at 3:45 PM

  10. I read that Eustoma means ‘beautiful mouth’. In the second photo I see a beautiful lip to the mouth. I also read that the modern lisianthus, Eustoma grandiflorum, was created in Japan by flower breeders in the 1930s. They developed it from the wild prairie gentian. According to the Rutgers Gentian Research network, Japan and New Zealand are two major areas for Eustoma ornamental breeding, cultivation, and research. Although I may not get to see a bluebell in Texas I can go to the local florist to see its cut flower relative, Eustoma grandiflorum. Its cut flower relative is not available at a cut price, though, which means I will only admire it and never buy it.

    Gallivanta

    July 18, 2021 at 4:53 AM

    • Local botanist Bill Carr lists two prairie gentian species growing wild here. One is Eustoma exaltatum, which he says is “rare on gravel, sand and silt flats seasonally exposed in bed of Lake Travis.’ That fits where I found the bluebells shown in this post, though I don’t know how to be sure I didn’t photograph the other species in our county. It’s Eustoma russellianum, which he indicates used to be classified as the Eustoma grandiflorum that you mentioned. From what you say, the wild American species has apparently been bred for generations to produce what’s available—though not at a cut price—from your local florist. I wonder if I’d immediately notice any differences.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2021 at 2:37 PM

    • And yes, Greek stoma meant ‘mouth.’ The same word appears as the first part of stomach. It’s not unusual for names of body parts to shift around. Think about how we speakers of English often say stomach when we mean belly. Another example is jaw, which seems to have come from the Old French joue that meant cheek.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 18, 2021 at 2:47 PM


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