Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Widow’s tears revisited

with 42 comments

On July 19th I got an e-mail from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine with the photographic want list for their October issue. In the “Flora Fact” category, the species for that month will be Commelina erecta, the dayflower, which you saw here on June 27th. I’d also shown a few dayflower pictures here years ago, so I quickly searched back through old posts to see if any of those earlier portraits might be suitable to submit to the magazine. The first old dayflower photograph I found was from a post in 2012, and in it I noticed that I’d taken the picture nine years earlier to the day. Ah, coincidences.

Next I delved into my archive to see what other photographs I might have taken during that outing near Lake Travis. Turns out I took plenty, only a very few of which I’d processed. Of course some weren’t worth processing, but others were. As a result, today’s picture is a never-before-seen one from July 19, 2012. It shows why one vernacular name for the species is widow’s tears. Clear liquid collects in a keel-shaped part of the inflorescence called a spathe (from the Greek spathē that meant ‘broad blade,’ and that has also given English the kind of spade in a deck of playing cards, and has given Spanish its word for ‘a sword,’ espada). People noticed that if you gently squeeze the sides of a dayflower’s spathe, drops of the clear liquid inside emerge from the tip of the structure. Here I managed to record one such drop in the split-second when it was breaking loose from the tip of the spathe. Notice how the drop acted as a lens that focused an upside-down image of nearby trees.

◊      ◊

Two days ago Robert Contee, Police Chief for Washington, D.C., gave an impromptu press conference in which he expressed his frustration with the courts there for coddling violent criminals. Failure to keep those predators in jail lets many of them go on to commit more crimes, even as earlier cases against them are still pending. You can read more about the press conference by Chief Contee, who grew up in the District and who is black, in a Federalist article. Within that article is a 7.5-minute video clip from the press conference, which I recommend you watch, in which Chief Contee speaks about “the brazenness of the criminals…. We have a vicious cycle of bad actors who do things with no accountability, and they end up back in [the] community… [T]he way that we’re going and the things that we’re trying to do, we want to help people, yes we should. But you cannot coddle violent criminals, you cannot. You cannot treat violent criminals who are out here making communities unsafe for you, for your loved ones, for me, for my loved ones. They might not want a job, they might not, they might not need services. What they may require is to be off of our streets because they’re making it unsafe for us. And if that’s what it requires, then that’s what it requires. And we have to own that. We have to own it, because if not, we see more of this.”

I happened to catch most of Chief Contee’s impassioned press conference live. At one point it occurred to me to check CNN and MSNBC to see if they were carrying it. They weren’t.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 25, 2021 at 4:41 AM

42 Responses

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  1. beautiful shot and so sad


    July 25, 2021 at 4:51 AM

  2. The image is so compelling I mostly skipped the text the first time through, and was going to ask if the liquid is more viscous than water. It seems not, since you mentioned capturing the drop on its way to ground. That’s amazing. Did you give the spathe a little squeeze to help things along?

    I noticed something interesting in the June 27 image of the dayflower you linked. You mentioned that you hadn’t seen blue stamens, but the lower portion of those stamens almost perfectly match the color of the flowers. Reflection from the flowers or natural color? I can’t decide.


    July 25, 2021 at 6:38 AM

    • What’s a little squeeze among friends, right? As far as I know, the liquid in the spathe doesn’t emerge without some two-fingered help. This picture is one of the many I’ve taken in which I have my left hand on the subject (though this time not only to steady it) while my right hand operates the camera. As for the clear liquid itself, I find it indistinguishable from water. I once even dripped a drop or two into my mouth but couldn’t taste anything. My impression about the June 27th image is that the blue in the stamens was not intrinsic but was getting picked up from the petals.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 25, 2021 at 6:46 AM

      • I began trying that two-handed trick after you mentioned it some years ago. I still haven’t fully developed the skill, but it would be a good one to have. More intentional practice would help, not to mention finding a way to compensate for arthritic thumb joints created by years of hoisting orbital sanders around. Strength isn’t an issue, but thumb twinges can be.


        July 25, 2021 at 6:58 AM

      • Impressive to be able to manage that trick while also getting the timing exactly right! I don’t think my reflexes would be up to it.

        Ann Mackay

        July 27, 2021 at 6:12 AM

        • Given the difficulty, I made a bunch of attempts. I hoped that if I tried enough times, in at least one I’d have gotten the timing and focus right.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 27, 2021 at 6:29 AM

  3. Excellent catch of this drop.

    Steve Gingold

    July 25, 2021 at 6:55 AM

  4. Excellent photography!

    Alessandra Chaves

    July 25, 2021 at 8:07 AM

  5. Beautiful droplet !
    By the way… great video, not telling only the story of Washington DC but of all cities in the world. Whatever race, color or background, a criminal fact is a criminal fact and the offender should be punished and not be pampered like it happens now. Offenders should stop excusing their actions or accusing law enforcement agencies of wrongdoing when they are doing their job lawfully and correctly.
    Same situation here in Europe….


    July 25, 2021 at 9:43 AM

    • As a photographer yourself, you’re in a good position to appreciate what it took to capture that droplet.

      I gathered that you have a similar crime problem in Europe, and you’ve confirmed it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 25, 2021 at 10:54 AM

  6. Absolutely gorgeous shot, Steve. When I was much younger there existed something called the Fairness Doctrine which said that all broadcast media outlets had to cover all sides of an issue. That went away with cable. I’d like to see it back. There are too many media outlets with their own spin. Actually, they all have their own spin. I’d like to see all media outlets carry verifiable facts and not “curate“ to favor one side or the other. And all editorials should be separate and clearly labeled as editorials. If I were king of the world, which I’m not. And the main “critical…“ taught in school should be critical thinking.

    Michael Scandling

    July 25, 2021 at 9:56 AM

    • Thanks for your appreciation of the picture.

      I remember the Fairness Doctrine. Libertarian-leaning me prefers to let private outlets speak as they wish, but I do think that networks like PBS and NPR, which get money from the taxpayers, should have to be balanced—which is not the case now. Years ago I gave up listening to the news programs on those networks because they lean so heavily to the left. Last month I wrote to the head of the PBS television station in Austin about the problem. I listed a bunch of left-leaning programs the station carries and pointed out that it doesn’t carry a single program that leans right, even though the population in the station’s viewing area, which extends well outside Austin, has at least as many conservatives as leftists in it. I got no reply to my e-mail.

      Regarding the separation of editorializing from the news per se, I stopped reading the New York Times a few years ago because it had taken to putting what were essentially editorials on the front page (and elsewhere outside the editorial pages).

      By personality and as a math teacher, I’m all for teaching kids logical thinking (along with history, geography, science, civics, language, math—all of which are in short supply in so many of our schools these days). What worries me to the point that I’ve started voicing my concerns about it here is that the people in charge of our schools are increasingly indoctrinating students rather than teaching them neutrally.

      As for verifiable facts, you may have noticed that a few of my recent posts dealt with instances where activists were making claims that were verifiably untrue. That goes against the core of my being. Let them argue in favor of whatever policy or program they want, but they can’t be allowed to lie about the facts without being called out for their dishonesty.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 25, 2021 at 11:30 AM

  7. Beautiful picture.
    I actually heard the Chief’s news conference on CNN…not live perhaps , and I’m not sure if it was in its entirety, but I heard enough to make his position very clear.


    July 25, 2021 at 10:32 AM

    • Good, I’m happy to hear CNN featured a relevant part of the chief’s remarks, even if they didn’t broadcast the press conference live.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 25, 2021 at 10:51 AM

      • I am sure you are aware of what “impromptu” means? So filled with hate.

        Steve Gingold

        July 25, 2021 at 10:54 AM

        • I’m not clear on what you mean about “impromptu.” Are you saying the police chief’s comments were filled with hate?

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 25, 2021 at 10:56 AM

          • No. Yours have been in all your unending attacks on liberals and the left. You described the chief’s talk as impromptu. That means it was not announced ahead of time so the networks could not have known its content. But you applied innuendo. You attack us liberals daily and if we are upset tell us to just enjoy the pictures and ignore what you write. Quite generous of you. Here’s a hint. Not everything wrong in this county is the fault of liberals. That’s just the sort of argument the Nazis used about the German Jews. It is a trick to make the rest of the population not see what is the real cause of our problems and keeping us divided and assures those responsible will not be called to change.

            Steve Gingold

            July 25, 2021 at 11:05 AM

            • There are longstanding liberals who are as appalled as I am about the illiberal things I’ve been focusing on in my posts, and who have been speaking out as well (and reaching way more people than I ever will here). A few that come to mind are Glenn Greenwald, John McWhorter, Naomi Wolf, Bari Weiss, Bret Weinstein, Greg Lukianoff.

              I prefer sticking to the facts in each case. Do you find merit in what the police chief said?

              Steve Schwartzman

              July 25, 2021 at 11:42 AM

              • Actually, and to your surprise I am sure, liberal me is a two strikes and you are out guy. If you did not learn from your first mistake, the second isn’t going to teach you anything either. So yes I do. Facts can be interpreted in many ways.

                Sure there are liberals speaking out. I am not fond of cancel culture for instance. How about long-standing conservatives speaking out about people like The Proud Boys, Q-anon, Aryan Brotherhood, Oath Keepers, the Klan, etc. There are many right wing groups like that even if you yourself do not consider them conservatives or republicans. They are still under your political roof. That’s my point. There are people in this country advocating violence toward those with whom they disagree. As a conservative why are you not speaking out about them? You said the other day that Q is just a small group, although you also claimed to know little about them. Well, they are part of many groups that have numbers and talk of using violence against others, in many cases Jews, Muslims, minorities, and liberals, to “Make America Great Again”. Sure there are Marxists among liberals. There are Nazis among conservatives. Try to find a balance.

                Steve Gingold

                July 25, 2021 at 11:57 AM

                • Sorry for my delayed reply. We just watched several episodes in a series about Greece on Curiosity Stream. For just $20 a year, it offers a slew of programs about science, history, travel, technology, and other fields. Definitely worth the price of admission.

                  Regarding Chief Contee’s remarks, I assumed they were impromptu because I didn’t see a microphone set up the way it would be for an announced news conference, but I don’t actually know. It’s possible that a Fox News team just happened to be there and that teams from CNN and MSNBC just happened not to be there. On the other hand, I’ve seen many instances of those two networks purposely not covering events that go against their ideology. One current example is what’s going on along the Texas border. Every day, with no exception, hundreds of people are illegally crossing from Mexico into Texas. I know because Fox News has crews there and every day they show live video of the people coming over illegally. Two days ago a group of about 250 came over all together at one time. The reporter had been there covering the steady crossings for days on end, and someone asked him if crews from CNN or MSNBC had been there too. He said no.

                  This is getting long, so I’ll continue in a separate reply.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 25, 2021 at 3:01 PM

                • There have been instances in the reverse direction. All networks have editorial decision that appear to promote an ideology. FOX certainly was in Trump’s corner no matter what he did. Very little critical of his performance and untruths were aired aside from one or two news people, one of whom is no longer there. It is known by almost every U.S. citizen that people are crossing the border illegally. At some point it is not deemed newsworthy. It could be an agenda or it simply could be that people don’t want to hear the same story repeatedly.

                  Steve Gingold

                  July 25, 2021 at 3:08 PM

                • I’m not actually a Republican. I’m more of a Libertarian but don’t completely align with any one group. The reason I’ve been featuring the stories I have is that I feel liberal values are under assault from leftists. Leftists control the universities. When recent studies have been done about the political alignment of professors in social fields, the ratio of leftists to rightists is 20 or 30 to 1. Even in seemingly non-political fields like engineering, leftist professors outnumber those on the right. Male college students accused of sexual improprieties have often been denied due process. A college student who says America is a land of opportunity can be accused of hate speech.

                  Leftists control Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Our military this year has gone “woke.” Racist theory has now been pushed down into the public schools. An incident came to light the other day about an elementary school in which students were forced to fill out a questionnaire that included a question about what gender they identified with. The students were told they couldn’t tell their parents about the survey. School nurses can’t give a kid an aspirin without parental permission, and yet there are public schools that are giving kids puberty-blocking drugs and calling kids by transgender names without notifying the parents. (See Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage for details.) In California, by law, any biologically intact male claiming to be female has to be allowed to walk naked through the women’s dressing room in a spa.

                  Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been censoring people, including highly credentialed scientists and doctors, who bring forth any facts that don’t support the “authorized” view of Covid-19.

                  On and on the leftist assaults on freedom and rationality go. That’s why I’ve been speaking out.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 25, 2021 at 3:40 PM

                • I understand your concerns even though I do not think those actions are as widespread as you do. But…you continue to make no mention of the concerns I raised. Plotting physical harm to folks who you ( not you personally) deem as unAmerican is a serious threat as well. Convincing people that a minority group is the cause of all your problems is a cause for concern. Misrepresenting truths as fiction and fiction as truth is a concern. Many political factions practice those ideas and could potentially put some into action as we saw during a spurt of violence a few years ago against various religious facilities. I agree that freedom of speech is important but so is freedom to express or practice your views (also a first Amendment right) without worry of violence. So do I understand that since you consider yourself a libertarian that actions by those linked to republicans and far right extremists are not a thing for you to be concerned with? My wife is a member of the local Unitarian Church, a very liberal leaning church and I have to worry about some nut crashing in there and shooting a bunch of them while they practice their philosophy. I consider that a bigger concern than what story a news channel covers.

                  Steve Gingold

                  July 25, 2021 at 4:00 PM

                • Perhaps one reason you don’t feel that the kinds of things I mentioned are as widespread as I do is what we were talking about earlier: left-leaning media don’t cover many of them. In contrast, Fox News covered the church shooting in South Carolina, the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the person run over in Charlottesville, and other horrible acts committed by right-wing crazies. As I said earlier, in spite of specific incidents, I’m not aware that the groups of right-wing crazies you mentioned have any sway over the country as a whole, whereas the illiberal forces I’m concerned about control increasingly many of our fundamental institutions. You’re welcome to redress the balance, as you see it, by pointing out excesses and depredations on the extreme right. Because most of our media already lean so heavily to the left, I feel I have to publicize the dangers coming from that side. (By the way, as two old fogies with “white privilege,” neither one of us gets any love from leftists these days.)

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  July 25, 2021 at 4:21 PM

                • Speak for yourself, Fogey. I’m not quite there yet. Curmudgeonly yes.

                  Steve Gingold

                  July 25, 2021 at 4:39 PM

  8. I never thought Godwin’s law would come to mind while reading your blog, but there we are.

    Beyond that, it occurs to me that just as photographers frame their final image by focusing on ‘this’ rather than ‘that,’ news organizations do the same. When the Vice-President made her highly touted trip to the Texas/Mexican border, she chose to visit El Paso rather than Del Rio, where the picture is quite different. Certainly there were political considerations at play as well; even implicit support for potential candidate O’Rourke might make a difference, and the level of his group’s contributions to the national party no doubt has been noted.


    July 25, 2021 at 3:44 PM

    • It seems I have to be a subscriber to the Washington Post to follow your link, but I reminded myself elsewhere of what Godwin’s Law says. I knew about it but had forgotten the name. Yes, times change, and I’ve branched out from fields of wildflowers to some other fields, where I hope to root out illiberalism.

      I was aware of the irony when the vice-president finally went to the border after three months, yet did so by not actually going to the border itself but to a place in El Paso a bit removed from the border. And of course, as you said, El Paso is 700 miles from the portion of the border where the greatest amount of illegal crossing is taking place.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 25, 2021 at 3:55 PM

      • That’s interesting. I don’t subscribe to the WP either, but had assumed the article had been moved from behind the paywall. I’ll snoop around a bit and see if I can find the interview with Godwin himself elsewhere.


        July 25, 2021 at 3:58 PM

  9. Beautiful capture of the leaf, the drop, and the refracted scene in the drop.


    July 25, 2021 at 9:36 PM

  10. Visual splendor, well captured.


    July 26, 2021 at 1:11 PM

  11. This is wonderful!


    July 28, 2021 at 9:39 AM

  12. Your timing was super Steve … great shot!


    July 31, 2021 at 3:04 PM

    • Thanks. With such an iffy subject I took a bunch of pictures in the hope that several or at least one would turn out okay.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 31, 2021 at 3:08 PM

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