Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Portraits from our yard: episode 5

with 47 comments

It’s hard to beat the rich red of a Turk’s cap flower, Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii. The long stamen column identifies this flower as a member of the mallow family. Today’s picture, like those of Turk’s cap buds you recently saw, is from July 15th.

◊      ◊

By the time I was a senior in high school I’d gotten hold of a copy of Le petit prince, The Little Prince, the famous fantasy/allegory written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I no longer remember where I got it; maybe from the Salvation Army, where I often bought used books on the cheap. The copy was missing its cover and title pages but all the text was intact. I remember taking the book to school and reading some of it as I held it under my desk in physics class; that’s the kind of kid I was.

After close to 60 years I still have that book. You can tell, because I’ve reproduced one of its yellowing pages. The first part of that page teaches an important lesson, so let me translate it for you.

I’ve got serious reasons for thinking that the planet the little prince came from is Asteroid B 612. That asteroid was observed by telescope only once, in 1909, by a Turkish astronomer.

Back then he’d made a big presentation of his discovery at an International Congress of Astronomy. But nobody believed him because of the way he was dressed [see the illustration at the top left of the page]. Grownups are like that.

Happily for the reputation of Asteroid B 612, a Turkish dictator ordered his people, under pain of death, to dress in European clothing. The astronomer redid his demonstration in 1920 wearing a very elegant suit [see the illustration at the bottom of the page]. And this time everyone agreed with him.

That passage illustrates a fallacy known as an ad hominem argument, from the Latin words meaning ‘against the person.’ Instead of dealing with the substance of a claim and examining the evidence for it, detractors attack the person making the claim, typically on irrelevant grounds like the person’s race or appearance or background or other beliefs.

I bring that up now because of the surge in ad hominem attacks being carried out in the media and politics these days. There are people who immediately dismiss a claim made by someone they don’t like, peremptorily labeling it “misinformation” or “disinformation” or “a conspiracy theory,” and refusing to examine the evidence, however substantial, for the claim itself. The most vehement slinging of those labels comes from people who know that the claim is true.

Grownups are like that, alas, far too often.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 4, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

47 Responses

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  1. Nicely put, Steve.            Michael

    Michael L. McIver, Certified Advanced Rolfer


    August 4, 2021 at 5:38 AM

  2. Ah, the photo I have been waiting for. The flower looks like a delicious red sweet just waiting for me to bite into it. Which would be possible if it were in front of me in real life since the flower is edible. Is the stamen always upright? Or does it usually droop like the Turk’s cap in Le Petit Prince? And were you that annoying kid who didn’t pay attention in physics and then passed with an A?


    August 4, 2021 at 6:21 AM

    • While Turk’s cap flowers are indeed edible, the few that I’ve sampled didn’t have much of a taste. I think people who use them in a culinary way add them for visual appeal rather taste. The flesh of the small fruits is pithy and delivers a faint sweetness. As for the prominent stamens in this species, not all of them are upright. Some curve and even droop, as you cleverly referenced in St. Exupéry’s illustration. Others fall off entirely, so that the remaining part of the flower presents an attractive pinwheel when viewed from where the tip of a straight stamen column used to be.

      As for me having been an annoying kid (or still being an annoying grownup), I’ll plead the Fifth. (The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of accused people not to incriminate themselves.)

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 4, 2021 at 7:01 AM

      • Ha! I guess there is no come back to pleading the Fifth, although I can confess that the ‘accusation’ comes from the kid in class who barely managed a C in physics, so she might as well have been reading Le Petit Prince during the class.


        August 4, 2021 at 7:34 AM

        • But had you read French during physics class, you might not have barely managed that C, which would’ve been D-meaning.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 4, 2021 at 7:47 AM

        • If I can momentarily go off on a serious tangent, it occurs to me that one come-back to a mention of the Fifth Amendment is a mention of the Sixth, which “guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you.” We collectively call those things (and others) “due process,” which ideologues and activists increasingly don’t want to grant to people.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 4, 2021 at 7:59 AM

          • Speaking of due process, the CDC’s extension of an eviction moratorium strikes directly at the Constitutionally-enshrined property rights we’ve always assumed. Non-elected governmental bureaucrats taking actions no less than the President has described as being ‘probably illegal’ wasn’t defensible the first time, and it’s not defensible now. Appeals to sympathy for people unable to pay their rent may be appropriate, but setting aside the Constitution isn’t. From a Cato Institute article I found useful:

            “The Constitution protects property rights through the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments’ Due Process Clauses and, more directly, through the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause: “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” There are two basic ways government can take property: (1) outright, by condemning the property and taking title; and (2) through regulations that take uses, leaving the title with the owner — so‐​called regulatory takings. In the first case, the title is all too often taken not for a public but for a private use; and rarely is the compensation received by the owner just. In the second case, the owner is often not compensated at all for his losses; and when he is, the compensation is again inadequate.”


            August 5, 2021 at 7:34 AM

  3. I love the photo of this stunning flower and you’re right that have not learned much and are sometimes way too quick to judge


    August 4, 2021 at 7:08 AM

    • Yes, it is a stunning flower; we’re fortunate that they abound here. Quickness to judge falsely also abounds, unfortunately.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 4, 2021 at 7:49 AM

  4. I have that book in French as well although mine is not nearly as old. That’s a great little lesson there on that one page.

    The flower is beautiful!


    August 4, 2021 at 9:08 AM

  5. “It’s hard to beat the rich red of a Turk’s cap flower” – I agree! It’s so rich and saturated.


    August 4, 2021 at 9:10 AM

  6. Beautiful flora Steve…and I agree in your words of quickness to judge abounds unfortunately 🙏🌹sending joy hedy 💫

    sloppy buddhist

    August 4, 2021 at 9:12 AM

  7. Gorgeous red flower, looks like hibiscus. Ad hominem and the argument of authority go hand in hand. If such and such said it, it must be true. It should never be about the person who makes the statement, but about the veracity of it.

    Alessandra Chaves

    August 4, 2021 at 10:06 AM

    • Hibiscus is likewise in the mallow family, hence the resemblance to Turk’s cap. The “argument from authority” is another well-known form of invalid argumentation, unless the authority in question actually has convincing evidence to support its edicts. “Kill the messenger” has unfortunately been documented too many times throughout history. Current examples abound.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 4, 2021 at 10:36 AM

    • Let me add that too often there’s a paucity of veracity and an excess of mendacity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 4, 2021 at 10:38 AM

      • I learned a new word today! Mendacity

        Alessandra Chaves

        August 4, 2021 at 10:39 AM

        • You can see the relationship to Portuguese mentir.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 4, 2021 at 11:26 AM

          • Although both words come from the latin, don’t they originate from different words in that language?

            Alessandra Chaves

            August 4, 2021 at 11:45 AM

            • Good point! I never knew that. I always assumed a common origin based on the meanings. Mentir is apparently related to Latin ment-, which gave rise to Portuguese mente. The semantics aren’t obvious. A hypothesis I found in an etymological dictionary is that mentir arose from the idea of saying something that exists only in the mind and not in reality. In contrast, the Latin mendax that became Portuguese mendaz and from which English got mendacious seems to be unrelated, as you said.

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 4, 2021 at 12:50 PM

              • “Mentir”, in Portuguese, does carry the meaning of wanting to deceive.

                Alessandra Chaves

                August 4, 2021 at 9:40 PM

                • Right. From “saying something that exists only in the mind” the meaning would have shifted to “saying something you know isn’t true.”

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  August 4, 2021 at 10:19 PM

  8. Grown-ups are also more violent than kids. When kids tussle, if one of them gets actually hurt, they break it off. In prison, on battlefields around the world, this isn’t the case. It’s mano-a-mano, fight to the death stuff and men get hurt real bad.

    — Catxman



    August 4, 2021 at 8:34 PM

  9. Yep, that’s red alright.

    Steve Gingold

    August 5, 2021 at 4:07 AM

  10. As gorgeous as that red is, it’s quite useful, too. Any hummingbird looking for a little nourishment can easily find this plant; its flowers are easy to spot even in the midst of a sea of green.


    August 5, 2021 at 7:45 AM

    • Speaking of hummingbirds, as I was answering your previous comment I noticed two hummingbirds chasing around outside my window. whether they’d been to or soon would go to the nearby Turk’s cap flowers, I couldn’t tell.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2021 at 8:44 AM

  11. Der kleine Prinz, The Little Prince, and Le Petit Prince played an important role during my high school years and continue to be among my favorite books. In theory, I agree that everyone should be allowed an opportunity to speak his or her opinion without being judged summarily and a priori.

    However, at some point, if someone has uttered nothing but lies or incendiary language, I will not listen to him again. Your argument theoretically opens the door for a person like Hitler, and other demagogues who follow his play-book, to speak their mind and to mislead their followers again and again.


    August 5, 2021 at 10:14 PM

    • As many others before me have said: the remedy to bad speech is good speech. If there’s evidence to disprove the claims a person is making, then people should disseminate that evidence far and wide. We’ve very quickly and alarmingly reached a place where powerful organizations won’t allow people to even question certain things.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2021 at 10:58 PM

  12. […] a comment on an earlier post showing a Turk’s cap flower (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) in our yard on July 15th, […]

  13. […] On July 15th artsy me couldn’t resist making this portrait of a Turk’s cap flower(Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) viewed from the tip of its long central column. […]

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