Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Portraits from our yard, episode 13

with 28 comments

Throughout August I kept my eye on the lone Eupatorium serotinum plant growing where our driveway meets the curb. Gradually the plant began putting out buds, which toward the end of the month finally started opening. Common names for this species include late-flowering thoroughwort, white boneset, late boneset, and late-flowering boneset. At one point I noticed a tiny bee, maybe only a quarter of an inch long (6mm), as shown in the closer picture below. Some of the buds look like miniature cauliflowers, don’t you think?

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The United States is in a bad way, educationally speaking. That’s not new, but things have worsened. Three mathematics professors who had come to the United States as immigrants made some important points about that in a recent Quillette article entitled “As US Schools Prioritize Diversity Over Merit, China Is Becoming the World’s STEM Leader.” (STEM is an acronym for ‘science, technology, engineering, mathematics.’)

In a 2015 survey conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board, about 55 percent of all participating graduate students in mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering at US schools were found to be foreign nationals. In 2017, the National Foundation for American Policy estimated that international students accounted for 81 percent of full-time graduate students in electrical engineering at U.S. universities; and 79 percent of full-time graduate students in computer science.

That report also concluded that many programs in these fields couldn’t even be maintained without international students. In our field, mathematics, we find that at most top departments in the United States, at least two-thirds of the faculty are foreign born. (And even among those faculty born in the United States, a large portion are first-generation Americans.) Similar patterns may be observed in other STEM disciplines.

In a 2018 report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), China ranked first in mathematical proficiency among 15-year-olds, while the United States was in 25th place. And a recent large-scale study of adults’ cognitive abilities, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that many Americans lack the basic skills in math and reading required for successful participation in the economy. This poor performance can’t be explained by budgetary factors: When it comes to education spending per pupil, the United States ranks fifth among 37 developed OECD nations.

There are numerous underlying factors that help explain these failures—including some that, as mathematicians, we feel competent to address. One obvious problem lies in the way teachers are trained. The vast majority of K-12 math teachers in the United States are graduates of programs that teach little in the way of substantive mathematics beyond so-called math methods courses (which focus on such topics as “understanding the complexities of diverse, multiple-ability classrooms”). This has been true for some time. But the trend has become more noticeable in recent years, as curricula increasingly shift from actual mathematics knowledge to courses about social justice and identity politics.

At the same time, math majors—who can arrive in the classroom pre-equipped with substantive mathematics knowledge—must go through the process of teacher certification before they can teach math in most public schools, a costly and time-consuming prerequisite. The policy justification for this is that all teachers need pedagogical training to perform effectively. But to our knowledge, this claim isn’t supported by the experience of other advanced countries. Moreover, in those US schools where certification isn’t required, such as in many charter and private schools, math majors and PhDs are in great demand, and the quality of math instruction they provide is often superior.

There’s plenty more in the full article.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 12, 2021 at 4:36 AM

28 Responses

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  1. I saw on another blog that boneset is in bloom up north in the Ohio area as well. We don’t have much here on the place but just north of town we used to have access to eighty acres of undeveloped land where boneset and goldenrod thrived this time of year. Unfortunately, that tract of land has a different owner who has leased the property to people who run UTV’s and ATV’s all over the land, ripping over native plants, leaving trash and destroying the wild beauty of the place. I’m glad to have photographed so much of that place five to ten years ago. It’s rare to find land and native plants in such a raw and untouched setting. Does your boneset get tall? It can reach more than five feet here!


    September 12, 2021 at 7:03 AM

    • The common names boneset and thoroughwort apply to various species and even genera. When I searched for “boneset” on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website just now I got hits for species in the genera Eupatorium, Ageratina, and Conoclinium (which all have representatives in central Texas). The species shown in this post, Eupatorium serotinum, grows in an erect fashion and can get to about 5 ft. tall.

      I’m sorry but not surprised to hear about that land near you getting torn up. At least you got to see and photograph it when it was in better shape. I had problems taking pictures of dunes in the Southwest on our recent trips because so many of them had vehicle tracks across them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 12, 2021 at 7:57 AM

  2. As you know, I am a huge fan of Boneset so am quite pleased to see yours although sorry you only found one. Since it is by your driveway I am sure you will often be treated to a variety of visitors, or at least hope that you are.

    Steve Gingold

    September 12, 2021 at 8:55 AM

    • Yes, you’ve shown us what a fan of boneset you are. I believe this lone plant is a descendant of one that Eve planted further up the driveway years ago. As for visitors, I’ve noticed the usual high quota of insects that plants of this type attract.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 12, 2021 at 10:32 AM

  3. It’s pretty and looks like lace.


    September 12, 2021 at 9:12 AM

  4. The beauty of these photos is in the small details of the late-flowering thoroughwort. How many people may have passed by this plant without noticing it?!

    Peter Klopp

    September 12, 2021 at 10:03 AM

    • I was out at the curb last week to put the garbage can away when I guy who I didn’t know came walking by and commented on this plant. It helps to have a macro lens to appreciate the fine details you mentioned.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 12, 2021 at 10:43 AM

  5. Sort of. I suppose they do look something like cauliflower.


    September 12, 2021 at 11:12 AM

  6. Miniature cauliflowers! 🙂 I would not have thought of that, but they really do.

    Todd Henson

    September 12, 2021 at 11:52 AM

  7. Lovely plants, that boneset–and it is lacy! I like seeing that little native bee enjoying the blooms!


    September 12, 2021 at 4:15 PM

    • I wouldn’t set any bones with it, but I’d set stock in it as a good source of portraits in which people like you see the flowers as lacy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 12, 2021 at 4:35 PM

  8. The buds are really cute.

    Alessandra Chaves

    September 12, 2021 at 6:29 PM

  9. The exceptional sharpness of both images really emphasizes the pretty details. You’re right about the cauliflower-like resemblance, too. There’s a non-native feverfew (Parthenium hysterophorus) down here that has the same tiny, veggie-shaped buds; I think I remember you photos of P. confertum in the past. They’re all cute little things.


    September 13, 2021 at 7:16 AM

    • You’re right about my having pointed out that Parthenium buds also remind me of tiny cauliflowers.

      Getting close pictures of the various “mistflowers” is difficult because the parts of the inflorescence lie at different enough distances from a plane to thwart getting everything in focus at the same time. To deal with that I used my ring flash on full power so I could stop down to f/20, and that did the trick.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 13, 2021 at 8:14 AM

  10. That’s pretty and very different to anything I’ve seen before with all those strands looking like short threads. I can see the cauliflower resemblance too.

    Ann Mackay

    September 14, 2021 at 6:19 PM

    • Plants like this that produce strands that resemble short threads are sometimes called mistflowers because from a distance the many little threads can create a misty impression. Here’s a lavender-colored one

      Blue mistflower at Hamilton Pool Preserve

      and here’s a cream-colored one

      One of our mistflowers

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 15, 2021 at 5:10 AM

      • They look like they could be called ‘threadflowers’ – especially the lavender one. It looks as if it could have been created from embroidery thread!

        Ann Mackay

        September 16, 2021 at 4:15 AM

  11. Wow, I’ve never seen Boneset look so elegant! The first photo is gorgeous. It doesn’t grow here but I remember it from NY/NJ/etc. I was always fond of that flower – simple and humble, with a name that harks back to early days and uses. It’s a provider of cheer and brightness when summer light is fading.


    September 14, 2021 at 7:42 PM

    • If only some of this boneset’s elegance could rub off on the photographer!

      We’re so much further south here in Austin than New York and Washington State that I don’t think about summer light fading the way I did when I was a kid on Long Island—when, ironically, I didn’t know about native plants in general and boneset in particular.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 15, 2021 at 5:18 AM

  12. […] It’s not a coincidence that those flowers somewhat resemble the ones you recently saw on a boneset plant in my yard: both species belong to the Eupatoriae tribe within the very large sunflower […]

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