Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

The other Liatris in Bastrop

with 16 comments

The other species of Liatris we saw on September 23rd in Bastrop that doesn’t grow in Austin is Liatris elegans, elegant blazing-star, which is unusual in having pale yellow or cream-colored flowers rather than the expected purple ones. As with other Liatris species, the flower spikes of this one tilt at varying angles, with the most extreme being largely horizontal, as above (which meant I had to lie on the ground and aim high enough to get a shot clear of distractions in the background). Even so, the predominant orientation for Litatris flower spikes is upright, which you can confirm in the closer frame-filling view below. Does your imagination let you see how “blazing star” came to be a common name for Liatris?

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At least twice in these pages I’ve quoted George Santayana’s most famous line: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The other day a friend pointed me to a passage by Santayana that I didn’t know, from the essay “The Irony of Liberalism“:

Now what is the direction of change which seems progress to liberals? A pure liberal might reply, The direction of liberty itself: the ideal is that every man should move in whatever direction he likes, with the aid of such as agree with him, and without interfering with those who disagree. Liberty so conceived would be identical with happiness, with spontaneous life, blamelessly and safely lived; and the impulse of liberalism, to give everybody what he wants, in so far as that is possible, would be identical with simple kindness. Benevolence was one of the chief motives in liberalism in the beginning, and many a liberal is still full of kindness in his private capacity; but politically, as a liberal, he is something more than kind. The direction in which many, or even most, people would like to move fills him with disgust and indignation; he does not at all wish them to be happy, unless they can be happy on his own diet; and being a reformer and a philanthropist, he exerts himself to turn all men into the sort of men he likes, so as to be able to like them. It would be selfish, he thinks, to let people alone. They must be helped, and not merely helped to what they desire—that might really be very bad for them—but helped onwards, upwards, in the right direction. Progress could not be rightly placed in a smaller population, a simpler economy, more moral diversity between nations, and stricter moral discipline in each of them. That would be progress backwards, and if it made people happier, it would not make the liberal so.

That’s as true of illiberals today as when Santayana wrote the essay a century ago.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 8, 2021 at 4:37 AM

16 Responses

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  1. That must make for a complicating trudge for a bug to find its way through in the second shot.

    Are you as self-critical as you are with those whom you disagree? As much as I differ from you I still analyze myself and wonder how correct I am in my thinking. Some say that is a big difference between a conservative and a liberal.

    Steve Gingold

    October 8, 2021 at 5:17 AM

    • The second picture made me wonder if there’s a critter in there that I couldn’t see.

      So much depends on how terms are defined. I’ve sometimes used “Classical liberal” to refer to someone who believes in liberty, including free speech, and who is content to live and let live, rather than trying to force others to believe things (including crazy things like biological sex not really existing). More generally, even trying to put labels on people at all distorts reality, given how much individuals differ. You could say that by temperament I usually approach things in a “conservative” way, but then I don’t subscribe to all the policies that a “conservative” might be thought to favor. For example, I’ve always believed that all drugs should be legal. I know that some additional people will abuse drugs and harm themselves, but that happens a lot already. Making all drugs legal (and not taxing them overly much) would cut out the criminal element that’s such a big problem now. Another example: many “conservatives” are big on religion, which I’m not at all.

      And of course it goes the other way, too (assuming only a liberal-conservative opposition, which is a false dichotomy in the first place). Your recent comment about favoring a policy toward criminals of two rather than three strikes and you’re out sets you apart from the many “liberals” who have been going out of their way not to prosecute actual criminals.

      I do try to find out the facts of a matter (you recall I mentioned spending hours doing research for some of my recent posts). And sometimes I change my mind. Fifty years ago I favored open borders. My thinking was that people are equally worthy all over the world, so why should an accident of birth determine a person’s life. Of course I still believe people everywhere are equally worthy, but now I’ve been led to give more weight to the practical side of the matter: if tens of millions of people suddenly move here, here won’t be here anymore. I’ve taken to calling it the lifeboat principle. If a fully loaded lifeboat can hold 20 people, and 30 people scramble to get on it, everyone drowns.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2021 at 5:55 AM

  2. I have some end-of-season photos of Liatris elegans that I came across in the Sandylands refuge last year. Because of the color, I didn’t recognize them immediately. They were much shorter than yours seem to be; as I recall, the tallest would have been only about twelve to sixteen inches in height. When I looked at my photos, I saw that I took them on October 14 — and I’d forgotten that even liatris will go to seed with some delightful fluffiness.

    For whatever reason, this bloom is more dense than what I found, and less pink. Were they in full sun?


    October 8, 2021 at 8:28 AM

    • A few of the stalks of both Liatris species we saw in Bastrop had already turned at least partly fluffy, while others were still budding. Let’s hope that variety still persists this weekend. The specimens I photographed clearly were getting full sun at the time; I don’t know if trees in the vicinity would have cast shade on the flowers earlier or later in the day. So much better if the specimens in Bastrop are colored differently and have denser flowers than the ones you saw closer to you.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2021 at 3:30 PM

  3. Interesting composition in the first picture – a downward curve or trend, much like a stock market before a crash. I would have expected the opposite – with the photo flipped horizontally, would be more in line with what I like to see in the reports I get on my retirement accounts.
    As for Santayana, it appears that his essay is putting thoughts into the minds of “liberals” without actually quoting anyone directly or pointing to any actions. I believe this would be called building a “sandman” against one would ague in debate, (could be wrong, been a long time since I read anything in the area, and I hear Longfellow’s cataract on the mountain above to look it up). I also believe it is called “mindf’ing,” where one says what another person is thinking without asking. them. I’ve had it done to me in the past, andit’s not pleasant when it’s done in person. But separated by space and time, one can laugh about it and even write songs about it, if one is so inclined. Which reminds me of the late Phil Ochs song “Love Me, I’m A Liberal.”


    October 8, 2021 at 9:08 AM

    • After three weeks in which the few stocks we own all declined noticeably, I can relate to your first sentence. It also reminds me now of the Portuguese proverb our teacher taught us in 1965: “Uns soubem, outros descem,” which means “Some go up and others go down.”

      I don’t know the background behind Santayana’s essay. I assume the audience he was writing for knew who he was criticizing. Even without specific identities from a century ago, the type of person he described is still very much with us. It includes activists who keep insisting everyone else should reorder their lives and values for the sake of the latest group they deem aggrieved. It includes the ones who believe in the unlimited perfectibility of people and who therefore keep agitating for criminals not to be prosecuted (for example https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/prosecutors-reject-charges-against-5-suspects-in-deadly-gang-related-gunfight/2628059). It includes the ones who insist that arithmetic (along with almost everything else under the sun) is racist. It includes the ones who tell us we’re not allowed to say “pregnant women” anymore. And on and on.

      I attended a Phil Ochs concert at Columbia in 1966. I know the song you mentioned, and he probably sang it at that concert, but after all these years I can’t say so for sure.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2021 at 3:57 PM

      • I think the problem is that we are primates who think we were made in God’s image, when most likely “God” was made in man’s image.
        The Chicago violence apparently was not charged because they were “mutual combatants” who willingly engaged in the violent fight. Kind of analogous to how two adults engaging in consensual sex shouldn’t be charged with a crime (as long as they don’t do it in the road, to allude to a musical hero). Seems like the prosecutors are okay with gang members killing each other. Not sure that that is a “liberal” position. But maybe a cynical and pragmatic one, from the prosecutors’ points of view


        October 10, 2021 at 2:59 PM

        • I’m relieved you put “mutual combatants” in quotes. The semantic tergiversations that some ideologues resort to in trying to justify their positions is astounding. The non-prosecuting prosecutor in the case is no doubt on record decrying “gun violence,” yet wouldn’t even charge the gang members—at least one of whom was filmed shooting someone to death—for having illegal guns and firing them in the city. That stance isn’t “liberal” in the classic sense of the term, but it sure is “leftist” or “woke” or whatever other name you’d like to use for that transgressive ideology. Do you have any doubt that if the gang members had been white they’d all be in jail without bail awaiting murder trials? I don’t.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 10, 2021 at 4:03 PM

  4. As you pointed out in an earlier comment, there is no need to look for this unusual flower in our latitudes.

    Peter Klopp

    October 8, 2021 at 9:54 AM

  5. I love liatris, and it does do well in this area.

    Steve, I generally don’t get involved in political discussion, as I am no expert and abhor the unnecessary divisions it creates in society. Humans are still a very tribal species. From my mole’s eye view, human politics looks very much like a number line, with infinity in each direction. I’ve gathered from reading, listening and talking to people, is that what is conservative versus what is liberal seems to depend on where an individual sits on the number line, and labels seem very inadequate and divisive, fueling everything from microagression to outright war. Enough said from me. I will continue to enjoy the flowers and countryside you present. Please forgive me if I skip the political discussions. Seems to be no escaping it from any corner these days! I do enjoy your excellent photos, love of nature and your intellect.

    Lavinia Ross

    October 8, 2021 at 12:46 PM

    • Hi, Lavinia. I empathize with what you said. For nine years this blog dealt almost exclusively with nature (and a bit with language and even math, as both of those are longstanding interests of mine.) It was after things got so crazy in 2020 that I felt I had to begin speaking out against the increasing assaults on liberal values that have been threatening our freedoms. I fully understand your not wanting to get caught up in political and cultural discussions. I’ve been putting those at the ends of my posts, separated from the nature parts by a clear marker, so people who want only nature can stop there and read no further.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 8, 2021 at 4:08 PM

  6. That makes the little liatris plants I see in our garden centres look positively tiny. It’s interesting to see how much the species of a plant can vary.

    Ann Mackay

    October 9, 2021 at 7:32 AM

    • In contrast, I usually have no idea what sorts of flowers are available in garden centers. A relevant exception took place years ago when I noticed that the floral section in an upscale grocery store was selling Liatris flower spikes that had been grown in South America and airlifted here. I seem to remember that they were smaller and more regular than what grows in the wild in Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 9, 2021 at 7:38 AM

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