Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Two takes on amberique bean

with 21 comments

Not so long ago I showed an August 22nd picture of amberique bean (Strophostyles helvula or helvola) and I mentioned not often seeing that plant around Austin. Well, on September 30th near Bull Creek I found some more. By then the yellowing leaves offered a bit of early fall color.

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Why don’t things that are easily fixed get fixed?

Non-fiction books used to have footnotes. As “foot” implies, each footnote appeared at the bottom of a page and corresponded to a sentence higher up on the same page. That made it easy to match the little number at the end of a sentence with the matching numbered footnote below. For whatever reason—perhaps because book designers prefer pages to have a single kind of formatting—footnotes have now mostly given way to endnotes, which appear as a group at the back of the book.

One immediate disadvantage to using endnotes is that if you want to see a note you can’t just look down at the bottom of the page but have to flip to the back of the book and hunt for the matching note. Complicating the search is that the numbering of the notes starts all over with each new chapter, so you have to know which chapter you’re currently in. While some books repeat the title of the chapter at the top of each page or double-page spread, almost no books tell you the number of the chapter at the top of the page. So first you have to thumb back until you find the beginning of the chapter you’re in so you know its number. Then you run into the same problem in the endnotes, where the chapter number is usually given only at the beginning of each section of notes; if the section of notes for a chapter continues for several pages, as often happens, then past the first page of that section you can’t tell what chapter the notes correspond to.

One easy fix for the problem is to put the chapter number at the top of every double-page spread of text and again at the top of every double-page spread of endnotes.

Another fix would be sequential numbering of the notes from the beginning of the book to the end, rather than starting the numbering over with each new chapter—just as page numbers are consecutive and don’t restart with each new chapter. With consecutive numbering of notes, chapter numbers become irrelevant and all you have to do is search for the note number you want in the section at the back. (Some people might object that continuous footnote numbers in a big book could run to four digits, but I have confidence that people who are reading big books with lots of notes in the first place can handle four digits.)

Another solution is the one adopted in the book I’m currently reading, Jonathan Rauch’s The Constitution of Knowledge. Note numbers do start over with each new chapter, but in the notes section at the back of the book, the top of each page tells you what pages in the book the notes match up with, for example “Notes to Pages 238–49.” That way, before turning to the back of the book, all you have to do is see what page of text the number you’re interested in is on, then look for that page number at the end. That eliminates the need to know which chapter a note refers to.

Or, best of all, publishers could just go back to good old footnotes and save us the annoyance of repeatedly flipping back and forth between text and endnotes.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 6, 2021 at 4:35 AM

21 Responses

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  1. Kind of a sour note on end notes then. I’ve read a few annotated volumes, where I appreciated having margin notes, another option. And a benefit of “ebooks” is The ability to display the end notes as a pop-up.

    Robert Parker

    November 6, 2021 at 7:10 AM

    • Good point: I hadn’t thought about e-books at all, probably because I’ve had essentially no experience with them. I assume an e-book could have live links to many of the sources mentioned in the notes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2021 at 8:04 AM

  2. I remember a presentation by Bill Carr (one of the authors of the book on rare and endangered plants of Texas) in which he noted that the main reason that Travis County has so many more reported species than Williamson is the geological difference with the Bull Creek area area providing a number of niche habitats that don’t exist elsewhere in the counties in question.
    In Gainesville, FL, there is a large sinkhole called the Devil’s Millhopper that provides a similar set of unique niche habitats – as you descend towards the bottom you encounter plants usually found at higher elevations.


    November 6, 2021 at 7:32 AM

    • I hadn’t realized that Bull Creek, which is in my part of Austin and whose environs have provided me with many photos, is a hotspot for species diversity. Another contributor to species diversity in Travis County is the easternmost section, parts of which are more like Bastrop, with sandy soil.

      Can’t say I’ve ever heard of Devil’s Millhopper, where down is up, from what you say.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2021 at 8:09 AM

  3. Another alternative to footnotes might be enclosing the reference information inside parentheses (although that might result in some rather lengthy sentences).


    November 6, 2021 at 7:40 AM

  4. The yellowing leaves may have been the result of an extended dry period. I often observed trees even shedding some of their leaves after a long heatwave in our region.

    Peter Klopp

    November 6, 2021 at 9:14 AM

    • That happens to the horse-chestnut trees in this area too. They really struggle when we have droughts and the leaves go yellow very early. I wonder if their lives will be shorter because of repeated dry years.

      Ann Mackay

      November 6, 2021 at 6:38 PM

    • I, too, have seen leaves turn color from drought. In this case we’d just had rain, though the leaves might have turned yellow before the rain.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2021 at 8:02 PM

  5. It would be interesting to determine if footnotes HAVE genuinely migrated to the back of books across publishing genres. Are, perhaps, pure textbooks still footnoted, while ones destined for wider readership end-noted? I certainly don’t know.
    Edited versions of fiction also have the same dichotomy. For my second reading of Proust’s book, I’m trying Penguin’s edition, rather than the tried-and-true Moncrieff translation. They’re extremely well edited. Yes, end notes. They use what I consider the best of your suggestions: running, sequential note numbers. It means using two bookmarks: one for one’s place in the text and one for the current place in the notes, but workable.
    Happy reading.

    Brad Nixon

    November 6, 2021 at 11:30 AM

    • I haven’t done a thorough study—including textbooks, for example—of endnotes versus footnotes. I read mostly recent non-fiction books, and eventually I realized that every one I’ve read recently has had endnotes rather than footnotes. The examples you’ve mentioned fit that pattern, too.

      Like you, I thought about using two bookmarks, one for the text and the other for the endnotes. It occurred to me, though, that if I didn’t look up any notes for a while, then the bookmark in the back would no longer correspond to where I was reading in the text.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2021 at 9:33 PM

  6. I’m so taken with the black background showing through the skeletonized portions of the leaves. Yellow and black are a dramatic combination in any case, and the added ‘design’ only increases the interest.

    I recently found a companion species to your bean in east Texas: ‘fuzzy bean,’ or Strophostyles umbellata . It’s also pink, and pretty as can be. It was interesting to look at the USDA map for the fuzzy bean; there, it seems to be absent in counties where the Trinity River flows. The BONAP map differs somewhat, but its presence still is a little patchy.


    November 6, 2021 at 9:47 PM

    • Welcome back, yellow and black. You’ve reminded me that stop signs when we were children had black letters on a yellow field, whereas now they have white letters on a red field. Several websites say the change took effect in 1954. Of course many of the black-on-yellow stop signs lingered for years before getting replaced.

      Skeletonized: now there’s a word we don’t often hear (even at Halloween).

      I checked the USDA map for Strophostyles helvola and found that it also grows over by you, but your species doesn’t return the favor, growing only as far west as east Texas.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2021 at 4:18 AM

  7. I like the detail of the skeleton of the leaf showing, and yellow against black is always a winner. I agree about footnotes! My version of Moby-Dick had endnotes and seemed to account for half of the book.

    Alessandra Chaves

    November 7, 2021 at 7:26 AM

    • I’m with you on the yellow-against-black combination. Yellow strikes me as the brightest color, and of course black is the absence of color.

      Inner structures made visible, as in today’s second photograph, have given me some pictures over the years that I’ve been happy with, for example one you may remember from half a year ago:

      Textures of different kinds

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2021 at 10:43 AM

  8. Today, the migratory Eastern Kingbirds were in a feeding frenzy at the park – and when not sallying for insects, they were eating variations of the pea family from at least three species. I was thinking about how important the ‘little peas’ are to insects and birds and oftentimes animals as well.

    Love that vivid yellow against the almost black background, and yes, I prefer footnotes over end notes. Who wants to stop and flip to the back of the book – or make a mental note of the page and seek the information later?

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 7, 2021 at 11:17 PM

    • I think the pea family may be the second most common one that native plant species here belong to (the sunflower family being the most common). Speaking of which, you and I are like two peas in a pod when it comes to preferring footnotes over end notes.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2021 at 4:51 AM

  9. Skeletonized leaves are always good subjects and this one looks great against the black.

    Steve Gingold

    November 8, 2021 at 3:22 AM

    • This kind of skeletonizing is something I associate more with leaves up north than with the ones I see down here—or else I haven’t been observant enough. Once again, flash and a small aperture gave me a dark background that worked especially well for such bright yellow leaves.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 8, 2021 at 4:54 AM

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