Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchid

with 22 comments

November in Austin is prime time for Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum), so on the first day of the month I hied me over to a property a few miles from home where I’ve been finding the species for the past decade. After wandering around for a while I thought I’d failed, as has happened in lean years. Eventually I came across exactly one orchid, and it turned my failure to success. (On the way back I found three more orchids in a small area but they were shorter and grew in places where portraits would have included background clutter.) The right vantage point revealed a tiny spider:

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Here are two related thoughts from approximately 1700 years apart.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” — Juvenal. English translations have included “Who will watch the watchmen?” and “Who will guard the guards themselves?” You could add current relevance with “Who will be in charge of the people who are in charge?” or “Who will police the police?” or “Who will fact-check the fact checkers?”

“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” — James Madison in Federalist Papers, No. 51 (1788).

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 12, 2021 at 4:40 AM

22 Responses

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  1. Elegant and graceful describe these two images for me. Tiny spiders seem to be everywhere this autumn.


    November 12, 2021 at 5:57 AM

    • “Elegant” and “graceful” are fine by me. Thanks!
      As you say, tiny spiders have abounded.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2021 at 6:04 AM

  2. Nicely seen. I love the twist many plants exhibit as they grow. It creates some beautiful patterns which you’ve captured and shown here. I’ve noticed it quite often with certain trees in the area, which surprised me though I suppose it shouldn’t. And fascinating finding the spider right on the tip.

    Todd Henson

    November 12, 2021 at 7:01 AM

    • Had I not decided to be artsy and look down from the top, I might not have noticed the tiny spider. I’ve come to realize that at the time I take I photograph I often miss a small detail and don’t see it till I look at the picture on a large monitor later—sometimes even years later.

      I’m sure with you about twists and curves in nature, which provide an endless source of photographic delight, as you’ve derived from those trees in your area.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2021 at 7:30 AM

  3. I once published a landscape photo on Flickr and did not notice a bird perched on a distant treetop until a follower with a keen eye reported it to me. I am sure I would have missed the tiny spider that you discovered in the cropped image.

    Peter Klopp

    November 12, 2021 at 9:30 AM

  4. I came upon some Ladies Tresses during the 2015 NPSOT symposium, but my photos were nowhere near yours in technical or artistic merit. Also found some once on a visit to Florida, but didn’t manage to get focus as well as hoped. (I blame the Parkinson’s).
    The first photo is tall and slim (a simpler way to express elegant and graceful, one supposes), the second, with the spider, draws attention away from the orchid, but no complaints here. I am always intrigued by the sometimes life and death struggles going on on flowers, with spiders waiting for a pollinator or two to land and get immersed in their business before trying to take the opportunity get on with their (the spider’s) business.
    Two great quotes. Don’t know the source, but I recall the gist of this related one: A democracy depends on an educated and informed electorate. (A quick search found it is similar to views expressed by Thomas Jefferson, but other quotes attributed to him were also just paraphrases of his views on education and democracy).


    November 12, 2021 at 10:15 AM

    • Like you, I’ve seen plenty of life and death struggles on plants, including a memorable one in which an assassin bug was sucking out the insides of its prey. And of course I’ve found zillions of spiders with prey.

      The curve of the orchid appealed to me as a slight deviation from the straight vertical narowness of the photographic frame.

      I’m fond of finding similar thoughts from people greatly separated in time and space. There’s nothing new under the sun, perceptive people have pointed out. I remember reading about the need for an educated and informed electorate—just what our public schools massively fail to produce.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2021 at 12:03 PM

  5. That is a beautiful image Steve, and I am fond of spiders.

    Lavinia Ross

    November 12, 2021 at 10:37 AM

  6. ‘Who will watch the watchmen?’ — and yes, if the balance of power depended on the goodness in the souls of men, we would indeed walk with angels in a world of paz.

    That tiny spider adds a lot — today a group of 50 people from Venezuela came through the exhibit, and before they entered, I mentioned how much we miss by not slowing down and inspecting what’s right in front of us. Your spider is a perfect example, but it’s one that would be spotted by probably one in a few thousand!

    Nice catch!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    November 12, 2021 at 3:53 PM

    • 50 people from Venezuela: that implies easier travel than I expected, unless the Venezuelans were already living in Ecuador.

      Watching the watchers has become important in the United States, where many of our governmental institutions have unfortunately become politicized.

      As for the tiny spider, I don’t think I ever would have noticed it without looking through my macro lens, which has revealed many otherwise hidden things over the years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2021 at 4:17 PM

      • si… the camera makes a great aid for our vision.
        for several years, maybe more, ecuador has allowed the refugees to enter without much fuss. so many – like those in central america – don’t want to be away from their home country, but they had few choices. about four years ago there was a beautiful attorney from venezuela who was working in restaurants in the cloud forest.. she ended up going to germany because it was easier to get a legal visa. when people leave everything behind – or it’s almost impossible to get the proper paperwork under present conditions, they have so few choices in the countries that accept them.
        most of the ones who toured the exhibit were ‘from the calle’ – but they were well scrubbed, bright, cheerful, some practiced their English — groups like that always humble me.

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        November 12, 2021 at 5:32 PM

        • What happened in Venezuela is such a shame. I feel sorry for the millions of people who had to leave. My father and his family got out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s and were fortunate to come to the United States, but many of the Venezuelans haven’t been that lucky. If the United Nations was worth anything at all, it should have intervened to throw out the dictator in Venezuela.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 12, 2021 at 6:20 PM

  7. I don’t know how it plays mathematically, but I’ve often considered the difference between ‘one’ and ‘none.’ You certainly found a fine ‘one’ in this ladies’ tresses orchid. Apart from the lovely curve, I’m impressed that you were able to capture the silky/translucent texture of the flowers, and the little ruffle on the lip. They’re so beautiful. I hope I find some this weekend, but if I don’t, I’ll find something.

    Reading the quotations, it occurred to me that we could use more of Juvenal’s wisdom in our elected officials, and less juvenile behavior.


    November 12, 2021 at 4:55 PM

    • Mathematics sometimes maps the entire continuum of real numbers onto the interval from 0 to 1. For example, the realm of probabilities can’t be less than 0 (none) or more than 1. Philosophically, at some point each of us was a zero, which is to say we didn’t exist, and then suddenly we were alive 1 hundred percent.

      I used flash and a small aperture to capture as much texture and detail in the flowers as I could, especially because the closest flowers came forward into a different plane from the ones on the side, and I had to keep everything in focus from top to bottom.

      Good luck finding your own ladies’ tresses this weekend. And good luck to the country in following Juvenal rather than engaging in juvenile behavior (good play on words).

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2021 at 5:30 PM

  8. I only saw one pair of ladies’ tresses this year and haven’t decided whether they are share worthy. This one certainly is and your dark background really accentuates its beauty.

    Steve Gingold

    November 12, 2021 at 6:11 PM

    • As you’ve seen, I’ve resorted to a lot of dark backgrounds recently. Many, like this one, are the result of flash falling off quickly enough not to light up the junk in the distance.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2021 at 6:22 PM

      • I like the way the dark background prevents any distractions from the shape of the curve and the textures of both flowers and stem – a great plant portrait! (And spider portrait too. 🙂 )

        Ann Mackay

        November 14, 2021 at 11:28 AM

        • Thanks and thanks. I’ve been going for dark backgrounds a lot this year as a way to isolate a subject.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 14, 2021 at 5:58 PM

  9. What an amazing flower !!


    November 13, 2021 at 6:59 AM

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