Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Palmetto State Park revisited

with 25 comments

After this January’s little freeze but before February’s horrendous freeze and snow and ice, we drove 65 miles south to Palmetto State Park, as you saw in posts from early this year. On a sunny and mild November 23rd we revisited the park for the first time since then. The palmettos (Sabal minor) looked pretty good, don’t you think? Where the top picture sets the scene and provides context, the closer view below leans into abstraction and follows a more-is-more aesthetic.

Back to nature: apparently the great February freeze hadn’t seriously hurt the palmettos. It’s normal for there to be some tan and brown fronds as old leaves die and new ones emerge. Such is the great chain of being.

Ω              Ω

What follows is a bit long. I hope you’ll read at least the second part.

Last week we heard that a new Covid-19 variant is spreading. All the variants of the virus so far have been named with consecutive letters of the Greek alphabet. The most serious and now dominant variant is Delta, which is the 4th letter in the Greek alphabet. The latest variant is Omicron, the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet. English speakers are not nearly as familiar with the letter omicron as with the letter delta, which our language has borrowed as the name for the area where a river widens out and deposits sediment as it flows into the sea. Americans also recognize Delta Airlines, named for the delta of the Mississippi River.

Because people are less familiar with omicron, they aren’t always sure how to pronounce it. If you’ve listened to the news for any length of time over the past week, you’ve probably heard some people pronounce the first syllable ah, while others say oh. English dictionaries accept both (but certainly not the omnicron that some people have mangled the word to). I’ve always pronounced the first syllable oh because omicron is the Greek letter that Latin and then English borrowed as our letter o.

Omicron is more than the name of a Greek letter, it’s a description of the sound the letter originally represented. Omicron is o micron, literally ‘little o’ (think about microscope and microprocessor). Greek has another letter that’s also pronounced o; it’s omega, meaning ‘big o’ (think of megaphone and megachurch). Those descriptions correspond to the fact that Greeks in ancient times held the o sound of omicron for a shorter time than the o sound of omega, which was what linguists call a long vowel. From what I’ve read, Greek lost the pronunciation distinction between little o and big o a long time ago.

Omega (written 𝛀 as a capital and 𝛚 in lower case) is the 24th and last letter of the Greek alphabet (hence the alpha and omega, the first and last, of Christianity). How Covid-19 variants will get named after the 24th one, I don’t know. I’ve joked that maybe we’ll switch to Chinese ideograms, of which there are thousands.


Yesterday American authorities announced the first detected case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in the United States. That caused something of a panic in certain quarters and has added one more consideration to ongoing discussions of pandemic travel restrictions. At a news conference yesterday, reporter Peter Doocy posed a couple of questions to White House Coronavirus Response Team member Dr. Anthony Fauci: “You advised the president about the possibility of new testing requirements for people coming into this country. Does that include everybody?” Dr. Fauci replied: “The answer is yes.” Peter Doocy followed up by asking: “What about people who don’t take a plane, and just these border crossers coming in in huge numbers?” Dr. Fauci’s response was “That’s a different issue.”

It shouldn’t be a different issue—at least not if you believe in science. In case you didn’t catch what an evasion Dr. Fauci’s answer was, and how illogical and hypocritical, I’ll be happy to explain. The Centers for Disease Control hosts a What You Need to Know page for international airplane travel:

  • If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get a COVID-19 viral test (regardless of vaccination status) before you travel by air into the United States. You must show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight.
    • Fully vaccinated: The viral test must be conducted on a sample taken no more than 3 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country if you show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
    • Not fully vaccinated: The viral test must be conducted on a sample taken no more than 1 day before the flight’s departure from a foreign country if you do not show proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • If you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19 (i.e., your positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel).

At the same time, people illegally coming across the American border from Mexico do not have to show proof of full or even partial Covid-19 vaccination. Unless they’re exhibiting obvious respiratory distress, they don’t even need to be tested for the virus. The current administration has let hundreds of thousands of illegal border-crossers with unknown vaccine status and unknown infection status continue on into our country since January, and in many cases the administration has even paid for their bus and plane tickets into the interior of our country. In sum, unvaccinated and untested non-citizens coming into our country illegally during a pandemic don’t have to follow the health and safety requirements that the American government imposes on its own citizens. That’s lawless. That’s hypocritical. And of course with regard to controlling a pandemic, it’s anti-science.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 2, 2021 at 4:29 AM

25 Responses

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  1. The question is, however, if this new variant is in fact dangerous…. Viruses mutate constantly – and locally -and these new variants do not necessarily get ‘transmitted’ via people across borders. The omicron variant may have been in the US weeks before it was detected in Africa. And perhaps it has already been present in other countries and remains unnoticed. In any case, take care Steve!


    December 2, 2021 at 5:17 AM

    • One South African doctor who has been dealing with the Omicron variant in South Africa and who has been shown a bunch of times on American television, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, has said patients have been experiencing mild symptoms so far. Whether future patients with Omicron develop severe symptoms or even die remains to be seen. As for transmission via airplane versus walking across a border, I haven’t seen any studies comparing the two. I have seen plenty of pictures showing illegal border crossers—sometimes many of them—in close proximity without masks. And a portion of the people walking in from Mexico got to Mexico in the first place by flying in from other countries around the world.

      In any case, we’re doing our best to say healthy, thanks.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2021 at 7:03 AM

  2. When left alone by human management, nature finds a way to heal itself.

    Peter Klopp

    December 2, 2021 at 7:49 AM

    • Some people believe that certain human management practices are beneficial to nature, like carrying out prescribed burns and planting seedlings in devastated areas. Do you have an opinion about such practices?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2021 at 8:00 AM

  3. Just as the images of the palmettos seem to indicate all is well in your neck of the woods, we too noticed many plants and trees flourished as a result of the deep freeze we endured in February. I was quite surprised to find many of the plants in my flower beds gave a spectacular display this year. On the other hand, privet had become quite invasive down in the woodland bottom, and all along the pecan orchard. We had a state biologist come out a few years back who indicated we needed to eradicate it, or it would take over the area, but it was next to impossible to remove. The February freeze gave us the helping hand we needed to get the nuisance shrub under control. Most of it is dead now.

    There is a lot going on in this country that makes no sense at all.


    December 2, 2021 at 8:32 AM

    • Your final sentence is a good summary of where we find ourselves in America as 2021 draws to a close.

      I’m glad to hear something, in this case the freeze, managed to check the rampant privet in your area, even as the storm had the opposite effect of promoting the growth of the plants in your flower bed. Down here, while some of our native throve after the storm, certain others didn’t. I haven’t seen a single huisache tree in Austin that survived the extended freeze. There was one along the street we drive in and out of our neighborhood on that I looked forward to seeing flower every spring. It never revived, and last month the owners finally had it cut down.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 2, 2021 at 11:23 AM

  4. Sabal minor is one of the most frost tolerant of palms, and can live in New England. ‘McCurtain’ is a cultivar from McCurtain County in Oklahoma that is supposed to be the most resilient to frost. I am growing it now just because it is the one palm that is native to Oklahoma. However, Sabal minor does not grow as a tree. It just sits on the ground like in you pictures.
    I refrained from reading beyond you pictures because I do not need any more stress right now. Well, you know how that goes.


    December 2, 2021 at 11:30 PM

    • I checked the USDA range map just now and found that the natural strains of Sabal minor occur only in the southeastern part of the country; the northernmost county where people have found it is along the North Carolina coast. As you said, the ‘McCurtain’ cultivar has picked up an added resistance to frost that extends its range northward. Because palmettos stay close to the ground, it’s easy for photographers to get close to their fronds.

      I understand wanting to avoid stress. At the same time, I’ve felt I can’t live with myself if I don’t point out the wrong turns our country has taken since last year.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2021 at 5:32 AM

  5. The blues in that first image make it look like a very deep pond. I wondered about mosquitoes.

    You are a great teacher! The information, trivia (and instructions for pronouncing those words) was very interesting! And you are so right about enforcing the vaccination rules to everyone – especially those who have histories of migrant travel.

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    December 3, 2021 at 1:40 AM

    • “Once a teacher, always a teacher” is how I’ve come to think of it. What’s the point of knowing things if you don’t share them? And with regard to the pandemic: what’s the point of knowing things about it if you don’t put those things into practice? We know that unvaccinated people without masks remaining near many other unvaccinated people without masks run a higher risk of catching the disease and spreading it than people who maintain distance, get vaccinated, and wear masks, and yet our government waives all restrictions for the risky group. It shows the extent to which ideology trumps the established facts of science.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2021 at 5:20 AM

      • ‘Once a teacher, always a teacher…what’s the point of knowing things if you don’t share them?’ – I smile. Six or seven tourism students are ‘interning’ at the museo, and today I walked to the nearby park with three of them while the others stayed at the museo. There was an event at the park, and we took the second shift. When we returned, I went upstairs to put away my basket, and there were the others sitting at the desk, working, talking and of course using the internet – and no one with a mask. The teacher emerged and reminded them that I’m still in vaccine limbo and there’s a new variant now that’s highly contagious – and they have been doing a lovely job of contaminating the air space that I would be breathing… “You’re students of tourism; verdad you know the importance of always being safe, especially indoors.’ I wasn’t scolding, but I was firm. I moved into the exhibit space for a short discussion with another student and waited another hour before returning to ‘that space.’

        As for your teaching skills – sigh; there are good teachers and not-so-gifted ones. You make education fun, and the not-so-talented ones can make it quite painful! Thanks for sharing your gifts with us!

        Playamart - Zeebra Designs

        December 3, 2021 at 12:58 PM

        • Thanks for your vote of confidence regarding teaching, amiga. I’m sorry to hear about the thoughtless students in light of your continuing vaccine limbo. And now you got me interested in the origin of limbo. Turns out to be a form of the Latin limbus that meant ‘a border that surrounds anything; a hem, edge, fringe; a belt, band, girdle.’ The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that limbo was the ‘region supposed to exist on the border of Hell, reserved for pre-Christian saints (Limbus patrum) and unbaptized infants (Limbus infantum).’

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 3, 2021 at 1:17 PM

    • Oh, and as for the water, I think the rich blue in this case is deceptive. Because this is a swamp, I expect the water is pretty shallow. Fortunately I didn’t detect any mosquitoes at all on the recent visit, even though we’ve not yet had a freeze. Menos mal, ¿verdad?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2021 at 5:36 AM

  6. We’ve talked before about the way surrounding color can affect plants: especially yellow and green. Here, the palmettos seem to me to have a distinctly blue cast to them; I wondered if the strong blue of the water might be causing it.

    Brazoria County is especially interesting, palmetto-wise. Not only can Sabal minor and S. mexicana be found there , a third species, Sabal x brazoriensis, has been documented.


    December 3, 2021 at 9:03 AM

    • Tony’s comment about palmettos sitting on the ground, so to speak, reminded me of this article by Bob Harms about Sabal minor trunks.


      December 3, 2021 at 9:06 AM

    • And we’ve talked about the way different computer monitors display colors, and how individual eyes and brains interpret them. When my eyes and brain process the palmettos displayed in these pictures on my iMac, I detect no blue in them, despite the plausibility of blue reflected from the water.

      I appreciate the link to the Bob Harms article. He was always good in his analyses of species distinctions. I’d not run across the term costapalmate till now. I went to see where Sabal X brazoriensis has been found but neither BONAP nor USDA has entries for it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 3, 2021 at 9:46 AM

      • I’ve seen southwest Brazoria county mentioned as the site of Sabal x brazoriensis. When I looked at the map of Brazoria County, it was an “Of course!” moment. That’s exactly where the San Bernard Refuge is located, and it’s full of palmettos. The trail to the Big Tree has areas that are filled with palmettos, and that look remarkably like your photos of Palmetto State Park, so it’s not hard to imagine that’s where someone turned it up.


        December 3, 2021 at 9:52 AM

        • One more reason why the San Bernard Refuge warrants a visit. Too bad it’s an almost four-hour drive from our home in northwest Austin.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 3, 2021 at 10:16 AM

  7. […] Palmetto State Park in Gonzales County on November 23rd the Lady Eve called my attention to some small flowers of a […]

  8. […] 11th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center the Lady Eve caught site of a small frog on a palmetto leaf (Sabal minor) and called my attention to […]

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