Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Pale pentagon

with 11 comments

After not having taken any nature pictures for a week and a half, I inaugurated August by going out onto the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. The first thing I found on that first day of the month—and for only the second time ever—was a plant that does things in fives: Mirabilis albida, known as pale umbrellawort, white four o’clock, and hairy four o’clock. Local botanist Bill Carr notes that it is “an extremely variable species found in a broad range of woodland to disturbed open habitats.” The USDA map shows this wildflower growing in places as far apart as Quebec and southern California.


☙        ☙        ☙


A University of Texas at Austin study found that subsidies per megawatt-hour of electricity amount to roughly 50 cents for coal, $1 to $2 for oil and natural gas, $15 to $57 for wind and $43 to $320 for solar.

That’s from an August 7th editorial in The Wall Street Journal. It explains the boasting claim that electricity from solar and wind in the United States is now cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels. Remove those enormous subsidies and the claim collapses. Also conveniently seldom mentioned in conjunction with the claim is that most solar panels are made in China, which overwhelmingly uses fossil fuels to manufacture them and then to ship them to the United States—just as fossil fuels are predominantly used to mine and process the rare earth elements necessary to make solar devices function, and to ship those elements to China from the places in other parts of the world where they’re mined.

It’s important to have all the relevant facts and statistics when evaluating something.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 9, 2022 at 4:30 AM

11 Responses

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  1. That’s an interesting combination of colors and shapes. Is the center of the pentagon the remains of the flower above?

    Over time new tech gets cheaper. How much did you pay for your first calculator? Or are you still using an abacus? Cost is certainly a concern as we advance into new times but our old ways cost as well and will cost more without an alternative as fossil fuels become less abundant and the producers of said energy keep raising their prices with every hiccup in the supply chain.

    Steve Gingold

    August 9, 2022 at 5:07 AM

    • I had (and still have) the same question about the center of the pentagon as you. I’ve seen this species only twice and don’t know how the species develops from flower to fruit.

      I was an early adopter of calculators and digital cameras. I bought my first calculator (which I believe I still have) in around 1975. It was a scientific model, meaning it did more than just the four operations of arithmetic; it had trig functions, powers and roots, etc. The numbers in the display glowed an attractive blue. Most later calculators used LCD (liquid crystal display) because that technology draws less battery power than the glowing blue does. I never had an abacus but I did have (and still have) a slide rule.

      On the matter of fossil fuels vs. solar and wind, I’ll let the four books I’ve recommended speak for me. I included links to them in the recent commentary at

      Dobsonfly eggs

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 9, 2022 at 6:49 AM

  2. This one’s listed for Harris County, but I suspect that’s for its northern reaches, which I never visit, thanks to Houston being between here and there. On the other hand, it might appear at the Attwater preserve, since Colorado county’s on the list. Looking at its shape, I thought of silverleaf nightshade: another example of attractive ‘fives.’ Thinking about the process of photographing, researching, and posting, I couldn’t help thinking of an appropriate phrase: Mirabile dictu!


    August 9, 2022 at 8:07 AM

    • Mirabilis reminds me of that Latin phrase, too, which uses a peculiar Latin construction called the supine:

      Click to access Supine.pdf

      It’s easy to understand why the fiveness and shape of the plant in this photograph made you think of silverleaf nightshade. I see that as often as I seldom see the Mirabilis.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 9, 2022 at 11:00 AM

  3. A crisp image against the dark background. I conjecture you used the flash again.

    Peter Klopp

    August 9, 2022 at 9:29 AM

  4. I see you’ve revised your sidebar somewhat. I came across a photo by Greg Lasley while confirming an insect ID; I thought I remembered his name in your list of nature photographers, but I see the list has been edited. No matter about that — I just thought you might have known him since he was an Austinite.


    August 9, 2022 at 2:32 PM

    • No, I don’t know Greg Lasley.

      I’m usually a creature of habit and tend to leave things as they are. Even so, a week or two back I simplified the sidebar because I hadn’t kept up with the nature photographers listed there. So much time had passed that some of the links were no longer even valid.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 9, 2022 at 4:47 PM

      • I found out that Mr. Lasley was both an Austin PD officer, and quite a photographer and naturalist. He and his wife lived in Dripping Springs; it seems he died a year ago. That said, his archives are something. Here’s an example.


        August 9, 2022 at 8:25 PM

      • And look at this. He clearly was quite a person.


        August 9, 2022 at 8:26 PM

        • Policeman and naturalist make an uncommon combination, that’s for sure. I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him (as I didn’t get to meet the Tvetens, either). Greg Lasley’s website mentions Chuck Sexton, whom I’ve met several times. I believe it was during a field trip he led at Doeskin Ranch that I saw my first fasciation, which occurred in a poverty weed bush.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 9, 2022 at 10:55 PM

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