Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for September 2022

Two last wildflowers from Brazos Bend

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As the month ends, let me close with two last wildflowers from Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston on September 18th. The one above is Sida rhombifolia, whose vernacular names include rhombus-leaved sida (which is what the scientific name means) and Cuban jute. The wildflower below is called elephantsfoot or elephant’s foot. Several species exist in southeast Texas; this may be Elephantopus carolinianus.





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A common theme in my commentaries has been the attempt by activists to replace common words by others that suit their ideology. Mostly that involves race and sex, like insisting on “birthing person” for “mother.” Sometimes, though, the subterfuge involves other matters. At the time of the 2015 “deal” that the leaders of the United States and some other countries worked out with the theocratic dictators in Iran, I pointed out that calling a treaty a “deal” doesn’t make it any less a treaty. You’re welcome to read the definitions of treaty given in a slew of dictionaries to confirm that the Iran “deal” was indeed a treaty.

The reason that the administration in 2015 disingenuously called the treaty a deal is that the United States Constitution requires all treaties to get approved in the Senate by a two-thirds vote. Because the American administration in 2015 knew that the proposed treaty would come nowhere close to reaching that two-thirds threshold in the Senate, the administration declared the treaty not to be a treaty, thereby invalidating both semantics and the Constitution. Pure lawlessness.

The Iran deal is back in the news now because the current administration—essentially an extension of the one in 2015—is trying yet again to strike up a “deal” with Iran, one that’s even worse than the previous one. You can learn more in a September 29th “Common Sense” article by Reuel Marc Gerecht headlined “The Women Burning Their Hijabs Want the Iranian Regime to Fall. Does Joe Biden?” The subhead reads “The White House is still ardently seeking a nuclear deal that will enrich the men murdering women in the streets.”


You’re welcome to read the article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Nelumbo lutea

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At 40 Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston on the morning of September 18th I zoomed my telephoto lens to 400mm to photograph both flowers and seed heads of the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. I’d have thought water lilies and this lotus are in the same botanical family, and in fact both used to be included in Nymphaeaceae. Now, however, botanists have found evidence to move the lotus into its own family, Nelumbonaceae, whose only extant genus is Nelumbo.



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From Mark Twain in London to ice sheets in Antarctica


As Emily Petsko reported in a 2018 article in Mental Floss:

“In 1897, an English journalist from the New York Journal contacted Twain to inquire whether the rumors that he was gravely ill or already dead were indeed true. Twain wrote a response, part of which made it into the article that ran in the Journal on June 2, 1897:”

Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London … The great humorist, while not perhaps very robust, is in the best of health. He said: ‘I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.’

People later exaggerated Twain’s last sentence into “The report of my death was a great exaggeration, and now we unfortunately find the incorrect version quoted much more often than the historical one.

I bring that up—and I’m not exaggerating—because a lot of people in the media and in government have been exaggerating, sometimes greatly, the dangers from the world’s changing climate. Physicist* Steven Koonin wrote about that in the September 19th Wall Street Journal. His editorial bears the title “Don’t Believe the Hype About Antarctica’s Melting Glaciers” and the subhead “Two studies carefully explore the factors at play, but the headlines are only meant to raise alarm.” Here’s how Koonin’s editorial begins:

Alarming reports that the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking misrepresent the science under way to understand a very complex situation. Antarctica has been ice-covered for at least 30 million years. The ice sheet holds about 26.5 million gigatons of water (a gigaton is a billion metric tons, or about 2.2 trillion pounds). If it were to melt completely, sea levels would rise 190 feet. Such a change is many millennia in the future, if it comes at all.

Much more modest ice loss is normal in Antarctica. Each year, some 2,200 gigatons (or 0.01%) of the ice is discharged in the form of melt and icebergs, while snowfall adds almost the same amount. The difference between the discharge and addition each year is the ice sheet’s annual loss. That figure has been increasing in recent decades, from 40 gigatons a year in the 1980s to 250 gigatons a year in the 2010s.

But the increase is a small change in a complex and highly variable process. For example, Greenland’s annual loss has fluctuated significantly over the past century. And while the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.


You’re welcome to read the rest of Koonin’s editorial.



* Some climate alarmist activists have made the ad hominem “argument” that because Koonin is a physicist he has no right to say anything about the climate. Of course someone as steeped in data evaluation and the scientific method as a physicist can spend time studying a situation in another field and draw valid conclusions. In fact Koonin has done enough recent research to write an entire book: Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. You can read a December 2021 discussion he had on the subject.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Two whites from Brazos Bend

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At Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston on the sultry Sunday morning of September 18th I photographed two kinds of white wildflowers. At the top you see aquatic milkweed, Asclepias perennis. This species, which doesn’t grow in central Texas, looks similar to the Texas milkweed that does. Below is Carolina horsenettle, Solanum carolinensis. That nightshade is common in east Texas but rare in the center of the state, where other Solanum species like silverleaf nightshade and western horsenettle predominate.




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A time to react and a time to investigate


Sometimes it makes sense to act before investigating. If you’re walking down a street and you suddenly notice a nearby car speeding toward you, you don’t stop to wonder about the make of the car or who’s driving it or why the driver is going so fast. No: you immediately jump out of the way to keep from getting run down. (A well-known Buddhist parable makes the same point.)

Most things in life, though, do leave time to investigate before acting. What cell phone plan best meets my needs? Are there any cities I could move to that would likely make me happier than where I am now? What organizations could I join to meet interesting people?

Investigating is particularly important in reporting the news. That’s because incidents sometimes turn out to be different from the way they initially seem, especially when important relevant facts haven’t yet been ascertained.

With those things in mind, let’s look at a recent incident. On August 26th a women’s volleyball match took place at Brigham Young University, with players from Duke University as the visiting team and some 5500 spectators in attendance. Afterwards, Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson said that she and other black athletes “were targeted and racially heckled throughout the entirety of the match.”

I later saw clips from various television news shows that aired soon afterwards, in all of which the announcers stated that that’s what happened. The announcers didn’t report that Rachel Richardson said that she and her teammates been racially targeted or claimed that she and her teammates had been racially targeted, but that she and her teammates had been racially targeted. How could people in the news media so quickly know the truth of the matter when authorities hadn’t had time to investigate?

Based on the initial claim of racial targeting, officials at Brigham Young University apologized to the Duke team and banned the fan who supposedly had done the racial targeting. It was an instance of Lewis Carroll’s satirical “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”

You can probably guess where this is going. As NPR (National Public Radio) reported on September 14th:

Brigham Young University has apologized to a fan it banned for allegedly shouting racist slurs at Black volleyball players visiting from Duke University, saying the school’s investigation found no proof of racial heckling or slurs…

Announcing the findings of its inquiry, BYU Athletics said last week that it went to great lengths to find moments in which the fan in question or anyone else might have yelled slurs during the match. The effort included a review of numerous records, it said, including match video from the school’s broadcast outlet with the commentators’ audio track removed, and video footage from security cameras.

“We also reached out to more than 50 individuals who attended the event,” from fans and BYU personnel to Duke’s players and team staff, the department said.

“From our extensive review, we have not found any evidence to corroborate the allegation that fans engaged in racial heckling or uttered racial slurs at the event,” BYU Athletics said, adding that it would not tolerate such conduct.

How could so many in the media have gotten the story wrong? The sad answer is that they wanted the racial targeting to have happened because it would have fit their ideology, and in too many cases they let ideology overrule the facts. This was only the latest in a series of similar allegations that turned out to be false. Probably the best-known previous one came in 2019, when actor Jussie Smollett claimed that in the wee hours one morning he went out to get a sandwich and two white supremacists put a rope around his neck in Chicago, that bastion of white supremacy. In that case, too, the media had been filled with stories about how horrible that racist incident was. And yet, as CNN reported in March of this year:

Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was sentenced Thursday to 30 months of felony probation, including 150 days in jail, and ordered to pay restitution of more than $120,000 and a $25,000 fine for making false reports to police that he was the victim of a hate crime in January 2019.

You would think that such a prominent incident and subsequent trial would have taught everyone in the news media the lesson of not jumping to conclusions about a racially charged claim before a thorough investigation has taken place. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 28, 2022 at 4:26 AM

An endemic wildflower

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In the United States Spigelia texana grows only in Texas.
On the morning of September 18th I got to see some
at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston.



If Texas pinkroot has pink roots, I never got to see any.
I did see that the buds look yellow and turn whiter as they open into flowers.




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As woke as some segments of American society have rapidly become, the United States has nothing on our great* neighbor to the north, which in its sprint to claim the title of the Wokest Country on Earth has been leaving everyone else in the dust. If you haven’t heard about the latest in-your-face transgression at an Ontario high school, you can read accounts of it in the September 23rd Toronto Sun, the September 21st National Desk, and the September 21st New York Post. Scroll through each article for photographs and embedded videos. Alert: you won’t be able to unsee what you’ve seen. You can also watch a four-and-a-half minute video that interviews people protesting this affront. And you can read Brendan O’Neill’s take on this as confirming what he calls the cult of validation. It’s also possible that the teacher in question is trolling everyone and the whole thing is an outlandishly clever hoax.


* Canada has a greater land area than the United States, which is in fourth place. Canada is second, behind Russia and ahead of China. No known correlation exists between the physical size of a country and the extent to which its institutions promote freedom and sanity.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 27, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Brazos Bend State Park

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On the morning of September 18th Eve and I met up with Linda Leinen and Shannon Westveer at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston. It was the first time we’d all gone on a hike together since the fall of 2019, at the time of the annual Native Plant Society of Texas meeting that year in League City. Those two naturophiles live in the region and know Brazos Bend well, which was a big help to the visiting Austinites who’d never visited that park before. You’re looking at 40 Acre Lake above, and then a great egret, Ardea alba, near an edge of the lake.



And here from a different place in the lake is a closer look at the egret,
whose bill is the reverse of the dry vegetation sticking up parallel to it from the water:






It’s common in politics for X to say something bad about Y, and for Y to reply that X’s statement was politically motivated. Imagine that: a politically motivated statement in politics. Who’d ever have believed such a thing? Sarcasm aside, the appropriate question is whether a politically motivated statement is true:


A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent.

— William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.
Written in 1803; published posthumously in 1863.


 A more famous passage comes a little earlier:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

(Capitalization was inconsistent.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Two Eupatorium species

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Here’s a close view of Eupatorium serotinum, known as white boneset and late or late-flowering or late-blooming boneset or thoroughwort. The species grows in Austin but I took this picture in Houston’s Memorial Park on September 17th.

One of the most prominent plants in Memorial Park that day was one I’d not seen before, and its feathery growth habit immediately caught my attention:



From what I can gather, this is Eupatorium capillifolium, known as dogfennel. Many of these plants’ tips were drooping, either by nature or from the heat. That gave me a chance for a different sort of portrait:




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In 2021 I wrote nine commentaries on the theme of common sense. In particular, I showed that quite a few things people believe to be “common sense” are actually false. If you missed those articles or would like to see them again, I’ve included links at the end.

Two days ago I came across an article by Ronald Bailey in the October 2022 issue of Reason that begins:

In May, New Jersey became the first state to ban single-use bags made from plastic or paper in large grocery stores. The new ban lumps both types of totes together, but one is actually worse for the environment than the other. Which one?

 I think most of us would say plastic. It’s only common sense, right? The article continues:

A 2005 life-cycle analysis commissioned by the Scottish government found that manufacturing paper bags consumes 10 percent more energy than manufacturing conventional plastic bags, uses four times more water, emits more than three times the amount of greenhouse gases, generates 14 times more water pollution, and results in nearly three times more solid waste. A 2007 study commissioned by what is now the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, an industry group, found that, compared to making plastic bags, making paper bags takes 3.4 times as much energy, produces five times as much solid waste, emits twice as much greenhouse gases, and uses 17 times more water.

Surprised? You’re welcome to find out more in the full article.

Older “common sense” articles involved:

Lengths of rivers

Popular psychology

Rising and falling prices



Baseball batting averages

Direction of inference


Average driving speeds


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Purple passionflower

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I found myself sauntering (and at 95° sweltering) along a walkway in Houston’s Memorial Park on the bright afternoon of September 17th after I’d noticed while driving through the park that many native species seem to have been planted there. (All the ones I recognized were native, so I assumed the others were, too.) The most striking wildflower I saw there—one I’d walked past on the outward segment of my sauntering and only noticed when I’d made it most of the way back to my car—was a purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata. Me being me, I did some closer abstractions of the flowers on this vine.



Today’s post is the first of I don’t know how many that will cover the days we spent in Houston, at Brazos Bend State Park, and on Galveston Island.


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Two frequent themes in my commentaries have been: (1) We need to be accurate in reporting facts and incidents; (2) We should be wary when people try to change the longstanding meaning of a word or phrase. Those two things came together in a recent brouhaha brought about when Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said: “There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.”

Let’s examine this. Can an ultrasound detect, at least sometimes, activity from the heart area in a human embryo that has been developing for six weeks? The answer turns out to be yes. Stacey Abrams was therefore incorrect in calling the sound “manufactured.” Could she have meant that the embryo was “manufacturing” the sound? That hardly seems likely, based on the rest of her statement.

Supporters of Stacey Abrams rushed to defend her comment by saying that any “cardiac activity” detectable at six weeks isn’t really a heartbeat because the heart is only beginning to form at that stage. When I searched for information about that, one of the first hits I got was a 2019 article by Jessica McDonald on FactCheck.org called “When Are Heartbeats Audible During Pregnancy?” The article, which came in response to “fetal heartbeat” bills that legislators in various states had been proposing, noted that “‘fetal heartbeat’ is more of a legal term than a medical one.” Jessica McDonald went on:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also has said in a statement, “What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically-induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops. Thus, ACOG does not use the term ‘heartbeat’ to describe these legislative bans on abortion because it is misleading language, out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy.”

 But then she went on to add:

At the same time, many online medical websites, including the Mayo Clinic, do refer to the heart and its beating early-on in pregnancy. And plenty of medical textbooks use the words “heart” and “heartbeat” to refer to the embryo’s developing heart.

So even medical experts differ on when cardiac activity in a developing embryo or fetus qualifies as a “heartbeat.” That’s actually not surprising. In many kinds of development there’s no hard and fast line between one stage and the next. For example, when does a child become an adult? Americans in three states can get a full driver’s license at 16; the other 47 states grant a full license at varying older ages. In all states people can vote and serve in the military at 18, but they aren’t allowed to buy alcohol till 21. And scientists tell us that human brain development isn’t complete until approximately age 25.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 24, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Take home a stance

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I’ll grant you the title of this post may seem a bit strange. That’s because “Take home a stance” is an approximate way to pronounce the scientific name of today’s subject, Tecoma stans. One of the shrub’s common names causes no trouble: yellow bells. The other common name causes no trouble, either, if you know that esperanza is Spanish for hope, and what color is more hopeful than yellow?

This member of the legume family produces pods whose walls are on the thin side and decay rather easily. When I went to photograph one in that condition I noticed a tiny snail on it that I estimate was about a quarter of an inch across (6mm).



I took both pictures alongside our house on September 10th.


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I recently learned about the website called Freespoke. It’s a search engine that has the motto “See Clearly. Search Clearly.” If you go to Freespoke’s home page, beneath the search box you’ll also see links to three treatments of many recent news items: one from a centrist organization, one from a leftist organization, and one from a rightist organization. In addition, there are some links to stories that the mainstream media generally haven’t covered. For example, when I checked Freespoke yesterday I found a link to a story about 77 newspapers in one chain canceling the popular 33-year-old comic strip “Dilbert” because its writer, Scott Adams, has begun to satirize “woke” culture in offices.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 23, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Flower tower power versus mottled

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From the bed of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River near Tejas Camp in Williamson County on September 12th come these contrasting views of clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra. The looking-upward view popped the phrase “flower tower power” into my mind, while “mottled” seemed a good word to describe the looking-downward picture with its patches of light and shadow on the ground beneath the flowers.



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A main theme in my essays for the past year and a half has been that justice requires similar things to get treated in similar ways. If it’s known that person A and person B both committed a certain transgression but only person B gets called out or punished for it, that’s not justice; it’s a double standard. Thirteen months ago I wrote a detailed commentary along those lines regarding the extensive rioting that took place in the United States from mid-2020 through January 2021.

A much less consequential example came to light this week. Sunny Hostin, a co-host on the American television talk show “The View,” accused Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and former American ambassador to the United Nations, of playing down her ethnic Indian heritage by using the first name Nikki. Turns out, however, that Nikki was in fact one of the names on Nikki Haley’s birth certificate. It’s not unusual for a person with multiple given names to prefer one of them, even if it isn’t the first one on the person’s birth certificate or baptismal certificate. For example, the great classical music composer Franz Joseph Haydn went by Joseph, not Franz. The American naturalist and writer Henry David Thoreau had been given the birth name David Henry but he eventually changed the order of his two given names and went by Henry. Similarly, Mr. and Mrs. Randhawa named their daughter Nimrata Nikki, and as a girl she chose to go by Nikki.

And now for the pot-calling-the-kettle-black part of the story. Knowing almost nothing about Sunny Hostin, I looked up her biography and found that her mother, Rosa Beza, comes from Puerto Rico, and her father, William Cummings, is American. Mr. and Mrs. Cummings named their daughter Asunción. That’s Spanish for Assumption, a Catholic reference to the Assumption of Mary. It’s easy to see how the -sun- in the Spanish name Asunción could give rise to the English name Sunny. There’s nothing wrong or unusual about that. What is wrong and unusual is for a person who changed Asunción to Sunny to accuse someone else of trying to cover up a foreign background. We call that hypocrisy.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 22, 2022 at 4:36 AM

River primrose again

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The tallest of all our evening primrose species in central Texas is Oenothera jamesii, known as river primrose. I’d discovered a good colony of it in the bed of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River near Tejas Camp in Williamson County in mid-September of 2021, so on September 12th this year I went back there and wasn’t disappointed, as you see above. And here’s a much closer look at one of the low flowers:



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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