Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Tight tendril

with 25 comments

Greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox) is a common vine in the woods of Austin. It’s admittedly a nuisance to people when its thorns snag our clothing and scratch our skin. Nevertheless, as a nature photographer I’ve found greenbrier an excellent subject for close views (and occasionally more distant ones). I asked the Texas Flora group about the many pale “starbursts” on the stem in this picture. The first suggestion was a scale infection. A second was trichomes. One website’s description of greenbrier’s stems said that they occur “infrequently with stellate trichomes.” Another website said the stems “are scurfy (i.e., with a scaly crust on the stem surface).” In any case, whatever the starbursts are, they add welcome texture to the portrait. And how about that tightly coiled tendril?


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I spend lots of time looking things up because, by personality and from decades of teaching math, I value accuracy. That’s why I include so many links to documents. If you’re aware of any facts that I’ve reported incorrectly, please point me to contradictory evidence. Of course people can disagree about what policies a government should follow, but we have to start from the facts.


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Just because I haven’t mentioned the southern border of the United States for a while doesn’t mean that it’s not still out of control. It is. The current régime continues to encourage millions of people to come here illegally each year by facilitating their entry into the country and giving them benefits once they’re here (like providing free transportation—sometimes by airplane—to wherever they want to go in the United States).

ABC ran an article on August 18 headlined “July border arrests decrease but expected to total a record 2 million by next month.” The subhead read “CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] has arrested more migrants so far in 2022 than in all of 2021.” And of course that number doesn’t include the great many “gotaways,” illegal border crossers that authorities observed but were unable to detain for various reasons, mainly having way too few officers to handle the incessant onslaught. As a July 25th New York Post article noted: “More than 500,000 known ‘gotaway’ immigrants have crossed the border into the US but evaded capture since the start of FY [fiscal year] 2022, according to a new report.” Notice the word “known”; it implies that in addition to the half-million that were observed, hundreds of thousands of other illegal border crossers came into the country completely undetected.

Accompanying this lawlessness is the current administration’s denial of it. A July 25th New York Post article bore the headline “Don’t believe your eyes: WH [White House] claims migrants are not just ‘walking’ across border.” As the article explained:

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted on Monday that migrants are not just “walking” across the border — an event captured near daily by press photographers.

The stunning answer came in response to a question by Fox News’ Peter Doocy, who asked why potentially unvaccinated migrants continue to arrive in the US but tennis star Novak Djokovic couldn’t compete in the US Open, which kicked off in Flushing Meadows, Queens today.  “It is not that simple. It’s not just that people are walking across the border….”

Karine Jean-Pierre’s flippant response was an outright lie. Take the 2 million people that the ABC article mentioned, divide it by 365, and you get an average of over 5000 people “just” walking in illegally every single day. The “Don’t believe your eyes” in the Post‘s headline refers to the fact that anyone can go down to places like Eagle Pass and Del Rio on the Texas border and watch groups of people that cartels have brought close to the border walk up to the Rio Grande River and wade or swim across it to enter the United States illegally. Those groups include dozens and occasionally even hundreds of people at a time. Here’s a video. Just because news outlets that favor illegal immigration rarely report on the thousands of people coming in illegally every day, or flat-out say it isn’t true, doesn’t make reality go away. Those news outlets are reality deniers.

What is undeniable is that “drug overdoses have claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the United States [this year],” and “Fentanyl was reportedly the cause of two-thirds of them. According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], Fentanyl is now the number one cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45. Surpassing suicide, Covid-19, and car accident-related deaths.” One person in this country dies of fentanyl poisoning about every 9 minutes. Confounding the problem is that drug dealers are mixing fentanyl into pills that are made to look like other drugs, for example oxycontin. Especially insidious, drug dealers have recently been putting fentanyl into colored tablets that look like candy, thereby opening up the possibility that children will unknowingly eat one and die. Drug overdoses and poisonings contributed to making 2021 the second year in a row that life expectancy in the United States went down.

The previous paragraph is relevant to the ones that preceded it because much of the fentanyl in the United States is smuggled across the Mexican border, where agents are so overworked with processing and caring for illegal immigrants that portions of the border now go completely unguarded.

Like I said, lawlessness.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

25 Responses

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  1. Very interesting and beautiful all these !
    Thanks for share it!


    September 3, 2022 at 6:50 AM

  2. As much Greenbrier as we encounter here in the woods, I’ve never seen the starbursts you have photographed. When we were raising fawns I traveled into the woods daily, looking for giant cascades of it to cut and pull down from high in the trees. It’s mostly seen growing close to the ground where deer nibble it, but I found the newest leaves and shoots were up in the trees and it was satisfying to manage pulling down a huge mass of it and haul back for the fawns.

    I learned of a Fentanyl-related death just a block down the street last week. Not surprising, no one in the neighborhood knew the family that was squatting in the vacant house. Most of the break-in’s in this city are by known drug offenders. And it’s certainly all too common here to not know your neighbors. Lawlessness has become commonplace. It makes a person wonder how long it will be until “all hell breaks loose”.


    September 3, 2022 at 7:07 AM

    • I’ve tried to remember whether I’d previously seen the “starbursts” on a greenbrier vine. Even if I had, I don’t think they could have been as conspicuous as the ones that drew me to take today’s picture. I do remember that you’ve talked about cutting greenbrier to feed to your fawns. You must have been well protected to do that, given all the thorns.

      You’re ahead of me in knowing about a fentanyl death as close as in your own neighborhood. The only ones I’ve heard about are on television and in online articles. I think of your area as semi-rural and the kind of more traditional place where people do know their neighbors, so I’m sorry to hear it’s not that way and that there’s a problem with drug dealers breaking into vacant houses. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, given how common lawlessness has become in so many other parts of the country. It’s sad to see the country on such a seemingly unstoppable state of decay.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2022 at 7:49 AM

  3. Very nice. I don’t think I have ever photographed Greenbrier vines.

    Alessandra Chaves

    September 3, 2022 at 2:52 PM

  4. I have not seen that species since the end of 2012, and it still makes me cringe!


    September 3, 2022 at 3:50 PM

    • I believe I remember that you found it cringeworthy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2022 at 6:55 PM

      • Well, when I encountered it, I could see that it was something that I did not want to mess with, but thought that it would be easy to merely avoid. It got me anyway, and with those nasty thorns that really hurt. It really is sneaky. I felt obligated to take any seed of any unfamiliar plant while there, but hoped that I would not find any of their seed. I did, but fortunately, it did not germinate.


        September 3, 2022 at 7:33 PM

  5. I’ve never seen a greenbrier although I’ve read that it does occur here as a native. The tendril is an attractive feature. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

    Steve Gingold

    September 3, 2022 at 6:42 PM

    • I try to keep an eye out for it too because of all the times it’s grabbed my clothing and scratched my skin.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2022 at 6:54 PM

      • We don’t have greenbrier here but they appear to have the same annoying habits as our brambles – ouch! The little tendril is cute though!

        Ann Mackay

        September 3, 2022 at 7:19 PM

        • As annoying as greenbrier is, it provides me with plenty of photo opportunities. That makes me fonder of it than are most people who know it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 3, 2022 at 7:22 PM

  6. This spring I found a stem of H. annuus that looked similar. It was so odd that I didn’t recognize the plant as a sunflower. It wasn’t until a month later, when the plant had grown, that I realized it was a sunflower with a very odd stem. Now that I know about trichomes, I’ll have to find the photo and see if there’s any similarity to the white thingies I found on the sunflower.

    The coppery tendrils are pretty; the contrast between those on the left and the withered ones on the right is interesting.


    September 3, 2022 at 8:42 PM

    • I often see sunflower stalks that I’d describe as splotchy and hairy. What you found on your sunflower sounds like a smaller scale akin to the the little “starbursts” on this greenbrier. Do let me know what you discover once you locate your picture from the spring.

      “Coppery” is a good description of the fresh tendril, which had a sheen to it that reflected the light of the flash a bit too much in the brightest spots; I had to tone them down a little when I processed the image.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 3, 2022 at 9:27 PM

  7. Great observation and capture of a unique looking vine. (I suppose it is just a coincidence that there is an ad for a toenail cure below your text!)


    September 4, 2022 at 9:26 AM

    • Yes, just a coincidence. We have no control over the ads that WordPress tosses up. Fortunately I can control the pictures I take of greenbrier, of which there have been many over the years.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 4, 2022 at 9:36 AM

      • I pay for no ads … I think … if you ever see adds on my blog site please let me know.


        September 4, 2022 at 9:46 AM

        • You’re right that I’ve not seen any ads on your blog.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 4, 2022 at 10:13 AM

          • I was just looking at another blog we both follow and there was a grid of 9 different ads plus one that was a video. That’s a lot. Do you see ads when you view your own site?


            September 4, 2022 at 10:19 AM

            • If I click on the heading “Portraits of Wildflowers” and get a scrolling list of posts I don’t see any ads. However, if I click the title of an individual post, then that post comes up with ads between the end of my post and any comments that people leave. As you said, the ads lately have been in a 3 x 3 grid, with sometimes a wide 10th ad below that.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 4, 2022 at 10:57 AM

  8. Great picture !!


    September 4, 2022 at 1:29 PM

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