Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for October 14th, 2022

Wand blackroot

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A year ago in Bastrop State Park I chanced upon some tall, slender, and erect plants that were new to me: Pterocaulon virgatum, a member of the sunflower family known as wand blackroot. I caught the plants past their flowering peak, as you see above, when seed heads were already coming undone. The genus name means ‘winged stem’ (think of pterodactyl, the winged dinosaur), which we can see in the top photograph. Below, I noticed that the plant’s drying leaves were turning into corkscrews.


When I chanced upon this species again on September 17th in Houston’s Memorial Park, the plants looked so different that I never drew any connection to what I’d seen in Bastrop until someone in the Texas Flora group identified the Houston specimens as wand blackroot:



In fact my first glance made me suspect I was seeing a decomposing cattail, but it was a wand blackroot.


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Every language has its quirks in vocabulary. English, with more words than any other language, certainly has plenty of quirks. Take verbs with prefixes, for example.

You can consume, presume, and resume but you can’t just plain sume.

You can conspire, inspire, perspire, and even respire, but you can’t just plain spire.

You can conceive, deceive, perceive, receive, and even transceive, but you can’t just plain ceive.

You can eject, inject, deject, project, reject, object, and subject but you can’t just plain ject.

You can abstract, distract, detract, contract, protract, extract, and retract but you can’t just plain tract.

You can induce, produce, reduce, deduce, transduce, and even conduce and abduce and educe, but you can’t just plain duce.

If you’re up for an experiment (or down with one, as young people say, having turned the expression 180° for no obvious reason), try using sume, spire, ceive, ject, tract, and duce on their own as verbs in your conversations or writings and see how people react.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2022 at 4:24 AM

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