Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for March 4th, 2023

A heart for bumelia

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In Great Hills Park on February 21st I came upon a small tree, bare but for the occasional dry leaf still attached. Not recognizing the tree, I posted three pictures to the Texas Flora group on Facebook, and Brush Freeman quickly identified it as gum bumelia. I checked Bill Carr’s Travis County plant list and found it’s classified as Sideroxylon lanuginosum subsp. oblongifolium. A little later Richard Zarria commented that bumelia is a favorite of his, and when I asked why, this was his answer:


I am a big fan of what I call “C Student” plants that never make the cover of a magazine. Bumelia does not have the prettiest flower or leaf or bark. It does not grow the tallest. It is spiky and will draw blood from the unaware. This keeps it in the back of the classroom without (broadly) friends or advocates. Nobody grows it, nobody wants it. Even die-hard native plant enthusiasts are surprised when they learn it. Fair enough. Ugly little tree has no friends.

But it is everywhere and often in large quantities. Mother nature seems to think it is important, but we (broadly) don’t.

Bumelia is just one of a long list of “filler” species that are scraped off during development and never thought of again….even by the native plant/tree huggy/green-minded/save the earth crowd. I am this crowd and I love them, btw. Therefore, for the last 20 years I have been an odd cheerleader for this weird and unloved poster child.

Does everyone need to run out and grow it like crazy? No. They just need to be aware that we need diversity, not just beauty.


In return I traded some etymology. Bumelia is a Latinized version of Greek boumeliā. The first part is from bous, meaning cow (compare bovine); the second part is meliā, meaning an ash tree. Why a bumelia tree is a “cow ash,” who knows?

Coming back to the photograph: look at the pale gray-green lichen on that slender branch.




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So the current American administration has nominated a man named Phil Washington to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Here’s how that government department describes some of its missions:

We issue and enforce regulations and minimum standards covering manufacturing, operating, and maintaining aircraft. We certify airmen and airports that serve air carriers. The safe and efficient use of navigable airspace is one of our primary objectives. We operate a network of airport towers, air route traffic control centers, and flight service stations. We develop air traffic rules, assign the use of airspace, and control air traffic.

We build or install visual and electronic aids to air navigation. We maintain, operate, and assure the quality of these facilities. We also sustain other systems to support air navigation and air traffic control, including voice and data communications equipment, radar facilities, computer systems, and visual display equipment at flight service stations. We promote aviation safety and encourage civil aviation abroad. We exchange aeronautical information with foreign authorities; certify foreign repair shops, airmen, and mechanics; provide technical aid and training; negotiate bilateral airworthiness agreements with other countries; and take part in international conferences.

We do research on and develop the systems and procedures we need for a safe and efficient system of air navigation and air traffic control. We help develop better aircraft, engines, and equipment and test or evaluate aviation systems, devices, materials, and procedures. We also do aeromedical research.


Now, no one could blame you if you assume a nominee to head the FAA has many years of experience in at least some of those things.

Has Phil Washington ever designed aircraft? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about aeronautics? No.

Has Phil Washington ever worked as an air traffic controller? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about air traffic safety? No.

Has Phil Washington ever built or installed visual and electronic aids to air navigation? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about air navigation? No.

Has Phil Washington ever taken part in investigating airplane crashes? No.

Is Phil Washington even a pilot? No.


Phil Washington’s only connection to aviation is that since July 2021—not even two years—he has been Executive Officer (CEO) of Denver International Airport (DEN). According to its website, “DEN is the world’s 3rd busiest airport by passenger traffic and is Colorado’s largest economic engine with an annual economic impact of $33.5 billion. Under [Phil Washington’s] leadership, DEN announced the Vision 100 strategy to prepare and improve the airport’s facilities and operations for the anticipated 100 million annual passengers within 10 years. He co-founded the Equity in Infrastructure Program (EIP) to improve contracting practices by creating opportunities for historically underutilized businesses (emphasis mine).”

That last sentence explains Phil Washington’s nomination to head the FAA. Apparently the administration thinks FAA is an initialism for Federal Affirmative Action. Except for the fact that Phil Washington is black, a person with his lack of technical aviation expertise would never have been nominated for such an important and demanding position. It’s an insult to the many people, of whatever race, sex, or other grouping, who do have aviation expertise and could capably head the FAA. Having an unqualified person in charge puts us all at greater risk when we travel by plane.

Oh, and there’s one more thing:

A Los Angeles County criminal probe that involves President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Federal Aviation Administration has some in the aviation industry on edge, fearing a prolonged vacuum at the top of the agency at a fraught moment for air travel. [There have been a bunch of airplane near-misses recently.]

“It certainly has everyone’s attention,” one former Transportation Department official said Friday, two days after sheriff’s investigators executed a search warrant at an LA county supervisor’s home that sought, among other evidence, correspondence with FAA nominee Phil Washington. An attached affidavit includes a whistleblower’s allegations about Washington’s handling of a no-bid contract during his past job heading the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


 © 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 4, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

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