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Contorted gaura

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Gaura Flowering on Contorted Stalk 4515

In the Balcones District Park on May 13th I found not only a firewheel with conjoined flower heads but also a strangely contorted stalk of Gaura coccinea.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 16, 2016 at 5:00 AM

A vivid horsemint

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Horsemint Flowering by Clasping-Leaf Coneflowers and Firewheels 4657

In the previous post the indistinct purple in the background came from horsemints (Monarda citriodora). Now here’s a focused look at one of them, again in the Balcones District Park on May 13th. Pretty rich, huh? The supporting yellow belonged to clasping-leaf coneflowers (Dracopis amplexicaulis) and the red to the usual Indian blankets (Gaillardia pulchella).

Note: I’m away from home and will be for a while. Please understand if I’m late replying to your comments.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 14, 2016 at 5:03 AM

Conjoined firewheels

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Conjoined Firewheel Flower Heads 4547

In the Balcones District Park on May 13th I found these two firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) flower heads conjoined back to back on a single stem. The fact that the stem was somewhat flattened makes me think fasciation* was at work here. The purple in the background came from horsemints (Monarda citriodora).


* You can pronounce the sc in fasciation as ss or sh.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 12, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Why wafer ash is called wafer ash

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Texas; native;

Wafer ash is called wafer ash because of its samaras. A samara is a winged fruit, and the small (0.75–1 inch, 18–25 mm), mostly flat ones of Ptelea trifoliata must have looked to people like little wafers. They still do.

I made this close view of a backlit wafer ash samara in Balcones District Park on January 3, 2012.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 30, 2015 at 5:15 AM

Posted in nature photography

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The last ray

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Firewheel Flower Head with One Ray 6385A

O. Henry, who lived for almost a decade in Austin*, later wrote a wonderful short story called “The Last Leaf,” which I recommend if you’ve never read it or if you haven’t read it recently.** Today’s picture reminded me of that story because it shows the seed head of a firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, when all the ray flowers but one had fallen off. I took the photograph in Balcones District Park in north Austin on June 27, 2011, and I intended to include it in these pages last year when it was still a fairly recent sight, but the picture joined some others in getting lost in the shuffle of ever newer things that clamored for attention and insisted on getting posted first. Now that this year’s most recent post has shown you a large colony of firewheels becoming less fiery, there’s a good reason to show you the details in a close and isolated view of one firewheel at the stage where it’s no longer shaped like a wheel.***

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


* A writer named Coincidence turned out a true tale in which I’ve followed in the footsteps of O. Henry by having lived not only in Austin, but in New York, North Carolina, and, least likely of all, Honduras.

** In looking online for a copy of “The Last Leaf” that I could link to, I was dismayed—but not surprised—to find that although the story is only a few pages long, there are websites that summarize it for the benefit of students too lazy to read even that much.

*** I’m adding a footnote to point out that this post is the first in which I’ve ever included two footnotes, but by adding a third footnote I’m falsifying that message. Oh, paradox! Still, because three is usually a larger number than two, the gist of what I intended to say comes across even more strongly.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 13, 2012 at 5:38 AM

3-D in 2-D

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It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of a single eye must unfortunately be in want of an accurate view of the world.* If we take want in its original sense of ‘be lacking,’ that statement is indeed correct: in a three-dimensional world, it takes two eyes to truly perceive depth. And yet we go on year after year taking pictures using almost exclusively our one-eyed cameras that compress a solid world into the plane of a conventional photograph.

I bring all this up because a flat image can’t to justice to the geometry of the mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis, that runs diagonally from the lower left to the upper right of today’s photograph. To say that a vine of this species becomes ever more woody as it gets older is an understatement; some aged mustang grape vines grow so thick that they are easily mistaken for trunks of trees, even large trees. The one you see here is on its way to that venerable state. If you try to follow the vine with your eyes, you’ll see that it emerges from the ground near the lower left edge of the picture; it goes to the right, twisting as it goes, until it’s over the large rock; next, it turns back to the left; then it seems to rise vertically for a little bit; finally it rises diagonally until it branches near the upper right corner of the photograph, with both branches further twisting until they ultimately go out of the frame at the top.

But now let me explain why the first paragraph is relevant. What you can’t tell from this two-dimensional view is that where the mustang grape seems to change direction over the large stone and double back to the left, it actually makes a slowly rising loop that turns a full 360° before the vine begins its steeper ascent. If you could see that twisting portion from above looking downward, it would appear to be approximately a circle. I know because I was there and saw it like that, and now you know too.

This photograph comes from the same January 13 outing in Balcones District Park that brought you the detailed view of a Texas red oak leaf.

For more information, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where the mustang grape vine grows, you can visit the USDA website.


* Some perceptive readers will have noticed a vague similarity of that opening line to the first line in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2012 at 5:01 AM

Texas red oak leaf

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Portion of a Texas red oak leaf; click for greater sharpness and detail.

Now you know why Texas red oak is called Texas red oak.

When I wandered along the trail in Balcones District Park on January 13th, my eyes were caught several times by some oak trees, Quercus buckleyi, that hadn’t grown very tall yet. They still had some leaves on them, and to varying degrees those leaves were turning colors that appeared all the more saturated when illuminated from behind by the late afternoon sun, as you see here. (With this photograph it’s important to click to see a properly sharp version.)

I don’t know if I’ve ever noticed the leaves of this species lasting so far into January, but I’m certainly happy that now I can tell you not only about fall color in central Texas, most reliably seen in our flameleaf sumacs, but also about the winter color provided, even if on a small scale this year, by Texas red oaks.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2012 at 5:05 AM

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