Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for the ‘macro’ Category

A red theme

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Wanderers through countryside with lots of prickly pears (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) know that the cactus often attracts certain bugs. This is one of those, Narnia femorata, on a tuna, or fruit of the prickly pear cactus, in the Zilker Nature Preserve seven years ago today. The bug is a nymph in one of its early instars, which are the developmental stages that the larva of an insect passes through. Click below if you’d like a closer look at the bug as it appeared in a different frame.

Although Texas in the summer of 2011 was suffering one of its worst droughts in decades, when I recently looked back at my archive for August 12th of that year I saw that I went photographing in four locations that day and ended up with hundreds of pictures, like this one along Scenic Drive of ripe snailseed fruit (Cocculus carolinus):

I also found from looking at my archive that I went out taking pictures on 19 of the 31 days in that torrid August of 2011. You could say that I lived up to the motto of the USPS (United States Photographic Service): “Neither heat nor drought nor sun nor sweat stays these intrepid image gatherers from the due documentation of their appointed rounds.”

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2018 at 4:49 AM

Purple bindweed flower on the wane

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Click for greater clarity.

Two posts ago you saw three fresh flowers of purple bindweed, a species that as a dutiful member of the morning-glory family usually opens its flowers in the morning and lets them wither in the heat of the afternoon. The puckering shown here, a version of which you saw from the side late last year, is typical of that fading away. This view goes back to June 21 of 2011, a year in which, despite the horrendous drought, I found purple bindweed thriving in many places in central Texas, as if there were no drought at all.

For more information about Ipomoea cordatotriloba, including a state-clickable map showing where in the southeastern United States it grows, you can visit the USDA website. For those of you interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 3, 7 and 8 in About My Techniques are relevant to this photograph.


Posted on today’s date in 2011: a pretty little syrphid fly on a camphorweed flower head.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2012 at 6:03 AM

Even farther back

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Click for greater clarity.

And this picture of yarrow goes even farther back in plant time than the last one, showing how the buds of Achillea millefolium first begin to reveal their shape in the woolly bundle in which they form. Note the multi-segmented, lacy greenery described by the millefolium, or thousand leaves, of the scientific name (and milfoil is another name for yarrow in English). Those finely dissected leaves have a balsamy scent, as you can confirm by touching them and then smelling your fingers.

Like the last photograph, this one comes from February 23 in Great Hills Park.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 10, 2012 at 1:59 PM

Agarita gets a visitor

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Click for greater sharpness.

I don’t think we’ve seen this guy (gal?) before—certainly not the individual, but not even this species of hover fly. Last summer I showed a somewhat similar insect on camphorweed, but this one’s huge eyes are redder and the pattern of brown and yellow on its abdomen is different. Both of these species of Syrphid flies are among the many that mimic bees, thereby getting at no extra cost a little added protection from predators that don’t want to tangle with something that might sting them.

This photograph from February 23 gives you a second and closer look at the agarita plant whose flowers appeared in these pages on February 15. And speaking of closer looks, if you click the icon below you’ll get a larger view of this tiny fly’s geodesic-dome eyes.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 29, 2012 at 5:38 AM

Whorl of windflower leaves

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Click for greater clarity.

And here’s the whorl of leaves that encircles the midsection of an Anemone berlandieri flower stalkIf you say you see stylized flames shooting up, I won’t object.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 26, 2012 at 1:21 PM

A trace of red

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Marsh fleabane gone to seed; click for greater sharpness.

Just as it’s true that “Not all that glitters is gold,” it’s also true that not all that doesn’t glitter isn’t gold (there can be dull gold, for example). Well, I’m here today to tell you that, in spite of a seeming lack of resemblance, the plant that you saw blossoming on August 9 and in a later stage on November 23, marsh fleabane, Pluchea odorata, is a member of the same botanical family as sunflowers, asters, thistles, tatalencho, mistflowers, and Mexican devilweed. Many of the insect-pollinated plants in this huge group share a trait: after their flower heads go to seed, they turn fluffy, like a dandelion (which, though not native to the Americas, also belongs to this family). Today’s picture is a much closer view than the previous one of marsh fleabane, and it reveals that before the plant turns gray it can retain some of its red floral color even as it dries out and gets fuzzy. The receptacle that is revealed at this time appears to many people as the conventionalized sunburst or starburst that is another widely shared family trait. (You saw a variation on the theme in a photograph of goldeneye.)

I took this picture on August 9, 2011, at Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock, a large suburb north of Austin. That was the same place where, on a follow-up visit, I first photographed the Mexican devilweed that appeared in a post last month.

To find out more about Pluchea odorata, including a state-clickable map showing the many places in North America where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website. For those interested in photography as a craft, points 1, 7, and 18 in About My Techniques are relevant to today’s picture.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 17, 2012 at 1:22 PM

The eyes of Texas

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The prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmannii, is an emblem of Texas that has appeared numerous times in this blog, and not just for the past week. One post last year dealt with the structure inside a cactus pad, and another with discoloration on the surface of a pad, but I was intrigued in August of 2011 by the the ringed patterns I saw on the outside of some prickly pear pads that were just beginning to decay. At first I thought of the developing deformations as eyes, but the wavy margins of the one shown here and others like it ultimately made me imagine that I was looking at some sort of strange oyster. I don’t know if this is occasionally a normal type of decay for this species or if some agent like a fungus created the effect shown here.

Yet another flight of mind-wandering carries me back to something I’ve seen in old Texas cemeteries: once in a while a tombstone bears a transparent glassy structure, elliptical in shape and bulging shallowly from the surface of the slab, with a photograph of the dead person sheltered inside it. You’re free to impose that image here if you wish, and to see a bas-relief of a shrouded face where none ever existed.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 15, 2012 at 1:14 PM

Dainty sulphur

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Click for a sharper view of things, including the scales on the wings.

It wasn’t only native plants that I photographed on the morning of February 1, though you do see part of a just-getting-started kidneywood bush, Eysenhardtia texana, in this picture. Of more obvious interest is the butterfly, which was uncommonly docile and didn’t fly away or even move when I got very close with my macro lens. Was it ailing? I don’t know. And I don’t know that much about butterflies in general, but accounts in a couple of field guides make me think this could be a dainty sulphur, Nathalis iole. If there are any lepidopterists out there who can say for sure, please chime in.

The drought of 2011 kept butterfly numbers down, so although I’ve been writing this column for eight months now, today’s post is only the fourth to deal with a butterfly. The other three showed a panorama of a swallowtail on a thistle in a meadow of wildflowers, then a closeup of a two-tailed swallowtail on clammyweed, and finally a monarch on a rain-lily. In the past couple of weeks, which have seen some rain, I’ve noticed that a lot of small sulphur butterflies have suddenly appeared; their presence on February 1 was a welcome chance for another picture of this type.


UPDATE: Dan Hardy of the Austin Butterfly Forum confirms that this is indeed a dainty sulphur, Nathalis iole.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 8, 2012 at 5:39 AM

Upstairs, downstairs

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Click for greater clarity.

The last four posts have dealt with the mustang grape vine, Vitis mustangensis. Here you see that its leaves have an upper surface that’s a shiny bright green interspersed with traces of white-haired wispiness. Based on this view of the upper surface, can you imagine what the underside is like?

To find out how reality matches up with what you’ve imagined, click the tiny icon at the beginning of the next line and you’ll see the lower surface of a mustang grape leaf.

For more information about Vitis mustangensis and to see a state-clickable map of the places where it grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 23, 2012 at 5:11 AM

The not-dried-out on the dried-out

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The last two posts showed the predilection of the mustang grape vine to twist, whether it’s young or old. Even when the vine’s tightly curled tendrils dry out, they often last for a long time; with only faint vestiges of red* from the time when this tendril was young, its later and longer-lasting color scheme made for harmonious camouflage.

For more information about Vitis mustangensis, and to see a state-clickable map of the places where it grows, you can visit the USDA website. To find spiders in nature, look almost anywhere.

UPDATE: In a comment on February 27, 2012, Spider Joe Lapp added this information: “That’s a Pirate Spider (Mimetidae), genus Mimetus. They eat whatever they find in other spiders’ webs, including caught bugs, egg sacs, and the host spider.”


* I’m reminded of the stele (upright monuments) at the great Maya city of Copán. The ancient Maya carved them from stone, but then they painted them, and to this day traces of the original painted colors remain on some of the stele after more than a thousand years.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 21, 2012 at 3:10 PM

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