Portraits of Wildflowers

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Greenbrier in autumn, part 4

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Backlit greenbrier leaf; click for greater detail.

The pictures in the last three posts showed that greenbrier leaves can become colorful in the fall. Today’s image—the last in the series—gives an even closer view of the venation of one of these leaves. To take this photograph I sat on the ground with the leaf between the camera lens and the afternoon sun. That arrangement led to a bright, translucent leaf that revealed a great deal of detail, and it caused the shadowed trees in the background to appear very dark. The contour of this lower end of the leaf reminds me of the southern part of Africa, even though the two are somewhat different. You could also see a resemblance to the southern part of India if you’re willing to slight Sri Lanka. And if you look at the dark reddish-brown, almond-shaped spot at the top center and see it as some sort of slanted eye, then you have an imagination as susceptible to suggestion as mine at the moment.

Like the last two pictures, this one came into being on the partly sunny afternoon of December 17 in the relatively new “panhandle” of St. Edward’s Park that’s on the east side of Spicewood Springs Rd. in my northwestern part of Austin. For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern United States where Smilax bona-nox grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 21, 2011 at 5:13 AM

Greenbrier in autumn, part 3

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The picture in the previous post revealed how colorful greenbrier can become in the fall, but that closeup didn’t let you see an entire leaf, so I’m adding this view that does. Note some common features of greenbrier leaves: the small prickles on the perimeter, the irregular light-colored patches in the interior, and the overall lobed shape. Though that shape can be a conventionalized heart, it’s safe to say that only someone with the most prickly of personalities would give this plant as a Valentine.

For those interested in the technical side of photography, I’ll add that because greenbrier leaves are curved surfaces, I was surprised to be able to get almost all of this leaf in focus at an aperture as wide as f/5. I’ll also add that greenbrier leaves have a somewhat shiny coating that can show up as a distracting sheen in photographs of them, but I managed to avoid that here.

This picture, like the last one, comes from the partly sunny afternoon of December 17 in the relatively new “panhandle” of St. Edward’s Park that’s on the east side of Spicewood Springs Rd. in my part of Austin. For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern United States where Smilax bona-nox grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2011 at 5:10 AM

Greenbrier in autumn, part 2

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Greenbrier tendril and colorful leaves; click for greater detail.

If it’s dangerous to walk through stands of greenbrier—and it is—at least the plant’s stiff, lobed leaves compensate a little by acting as small sources of warm colors in the fall (and occasionally earlier in the year). In addition to the leaf in this photograph that’s clearly attached via a red stalk to the viny part of the plant, the orange glow in the background comes from another greenbrier leaf far enough away to be out of focus (and to appear rounder than it really is, thanks to the way lenses render such things).

I took this picture on the partly sunny afternoon of December 17 in the relatively new “panhandle” of St. Edward’s Park that’s on the east side of Spicewood Springs Rd. in my part of Austin. For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern United States where Smilax bona-nox grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2011 at 5:10 AM

Greenbrier in autumn, part 1

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One native plant that’s quite common in central Texas is greenbrier. Its genus name, Smilax, sometimes makes me, a promoter of native plants, want to do anything but smile; and as for its species name, bona-nox, which means ‘good night,’ anyone who has to walk around in the dark on ground where this plant is growing will not have a good night of it. Today’s picture makes clear why I’ve said what I’ve said. And yes, greenbrier is usually green, but here you see a piece of a plant that has dried out and turned tan by late autumn. This picture, taken December 12, comes from the lot on the east side of US 183 south of Braker Lane that has been mostly cleared in preparation for new construction. (This is the lot that has provided pictures for various posts this summer and fall, and along whose western edge the grackles gather at dusk.)

For more information, including a state-clickable map showing the places in the southeastern part of the United States where you can have this vine’s thorns tear into your clothing and skin, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2011 at 5:34 PM

Mostly monochrome

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Marsh fleabane colony gone to seed; click for greater detail.

Although I’ve still been finding a few wildflowers in Austin in the second week of December, it’s true that on the whole the landscape dulls down toward the end of the year, as you in cooler climes get to observe sooner than we do down here in central Texas. One example of that desaturation is this colony of Pluchea odorata, marsh fleabane. (If you’d like a reminder of how different these water-loving wildflowers look in the springtime of their lives, if not of the year, the post of September 10 will do the trick.) I took this picture on November 23 at a pond that’s hidden away in a hollow of my hilly neighborhood in northwest Austin. During the drought these plants sprang up on damp ground that had once been below the water of the pond, and then the little bit of rain that we finally had in the fall brought the water level back up to the point you see here. Because this picture has such a limited color range, it reminds me of an old sepia-toned black and white photograph.

For 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.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2011 at 5:15 AM

mistflower, boneset, snakeroot

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Ageratina havanensis; click for greater detail and sharpness.

Say three for the price of one, and with an extra adjective apiece, because white mistflower, shrubby boneset, and Havana snakeroot are all vernacular names for what botanists now call Ageratina havanensis. This is another member of the sunflower family that, like the climbing hempvine of the last two posts and the blue mistflower shown a few weeks ago, has flowers that don’t look sunflowerish. Ageratina havanensis often grows as a bush that can reach 6 ft. in height, but the one you see here was smaller, and some of its branches hung far enough down over the edge of a small cliff in northwest Austin that I could photograph their pink-tinged flowers and buds even though I lacked for light in the shade of the late afternoon. It was October 31, and a good ending to the month.

In the United States Ageratina havanensis apparently grows only in Texas, with Austin being on the far eastern edge of its range; at least that’s what the USDA map shows. The species name havanensis implies that this plant was first identified in Cuba, and it grows natively in Mexico as well, so this is one of those cases where Texas provides the northernmost habitat for a tropical species.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 9, 2011 at 5:12 AM

Scandens means climbing

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Click for greater detail.

Yes, the Latin word scandens means ‘climbing,’ and this Mikania scandens—the flowering vine that you saw a closeup of last time—is doing its climbing on a hapless young black willow tree, Salix nigra. Call this a contest between the two, and if the vine gets the upper hand, so to speak, it might overshadow the willow to the point that the loss of light to the tree’s leaves would stunt or kill it.

I took this picture on November 2 at the edge of Lake Walter E. Long in far east Austin. Around and even touching the vine-covered willow are some of the bulrushes that line the shore of this and many other lakes and ponds in our area.

For more information about Mikania scandens, including a state-clickable map showing the many places in eastern North America where this species grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2011 at 5:24 AM

What if a much of a which of a wind…*

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Baccharis neglecta; click for greater detail.

I mentioned last time that Baccharis neglecta is willowy, and in fact one of the names by which people knew it before they contemptuously started calling it poverty weed and Depression weed and New Deal weed was false willow. Because its branches are so pliable, Baccharis neglecta can often be seen blowing in the wind, and that’s how I saw this one on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin on the breezy afternoon of October 25. It’s winds like these that disperse the seed-bearing fluff that makes the plants so attractive at this stage. I used a high shutter speed of 1/640 sec. to record a predominantly horizontal view of a young tree that sprang back to being mostly vertical whenever there was a lull in the prairie wind.

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* For the source of the title, click here.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 5, 2011 at 5:08 AM

Jimsonweed thorn apple

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Jimsonweed fruit; click for greater detail.

For the past three days you’ve seen stages in the development of the toxic plant known colloquially as jimsonweed and scientifically as Datura wrightii:

an end-on view of a bud beginning to unroll;

a fully open, trumpet-shaped flower;

the plant’s strange fruit as it begins to form.

And now you get to see what the plant’s forbidding fruit looks like when it matures. Some have called this a thorn apple, and that seems appropriate for such a prickly globe. I don’t know if this one has split open of its own accord or if something external has broken into it in spite of its formidable defenses, but the hole conveniently lets you see what the seeds inside look like. Note that the mature thorn apple has turned downward, which is the opposite orientation from that of the fruit in its early stage that you saw last time.

For more information about Datura wrightii, including a state-clickable map showing the many places in the United States where this plant grows, you can visit the USDA website.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 28, 2011 at 5:25 AM

Peppervine flower and buds

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Yesterday’s picture gave a good view of the leaves of peppervine, Ampelopsis arborea. The flowers of peppervine (and coincidentally those of the poison ivy that its leaflets somewhat resemble) are tiny and green and therefore inconspicuous. Back on July 6th in northwest Austin I photographed a cluster of the plant’s spherical buds, just one of which had opened into a flower. To give you a sense of scale: the open flower shown here was about a quarter or a third of an inch across.

Though we humans strongly favor blossoms that are large and colorful, plants overall seem to have no such preference. Flowers that we might not even notice, or shun if we do see them, are visited all the same by insects, which dutifully even if inadvertently pollinate them. Peppervine not only gets itself pollinated, but also grows strongly enough to take over swaths of ground and drive out other species. Its tendrils (visible in yesterday’s picture) allow peppervine to climb on other plants and even to ascend trees to a height of 40 ft.

For more information about Ampelopsis arborea, including a clickable map of the states where it grows (essentially the whole southeastern quadrant of the United States), you can visit the USDA website.

I took this picture at the same place where I photographed a new cedar elm leaf and two ants entombed in a drop of sunflower resin. As I mentioned in the post about the cedar elm leaf, the site is a rundown lot whose buildings have been slowly being cleared away to make room for redevelopment. Activity has picked up in the last week, and most of the structures are gone now, so the intermingled and surrounding traces of nature there probably won’t survive much longer either. (For the benefit of those in Austin who may know the place, I’ll add that the lot is on the east side of US 183, a block south of Braker Lane, adjacent to Costco and Wendy’s.)

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 9, 2011 at 6:01 AM

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