Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Trout lily in dappled light

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Trout Lily Flower 8815

I hope you’ve been enjoying the pictures from New Zealand, but I’m going to interrupt that sequence for a little while to catch you up on what’s been happening in central Texas, which you can summarize in one word: spring.

On March 13th I drove out with Nan Hampton to her country place near Lometa, which is in Lampasas County about an hour and a half north-northwest of Austin. The main botanical purpose for my going out there was to see the trout lilies (also called dogtooth violets), Erythronium albidum, that were coming up. For years I’d noticed the entry in Marshall Enquist’s Wildflowers of the Texas Hill Country but had never seen the plant in the wild, so this was an opportunity to check off one more species from that book.

Bill Carr describes this native perennial as “a striking spring wildflower of forested areas of eastern North America, here at or near the southwestern limit of its range. Rare in oak-juniper woodlands on mesic limestone slopes.” I’ll add that trout lilies typically grow in the underbrush and stay pretty close to the ground, so photographing them meant I had to get close to the ground too and gingerly push aside low branches. Another difficulty was the dappled sunlight coming through the underbrush, but rather than try to work around it, which probably would have been impossible, I lived with the dappling and incorporated it into my portraits, along with artifacts created by the interaction of the bright spots of light with the glass elements in the camera’s lens. You know what they say: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This time you can consider me a joiner.

Note in the lower left a part of one of the trout lily’s characteristically mottled leaves.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 26, 2015 at 5:05 AM


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Bellbird 3973

Click for greater clarity.

At the Tiritiri Matangi Open Sanctuary on February 8th I saw a bellbird, known natively as korimako and scientifically as Anthornis melanura. You can read more about the korimako in New Zealand Birds Online.

On the technical side I’ll add that there wasn’t a lot of light in the bush (forest, for most of the rest of us), so I raised my camera’s ISO to 4000 and lowered the shutter speed to 1/200, which even with image stabilization is slower than I’d normally go with a 280mm (equivalent, thanks to a 1.4x extender) focal length. Not all the pictures I took of the bellbird came out well, but this one isn’t bad (except maybe for the movement of the bird’s lower bill, but we’ll act like educational bureaucrats and claim that that gives the picture authenticity).


For two weeks you’ve been seeing some wonderful things from New Zealand. I’ve by no means run out of them, but for the next week and a half I’ll catch you up on the spring that was slow to arrive in central Texas this year because of cold temperatures but that is now in full force. After that I’ll go back to another round of photos from picturesque Aotearoa.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 25, 2015 at 5:24 AM


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The McKinney Kauri 3386

One of Aotearoa’s rākau rangatira, or chiefly trees, is the kauri, Agathis australis, which can grow to be more than 30 meters tall. Shown here on February 6th in the Parry Kauri Park in Warkworth on New Zealand’s North Island is a portion of the so-called McKinney kauri, which is more than 800 years old, and which you can read more about. Notice the flaking bark that characterizes mature kauris, and that in this case looks like plaques of lichen.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 24, 2015 at 5:31 AM


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Mamaku Tree Fern 3929

The mamaku, Cyathea medullaris, is one of New Zealand’s best-known tree ferns, distinguished by a trunk that’s often so dark as to appear black. With regard to all the tree ferns, it’s common to see dying and dead fronds hanging downwards, as in this February 8th view from within the bush on Tiritiri Matangi Island off the tip of the Whangaparaoa* Peninsula north of Auckland.

And here’s a closer look at a mamaku from the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on February 14th:

Mamaku Tree Fern Detail 4566


* In words of Māori origin, wh is pronounced f.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 23, 2015 at 5:32 AM

Different coastal rocks in close proximity

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Colorful Coastal Rocks 4242

While we were waiting for the ferry from Tiritiri Matangi back to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula on February 8th, I browsed the shoreline and was surprised to find rather different (and differently photogenic, and differently wet) sections of rock in close proximity.

Colorful Coastal Rocks 4273

These were close not only to each other but also to the lichen on dark rocks you saw here a few days ago.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 22, 2015 at 5:26 AM

A contrast in leaves

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Small Leaf Fallen onto Fern Leaf 4009

The intricate compound leaves of many of new Zealand’s ferns are large and horizontally oriented, so they act as nets to catch lightweight things falling from above. Many a time I noticed the contrast between a living fern leaf and a much smaller dead one from a tree, as was the case here in a downward-looking view from February 8th at Tiritiri Matangi.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 21, 2015 at 5:59 AM

When isn’t flax flax?

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Flax Plant by Tasman Sea 5007

Flax isn’t flax in New Zealand, where people traditionally use the term not for a member of the Linaceae (think linen), i.e. flax family, but for the members of a genus of plants in the Xanthorrhoeaceae that the Māori called harakeke and whose fibers they turned into clothing, mats, nets, and various other useful things. By far the most common species of New Zealand flax is Phormium tenax (think tenacious), and not a day of my stay there passed without my seeing it, usually in many places. Partly that’s because of its frequent natural occurrence, and partly because people plant it and various cultivars as ornamentals.

Today’s picture is from the shore of the Tasman Sea—note once again the color of the water—on the west coast of the South Island on February 17th. That was unfortunately much too late for me to see any of the plant’s flowers, but its characteristically upright seed capsules were very much in evidence everywhere I traveled in the country.


Happy vernal equinox about 12 hours from now to those of you north of the Equator, and happy autumnal equinox to those south of that great circle.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 20, 2015 at 5:45 AM


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