Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Zion revisited

with 30 comments

On October 22, 2016, we spent much of the day in Zion National Park.

Because it’s such a scenic place, the park swarmed with visitors well past the summer tourist season; I sometimes had to aim and frame judiciously to keep people from showing up in my pictures.

These four pictures suggest how diverse Zion’s rock formations are.

And here’s a relevant quotation for today:

“Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.”
― William Butler Yeats, The Land of Heart’s Desire

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 21, 2020 at 4:37 AM

Slide Rock State Park

with 24 comments

Oak Creek Canyon

On this date in 2016 we spent a few hours in Slide Rock State Park near Sedona, Arizona.

A strangely deformed alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana)

Overwhelmed by so many other scenic places on that trip, I never showed any of the Slide Rock pictures.

How about those shadows?

After four years, finally you get to see a few of those views.

Oak Creek’s rocks and water came in for a lot of attention.

And here’s a question rather than a quotation: how often do you renew your poetic license?

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 20, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Apache plume in northern Arizona

with 29 comments

The flowers of Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) reveal the plant’s membership in the rose family.

In its late stage, Apache plume is quite similar to the prairie smoke (Geum triflorum, likewise in the rose family) that I observed in Illinois four years ago, and also to the old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii, in a different botanical family) that you’ve so often seen from central Texas.

Because the closest to Austin that Apache plume grows is far west Texas, I don’t often get the chance to photograph this species, so when I came across a few of these plants in northern Arizona four years ago today, I wasn’t about to pass up my chance to portray them.

Oh yeah, at the same site there was also a minor attraction that I took a few pictures of.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 19, 2020 at 3:49 AM

Yellow to the max

with 29 comments

How could I go through the fall and not let you feast your eyes on some more Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani)? I took the first two pictures along McKinney Falls Parkway in southeast Austin on October 10th. The light-gray band across the upper part of the photograph above was morning fog, which I rarely get to see in my part of the world (maybe ’cause I don’t go out early enough or to the right places).

And how could I not include at least one picture of Maximilian sunflowers with a clear blue sky? The one below is from October 6th on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin.

As an unrelated quotation for today, here’s a “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life” that Thomas Jefferson put forth in 1825, the year before his death.

      1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do to-day.
      2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.
      3. Never spend your money before you have it.
      4. Never buy what you do not want, because it is cheap; it will be dear to you.
      5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.
      6. We never repent of having eaten too little.
      7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.
      8. How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!
      9. Take things always by their smooth handle.
      10. When angry, count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 18, 2020 at 4:36 AM

Paloverde by dusk and day

with 29 comments

Four years ago this evening, dusk was approaching by the time we arrived in Phoenix’s South Mountain Park, which is the largest municipal park in the United States. As sunlight faded, I used flash to photograph a paloverde tree (Parkinsonia microphylla or florida; there are two local species, and I don’t know which this was). The flash brought out the greenness of the tree’s branches—in fact palo verde means ‘green branch’ in Spanish. The next morning, on our way out of Phoenix, we stopped at South Mountain Park again. It seems that when paloverde branches die, they tend to turn orange.

We learned that paloverdes sometimes act as “incubators” for saguaros (Carnegiea gigantea), giving some degree of protection to the young ones until they get established.

Likewise for barrel cacti.

Did you know that our use of cactus to designate plants like these last two resulted from a mistake? It did. The Latin word cactus, from Greek kaktos, referred to a type of artichoke. Linnaeus, the great 18th-century scientific namer of species, understandably yet mistakenly thought that the spiny plants we now call cacti were akin to the prickly artichoke.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2020 at 3:40 AM

Maybe autumn’s big five

with 27 comments

I recently referred to the “big four” native plants that are prominent in central Texas in the fall. The number is arbitrary, and even when I said four I was thinking that I could well add asters as a fifth. With that in mind, here’s a picture of one of our native asters, Symphyotrichum subulatum, known colloquially as eastern annual saltmarsh aster, baby’s breath aster, slender aster, annual aster, and blackland aster. Some in Texas call it hierba del marrano (hierba is pronounced the same as its alternate spelling yerba); translated loosely, the Spanish name means pigweed, but I think most people find the flowers as attractive as pigs are alleged to do. Notice the endearing way the tips of the ray florets curl under.

The picture above comes from October 4th at Cypress Creek Park (where I photographed a snail on a valley redstem and also a late-season bluebell flower). Fortunately the aster was growing close to another plant (I’m not sure what it was) whose leaves had turned pleasantly red and yellow, and those colors made a good out-of-focus background to set off the aster. And from August 13th on the Blackland Prairie, here’s a view showing one of these flower heads from below:

The ancient Greek word astēr had the same meaning as its native English cognate star. The Greeks extended the word to designate a daisy-like flower that they saw as a stylized star, and we’ve continued the tradition. Greek asteroeidēs, which meant ‘resembling a star,’ has become our asteroid. Similarly, we call the typographical character * an asterisk, literally ‘a little star.’ And “there you are, little star.”

And if it’s a famous quotation you’re after, try Ralph Waldo Emerson’s exhortation to “Hitch your wagon to a star.” Or, with a floral reference, take these lines from Longfellow’s Evangeline:

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 16, 2020 at 4:37 AM

Textures

with 39 comments

On August 12th I spent some time on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin. Of the many textures I observed there then, this post singles out two. Compare and contrast, as schoolteachers are wont to say.

In the first you’re looking at a Texas spiny lizard, Sceloporus olivaceus, on one of those low construction fences that have become so common in central Texas (and presumably also everywhere else).

The second picture is a closeup of the brain-like chartreuse fruit of a Maclura pomifera tree—known as osage orange, hedge apple, and bois d’arc—that I found fallen on the ground.

Did you know that the words text and texture are both ancient metaphors? They come from textus, the past participle of the Latin verb texere, which meant literally ‘to weave,’ and then more generally ‘to fabricate.’ As a noun, textus took on the sense “the style of a work,” which is metaphorically how it is woven, which is to say its texture. The subjects of these portraits gave me a pretext for providing a bit of etymology that I hope has let you put things in context (two more derivatives of textus).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2020 at 2:38 AM

Dew-covered rain-lilies

with 51 comments

From September 25th in Springfield Park in southeast Austin, here’s a dew-covered rain-lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen). The pink tinges in the white tepals’ tips at the top foretell the stage to come so soon; that magenta tale is brightly told below.

Today’s related quotation is in the form of a poem, “The Noble Nature,” by Ben Jonson.

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night—
It was the plant and flower of Light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.

 

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2020 at 4:29 AM

Another of autumn’s big four

with 45 comments

I tend to think that when autumn comes to central Texas we have a botanical “big four” here. I could even split them into two groups of two according to color: yellow Maximilian sunflowers and goldenrod, plus white snow-on-the-prairie (or -mountain) and poverty weed. It’s the last of those, Baccharis neglecta, that you see above in a September 30th photograph from Pflugerville. (The small yellow fruits in the foreground are silverleaf nightshade, Solanum elaeagnifolium.) The zillions of little white flower heads that from a distance make this delicate tree seem frosted are quite an insect magnet, as you see in the closeup below showing a hoverfly (Toxomerus sp.) and a spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata).

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today. “For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 13, 2020 at 4:23 AM

Goldenrod nearing its peak

with 32 comments

Click to enlarge.

By October 2nd, goldenrod (Solidago sp.) seemed to be approaching its peak, if I can judge by what I found in several places along E. Parmer Lane on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. Happy yellow to you all.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 12, 2020 at 4:34 AM

%d bloggers like this: