Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

One strange Mexican hat

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On July 20th near the Taylor Draper entrance to Great Hills Park I came across one strange dude of a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). It had way more ray florets than a Mexican hat is supposed to have, and for once fasciation didn’t seem to account for it. Oh well, we take our weirdnesses wherever and however we find them.

I’m thankful to Dr. George Yatskievych at the University of Texas for providing an explanation: “Replacement of flowers is a bit different process [than fasciation].  Each meristematic cell on the receptacle produces a set of cells with the potentiality to become either a ray or disc floret.  Regulatory developmental genes in more than one gene family determine the outcome of the differentiation…. This accounts for ‘rayless’ mutants, as well as heads in which part of the disc has become replaced with rays.  This includes so-called ‘doubled’ heads in groups like zinnias and dahlias that have extra cycles of rays toward the periphery of the disc, as well as odder mutants with rays appearing in an atypical locations, such as the center of a disc.  In some cases, this switch to a different floral morphology is caused by something that disrupts normal development of the head (such as insects or micro-organisms), but in other cases there is a genetic mutation (in which case the plants will tend to pass the mutation to at least part of the next generation).  One of the more interesting mutations that I have seen pops up occasionally in Gaillardia, in which the marginal florets have corollas that are enlarged, but are still basically shaped like a disc floret at their tips. The bottom line is that there can be more than one cause, but it always comes down to the expression of regulatory genes during floral development.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 5, 2020 at 4:45 AM

Low wild petunia

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From Vaught Ranch Road on June 13th come two views of a native wildflower
I’d never photographed before: Ruellia humilis, known as low wild petunia.

Here’s an unrelated little mathematical diversion: the four numbers 1, 1.2, 2, and 3 have the interesting property that whether you add all of them or multiply all of them you get the same result (in this case 7.2). Are they the only foursome like that? Hardly. For example, whether you add -2, -1, 0, and 3 or multiply -2, -1, 0, and 3, you get the same result (in this case 0). Would you believe that infinitely many sets of four numbers exist that also have the property that adding the four numbers gives the same result as multiplying them? That turns out to be the truth of the matter. Are you surprised?

The second example suggests a template for generating as many more sets of numbers as you like that have the desired property. Let the first of the four numbers be 0. Now pick any two different negative numbers you like (say for example –4 and –6). Finally, add the two negative numbers and make the sum positive (in this case 10). You’ll now have four numbers with the desired property (–4, –6, 0, 10). This works because 0 times any other number is 0, and you’ve rigged the addition in such a way that the positive number cancels out the two negative numbers. In fact you can extend the pattern to as many numbers as you like. For instance, here are six numbers such that adding them gives the same result as multiplying them: 0, -3, -7, -10, -15, 35.

As a quotation for today, let me quote myself: Zero may be nothing, but not for nothing is zero special.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 4, 2020 at 4:37 AM

Another take on Clematis drummondii swirls

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Offering you one view per season wouldn’t do justice to the silky and feathery fibers of Clematis drummondii, so here’s another. In today’s take I used flash so I could stop down (in this case to f/16) to keep more of the luxuriant strands in focus than in the softer approach you saw last month. These intricate swirls are a good way to fill a frame, don’t you think? I made this “more is more” portrait along Rain Creek Parkway on July 11th.

A thought for today: ” Destiny is seldom recognized until it has changed its name to history.”
— Donald Culross Peattie in Green Laurels.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 3, 2020 at 4:38 AM

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Coreopsis flower head with a graceful extra stem

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The closer of the two stems shown here continued up to a higher Coreopsis flower head that I excluded from the picture to concentrate on the interaction between the foremost ray on the lower flower head and the curving stalk that grazed it. At f/3.5, not much was in focus in this portrait from northwest Austin on July 13th.

A related saying: “Flowers leave part of their fragrance in the hand that bestows them.” This appeared in the Los Angeles Times on July 23, 1944.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 2, 2020 at 4:34 AM

Sandbur doing its thing

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While some might say the droplets of dew on this sandbur soften the image, no amount of dew can soften the pain if Cenchrus spinifex‘s barbs get into your skin, which they have an uncanny predilection for doing. As Jim Conrad explains, this grass is “abundantly armored with stiff, very sharp spines which themselves are mantled with minute, backward-pointing spines. When a sandbur punctures your skin, because of those backward-pointing spines, pulling it out becomes a miserable experience. If you’re not thinking, when you realize the bur is resisting being pulled out, you squeeze it harder to get a better grip, and end up with stuck fingers, and with those backward-pointing spines on the spines, there’s simply no nice way of getting unstuck.”

I took this picture near the Sierra Nevada entrance to Great Hills Park on June 25th. I’ve had to deal with sandburs in several other places since then.

Unrelated thought for today: “Any maniac can kindle a conflagration, but it requires many wise men to put it out.” — Charles MacKay in Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 1, 2020 at 4:44 AM

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Ithaca Falls revisited

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On this date last year we spent some pleasant time at Ithaca Falls in Ithaca, New York. I really don’t like shooting up toward a white sky, and the one we had that morning led to me take most of my pictures as tight abstractions of the rocks and water. In this one I used a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second in an attempt to stop the water in mid-fall and mid-splash; it worked pretty well. If you’d like a closer look at some of the Hokusai action, click the excerpt below.

It wasn’t just the falls that were impressive. Adjacent to them I photographed a natural (I assume) rock formation so geometric you could be forgiven for thinking that people had had a part in creating it:

And now that geometry has entered the picture, here’s a semi-related observation for today: If a person says that the diagonals of any rectangle bisect each other (which they do), the statement remains true no matter who the person is, what background the person has, what day of the week the statement was made on, what the weather was at the time, what town or country the statement was made in, why the person made the statement, who it was said to, or what use someone else might put the statement to. Offering up those irrelevancies or any others as reasons to deny the truth of the statement is folly, or worse, malice.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 31, 2020 at 4:44 AM

Two takes on square-bud primrose flowers

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Along the Capital of Texas Highway on June 13th I found some bright yellow flowers of Oenothera berlandieri, known descriptively as square-bud primroses and poetically as sundrops. How could I not get down low and make abstract portraits of such sunny wildflowers? The first picture shown here plays up the idea of “a light shining in the darkness.” In the second, I was intrigued by the way one of the plant’s leaves curled into a spiral and turned reddish-brown as it dried out. A spider had been intrigued enough to hang out inside the spiral.

Unrelated proverb for today: You can’t unring a bell.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2020 at 4:41 AM

Well, come on, yucca, let’s do the twist

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It’s the distinctive torsion that gives the central Texas endemic called twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) its common name. I can’t explain the bits of red but they add interest to this otherwise yellow-green portrait from northwest Austin on July 13th.

Speaking of twistleaf yucca, I just realized I’d never shown you a portrait of one I made way back on May 1st with a four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris linearifolia) that had nestled against it. Better late than never.

Update to yesterday’s post: I’ve added a closeup showing details in the damselfly’s abdomen and wings.

And here’s an unrelated thought for today: “The pessimist stands beneath the tree of prosperity and growls when the fruit falls on his head.” (This unattributed saying circulated in various American newspapers in the first decade of the 20th century.)

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 29, 2020 at 4:40 AM

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Damselfly on western ironweed

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I’ve always found western ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii) hard to photograph. Not so this dameslfly on the buds thereof along Bull Creek on July 1st. In looking at John Abbott’s book Damselflies of Texas, I figured this damselfly was in the genus Hetaerina but I wasn’t sure about the species. Yesterday on bugguide.net entomologist T. Hedlund identified the species as Hetaerina americana, known as the American rubyspot. The one I photographed seems to have been a female.

UPDATE: from a different frame I’ve added a closeup showing the details in one segment of the abdomen and a part of the wing. Till now I hadn’t paid attention to the transverse black markings on the iridescent blue.

American Rubyspot Damselfly on Western Ironweed Buds by Buttonbush Flower Globe 1831 Detail

Unrelated thought for today: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana in The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress. The last sentence is famous but often gets misquoted. Much worse, many people refuse to learn that lesson.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 28, 2020 at 4:40 AM

One shade the more, one ray the less

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As you’ve heard, I’ve been pursuing abstraction a lot this year. My entry into the field has been primarily through the shapes and colors of Austin’s native wildflowers; the two shown here, both members of the sunflower family, are the Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) and the firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella). The title of today’s post is a line from Byron that conveniently lets me allude to the one remaining ray flower on the Mexican hat, which I photographed in the little wildflower area at the Floral Park Drive entrance to Great Hills Park on July 8th. And below from the same outing is an edge-centric, eccentric (ex-centric, off-center) portrait of a firewheel in its own right and my own rite.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 27, 2020 at 4:39 AM

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