Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Blackland Prairie

Maximilian sunflower plants subdued

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As much as we love to see the bright yellow of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) in the fall, something else loves those plants, too, although not in a benign way. That something is dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a parasitic vine whose densely twining yellow-orange strands people have often likened to a tangle of angel hair pasta (also known as capellini), which is the slenderest type. The second photograph shows you that this vine’s tiny white flowers sometimes rival the strands’ density.

I took these pictures and hundreds more at the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 4th.


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I recommend Bari Weiss’s latest essay, “Some Thoughts About Courage.”
It includes links to plenty of other worthy articles.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 22, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Prairie agalinis time again

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For the past month I’ve been seeing prairie agalinis flowers (Agalinis heterophylla) around central Texas. Above is a portrait from the Riata Trace Pond on September 14th. Four days earlier I’d taken some pictures along the eastern fringe of the Blackland Prairie in Elgin showing how the plant grows:


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Two Tokens of Our Times, or
There’s a Their There*

1) A website offering information about many artists says this about one of them: “Anders Petersen is a Swedish photographer who was born in 1944. Their work was featured in numerous exhibitions at key galleries and museums….” Anders Petersen is a man. One man. His photographs are plural; he isn’t.

2) Last week marked one year since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. To commemorate the anniversary, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quoted the justice’s words:

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity… When the government controls that decision for a woman, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

Except the ACLU bowdlerized the quotation: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a [person’s] life, to [their] well-being and dignity… When the government controls that decision for [people], [they are] being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for [their] own choices.”

You can find out more about this in an article in The Daily Mail.

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* I’m playing off one of Gertrude Stein’s most often quoted lines: “There is no there there.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Low on the prairie for snow-on-the-prairie

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I got down low on the prairie
For this snow-on-the-prairie.

Make that Euphorbia bicolor on September 10th in Elgin, some 25 miles east of Austin.

In the same field, slated to soon be part of a quickly growing subdivision,
I noticed some goldenrod plants (Solidago sp.) beginning to put out buds.


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What’s fair?

Of course people disagree about what’s fair in any given situation. One commonly heard claim is that “The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.” With that in mind, you may want to check out an article by Adam Michel. Of the many statistics about income and taxes cited in the article for the United States in 2018 based on data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), here are two:

The top 1% or earners (people who made at least $540,000 that year) earned 21% of all the income in the country yet paid 40% of all federal income taxes.

The bottom 50% of earners (people who made no more than $43,600 that year) earned 12% of all the income in the country but paid only 3% of all federal income taxes.

It seems that paying “a fair share” would require the ultra-rich to have their taxes cut roughly in half (21%/40%), while the lower half of the country’s earners would need to have their taxes quadrupled (12%/3%).

As Adam Michel’s article also notes: “Looking at all federal taxes, the Congressional Budget Office shows that the top 1% pay an average federal tax rate of 32%. The data show tax rates decline with income, and the poorest 20% of the population pay an average tax rate of just 1%. The left-leaning Tax Policy Center found similar results.”

Apparently the big disparity in federal tax rates between 32% and 1% isn’t unfair enough for activists to consider it fair.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 21, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Where else to find snow-on-the-prairie but on the prairie?

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On the morning of September 10th I headed east from Austin in search of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor, whose flowering time was at hand. I found some good stands close to and in Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of Austin whose name is pronounced with a hard g, as in give. To take my first snow-on-the-prairie pictures, I leaned my upper body over a barbed wire fence along US 290 west of Elgin, looked through the camera’s viewfinder, and composed pictures of the field you see here. For a few of my photographs I held the camera as high over my head as possible and guess-aimed somewhat downward to get a better angle and increased depth of field. I don’t know if the picture above was one of those, but it might well have been. The snow in the plant’s common name refers to the white-margined bracts that become so prominent leading up to the plant’s flowering. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous.


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I strive for accuracy. Even so, it’s human nature to make mistakes. If you’re aware of anything in my commentaries that’s not factually correct, please point it out, along with a link to legitimate evidence of the truth, and I’ll make corrections.


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The current American administration’s blatant dereliction of duty and collusion to flout the law

According to the official website whitehouse.gov, “The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress.” [I’ve italicized the second sentence for emphasis.]

Congress has passed immigration laws that set up the legal process by which people are allowed to immigrate to the United States. Nevertheless, for eight months now members of the Executive Branch, including the President of the United States, have worked strenuously to thwart the immigration laws Congress has put in place. Back on August 6th I reported that our government was letting some 40,000 people per week come across the southwestern border illegally. Customs and Border Protection reported approximately 210,000 encounters with illegal border crossers in July. (Some of those were people who had crossed illegally more than once that month.) The other day authorities released the figures for August: “208,887 encounters along the Southwest Border,” of which 156,641 were unique (the difference between those numbers being people encountered more than once that month). The July and August figures were 20-year highs. And remember that the official figures only include people who were apprehended; unknown tens of thousands each month managed to enter illegally and evade authorities.

So many people have walked unimpeded across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas, in the past few days that federal and local authorities are completely overwhelmed and can’t cope with it. The border there is wide open. Word has gone out around the world that anyone who can make it to Ciudad Acuña, the town on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, is free to wade across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas. And people around the world have heard the news and have come.

On September 15th, an estimated 4000 illegal immigrants who had walked across the river were taking refuge under the International Bridge in Del Rio. By September 16th the number of people under or adjacent to the bridge was estimated to have doubled. You can read about it and see photographs in an article by Adam Shaw and Bill Melugin. Representative Tony Gonzales, whose House of Representatives district includes Del Rio, is quoted in the article: “When you see the amount of people and how chaotic it is and how there is literally no border, folks are coming to and from Mexico with ease, it’s gut wrenching and it’s dangerous.” If you want, you can read/watch other stories about the situation.

On September 17th I heard an estimate on television that the number of people under and close to the bridge had grown to 10,500. Later that day I read that the estimate had risen to 12,000. I watched live television showing a steady stream of people walking across a low dam from Ciudad Acuña into Del Rio. The television reporter said this has been going on non-stop for days, and that thousands more people were reported heading up to the border from nearby places in Mexico. According to Del Rio’s mayor, Bruno Lozano, “There’s people having babies down there [under the bridge], there’s people collapsing out of the heat. They’re pretty aggressive, rightly so — they’ve been in the heat day after day after day.”

The situation is dire. Remember that this is summer, and afternoon high temperatures in that part of southern Texas have been running around 100°F (38°–39°C). The video that I watched showed rows of portable toilets, the insides of which must be horrendous. Food and drinking water are in short supply. The sun beats down from dawn to dusk. Thousands more people keep coming every day.

And let’s not forget that we’re still in the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week the current administration issued an edict—most likely beyond its legal authority, but that’s nothing new—according to which many American citizens who aren’t willing to get vaccinated or be tested every week will lose their jobs. Of course the hundreds of thousands of non-citizens who have been illegally pouring across the border, including the thousands now crowded together in Del Rio, often without masks, are exempt from the edict—despite the fact that a majority come from countries where few people have been vaccinated. Unlike American citizens, these people that our government is letting enter illegally don’t have to get tested. They don’t have to get vaccinated. Many of them will be allowed to come into the country illegally anyway, and our government will even pay their way into the interior.

If this isn’t lawlessness, then nothing is.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Water primrose flowering

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Along Wells Branch Parkway at Strathaven Pass on August 13th I took pictures of narrowleaf water primrose, Ludwigia octovalvis. The top picture sets the scene and includes a couple of purple bindweed flowers, Ipomoea cordatotriloba, which starred in a recent post about the same site. The gialloscuro portrait below isolates one of the water primrose flowers.


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From the time I was in elementary school I was interested in population figures. Here are some observations from the Daily Wire about the 2020 census in the United States.

The Topline: New data from the most recent Census offers a glimpse into the changing demographics of the United States. 

Why Does The Census Matter?

Census data helps determine a state’s representation in Congress. The data also plays a role in allocating electoral votes and helps determine how much funding states can get from the federal government throughout the year. 

State Breakdown

Texas will be adding two members of Congress due to its population growth over the last decade. 

Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Colorado and Montana will also gain one Congressional seat. 


Seven states — most notably New York and California — will be losing a member of Congress due to lower rates of population growth. 

Political Party Breakdown

It’s unclear if one party benefited more from the Census data. In the fall, states will finalize the process of redrawing congressional lines. 

States controlled by Democrats will attempt to capitalize on urban growth by redrawing lines to create as many districts as possible close to cities with the desire to maximize the impact of their voter base, which typically resides in urban areas. Republicans will take similar action, but in different regions, as their strongholds are in more rural areas.

Snapshot Of American Life In 2020

Experts had predicted a stark increase in the number of people moving to cities, but the Census data exceeded expectations. While the overall population increased, half of all U.S. counties — almost all of them rural — experienced a decrease in size. 

Almost all of the country’s population growth occurred in cities. As a result, for the first time ever, the U.S. has ten cities with populations over 1 million people.

Diversity In America 

One of the key takeaways from the data is the increasing diversity of America. 

White people are still the largest demographic, but their share of the population decreased by 8.6% over the last decade, which is the first time in census history that there was a decrease in the overall number of white Americans. 

According to the data, a large part of the increased diversity is due to immigration, but the data shows that it’s also due to the fact that white families are having fewer children on average than black and Hispanic families. 

Decrease In Population Growth

The U.S. population grew at a rate of 7.4% over the last decade, which is the slowest rate since the Great Depression.

According to the data, the average man is now over 30 years old when he first marries, and the average woman is 28 years old. In 2000, those numbers were 27 and 25. Experts also point to the student debt crisis and increased presence of women in the workplace as reasons for Americans waiting to have children. 


The Big Picture: A decline in the population growth rate may not be initially concerning, but experts say there could be a massive labor shortage if population growth doesn’t start to increase as Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers retire.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Little metallic sweat bee on a partridge pea flower

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As you’ve heard in a couple of recent posts, I photographed a bunch of partridge pea plants (Chamaecrista fasciculata) along Wells Branch Parkway on August 13th. At one point I got intrigued by the way a compound leaf cast its shadow on one petal of a partridge pea flower. Not long after I started taking pictures of that, a metallic sweat bee came by to visit the flower. The bee kept moving around and more often than not stayed fully or partly hidden behind petals. Oh well, we photographers do what we can, testing our reflexes to grab quick shots when our subjects briefly come out in the open.


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FOLLOW THE SCIENCE!

Ever since Covid-19 vaccines became more and more available in early 2021, reasonable folks began to wonder about people who’d gotten Covid-19, recovered from it, and therefore had what’s called natural immunity. One question was whether those who’ve acquired natural immunity still need to get vaccinated. Related to that was the question of whether vaccines might cause any harm to people with natural immunity.

For the past several months, the United States government has been saying with increasing vehemence that people with natural immunity must still get vaccinated, all the while declining to offer scientific evidence for the need and safety of that position. Jurisdictions and institutions that have begun calling for proof of vaccination to do various things (for example attend sporting events, eat in restaurants, or even come to work) have refused to exempt Covid-recovered people, even though their immunity has been generally believed to be at least as strong as the one provided by vaccines.

Such stances are political, not scientific. Look at the opening sentence from an August 26th online article published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “The natural immune protection that develops after a SARS-CoV-2 infection offers considerably more of a shield against the Delta variant of the pandemic coronavirus than two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a large Israeli study….” The article goes on to give advice to people who have neither had the virus not gotten vaccinated against it: people in that group should get vaccinated. They should not toy with the idea of acquiring immunity by subjecting themselves to the virus, because some people who contract the virus get seriously ill and even die.

I encourage you to read the full article. You may also want to read a similar August 27th article on the ZME Science website. It points out that people who recovered from Covid-19 and then also had a single shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine ended up with even stronger protection than those with naturally acquired immunity alone.

Now that there’s solid scientific confirmation that naturally acquired Covid immunity “offers considerably more of a shield against the Delta variant of the pandemic coronavirus than two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine,” will American government jurisdictions stop saying that naturally immune people still need to get two shots of the Pfizer (or Moderna) vaccine? Will institutions that call for proof of vaccination now accept proof of naturally acquired immunity in lieu of vaccination? Don’t hold your breath.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Basket-flower seed head remains with clouds

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From August 13th on the Blackland Prairie along Pflugerville’s southern border
come these seed head remains of a basket-flower, Plectocephalus americanus.


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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the world’s great crusaders for women’s rights, a cause that’s especially dear to her because she grew up in a culture that didn’t afford women many rights. I recommend her August 18th article about the human rights catastrophe in Afghanistan.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2021 at 4:25 AM

But soft, what light on yonder flower falls?

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The date was August 13th, and the place was a property along Wells Branch Parkway at Strathaven Pass on the Blackland Prairie in far north Austin. You’ve already seen a flowering colony of partridge pea plants there, so now here’s a closeup of a single Chamaecrista fasciculata flower as it opened. Notice how the reddish blush shades through orange to yellow as your eyes follow it away from the flower’s base.


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Our word coincidence comes from Latin, where co meant ‘together with,’ in meant ‘into,’ and cid came from a root that meant ‘to fall.’ A coincidence is ‘things falling into each other.’ The night before last a 1929 movie shown on Turner Classic Movies ‘fell into’ tragic current events. The film, mostly a romantic comedy, was The Love Parade, directed by Ernst Lubitch. The movie marked the screen debut of Jeanette MacDonald, who played Queen Louise in the imaginary country of Sylvania. Opposite her was Maurice Chevalier as the hitherto womanizing military officer Count Alfred Renard (which happens to mean ‘fox’ in French). A synopsis of the film says this: “Queen Louise’s cabinet are worried that she will become an old maid, and are delighted when she marries the roguish Count Renard. Unfortunately, he finds his position as Queen’s Consort unsatisfying and without purpose, and the marriage soon runs into difficulties.”

In a scene that shows the wedding between the royal Louise and the commoner Alfred, the dignitaries include the ambassador from Afghanistan (there’s the coincidence with this week’s tragic events). After the priest follows royal protocol and pronounces the newly married couple “wife and man,” the ambassador comments in a fake language: “A singi. A na hu. A na hu. Prostu, pass harr. Fo malu a yu.” The Sylvanian Prime Minister asks what that means, and the Afghan ambassador’s translator tells him: “He says, man is man and woman is woman. And if you change that, causes trouble. He does not see how any man could stand being a wife. And therefore, he hopes this will be a most unhappy marriage.” The Prime Minister replies: “For heaven’s sake, if he reports this to Afghanistan. Tell him, this is a love match. It will be the happiest marriage in the world.”

Unfortunately, the two-decade involvement of the United States and Afghanistan didn’t end up being the happiest marriage in the world. Things fell apart.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 26, 2021 at 4:22 AM

A partridge pea colony and a new place

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At this time of year I often come across individual partridge pea plants (Chamaecrista fasciculata) and small groups of them. Less often do I see the colonies that the species can also form. On August 13th I found one of those at the base of a slope around the pond along Wells Branch Parkway at Strathaven Pass on the Blackland Prairie. Until a few years ago that land was fenced off, so I’d never been able to take pictures there. Now that the property has been developed into apartments and houses, I’ve been able to get access and take pictures along the margins, where native plants still grow. The photograph below gives a closer look at one portion of the colony shown panoramically above (which enlarges a good deal when clicked).


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So many hypocritical things have been going on that I could most likely sustain a “Hypocrisy of the Day” series. That would be too depressing, though, so I’ll just do an occasional post on that theme, as I did on August 10th. Here’s a new one, from the Daily Wire on August 17th.

Hard-left Massachusetts Democrat congresswoman Ayanna Presley, a member of the progressive “Squad” that includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) and Cori Bush (D-MO), has been revealed to have made thousands of dollars in rental income last year with her husband despite the fact that she has been calling for cancellation of rent since at least December 2020.

“Pressley’s 2020 financial disclosure, filed on Friday, disclosed between $5,000 and $15,000 in rental income from a Boston property in her husband’s name. The property was converted into a multi-family apartment after it was purchased, according to Pressley’s disclosure,” Fox News reported, adding, “Pressley’s office did not immediately return Fox News’ request for comment on whether she and her husband canceled rent for their tenants at any point in 2020. She disclosed the same range of rental income – between $5,000 and $15,000 – in 2020 as she did in 2019, before the pandemic began.

In December 2020, Pressley tweeted, “Keeping families housed is a matter of public health. We must cancel rent, extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, provide rental assistance, and offer legal representation for those at risk of eviction. This is a public health emergency.”

The Boston Herald also covered the story.

It’s unclear whether Pressley is still renting out the unit and collected income during the pandemic because she won’t respond to questions.

The Herald has repeatedly tried to get a response from her spokesman but has been unsuccessful.

So it’s hard to tell whether Pressley is being hypocritical or just arrogant.

It’s the typical non-response from Pressley, who simply won’t answer questions she doesn’t want to or that don’t promote her agenda. She communicates to her constituents primarily through pre-prepared statements, press releases and social media videos. She has demanded transparency from police and other agencies but isn’t willing to follow the same rules herself.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 22, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Red admiral on basket-flower

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From May 7th on the Blackland Prairie in southern Round Rock, here’s a red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) on a basket-flower (Plectocephalus americanus). According to a Wikipedia article, Johan Christian Fabricius gave the name Vanessa to this genus of butterflies in 1807. The name itself has an interesting origin: “It was invented by the Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift for Esther Vanhomrigh, whom Swift had met in 1708 and whom he tutored. The name was created by taking ‘Van’ from Vanhomrigh’s last name and adding ‘Essa’, a pet form of Esther.” Speaking of the author best known for writing Gulliver’s Travels, I’ll add that the English adjective swift meant ‘moving quickly’ before it got applied to and became the name of a bird that moves quickly. And because I moved so quickly from nature to words, let me come back to our basket-flower and point out that the genus name Plectocephalus (which recently got changed from Centaurea) is made up of Greek elements meaning ‘plait’ and ‘head,’ because the flower heads of this species remind people of little woven baskets.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 10, 2021 at 4:34 AM

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