Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘buds

Turn-of-the-year wildflowers in my neighborhood

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Ageratina havanensis is a native bush known as shrubby boneset, Havana snakeroot, white mistflower, and fragrant mistflower. Field guides for central Texas note that it blooms in the fall. So it does, including very late in the fall, as confirmed by the buds-and-flowers view above from December 16th in my neighborhood. At the same time that new buds were emerging and opening, some of the flower heads were already going to seed, like the ones in the picture below.

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Eleven months ago Glenn Loury delivered a lecture. After recounting details of three murders in Chicago on the most recent Memorial Day weekend, he said:

All of the victims were black people. Sixty-three shot, six dead, one weekend, one city. Here’s the thing: reports such as this could be multiplied dozens of times, effortlessly. If a black intellectual truly believes that “Black Lives Matter,” then what is he supposed to say in response to such nauseating reports—that “there is nothing to see here”? I think not.

Violence on such a scale involving blacks as both perpetrators and victims poses a dilemma to someone like myself. On the one hand, as the Harvard legal scholar Randall Kennedy has observed, we elites need to represent the decent law-abiding majority of African Americans cowering fearfully inside their homes in the face of such violence. We must do so not just to enhance our group’s reputation as in the “politics of respectability” but mainly as a precondition for our own dignity and self-respect.

On the other hand, we elites must also counter the demonization of young black men which the larger American culture has for some time now been feverishly engaged in. Even as we condemn murderers, we cannot help but view with sympathy the plight of many poor youngsters who, though not incorrigible, have nevertheless committed crimes. We must wrestle with complex historical and contemporary causes internal and external to the black experience that help to account for this pathology. (There’s no way around it. This is pathology. The behavior in question here is not okay. That one can adduce social-psychological explanations does not resolve all moral questions.)

Where is the self-respecting black intellectual to take his stand? Must he simply act as a mouthpiece for movement propaganda aiming to counteract “white supremacy”? Has he anything to say to his own people about how some of us are living? Is there space in American public discourses for nuanced, subtle, sophisticated moral engagement with these questions? Or are they mere fodder for what amount to tendentious, cynical, and overtly politically partisan arguments on behalf of something called “racial equity”? And what about those so-called “white intellectuals”? Do they have to remain mute? Or, must they limit themselves to incanting anti-racist slogans?

Professor Loury goes on to discuss what he calls unspeakable truths about the situation:

  • Downplaying behavioral disparities by race is actually a “bluff.”
  • “Structural racism” isn’t an explanation, it’s an empty category.
  • We must put the police killings of black Americans into perspective.
  • There is a dark side to the “white fragility” blame game.
  • There is an infantilization of “black fragility.”

You can read his analysis on each of those in the full speech in a Quillette article. In fact it was the most viewed article Quillette had in 2021. You can’t go wrong reading the other top nine as well.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 4, 2022 at 4:41 AM

Bright red near the end of the year

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Here’s a new botanical red from the last month of the year: pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), whose stalks can be as richly colorful as anything in nature. On December 8th in Balcones District Park, after happily portraying the flowers on a new [to me] species of winecup, I spent time with this pokeweed plant that had even put out buds and a flower. If you look closely at the lowest lobe of the flower you’ll see what appear to be two insect eggs.

And speaking of entomology, the etymologist in me feels compelled to add that while it’s true you could get a poke from pokeweed if you’re not as careful as I was when I leaned through the branches of this bush to take my pictures, the poke in pokeweed is a different word. It comes from pocan, a dialectal version of a Virginia Algonquian term. In fact it’s the same word that has given us puccoon. That’s the true explanation; I’m not selling you a pig in a poke, which is yet a third unrelated poke in English.


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If you’ve never read “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry (who lived in Austin), you should.
It’s only six pages long. Go for it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Frostweed flowers and buds

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Starting in September and still continuing, frostweed (Verbesina virginica) has been flowering in many places around Austin. This portrait comes from near Bull Creek on September 30th.

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Silly me expects the news media to examine the evidence and tell the truth.

A week ago today was election day in the United States. One race that people particularly focused on was the governorship of Virginia. Because the state just one year earlier had gone for the Democratic candidate for president of the United States by a margin of some 10 percentage points, the Democratic candidate for governor, former governor Terry McAuliffe, was favored to win last week over the Republican challenger, political novice Glenn Youngkin.

One issue that became especially hot in the final month of the campaign was education. Support for Youngkin surged after McAuliffe said in a debate at the end of September that he does not believe parents should tell schools what to teach. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision.” Thanks in part—perhaps a large part—to those statements by McAuliffe, Youngkin ended up winning the race for governor by about 2 percentage points.

One educational point of contention in the campaign had been the way in which public school teachers have been increasingly teaching their subjects through a “lens” of power differentials and hierarchies of groups defined by race and gender. That treatment categorizes each individual as “privileged” or “oppressed” according to the supposed status of the groups the individual happens to be a part of. There’s no one agreed-upon name for that kind of emphasis on power and race and gender, but many people have taken to calling it Critical Race Theory, or CRT, a term that originally appeared in higher education in the 1970s. I discussed this back on August 9th. In that commentary I pointed out how some of the people in politics and education who are pushing CRT have resorted to the sophistic defense that what they’re promoting is not actually CRT. I mentioned as an example of that denial the head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and then I linked to an AFT document showing that the group does indeed promote CRT and is mobilizing to fight opponents of CRT.

The same sort of untrue denial of Critical Race Theory in the schools came up in the Virginia gubernatorial race, where McAuliffe and his supporters, including many commenters in the legacy media, insisted that the state’s public schools do not use CRT. McAuliffe called Critical Race Theory a “racist dog whistle” that has “never been taught in Virginia.” But all it takes is a look at the Virginia Department of Education’s website to confirm that the deniers were and still are lying. For example, on the page of memos from the Superintendent of Schools for 2019, memo 050-19 is a document entitled “Resources to Support Student and Community Dialogues on Racism.” That document endorses the book Foundations of Critical Race Theory in Education. Or go to a different place on the Department of Education’s website to see the slide presentation entitled “Legal Implications of School Discipline.” Slide 22 says “Incorporate Critical Race Theory (CRT) Lens.” Christopher Rufo has documented these and other examples.

And yet on election night, as it became clearer and clearer that Youngkin would win, commenters on networks like MSNBC and CNN still kept insisting that CRT “isn’t real,” even with the ready accessibility of public evidence that it is.

Even worse, some people on those networks claimed that the election of the Republican candidate for vice-president of Virginia, Winsome Sears, was proof of white supremacy—despite the fact that Winsome Sears, a black immigrant from Jamaica, is now the first woman ever elected to that office in Virginia. In addition, commenters in the legacy media often avoided mentioning that Republican Jason Miyares, who won Virginia’s election for attorney general, is the son of a Cuban immigrant. Apparently Virginia is home to some very incompetent or very confused white supremacists, who chose “people of color” for two of the top three positions in the election. Talk about delusion in the media!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 9, 2021 at 4:51 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 12

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A zillion years ago, give or take a few years, Eve bought a sage at a Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center plant sale. Here’s a descendant of that plant as it looked in our back yard on August 19th. I figure it’s scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea.

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Here’s a telling four-minute video revealing a division of opinion on the policy of requiring voters to show a government-issued ID. If you watch the video, make sure to keep on through the second half. It may well make you wonder who the racists really are. The video’s interviews with real people also remind me of a recent post in The Babylon Bee, which is a satirical publication along the lines of The Onion.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 6

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From July 22nd comes this portrait of Pavonia lasiopetala, known as rock rose, rose pavonia, and pavonia mallow (as its prominent stamen column confirms membership in the mallow family). This is yet another portrait in which the use of flash caused the sky to come out darker than it actually was. I like that look, even if it’s not true to life, and I hope you find it attractive, too.

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You may have noticed that we’re in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic. With continuing vaccinations, rising percents of the population in the United States and other countries have gained effective protection from the coronavirus. That’s good news. At the same time, the delta variant of the virus, which seemingly spreads more easily than the original strain and apparently affects more young people than before, has been infecting increasingly many people around the world. Sydney, Australia, for example, has had to return to lockdowns. Some places in the United States are now seeing their cases approaching the peak numbers of last winter.

So what is the current American administration doing during this resurgence of the pandemic? It’s illegally letting people come across our southern border as fast as it can and either turning many of them loose in border towns or paying to send them by bus or plane farther into our country. The number of people the government is illegally letting in is so large—on the order of 40,000 every single week—and border officials are so overworked trying to deal with the massive influx, that there’s no way to test all the people for Covid-19. Of those that have been checked, some have indeed tested positive for the virus. Statistically speaking, that means authorities have to be illegally letting in some Covid-positive people and turning them loose inside our country. Nice going, federal government!

Aside from the insanity of illegally letting in a million people every six months during a rising pandemic, the illegal entrants who aren’t carrying Covid-19 still present a huge burden for the towns where the government is dumping them, often with no notification to local authorities. Two days ago in the Texas border town of Laredo, which is 95% Hispanic, “Mayor Pete Saenz signed [a] disaster declaration and refiled a request to stop the transportation of migrants from the [Rio Grande] Valley to their city in an ongoing lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security.” In another Texas border town, “the City Commission also instructed City staff to demand relief from the federal government for the alarming number of immigrants that are being released into the city of McAllen,” which is about 85% Hispanic. Nice going, federal government!

UPDATE: After this post “went to press,” I learned about two whistleblowers who “have accused members of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of directing them to minimize the size of a coronavirus outbreak among migrant children housed in detention facilities.” You’ll find more about that, including a link to the official complaint, in an article by Hank Berrien.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 6, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , ,

Portraits from our yard: episode 2

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From July 23rd, look at the flowers and buds of western ironweed, Vernonia baldwinii. I’ve often found that species difficult to photograph because the parts of its inflorescence don’t generally fall close to a single plane, so I was happy to get as much in focus as I did with this portrait. Using flash was the key; it let me stop down to f/16.

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One of the principles of the scientific method is falsifiability. It means that the scientific community won’t even consider a conjecture unless the conjecture is capable of being disproved. For example, Aristotle believed that heavy objects fall faster than light objects. On its face, that might be true or it might be false, and there’s a way to find out. Surprisingly (or not), only a millennium and a half later did someone put Aristotle’s claim to a real test. In the late 1500s Galileo simultaneously dropped (or is said to have dropped) two dense objects of different weights from the Tower of Pisa and found that they hit the ground at the same time, thereby falsifying Aristotle’s long-believed claim. (To give some credit to Aristotle, his notion had seemed true because of air resistance, which makes a feather and a leaf drop much more slowly than a rock.)

In contrast to that checkable conjecture about falling objects, suppose someone claims the existence of a substance having the property that whenever you try to detect it it becomes undetectable. Do you see that by its very nature a proposal like that can’t ever be disproved? As a result, it lies outside the realm of science.

I bring up falsifiability in science because it reminds me of something going on in the world of the “woke,” where apostles and acolytes of that new religion accuse white people, especially white men, and even more especially old white men, of having “white privilege.” If a white person answers “No, I don’t have any such privilege,” then the true believers snap back and say, “The fact that you deny having white privilege shows your ‘white fragility’ and it proves that you do have white privilege.” Honest, some of them really “think” that way. By that kind of “reasoning,” whenever anyone accused of a crime goes into court and pleads not guilty, the judge would have to find the defendant guilty by virtue of having pled not guilty! It’s downright Kafkaesque.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 31, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 1

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Today and in probably nine posts to come I’ll be showing you portraits of native plants in our yard. Some are the progeny of a few plantings Eve made years ago, while others are here because those species have grown in this area for millennia. Let me begin by jumping back to April 25th, when the self-sown colony of white avens (Geum canadense) behind our house was happily doing its thing. You’re looking at buds in two stages of opening. Can you tell that this wildflower is in the rose family?

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You probably didn’t hear about an incident that made the news this week. To understand it, you should know that large numbers of people have been illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. The current American administration has been letting them in anyway, in violation of American law. (Some eventually get sent back, but many are allowed to stay, and the government even pays to bus or fly them into the interior of our country.) How many illegal border crossers have been let in? On July 26, 2021, Border Patrol informed the police department in the little border town of La Joya, Texas, that the number of apprehensions of illegal entrants this year had surpassed 1 million through the month of June. That’s in addition to the unknown number of illegal entrants who’d managed to evade the understaffed and overworked border authorities altogether.

In the latest incident I mentioned at the beginning, federal authorities in La Joya had released a group of illegal entrants who had Covid-19. (I’ve heard that 7.9% of illegal entrants who have been checked for the disease have tested positive for it but I don’t know if that figure is accurate.) The organization Catholic Charities of The Rio Grande Valley had rented out all the rooms at a local motel and was housing the released Covid-positive group there. Instead of quarantining in the hotel, some of the infected people had gone to a fast-food restaurant called Whataburger, where a “concerned citizen at the restaurant waved down [a police] officer. The citizen told him about the family ‘coughing and sneezing without covering their mouths and not wearing face masks.’ Whataburger management also told the officer that they wanted the group to leave as well due to ‘their disregard to other people’s health.’” So much for following the Centers for Disease Control’s pandemic guidelines. While fully vaccinated Americans are being told to “follow the science” and mask up indoors once again, some people who actually have Covid-19 were released into our country and allowed to wander at will without masks as they mingled with the local population.

As for the number of apprehensions reported in the first half of 2021, some may say that the United States is a large and bountiful country, so that in addition to its already very generous quota of legal immigrants it can afford to have a million people entering illegally every six months. To give a sense of scale, let’s see what a proportional influx of illegal entrants would mean in a small country. Take New Zealand, for example, which is also a wealthy nation. Current population estimates for New Zealand and the United States are 4,864,000 and 332,900,000, respectively. That puts New Zealand’s population at not quite one-and-a-half percent of America’s, so the equivalent of a million people entering the United States illegally in six months would be about 14,600 people entering New Zealand illegally in half a year. Maybe I’m naïve, but somehow I don’t think many citizens of New Zealand would be okay with over 14,000 people every six months showing up at their borders illegally yet being allowed into the country anyhow. You know what a bunch of racist xenophobes those Kiwis are.*

Going in the opposite direction, China’s current population is estimated at 1,444,600,000. To match a million people crossing illegally into the United States in six months, China would have to allow about 4,339,000 people to illegally cross its borders every half-year. I’m sure once somebody pointed that out to Chairman Xi, who’s eager to surpass the United States as a world power in all respects, he’d agree to it. He’d probably kick himself for not having thought of it on his own.**

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* Call it satire or call it sarcasm, but don’t take that last sentence seriously. The fact remains, though, that New Zealand polices its borders much more stringently than the United States does. When Eve and I visited there in 2015 and 2017, upon arrival we were photographed before being allowed to leave the Auckland airport, and again before being permitted to board our flight back home. By that system the New Zealand immigration authorities could tell whether we’d left before our authorized time in the country as tourists was up, or whether we’d stayed on illegally.

** That’s also sarcasm. I think we all know the kind of reception even a small group of people who entered China illegally—much less 4.3 million of them—would receive from authorities in that Communist dictatorship.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Not an anomaly

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It’s not an anomaly for Tinantia anomala to grow wild in a semi-shaded portion of our yard, as I was happy to discover a colony doing this past spring. Today’s front and back portraits are from April 25th, though I noticed some of these wildflowers still blooming at our place well into June.

Also not an anomaly among common names for plants are some designed to keep people from confusing a species with a similar one. That’s the case here, where the vernacular name false dayflower alerts you that this isn’t the plain old dayflower, Commelina erecta, that you recently saw here and that’s in the same botanical family. The false may be helpful, but I still wish Tinantia anomala had a more positive name than that or the widow’s tears that people also call it. How about purple dayflower or noble dayflower?


What is an anomaly, at least during my lifetime in America, is the recent refusal by some media outlets to allow the discussion of certain subjects. Take the Covid-19 virus. In 2020, there were people, including reputable scientists, who conjectured that the virus had originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, where coronaviruses had been under study for years. Many media outlets labeled that conjecture a “conspiracy theory” and said it had been debunkedeven though no evidence had been brought forth to disprove the conjecture. People attempting to discuss the topic on Facebook had their posts taken down.

In 2021, some countries have authorized the drug ivermectin as a therapeutic in treating Covid-19. India, the second most populous country in the world, is one of them. Other countries offering ivermectin as a treatment for the disease are South Africa, Zimbabwe, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Mexico. Here’s an overview. On the other hand, some sites say ivermectin is not effective against Covid-19. You can search the Internet and find other sources that are against ivermectin as a therapeutic for Covid-19. I don’t know the truth of the matter. What I do know, though, is that institutions like Facebook and YouTube and Twitter should not be banning people from presenting legitimate evidence that a medicine is effective.

If you’ve been reading my posts for the last few months, you know I’ve been speaking out against censorship. Other have, too, like Bari Weiss: “How have we gotten here? How have we gotten to the point where having conversations about important scientific and medical subjects requires such a high level of personal risk? How have we accepted a reality in which Big Tech can carry out the digital equivalent of book burnings? And why is it that so few people are speaking up against the status quo?”

I hope you’ll join us by using your power of speech in the service of free speech.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 3, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Tansy mustard buds opening

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From Gonzales on March 19, here are the opening buds of tansy mustard, Descurainia pinnata. What you’re seeing wasn’t much more than an inch across. The red in the background came from phlox flowers.

And here’s a passage from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty that’s every bit as germane today as it was in 1859, and probably even more so:

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly*, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.

* Mill is using vulgar in its original meaning, which referred to ‘the common folk, the populace.’ The word later developed the pejorative sense that now dominates.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2021 at 4:40 AM

Coral honeysuckle flower and buds

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A couple of months ago I discovered a picture in my archives that I’d never shown, so here it is on the 10th anniversary of the date I took it. You’re looking at a coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) flower surrounded by buds along Great Northern Blvd. Unfortunately construction along Mopac and the building of a sound-mitigating wall have destroyed or blocked much of the strip where I used to photograph native plants.

And here’s a quotation for today: “… [A] copy of the universe is not what is required of art; one of the damned thing is ample.” — Rebecca West, 1928, in the essay “The Strange Necessity.” Quote Investigator offers more information.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 10, 2021 at 4:36 AM

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