Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Burnet County

Field of white, May delight

with 20 comments

From along US 183 in Burnet County’s tiny town of Briggs on May 12th, get a load of this dense prairie bishop colony, Bifora americana, with some firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella, as accessorizing bits of eye-catching red. Three days earlier I’d gone to a prairie parcel in Pflugerville where prairie bishop looked this good in 2020, only to find it paltry there this year. It’s another example showing the vagaries of nature.

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Imagine a couple born one day apart celebrating their 100th birthdays and 76th wedding anniversary.
You needn’t just imagine it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Texas flax

with 45 comments

From April 9th along FM 1431 north of Marble Falls comes a colony of what I take to be Linum hudsonioides, known as Hudson flax or Texas flax, that turned the land yellow. Below is a closer look that includes some flowering and budding globes of antelope horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula.

The third picture offers an even closer view so you get a better sense of what these flax flowers are like. The yellow flowers without red centers are a kind of bladderpod (Physaria sp., formerly Lesquerella).

A theme I’ve been pursuing for over a week now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which I find to be a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

Here’s an example from geography. Suppose you have access to a list of all the rivers (including streams, creeks, etc.), in the United States, along with the length of each one (rounded to the nearest whole mile). For example, that list would include:

The Missouri River (various states): 2341 miles.
The Rio Grande (various states): 1759 miles.
The Ohio River (various states): 979 miles.
The Yellowstone River (mostly Wyoming): 678 miles.
The Cache River (Missouri): 213 miles.
The San Marcos River (Texas): 75 miles.
The Scott River (California): 60 miles.
The East Mancos River (Colorado): 12 miles
The Chelan River (Washington): 4 miles.
The Kisco River (New York): 3 miles.

There’d be thousands of rivers in the full list. The number for the length of each river has a first—and in some cases only—digit. Now here’s the question: of all those thousands of lengths, what portion (or fraction or percent) of them have 1 as their first digit? “Common sense” would lead many people to think as follows: “Rivers are natural phenomena, free from any human bias. They come in all sorts of lengths, from very short to very long, so it seems the length of a river is as likely to begin with any digit as with any other. There are 9 possible first digits (0 can’t be a first digit for a length), so on average 1/9 of the lengths, or about 11%, would have 1 as their first digit. The same would be true for each of the other possible first digits.”

Alas, rivers don’t have that sort of “common sense.” Dumb aqueous brutes that they are, they keep on going with the flow in their own stubborn way. If you could see the list of all the river lengths, you’d find that about 30% of them begin with a 1, nearly 18% with a 2, and so on down the line in decreasing fashion, with not even 5% of the lengths beginning with a 9.

Ah, you say, maybe that’s because Americans are recalcitrant and cling to antiquated measures of length like inches, feet, yards, and miles. Surely there’d be “equity” (oh, that horrid word, which means forced sameness of outcomes for groups) if we did our measuring in civilized kilometers rather than hillbilly miles. It turns out that if you converted miles to kilometers, most individual river lengths would end up having a different first digit than before, yet amazingly the first digits as a group would still follow the same distribution, from 1 as the most common down to 9 as the least common!

This phenomenon, which holds for many things other than lengths of rivers, has come to be known as Benford’s Law. You’re welcome to read more about it. (And we should add that Benford’s Law follows Stigler’s Law, which “holds that scientific laws and discoveries are never given the names of their actual discover.”)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 16, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Textures of different kinds

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At the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County on March 24th I focused on textures of different kinds. The photograph above reveals a prickly pear cactus pad from which all the outer covering and inner cells and water had passed away, leaving only the sturdy structure that once supported them. In contrast, the picture below shows a rounded, colorful patch of lichens on a boulder.

For those interested in the art and craft of photography, I’ll add that the first photograph exemplifies point 4, and the second one point 15, in About My Techniques.

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A theme I’ve been pursuing here for a week now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which is a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

Here’s a simple example from the everyday world of buying and selling. Suppose an item in a store goes up 50% in price and later comes down 50% in price. A lot of people would say it’s “common sense” that the rise in price and then the fall in price by the same percent would bring the item back to its original price; in this case the +50% and the –50% would cancel each other out.

Alas, that bit of “common sense” isn’t true. To see that it’s not, let’s give the item in question a specific price, say $40. After that price goes up by half (+50%), it’s $60. After the $60 price gets reduced by half (–50%), it drops to $30. The new price is less than the original $40 price, not equal to it.

Now let’s go a step further. In the real world, switching the order of two actions usually leads to different results. For example, mixing the ingredients for a cake and then baking them will give a very different cake than the one you’d get by baking the ingredients first and then mixing them. Waiting for an empty swimming pool to fill up and then diving head-first into it is recreational; diving head-first into an empty swimming pool and then waiting for it to fill up could well be fatal.

With those examples in mind, it seems “common sense” that if we go back to our example of prices and reverse the order of the two equal-percent changes, we might well get a different result. Specifically, what will happen if this time we first apply a 50% decrease to a price and then a 50% increase? Last time the final price ended up lower than where it started. By reversing the order of the changes, might the price now end up higher than where it started? As I used to say to my students: when in doubt, try it out. Beginning once again with a price of $40, if we reduce it by half (–50%) the new price is $20. If we now increase that $20 price by half (+50%) the final price is $30. The result comes out exactly the same as before: the original $40 price will still end up getting reduced to $30. Unlike many things in the real world, in this situation reversing the order of our actions makes no difference.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 14, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Groundplum flowers

with 24 comments

While at the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County on March 24th I found a happily flowering colony of Astragalus crassicarpus. var. berlandieri, a Texas endemic known as Berlandier’s groundplum, groundplum milkvetch, or just groundplum. The species has appeared here only twice before, the first time as a limited-focus view of the plant’s leaves. A straightforward portrait of the flowers, as in today’s view, has a naturally pastel look to it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 6, 2021 at 4:47 AM

Prairie paintbrush inflorescences

with 40 comments

From March 24th at the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County, here’s a close look at the inflorescence
of one prairie paintbrush, Castilleja purpurea var. lindheimeri, in front of two others.


And here are two versions of a blessing known as the Selkirk Grace
that’s attributed to Scottish poet Robert Burns:

Some hae [have] meat and canna [cannot] eat,
And some wad [would] eat that want [lack] it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae [so] let the Lord be Thankit!

*
Some Folk hae meat that canna eat,
And some can eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
So let the Lord be Thanket!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 4, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Texas bluestars

with 36 comments

An online report on the morning of March 24th quickly prompted a 45-minute drive northwest to the Doeskin Ranch in Burnet County, where I hoped to see some flowering Texas bluestars, Amsonia ciliata, a species I almost never come across in Austin. After a mile-and-a-half of wandering I found the reported colony.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 2, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Three views of lichens on granitic rock

with 31 comments

One of the pleasures of visiting the area near Inks Lake in Burnet County is the visibility of granitic rock.

Here are various types of lichens I saw along Park Road 4 on April 27th.

UPDATE: After this posted, I found an article that explains lichens in a way I hadn’t heard before.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 18, 2020 at 4:30 AM

Prickly pear cactus flower

with 42 comments

I don’t think I did any portraits of prickly pear cactus flowers in 2019. This picture from April 28 along Park Road 4 in Burnet County makes up for that omission. The species is Opuntia engelmannii but I’m not positive about the variety; I’m leaning toward var. engelmannii. Let’s hope I don’t lean too far because I don’t want to get prickly pear glochids and spines in my skin.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 6, 2020 at 4:45 AM

Interpenetrating wildflower colonies

with 23 comments

From April 27th along Park Road 4 in Burnet County here are three pleasantly interwoven wildflower colonies. The yellow flower heads with brown centers are brown bitterweed, Helenium amarum var. badium. The red ones are firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella, even if they have more red and less yellow than this species does on average. The white flowers are wild onions, Allium canadense, though I’m not sure which subspecies.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 5, 2020 at 4:49 AM

Sometimes a right angle is the right angle

with 37 comments

How about this curiously flexed rain-lily (Cooperia drummondii) that I found at the Doeskin Ranch on April 8th? And before anyone gets all bent out of shape by the flower in the picture not quite living up to the post’s title, yes, I realize that the angle here is a little less than 90°. I claim geometricopoetic license.

I also claim—and I think you’ll agree—that this is quite a different take on a rain-lily from the March 26th one that appeared here not so long ago.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2020 at 4:40 PM

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