Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘cactus

Mottled

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As the pads of a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii) die, they often become
mottled in ways that are bound to intrigue a nature photograph—or at least this one.

I made these portraits on September 3rd near the Sierra Nevada entrance to Great Hills Park. The overcast skies preceding rain led me to use flash for a change, and that had the advantage of letting me stop down in all three of these pictures to f/14 for good depth of field and crisp details. In the last picture the drying needles and little fruits had fallen from an Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei).

And here’s a thought for today: You’ve probably heard someone say “You can’t prove a negative.” It depends. Some negatives can be proved. For example, take the question of whether a fraction exists such that when you multiply the fraction by itself the result is exactly 2. An infinite number of fractions exist, so you can’t multiply each and every fraction by itself to find out whether the result is ever 2. Maybe you’ll get close: for instance, 99/70 multiplied by itself gives 9801/4900, which is close to 2, but you can see that the top is just slightly more than twice the bottom. It turns out that no fraction has the property that when you multiply it by itself you get exactly 2. Maybe equally surprising is the fact that smart people were able to prove that negative as long ago as ancient Greece. Hats off to the ancient Greeks.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2020 at 4:34 AM

Two tuna takes today, Tuesday

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Tuna is the Aztec-to-Spanish-to English name for the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. Tunas start out green and ripen to various shades of red. Here are two rather abstract takes on Opuntia engelmannii from my neighborhood on August 3rd. In the first, I focused on the tip of an adjacent spine. In the second and much closer view of a different tuna, you see a clump of the short spines called glochids (with the ch pronounced k, as in other words of Greek origin like chasm, stomach, and psychology). Shadows, which are many a photographer’s delight, including mine, play a role in both of these portraits.

Here’s a little-known fact from American history: I certainly wasn’t taught in elementary school, high school, or even college, that before the end of slavery in the United States some free blacks (many actually of mixed race) owned slaves themselves. Hard to believe, isn’t it? And yet it turns out to be true: a thoroughly footnoted 1985 book confirms the practice in one state, South Carolina, via census data, bills of sale, wills, letters, and other documents. It just goes to show that people are people.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 18, 2020 at 4:30 AM

Prickly pear cactus flower

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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

The best year for four-nerve daisies

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The four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris linearifolia and scaposa) is among the most common wildflowers in Austin, with a few occasionally blooming even in the winter. As with so many other wildflowers, they appear in their greatest numbers in the spring. That said, in the two decades I’ve been paying attention to nature in central Texas, I don’t recall seeing four-nerve daisy colonies as large and dense as some of the ones that have sprung up here this year.

I photographed the first and second groups on the east side of Yaupon Dr. on April 26th. The rocky ground is typical of my Great Hills neighborhood, thanks to the limestone substrate in the Edwards Plateau.

I’d come across the colony shown below on the west side of Spicewood Springs Rd. on April 20th. I think it’s the hugest I’ve ever seen.

UPDATE: In the previous post, the majority preferred the first photograph of Heller’s plantain.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 30, 2019 at 4:41 AM

More from nature on December 25, 2018

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Here are more things I encountered west of Morado Circle on the morning of December 25, 2018.
It’s not unusual to find a hole in the pad of a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia engelmannii).

Look at the complexity in the dense branches of a dead Ashe juniper tree (Juniperus ashei).
Some seed-capsule-bearing limbs of a Mexican buckeye tree (Ungnadia speciosa) reached in from behind.

Why this patch on the top surface of an otherwise dark rock was so light, I don’t know.

The bright fruits of a yaupon tree (Ilex vomitoria) in front of
an Ashe juniper may strike you as appropriate for the date.

And look at the wireweed that had sprouted in the power lines overhead.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 28, 2019 at 4:57 AM

Tip-top tuna

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As you probably already knew and recently heard here, compared to the northern United States, Texas is too far south and therefore too warm for a lot of grand fall color. Most of the relatively little we get leans more to yellow and brown than to red. That said, one saturated red we count on seeing as autumn advances each year is that of a ripe tuna. In this case it’s obviously not the word for a fish: Spanish uses tuna to designate the fruit of a prickly pear cactus (Opuntia spp.), and English has increasingly followed suit.

When I made up the post’s title I planned to include only the view from above, above.
Later, for people not familiar with this kind of fruit, I added a view from the side, below.

These pictures come from my neighborhood on November 2nd. The sheen is natural; I didn’t use flash.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 13, 2018 at 4:58 AM

Life and death in Saguaro National Park

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Behold a fishhook barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) in the eastern sector of Tucson’s Saguaro National Park as we saw it two years ago today:

Hardy as desert plants are, they all eventually meet their demise. Here’s what a barrel cactus look like then:

Oh, all right, it was Saguaro National Park, so I guess I’ll have to show you a saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea). This one had two particularly enfolding “arms”:

And here are the stately remains of a saguaro with upraised “arms”:

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 8, 2018 at 4:49 AM

Cholla cactus near sundown

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How about this backlit cholla cactus in Tucson Mountain Park near sundown two years ago today?

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 7, 2018 at 5:01 AM

A red theme

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Wanderers through countryside with lots of prickly pears (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) know that the cactus often attracts certain bugs. This is one of those, Narnia femorata, on a tuna, or fruit of the prickly pear cactus, in the Zilker Nature Preserve seven years ago today. The bug is a nymph in one of its early instars, which are the developmental stages that the larva of an insect passes through. Click below if you’d like a closer look at the bug as it appeared in a different frame.

Although Texas in the summer of 2011 was suffering one of its worst droughts in decades, when I recently looked back at my archive for August 12th of that year I saw that I went photographing in four locations that day and ended up with hundreds of pictures, like this one along Scenic Drive of ripe snailseed fruit (Cocculus carolinus):

I also found from looking at my archive that I went out taking pictures on 19 of the 31 days in that torrid August of 2011. You could say that I lived up to the motto of the USPS (United States Photographic Service): “Neither heat nor drought nor sun nor sweat stays these intrepid image gatherers from the due documentation of their appointed rounds.”

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2018 at 4:49 AM

Cactus wren nest in cholla cactus

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cactus-wren-nest-in-cholla-cactus-2471

On November 8th of 2016 in the eastern section of Tucson’s Saguaro National Park I saw what I take to be the nest of a cactus wren, Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus. The cactus is either a staghorn cholla, Cylindropuntia versicolor, or a buckhorn cholla, Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 27, 2017 at 4:56 AM

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