Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘colony

Oh that phlox

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Here’s another flowerful view from our April 2nd jaunt down south. In particular, it’s from the cemetery in Stockdale. Unlike the long exposures you saw a few posts back, this time I used a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second to freeze the wildflowers that the breeze was whipping into motion.

And while we’re looking at bright magenta phlox, let me back up to our March 19th drive down to Gonzales, where I photographed some old plainsman buds (Hymenopappus sp.) with a foxy phloxy mask-like wraith behind them.

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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.

One of the greatest fields of abuse is popular psychology, where many notions are passed off as “common sense” that the evidence shows aren’t true. I’d like to refer you to a wonderful book about that: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, by Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, and Beyerstein. Here’s an example of one myth as described on Amazon’s page about the book:

Low Self-Esteem is a Major Cause of Psychological Problems.

Many popular psychologists have long maintained that low self-esteem is a prime culprit in generating unhealthy behaviors, including violence, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. The self-esteem movement has found its way into mainstream educational practices. Some athletic leagues award trophies to all schoolchildren to avoid making losing competitors feel inferior (Sommers & Satel, 2005). Moreover, the Internet is chock full of educational products intended to boost children’s self-esteem.

But there’s a fly in the ointment: Research shows that low self esteem isn’t strongly associated with poor mental health. In a painstakingly – and probably painful! – review, Roy Baumeister and his colleagues (2003) canvassed over 15,000 studies linking self-esteem to just about every conceivable psychological variable. They found that self-esteem is minimally related to interpersonal success, and not consistently related to alcohol or drug abuse. Perhaps most surprising of all, they found that “low self-esteem is neither necessary nor sufficient for depression” (Baumeister et al., 2003, p. 6).

Because activists and ideologues have captured the American educational system, schools here now spend inordinate amounts of time promoting self-esteem. Because a school day has a finite number of hours in it, the more time teachers devote to self-esteem, the less time they have for actual knowledge. The result is that many students are handed diplomas even when they know practically nothing about history, geography, arithmetic, government, science, and logic. But they ooze self-esteem.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 15, 2021 at 4:48 AM

Not done with bluebonnet colonies yet

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On April 9th we visited a new place, Turkey Bend Recreation Area in western Travis County. The bluebonnets were still thriving there, despite some unsightly trampled spots where people had obviously plunked themselves or more likely their kids down for pictures among the best-known Texas wildflowers.

In the upper part of the second picture you see Lake Travis, which was created in the 1930s by damming the Colorado River. Given central Texas’s propensity for both droughts and tremendous downpours that cause flash flooding, the water level in Lake Travis has fluctuated a lot. In some years the land on which these bluebonnets are now flowering was under water.

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Three posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and the next and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another, this time from baseball.

Let’s compare two players on a baseball team, Casey and Roger. When the team finished the first half of the season, Casey’s batting average was a whopping .387 (meaning he got a hit 38.7% of the times he was officially at bat). Roger’s batting average during the same period was almost as good at .375.

During the second half of the season (in its own right, not cumulatively from the beginning of the year), both players declined. In that second half of the season Casey batted .246 and Roger batted only .216.

Summarizing: in the first half of the season Casey out-hit Roger, and again in the second half of the season Casey out-hit Roger. Who had the better batting average for the season as a whole?

Almost everyone will say that because Casey outperformed Roger in the first half and also outperformed him in the second half, there’s no doubt that Casey ended up with the higher batting average of the two for the season as a whole.

But it’s time once again for me to say hold your horses, not so fast. In fact it’s easy to show how Roger could still have ended up with the better batting average, despite trailing in each individual half of the season. Here are three charts that do the trick (I’m sorry WordPress doesn’t seem to let me control the formatting the way I’d like).

First Half of the Season
– – – –At-batsHitsAverage = Hits ÷ At bats
Casey3112 12 ÷ 31 = .387
Roger15257 57 ÷ 152 = .375

Second Half of the Season
– – – –At-batsHitsAverage = Hits ÷ At bats
Casey6115 15 ÷ 61 = .246
Roger5111 11 ÷ 51 = .216

Season as a Whole
– – – –Total At-batsTotal HitsAverage = Total Hits ÷ Total At bats
Casey31 + 61 = 9212 + 15 =27 27 ÷ 92 = .293
Roger152 + 51 = 20357 + 11 = 68 68 ÷ 203 = .334

So you see Roger did significantly better than Casey for the season as a whole even though Roger had a lower average in each individual half! This is an example of the very interesting phenomenon known as Simpson’s Paradox. What throws people’s “common sense” off here is that Roger had a lot more at-bats than Casey, especially in the first half of the season, when Roger was batting extremely well. You could say that the players were weighted differently. This is akin to the example a few posts back about average rates of speed while driving, where more time was spent at a slow speed than at a fast one. This baseball example is another one that shows you can’t average averages.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 11, 2021 at 4:45 AM

Go with the blow

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The blowing of the wind, that is, which I had to deal with on April 2nd at the cemetery in Stockdale, about a hundred miles south of home. First I took a bunch of wildflower pictures at high shutter speeds to try and stop the motion. Then I relented—literally—and switched to slow shutter speeds, knowing that the blowing would bring blurring. I’ll anticipate some comments and say that the resulting photographs suggest Impressionist paintings.

I took the top picture at 1/8 of a second and the bottom one at 1/15th of a second. The magenta/hot pink flowers are a Phlox species; the red-orange ones Indian paintbrush, Castilleja indivisa; the blue sandyland bluebonnets, Lupinus subcarnosus; the yellow Nueces coreopsis, Coreopsis nuecensis; the white are white prickly poppies, Argemone albiflora.

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Two posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another.

Suppose you live in an old house with a carport. Because of the topography, whenever you get a heavy enough rain, water flows onto your carport and collects there, taking hours and hours to eventually drain away. It’s a nuisance, but you put up with it because having an engineering company fix the problem would cost thousands of dollars. One night you get home from a long trip and are so exhausted you go to bed and quickly fall into a sound sleep. It’s such a deep sleep that nothing disturbs you, and you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed. A little later you open your side door and see water a couple of inches deep on your carport. What happened?

“Common sense” would lead many if not most people to say it must have rained hard during the night and that’s why the carport got flooded. You must have been sleeping so soundly that the rain didn’t wake you up.

Anyone who concludes that it must have rained is committing an error of logic. Just because event A (in this case a hard rain) always leads to event B (in this case a flooded carport), you can’t “reason” backwards and assume from the occurrence of event B that event A must have occurred. It just so happens that our previous house in Austin did suffer from a flooded carport after sustained downpours, and one morning I did open the side door and see water flowing through the carport—and yet it hadn’t rained. Instead, we’d had a sustained freeze, and a poorly insulated pipe leading from the house out to the washing machine at the back of the carport had burst. You can think of other explanations. Maybe the next-door neighbor’s sprinkler system had gone awry. Maybe a large water tanker truck had gotten into an accident nearby and the tank had split open. Maybe a water main in the street out front had ruptured. Maybe a dam had collapsed and flooded the whole neighborhood.

You get the point: just because something is plausible or even likely doesn’t mean it’s true. The world could be saved so much misery if only people investigated situations rather than jumping to conclusions—and worse, acting on hasty and unwarranted assumptions.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 10, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Return to the Floresville Cemetery

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Across a swathe of territory below San Antonio, the spring of 2019 proved a fabulous season for wildflowers; someone told us he’d heard it was the best in 10 years. One place that provided many pictures then was the city cemetery in the aptly named Floresville (flores means flowers in Spanish), a town it takes about two hours to drive to from our home in Austin. On April 2nd of this year, now feeling somewhat freed from the isolation of 2020, we headed back to that cemetery in hopes of finding it as bloomful as in 2019.

While the flowers growing among the graves weren’t as numerous as two years ago, a field along the northeast edge of the cemetery offered wildflowers at least as abundant as they’d been two years earlier. The red-orange ones are Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja indivisa. I take the white ones to be Aphanostephus skirrhobasis, known as lazy daisies or doze-daisies because they generally don’t open up till midday.

And here’s a thought for today: “People shouldn’t expect the cavalry to come to save them. The cavalry is you.” — Douglas Murray, 2021. That’s reminiscent of the venerable saying “God helps those who help themselves,” which many people incorrectly think is in the Bible. It’s actually from Algernon Sydney’s Discourses Concerning Government, published in 1698.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 7, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Drummond’s sandwort

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Drummond’s sandwort, Minuartia drummondii, makes its debut here today, thanks to our finding broad stands of it in a field several miles north of La Grange on March 29th. This species thrives in sandy soil—hence the name sandwort—and doesn’t grow in Austin. You can click the first view to enlarge the panorama, while the second picture offers a closer look at the flowers.

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Yesterday I took the FAIR Pledge. If you’re of like mind, you can take it too. Here’s what it says:

Fairness. “I seek to treat everyone equally without regard to skin color or other immutable characteristics. I believe in applying the same rules to everyone, and reject disparagement of individuals based on the circumstances of their birth.”

Understanding. “I am open-minded. I seek to understand opinions or behavior that I do not necessarily agree with. I am tolerant and consider points of view that are in conflict with my prior convictions.”

Humanity. “I recognize that every person has a unique identity, that our shared humanity is precious, and that it is up to all of us to defend and protect the civic culture that unites us.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 5, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Pink evening primrose colony flowering along Interstate 35

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We drove close to 300 miles yesterday, making a big southern loop that took us southeast of San Antonio. On the last leg of the trip, coming north on Interstate 35 through Buda, I pulled over for a great colony of pink evening primroses (Oenothera speciosa) on the edge and up the embankment of the highway. I took a bunch of pictures, this one being the very last.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 3, 2021 at 4:36 AM


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Okay, it’s April Fool’s Day, and maybe the title fooled you into thinking this post has something to do with international politics. It doesn’t. Etymologically-minded me took neocolonialism literally, with neo meaning ‘new’ and colonial meaning ‘having to do with a colony.’ Today’s picture from March 29th shows the first new extensive colony of dense bluebonnets, Lupinus texensis, that we found this spring. (You’ll recall that the sustained sub-freezing spell in February delayed the appearance of many wildflowers). And by a happy coincidence these dense bluebonnets were doing their colonizing in the tiny town of Dubina, which had been the first Czech colony in Texas, about 75 miles southeast of Austin. Painting this bluebonnet colony with scattered daubs of red are Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja indivisa.

It’s not that I hadn’t been seeing individual bluebonnets and small groups of them for several weeks. I had. For example, on March 19th in Gonzales I’d photographed a fledgling (can a flower fledge?) bluebonnet that might better be called a fuzzbonnet. That time the red came from a phlox flower.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 1, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Germander, not gerrymander

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The first time this season that I saw a good colony of flowering American germander (Teucrium canadense) was way back on May 26th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183, not long before some menacing lenticular clouds put an end to my picture-taking for the morning. The yellow-flowering colony bordering the germander there that day was a Coreopsis species. On July 2nd I found another American germander colony still going pretty strong along Fireoak Dr. in my neighborhood. Several of the flower stalks in that colony had a penchant for curving, like the one shown below. Notice how many buds were yet to open.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2020 at 4:40 AM

A glorious bluebell colony

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Yesterday I drove up to San Gabriel Parkway in Leander to photograph what may have been the largest colony of Texas bluebells (Eustoma sp.) I’ve ever seen. The property had a barbed wire fence around it, so I had to take my pictures from the outside. For the second view, I bent over and shot between the strands of wire.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 24, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Green milkweed pod releasing its seeds

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After I took pictures of a large sunflower colony along Gregg-Manor Rd. east of TX 130 on June 10th, I noticed on the other side of the road a green milkweed plant (Asclepias viridis) with a split-open pod whose seeds and silk the breeze was freeing. As is my common practice, I got close to the ground so I could aim upward to position the seeds and silk against the morning’s blue sky. And as has occurred from time to time over the years that I’ve been doing nature photography, a good Samaritan stopped—right in the road, with a few cars behind her—to see whether I was ailing and needed help. After I stood up and turned around she saw my camera and realized what I’d been doing. And now that we’re back on Gregg-Manor Rd., I might as well add another view of the yellowlicious sunflower colony that caused me to pull over there in the first place, and without which I probably wouldn’t have caught sight of the opened milkweed pod.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 21, 2020 at 4:37 AM

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