Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘flower

Non-blue bluebonnets

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Above, from our first 2021 visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 25th comes a bluebonnet displaying a purple as richly saturated as I think I’ve ever seen in Lupinus texensis. No extra charge for the tiny green nymph of a katydid or grasshopper. And below are two white bluebonnets scattered in the large colony we saw in Dubina on March 29th.

A theme I’ve been pursuing here for some days 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.

Take taxes. Many say it’s only “common sense” that if a jurisdiction raises a tax rate it will bring in more revenue. The truth is that sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t. For example, if a tax rate goes from 10% to 11%, the increase is small enough that the higher rate won’t be enough to cause people to take an easier job with a lower salary to avoid the higher tax, so revenue will increase. On the other hand, if a tax rate goes from 10% to 50%, a lot of people will lower their earning and spending because the higher rate is just too burdensome, and as a result the government may well end up taking in less than before. And, to take an easy-to-understand extreme, if a government imposed a 90% tax on earnings, many people would stop working altogether, go on welfare, and the government would have no income of theirs to tax. There’s a good example of that kind of work avoidance in the current pandemic: the American government has given out such high supplemental unemployment benefits during the pandemic that some people find they make more money by not working than by going to a job. As a result, some owners of small business have been having a hard time finding workers.

Another consideration is that if one jurisdiction raises its tax rates to be significantly higher than the rates in other jurisdictions, people and companies have an incentive to go elsewhere. That’s happening now as people and companies from high-tax states like New York and California move to lower-tax states like Florida and Texas, so New York and California will lose all the money they used to get by taxing those people and companies. If federal corporate tax rates are raised to the point that they’re significantly higher than corporate tax rates in other countries, some companies will relocate a portion or even all of their operations to foreign countries with lower tax rates, and the United States will lose the revenue it used to get. As a historical example, in Britain by the end of the 1960s the upper tax rates were so high that the Rolling Stones moved to the south of France and John Lennon moved to the United States.

In the opposite direction, sometimes lowering tax rates ends up bringing in more revenue by encouraging people to spend more now that they have more. Lowering corporate tax rates can induce American companies to repatriate earnings they’ve kept in foreign countries to avoid excessively high tax rates at home.

In short, it’s not always true that raising tax rates brings in more revenue. The sweet spot depends on many factors, and finding it seems more magic than science.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 13, 2021 at 4:46 AM

Winecup flower center

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In this closeup of a winecup (Callirhoe sp.) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 25th the shadow struck me as appropriate for the profile of a gnome or ogre or some such creature.

* * * * * * *

It’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” 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. Over the next week I’ll give some examples, starting now.

Suppose you live in City A. One morning you get on an Interstate highway, drive to a place in City B, and with light traffic you end up averaging 70 mph for the trip. Three days later you return along the same route, but this time traffic is heavy, and in addition rain pours down for much of the time. As a result, you end up averaging a pitiful 30 mph for your return trip from City B to City A. Now here’s my question: what was your average speed for the round trip? Most people who are given these facts and asked that question will say the average speed for the round trip was 50 mph, which they got by averaging 70 and 30: 70 + 30 = 100, and 100 ÷ 2 = 50. It’s common sense, right?

So simple, so easy—and so wrong! People who come up with an answer of 50 mph don’t understand what an average is. An average is the total of one kind of thing divided by the total of another kind of thing. The very label “miles per hour” tells you what to do: take the total mileage traveled on the round trip and divide by the total number of hours spent doing it.

Let’s suppose City A and City B are 210 miles apart. Driving that 210 miles on the way from A to B at an average of 70 mph took you 3 hours. Returning another 210 miles from B to A at an average 30 mph hour took you a whopping 7 hours. The total distance you drove was 210 miles out plus 210 miles back, or 420 miles. The total time you spent was 3 hours out plus 7 hours back, for a total of 10 hours. As a result, 420 miles ÷ 10 hours gives an average speed of 42 miles per hour for the round trip.

Now, most people’s “common sense” would probably have them objecting: Wait a minute, not so fast (which is a convenient play on words in an example about speeds). These people would assume the average speed depends on how far apart City A and City B are. Well, in fact it makes no difference at all how far apart City A and City B are. Pick any distance you like, do the same kinds of calculations I did (which may mean you’ll need to pull out a calculator because the numbers probably won’t come out so pretty), and you’ll still end up with an average of 42 mph for the round trip.

The reason the true round-trip average speed ends up below the “common sense” but wrong average of 50 mph is that you spent more time driving at a slow speed of 30 mph than at a fast speed of 70 mph, and that pulls the average speed down. In summary, the truth is that despite “common sense” you can’t generally average averages.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 8, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Cost of a buttercup

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What this gialloscuro take on one buttercup (Ranunculus sp.) in front of another cost me was a more-than-an-hour drive to a roadside on FM 366 west of the little town of Cost in Gonzales County on March 19th. And speaking of this kind of flower, you’re welcome to listen without cost to “I’m Called Little Buttercup” as sung in a 2014 production of H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan Austin.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2021 at 4:44 AM

Dew-covered rain-lilies

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From September 25th in Springfield Park in southeast Austin, here’s a dew-covered rain-lily (Zephyranthes chlorosolen). The pink tinges in the white tepals’ tips at the top foretell the stage to come so soon; that magenta tale is brightly told below.

Today’s related quotation is in the form of a poem, “The Noble Nature,” by Ben Jonson.

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night—
It was the plant and flower of Light.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.

 

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2020 at 4:29 AM

Two rain-lilies

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Because we didn’t get much rain in Austin this summer we also didn’t get many rain-lilies (Zephyranthes chlorosolen). On August 28th I wandered into southwest Austin for the first time in ages and found myself stopping along Commons Ford Rd. when I saw a stand of cattails by a pond. While walking around the site I happily came across a few rain-lilies and took a bunch of pictures. What I like about this backlit portrait, and what distinguishes it from many others I’ve made of rain-lilies, is the green glow at the bottom.

As a related quotation for today, take Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Rainy Day,” with its famous penultimate line:

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

You can also listen to the song from the 1940s by Allan Roberts (lyrics) and Doris Fisher (melody) that bears Longfellow’s aphorism as its title.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 6, 2020 at 4:44 AM

I cotton to snake cotton

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I rarely come across snake cotton (Froelichia gracilis), so I got excited on August 2nd when I discovered a colony of it in a dry sump at the edge of Great Hills Park. On one of the snake cotton plants I noticed spiderwebs and soon saw the spider. Below is the picture I took of it using daytime flash and a small aperture; that combination gives the impression of dusk rather than broad daylight.

Then on August 14th out beyond Bastrop I found a few stalks of snake cotton
and was able to get a picture showing one of the plant’s small and inconspicuous flowers:

Here’s an unrelated quotation for today:
“Qui grate beneficium accipit primam eius pensionem solvit.”
“Anyone who receives a benefit with gratitude repays the first installment of it.”
Here’s an alternate translation (I wanted to make it sound more colloquial):
“If you accept a favor with gratitude you’ll repay the first installment on what you owe.”
Seneca the Younger in De Beneficiis (On Benefits).

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2020 at 4:32 AM

Bluebell bud and flower

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Way back on June 8th I went to a little pond I know on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin because in some previous years I’d found good amounts of bluebells (Eustoma sp.) there. No luck then, but I did better when I returned on July 29th. Well, only slightly better: I found exactly three scattered bluebells, and all of them had been partly eaten (by what, I don’t know). By getting on the ground and aiming judiciously, I managed to make this portrait of a bluebell bud rising in front of a non-nibbled part of one of the flowers.

In our Ancient History Department, the magazine Archaeology reports in its July/August 2020 issue the discovery at Abri du Maras in France of the earliest known piece of cord. It dates back 46,000 years and was made, surprisingly, by Neanderthals. The article says that the “cord was made of three separate strands of fiber taken from the inner bark of a coniferous tree… The strands were then twisted in a clockwise direction to hold the fibers together, after which they were twisted together in a counterclockwise motion to make the cord.” That led archaeologist Bruce Hardy of Kenyon College “to believe that Neanderthals shared a cognitive capacity for mathematics with modern humans.” You can read more about this find in a Science News story.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 19, 2020 at 4:46 AM

I hardly expected a basket-flower on August 1st

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On August 1st, after taking a bunch of nature pictures at a large construction site in southern Round Rock, I was almost back to my car when I noticed something unusual for a date so far into the summer: a fresh basket-flower (Plectocephalus americanus), the only one of its kind. It was almost touching one of those low black fences that mark the boundaries of work sites, so I lay on the ground and contorted myself to take pictures in ways that excluded both the dark fence on one side and a nearby sign on the other. Below is a more detailed view that I made by standing back up, leaning over, and aiming down at the flower head.

Here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.” — Maurice Switzer in Mrs. Goose, Her Book, 1906.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2020 at 4:44 AM

Color comes to Clematis

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Clematis drummondii flowers and the lustrous fibers that emerge from the ones that get fertilized don’t have a lot of intrinsic color. For these three portraits I’ve used external colors to enhance my subjects. In the picture above of a female flower, the blue came from a small pond on the Blackland Prairie on July 29th, and the brown and green from the land on the far and near sides of the water, respectively. In the second portrait, made during the same outing, I used a shallow depth of field to focus on (in both senses) the seemingly metallic sheen at the base of a flower beginning to produce silky fibers. A nearby sunflower, Helianthus annuus, provided a golden aura to accompany the silvery strands.

The last picture, taken in my neighborhood on July 11th, shows the swirling fibers that this species is best known for. I got low and aimed at an angle that let me include some blue from the sky.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2020 at 4:26 AM

Two takes on buffalo bur

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I see buffalo bur (Solanum rostratum) fairly often in Austin, yet I haven’t shown any pictures of it here since 2015. Today’s post puts an end to the five-year hiatus. You may notice the flower’s similarity in shape, but not color, to that of its genus-mate silverleaf nightshade, which appeared here recently. The picture below, also from west of Morado Circle on July 5th, shows you the prickly seed capsules that put the bur in buffalo bur, and caution in people who get close. The flowers in the background were two-leaf senna.

Would you like to know what the British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham had to say about the harpsichord?
Sure you would. He said it “sounds like two skeletons copulating on a corrugated tin roof.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 9, 2020 at 4:27 AM

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