Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘fruit

Lost Maples 2021

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Turns out that 2021 hasn’t been a good year for fall foliage at Lost Maples State Park, which lies about 160 miles west-southwest of our home in Austin. We spent over three hours driving there on November 10th, only to hear from the ranger at the entrance when we arrived that while 2020 had been very good, this year a lot of the leaves were turning brown and falling off. Still, I did what I could. The pleasant scene above caught my attention because it embraces two things: several already bare flameleaf sumacs (Rhus lanceolata) still adorned with prominent fruit clusters, and a few bigtooth maples (Acer grandidentatum) whose leaves were among the more colorful ones we saw of that species there this year. The branches below, festooned with ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata), give you a closer look at some bigtooth maple leaves turning colors

None of the trees we observed there this year came close to the display they put on during our 2014 visit.


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Facts Matter

I’ve prefaced a couple of my recent commentaries by saying that I strive for accuracy. I’ve asked anyone who catches an incorrect statement of fact to let me know and to point me to a reliable source of information so I can correct my mistake. Who wouldn’t want to get things right?

Alas, many mainstream news outlets in recent years haven’t been so conscientious, despite (presumably) having an ethical code that requires the checking of facts. The Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which concluded last week with a jury acquittal on all charges, is a recent example. Those charges were for four shootings by Rittenhouse, two of which were fatal, one of which wounded a man, and one of which missed. Rittenhouse claimed self-defense, and the jury concluded that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence to disprove self-defense. In the more than a year leading up to the trial, many media outlets had been making factually false claims about what occurred.

One much-repeated false claim was that Rittenhouse had carried a rifle across state lines. It turned out that Rittenhouse, who lived in Illinois, actually crossed into Wisconsin without a gun, then retrieved the gun from storage in Wisconsin. Another claim was that Rittenhouse, 17 years old at the time, wasn’t legally allowed to carry the kind of rifle he carried. When people finally checked the relevant statute in Wisconsin, they found the statute did not prevent Rittenhouse from carrying the kind of gun that he did.

Another much-repeated false claim was that Rittenhouse chased after the people he ended up shooting, as if he had been out hunting for innocent people to kill. The evidence presented at trial showed that actually all of those people had chased Rittenhouse, who shot them only after they attacked him first.

Aside from outright false statements, many media outlets slanted their coverage of the case to such an extent that readers and viewers came away with a false understanding of what had happened. The repeated harping about crossing state lines—notice the plural—was intended to give the impression that Rittenhouse had traveled through a bunch of states to carry out some nefarious action far from home in a place where he had no reason to be. Conveniently not mentioned was that only a single state line was involved, the one between Illinois and Wisconsin just a few miles from Rittenhouse’s home. (It’s the same state line I crossed a bunch of times in 2016 when we stayed at two hotels in far northeast Illinois and took day trips into Wisconsin, including Kenosha.) Also rarely mentioned in most media was the fact that Rittenhouse had been spending plenty of time in Kenosha; his father and a close friend live there; he was working as a lifeguard in Kenosha County. It takes just half an hour to drive to Kenosha from Rittenhouse’s home in Antioch, Illinois—about the same time as the average American spends commuting to work.

Many media outlets failed to mention that all of the people Rittenhouse shot were convicted criminals, not the “protestors” or “heroes” that some tried hard to portray them as. Here’s a summary of their backgrounds: “Rosenbaum was a registered sex offender [he’d raped boys] who was out on bond for a domestic abuse battery accusation and was caught on video acting aggressively earlier that night. Huber was a felon convicted in a strangulation case who was recently accused of domestic abuse. Grosskreutz was convicted of a crime for use of a firearm while intoxicated and was armed with a handgun when shot (he testified in court that he carried it concealed despite having an expired permit; Wisconsin law requires a valid permit to carry a weapon concealed).” That’s from a Wisconsin Right Now article, which offers documentation to back up the summary and also goes into much more detail. And the fact remains that all three of the people who got shot had taken part in a riot.

There was a huge campaign to racialize the case, despite the fact that Rittenhouse and the three people he shot were all white—an inconvenient truth that many accounts purposely failed to mention. American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro, said last week that the three largest newspapers in Brazil had all been reporting that the men Rittenhouse shot were black, an impression the Brazilian newspapers had incorrectly picked up from the way so many American sources had reported the events.

It’s a sad state of affairs that even after all the evidence presented in the televised trial, some people in the media are still making factually untrue statements about the case. You can read more about that in an Epoch Times article.

Opinions, of course, differ from facts, and people often draw different conclusions even from agreed-upon facts. I think most people, including me, will agree that a 17-year-old with a powerful rifle shouldn’t have gone to a riot thinking that he could offer aid and protect stores. The fact that he felt he needed to help is an indictment of the authorities in Wisconsin, especially the governor, who had done and continued to do little to stop the nights of rioting that ended up causing tens of millions of dollars in damage in Kenosha.

UPDATE. After this commentary appeared, I was made aware of a Newsweek opinion piece entitled “I’m a Black Ex-Felon. I’m Glad Kyle Rittenhouse Is Free.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 23, 2021 at 4:31 AM

It’s not just flameleaf sumac’s leaves

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It’s not just the leaves of flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) that turn warm colors: its fruit clusters at their most vivid become bright red. In the second view, nary a colorful leaflet remains.

Both photographs are from November 1st at the corner of Spicewood Springs Rd. and Old Spicewood Springs Rd. (Because that description could apply to either of two intersections about a quarter of a mile apart, I’ll have to specify that it was the one a block south of Capital of Texas Highway.)


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From 2019, you’re welcome to watch an interview by Malcolm Gladwell of Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, authors of The Coddling of the American Mind, and Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-Range Kids movement.

Here’s a blurb for the discussion:

Civil discourse is in decline, with potentially dire results for American democracy. On college campuses across America, visiting speakers are disinvited, or even shouted down, while professors, students, and admini-strators are afraid to talk openly, for fear that someone will take offense. Political discussion on social media and television has devolved into a wave of hyper-partisan noise. A generation of overprotective parents are reluctant to let their children play outside without supervision. How did we get here? And how can we change the way that we engage with one another?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2021 at 4:33 AM

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Not exactly a pumpkin

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Okay, so buffalo gourds (Cucurbita foetidissima) aren’t pumpkins, but they are in the same botanical genus. Like pumpkins, buffalo gourds develop on the ground, a position where it’s hard to take photographs free from distracting stuff. To get around that difficulty, on October 8th at the Arbor Walk Pond I got down low and used my left hand to lift a buffalo gourd as high as the attached vine would let me, while my right hand wielded the camera. That was good enough to exclude the ground entirely, as I did in most of the pictures I took of this gourd, but I ended up liking the way the darker fringe across the bottom “grounds” this portrait. If you’d like to compare it to one of the “ungrounded” images, and also see a somewhat different portion of what you could fancifully call the planetary surface, click the thumbnail below.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 31, 2021 at 3:55 AM

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Portraits from our yard: episode 14

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We have an American beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana) growing in three places around our house. On October 6th I stood on a stepladder to aim mostly downward at this fruiting branch. The one yellow leaf is the first fall foliage you’ve seen here for 2021—ironic, given that afternoon high temperatures stayed in the 90s for at least a week after I took the picture.


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For at least five years, some astute social observers have been classifying Wokeness as a secular religion, complete with unquestionable dogma, proselytizing zeal, priests, and a prohibition against blasphemy. For a good explanation of the phenomenon, you can watch a remote talk that John McWhorter gave to the International Literature Festival in Berlin on September 9th.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 18, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Pyramidflower

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Making its debut here now is Melochia pyramidata, known as pyramidflower, a species I’d never photographed till yesterday. Mark Alexandre of the Texas Flora group on Facebook had showed a picture of it on October 6th, and the place he mentioned finding it is the Arbor Walk Pond, just a few miles from where I live. I asked him for the specific location, and armed with that information I found a few of these plants there yesterday morning. It took some careful looking because at 8:30 in the morning the flowers hadn’t fully opened, and even if they had they’d have measured only about half an inch across.

One curiosity is that although field guides say the flowers of this species have five petals—and almost all online photographs show five petals—my specimens had only four. I asked about that yesterday in the Texas Flora group, and Michelle Wong replied with a link to an iNaturalist photograph from this year showing a pyramidflower in Austin with four petals. What percent of the time that variant occurs, I don’t know. I do know that in 2018 I found four petals instead of the customary five in a silverleaf nightshade flower.

Making its debut here today simultaneously with Melochia pyramidata is the botanical family Sterculiaceae, of which Melochia pyramidata is the only native representative in my county (or the rest of Texas, from what I can tell). Probably the most familiar member of that family is cacao, from which we get chocolate. As tasty as most people find chocolate, the botanical family name betrays a different sensibility: the Latin word stercus meant ‘dung, the excrement of domestic animals,’ and the Romans had even created Sterculus (a.k.a. Sterculinus and Stercutus), as the deity who was supposed to have invented the valuable agricultural practice of manuring. Apparently the smell of one or more plants in Sterculiaceae reminded people of dung. (It was my familiarity with the Spanish word estiércol, which means ‘fertilizer, manure, dung,’ that put me on the scent of Sterculiaceae‘s Latin origins.)

And while we’re on the subject of names, let me add that pyramidflower is misleading: it’s not the plant’s flowers but its tiny fruits that fancifully look like little pyramids.

Also now misleading is my reference to the botanical family Sterculiaceae, which botanists recently tilled into the soil of the mallow family, Malvaceae.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 11, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Tall tunas

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This vertical, narrowly cropped, edge-on view of a prickly pear cactus pad (Opuntia engelmannii) makes it seem that the fruits at the top, known as tunas, are standing unusually tall. For whatever reason, I don’t often see spiderwebs on prickly pears, but there’s no missing the silk on this one. Today’s portrait is from September 18th in my hilly part of Austin.


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Here are a couple of paragraphs from “Expanding Your Tribe in the New Age of Conformity,” by Andrew Fox.

[T]he number of ideological activists needed to drive a whole nation into enormously destructive social turmoil and intergroup violence is not very large. The Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 represented a tiny percentage of the overall Russian population. A relative handful of ethnic chauvinist Serbian agitators in post-Tito Yugoslavia managed to incite years of ethnic cleansing campaigns and intercommunal massacres as well as the disintegration of their former state. A cadre of ethnic extremists in Rwanda’s Hutu Power movement were able to infiltrate the military and organize a war of extermination that resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

An individual’s sense of identity can be molded around many different types of attributes—ethnicity, clan, religion, place of residence or origin, sex, age, language, vocation, family roles, types of illness or disability, preferred style of music, and favored forms of recreation. Yet recent historical experience has illustrated repeatedly—in Germany, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Rwanda, and Syria, to name just a few—that emphasizing ethnicity or race as the primary, overriding source of a citizenry’s identity, fostering resentments based on both historical grievances and exaggerated contemporary outrages, and dividing a populace into Manichean categories of good and evil, of victims and oppressors, can lead to intragroup violence on a sometimes genocidal scale.

That’s what’s been increasingly worrying me for the past year and a half. You’re welcome to read the full article, which appeared in Tablet on September 12.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

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Pale umbrellawort

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Making its debut here today is Mirabilis albida, apparently known as pale umbrellawort, white four o’clock, and hairy four o’clock. I found this one on August 22nd—though six-and-a-half hours earlier than four o’clock—in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183. The USDA map shows the species growing in places as far apart as Quebec and southern California.


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Did you hear the latest news about equity in mathematics? Because the word odd has negative connotations like ‘strange’ and ‘not usual,’ a group of college math students demanded that all whole numbers, whether previously considered odd or even, must now be designated even. Professors of mathematics immediately apologized to the students for the centuries of evenist domination they’d been complicit with, and they promised that no future syllabi or textbooks would perpetuate evenism.

Then an ideologically purer subset of students took issue with the first group, asking why they’d stopped at the whole numbers, which comprise only a tiny oppressive elite of all numbers. The second student group began chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, fraction-phobes have got to go.” The original student group found that chant, especially the “hey hey, ho ho” part, so profound they immediately recognized the disparate impact that their “all whole numbers are even” decree would have on fractions. They agreed that the sacred value of inclusion requires that fractions be included as whole numbers from now on. The mathematics professors promptly issued an apology for not having recognized their unconscious bias against fractions.

It didn’t take long before a third group of math students more woke than the second group started agitating because of the harm that would still befall the irrational numbers, which can never be expressed as fractions no matter how much affirmanumerative action colleges and government agencies give them. Imagine those numbers going through life saddled with the name irrational, as if they’re not in their right mind! The second student group soon confessed their lack of inclusiveness and agreed, for the sake of belonging, that all numbers will now belong to the set of whole numbers. The mathematics professors quickly issued an abject apology for othering the numbers they hadn’t previously accepted as whole numbers.

Barely had things settled down when a fourth group of math students complained that all the previous groups were still oppressors because categorizing numbers in any way at all is racist. For the sake of equity, the fourth group insisted that the only allowable view is that all numbers are equal. From now on, no matter what number a student comes up with as an answer to a question on a math test, that answer has to be correct because all numbers are equal. Similarly, students must now be allowed to pay whatever amount they want for tuition because any number of dollars is equal to any other number of dollars. The mathematics professors immediately acceded to the new demands and issued a deep apology for the violence caused by their previous silence about all numbers actually being equal.

But then a fifth group of students pointed out that all those changes were meaningless because, let’s face it, mathematics is based on objectivity and rigor, which are tools of the cisheteronormative white supremacist patriarchy. The mathematics professors, without even waiting to hear the fifth student group’s demands for change, realized that the only proper course of action was to stop studying and teaching the horrid subject of mathematics altogether, so they shut down the mathematics department. In its place they created a new department to offer Doctorates in Diversity Training (DDT).

Okay, so all those things didn’t really happen—at least not yet. Give it a few months.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 29, 2021 at 4:35 AM

More ice pictures

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Above is a February 12th view from farther back of the ice-covered possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) in Great Hills Park that provided the close-up you saw last time. Below is a lichen-covered oak twig that ice added its own kind of coating to.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 15, 2021 at 4:37 AM

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Winter comes to Austin for the second time in 2021

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First came the January 10th snowfall, which you’ve seen in a bunch of pictures. On February 11th we got hit with an ice storm, and the temperature has only briefly been above freezing since then. On the 12th I spent a couple of hours in Great Hills Park photographing ice-coated plants, including a possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua), many of whose little fruits had icicles hanging from them.

I intended to post this yesterday but the electricity in my neighborhood kept going out on the 12th, including when I’d almost finished editing this picture but hadn’t yet saved it, so I shut my computer off as a precaution. In any case, since today is Valentine’s Day, you can downplay the ice and let the red symbolize romance.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 14, 2021 at 4:25 AM

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Snow-covered possumhaw

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As yet another picture from January 10th, and perhaps the last, here’s a fruitful possumhaw tree (Ilex decidua) I spotted on someone’s front yard half a mile from home. The species name tells us that possumhaws shed their leaves in the winter, but some—this one, for instance—take a good deal longer to do so than others.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 27, 2021 at 4:40 AM

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