Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘grass

Kin to corn

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As “Plants of Texas Rangelands” notes, eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) “is kin to corn, but has both male and female parts in the same spike.” You see that in the top photograph, where the orange male flowers dangle from threads at the right, and the brownish pipe-cleaner-like female flowers are on the left. Each flower-bearing segment is called a spikelet. As the female spikelets age, they whiten and break into bony joints. You see one above, which must have come from a more mature spike and somehow gotten snagged on this fresher one. The middle picture shows some typical aged female spikelets. (The species name dactyloides is Greek for ‘resembling fingers’; you can decide if this looks like desiccated finger bones.)

I’ll add that in a region not known for fall foliage, we get some warm colors in our aging native grasses, as you see from the way red has begun to appear in the eastern gamagrass below.

These photographs are from the Arbor Walk Pond on October 8th.


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Nobody alerted me that October 19 this year would be International Pronouns Day!
Let me retroactively declare my preferred pronouns for last week:
Wondrous one and His majesty.
And just in case you think the failure to notify me is something I take lying down,
I’ll add that my prone nouns are recumbency and prostration.

© 2021 Wondrous one and His majesty

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 27, 2021 at 3:47 AM

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Downy before bushy

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After I stopped along FM 2769 on September 21st to photograph some flowering Liatris spikes, an adjacent grass caught my attention as well. I thought it might be little bluestem, but it seemed downier than I was accustomed to from that species. Thanks to Floyd Waller for identifying the grass as bushy bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, which I’m used to seeing in its bushy phase toward the end of the year.


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Here’s a passage from the “Spring” section of Thoreau’s Walden that applies year-round.

Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness — to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground. At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. 

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 26, 2021 at 4:29 AM

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Portraits from our yard: episode 9

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On July 22nd I noticed that a bit of inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) had sprung up along a front walkway, partly hidden by adjacent shrubbery. Here’s a minimalist view of three fresh seed heads on a stalk that formed a graceful arc. This could almost be a small modern sculpture. Speaking of which, look how a Bosnian artist carves miniature sculptures in the lead at the tip of a pencil.


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Austin, where I live, is one of those “progressive” places with an activist city council that cut one-third of our police budget last year. As a result, Austin now has 150 fewer police officers than before and the average time it takes for the police to respond to emergency calls has gone up by several minutes. And look at the headline for an August 6th article in the Austin American-Statesman: “Austin police investigating 50 homicides in 2021, the highest number in three decades.” Riot-wracked 2020 saw 48 homicides in Austin, and 2021’s current count of 50 surpassed that with five months of the year still to run. Some “progress.”

It also recently came to light that U.S. Representative Cori Bush of Missouri had spent some $69,000 over a three-month period for private security for herself. That’s ironically the same Cori Bush who has been ardently campaigning to “defund the police.” When Representative Bush was asked about her practice of “security for me but not for thee,” she said the work she is doing is so important that no matter how much she spends for personal protection, “my body is worth being on this planet” and the rest of us will just have to “suck it up.” I should add that this is also the same Cori Bush who for years has pushed the disproven narrative that a policeman killed Michael Brown when he had his hands up and was trying to surrender. In a post last month I gave you the Obama Justice Department’s evidence refuting the “hands up, don’t shoot” claim. And this is also the same Cori Bush who said the other day that she was “elated” after the current administration extended a moratorium on evictions after admitting that the Supreme Court had already ruled such a moratorium extension unconstitutional, given that it came from the Centers for Disease Control, which has no legislative authority at all.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 10, 2021 at 4:34 AM

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Ambushed bushy bluestem

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On November 15th, while wandering through the field in Manor adorned with myriad fluffy seed heads of bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) and goldenrod (Solidago sp.) that you saw in a post last month, I spied something that looked unusual and that I couldn’t initially identify. After I got closer I could tell that a plant had gotten wrapped up, presumably by a spider, but in a way I hadn’t seen before. Then I noticed the green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) that must have done the deed. Eventually I realized that what the spider had wrapped up into a nest was a bushy bluestem seed head. Notice the spiderlings, of which there were plenty more than shown in this picture. You get a closer view of the green lynx in the following picture:

As relevant quotations for today, you can listen to Rudy Francisco reading his poem “Mercy,
which he indicates is after Nikki Giovanni’s “Allowables.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2020 at 4:22 AM

Way up there on the GAIN scale

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Way up there on the GAIN (great appeal in natives) scale for our grasses is gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris), which turns a delicious pink in the fall. It grows as close to Austin as one county east, but landscapers are understandably fond of planting it here. That’s why I could photograph these specimens along South Lakeshore Blvd. on November 17th. Texas is at the southwestern edge of gulf muhly’s range, which I was surprised to find tapers off in the opposite direction through Long Island, where I grew up, and into southern New England. The second picture offers a closer look at the pleasant disarray. In both images I used the contrasting blue sky to set off the pink of the grass.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2020 at 4:32 AM

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Silver bluestem seed heads blowing

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November 9; Brushy Creek Lake Park in Cedar Park.
Silver bluestem = Bothriochloa laguroides.
Backlighting; shutter speed = 1/640.

And speaking of blowing, here’s a comic comment that wafted its way into my spam folder recently: “Hello my loved one! I want to say that this article is amazing, nice written and include approximately all important infos. I’d like to peer extra posts like this.”

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© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 9, 2020 at 4:36 AM

Wind-waved willow yellow

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While wind whisked the leaves of this black willow tree sideways, my trusty camera set to 1/640 of a second proved its equal. The location on November 15th was new to me, Maxa Drive in Manor; the tree, Salix nigra, was hardly new, being a common species here. And not new either was the pretty yellow that the long leaves tend to turn before falling. Hardly half a mile east I’d earlier found and photographed a fine willow sapling serving as a backdrop for some bushy bluestem turned fluffy, both blazoned against the day’s blue skies. The two portraits exemplify the more-is-more or fill-the-frame esthetic that I often find myself drawn to.

Did you know that another English word for a willow is withy? Here’s “The Old Withy Tree” from an 1859 book called Songs of the Wye, and Poems, from a writer identified only by the pseudonym Wioni:

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2020 at 4:20 AM

Twi-light, yet not twilight

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On the morning of November 15th I spent a good couple of hours in a field on the north side of US 290 east of Bois d’Arc Rd. in Manor. Making that piece of prairie fabulous to behold and photograph were the extensive colonies of goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) that had gone into their fluffy autumn stage. In some places the two colonies were mostly distinct; in others they interwove, as you see here. Notice in the lower right of the top picture that one goldenrod plant was still flowering.

The post’s title interweaves etymology and photography. The word twilight means literally ‘two lights,’ the two being the fading light of day and the oncoming darkness of night. I took these two pictures not in different parts of the day—they were only seven minutes apart—but in different parts of the field and, more importantly, facing in opposite directions. The first photograph shows the effects of the morning sunlight falling directly on the subject; the second picture looks in the direction of the sun, whose light on the way to the camera passed through much of the fluff and in so doing outlined the seed heads. The first landscape is softer and more colorful, the second starker and more dramatic. Both have their appeal.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 25, 2020 at 4:32 AM

Little bluestem in front of gayfeather flowers

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You’ve already had two posts from September 15th along FM 2769 in far northwest Austin showing Liatris punctata, known as gayfeather and blazing-star. In one you saw normal purple flowers, and in the other white flowers. In today’s photograph the gayfeather plays a supporting role (though colorfully a dominant one) behind a stalk of little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium, a part of which had turned brown in anticipation of approaching autumn.

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “When a theory really has got your brain in its grip, contradictory evidence—even evidence you already know—sometimes becomes invisible.” — Jordan Ellenberg, How Not to Be Wrong.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 7, 2020 at 4:44 AM

Sandbur doing its thing

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While some might say the droplets of dew on this sandbur soften the image, no amount of dew can soften the pain if Cenchrus spinifex‘s barbs get into your skin, which they have an uncanny predilection for doing. As Jim Conrad explains, this grass is “abundantly armored with stiff, very sharp spines which themselves are mantled with minute, backward-pointing spines. When a sandbur punctures your skin, because of those backward-pointing spines, pulling it out becomes a miserable experience. If you’re not thinking, when you realize the bur is resisting being pulled out, you squeeze it harder to get a better grip, and end up with stuck fingers, and with those backward-pointing spines on the spines, there’s simply no nice way of getting unstuck.”

I took this picture near the Sierra Nevada entrance to Great Hills Park on June 25th. I’ve had to deal with sandburs in several other places since then.

Unrelated thought for today: “Any maniac can kindle a conflagration, but it requires many wise men to put it out.” — Charles MacKay in Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, first published in 1841.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 1, 2020 at 4:44 AM

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