Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘leaf

Two raindrops on an appropriate leaf

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On April 8th in my part of Austin I made this abstract view of a large raindrop and a small raindrop on an appropriately named leaf, that of a rain lily (Zephyranthes drummondii).



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Here’s another passage from Helen Joyce‘s 2021 book Trans, whose subtitle is When Ideology Meets Reality.


What same-sex marriage, women’s franchise and the end of segregation all have in common is that they extend the rights of a privileged group to everyone. And when people hear the phrase ‘trans rights’, they assume something similar is being demanded — that trans people be enabled to live without discrimination, harassment and violence, and to express themselves as they wish. Such goals are worthy ones, but they are not what mainstream transactivism is about. What campaigners mean by ‘trans rights’ is gender self-identification: that trans people be treated in every circumstance as members of the sex they identify with, rather than the sex they actually are.

This is not a human right at all. It is a demand that everyone else lose their rights to single-sex spaces, services and activities. And in its requirement that everyone else accept trans people’s subjective beliefs as objective reality, it is akin to a new state religion, complete with blasphemy laws. All this explains the speed. When you want new laws, you can focus on lobbying, rather than the painstaking business of building broad-based coalitions. And when those laws will take away other people’s rights, it is not only unnecessary to build public awareness — it is imperative to keep the public in the dark.

This stealthy approach has been central to transactivism for quite some time. In a speech in 2013, Masen Davis, then the executive director of the American Transgender Law Center, told supporters that ‘we have largely achieved our successes by flying under the radar . . . We do a lot really quietly. We have made some of our biggest gains that nobody has noticed. We are very quiet and thoughtful about what we do, because we want to make sure we have the win more than we want to have the publicity’.

The result is predictable. Even as one country after another introduces gender self-ID, very few voters know this is happening, let alone support it.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 5, 2023 at 4:25 AM

Passion vine leaf and tendril

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Walking in the woods on April 8th in my part of town I spotted a leaf that I took to be from a yellow passion vine, Passiflora lutea. When I got closer I noticed a darker, tightly coiled tendril and followed it leftward to its hold on an adjacent Ashe juniper branch, Juniperus ashei.




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The United States Constitution established three branches of government: the executive (the President and subsidiaries), the legislative (Congress), and the judicial (the courts). The three branches are independent of one another in a system of what has been called “checks and balances.” For example, the President can’t make laws; only the legislature is allowed to do that. If the legislature passes an unconstitutional law, the courts can strike it down.

In recent years, critics of the American government on the political right and sometimes on the political left as well have decried what has effectively become a fourth branch of government: the administrative state. As explained on a Ballotpedia page:

The administrative state is a term used to describe the phenomenon of executive branch administrative agencies exercising the power to create, adjudicate, and enforce their own rules. Five pillars are key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of administrative agency action: nondelegationjudicial deferenceexecutive control of agenciesprocedural rights, and agency dynamics.

In other words, administrative agencies are in effect making laws, determining whether someone breaks those laws, and adjudicating any supposed violations. The administrative state has become an unauthorized three-branch government within the larger government, accountable to no one.

For several years I’ve been creating “fantasy” Constitutional amendments, things I would like to see added to the Constitution but that I doubt will get adopted. One of those deals with the administrative state. The amendment says that any time Congress authorizes an administrative agency to create rules, the rules must come back to Congress to be voted on, just as any federal laws get voted on in the first place.

In the spirit of my fantasy amendment, good news came from the Supreme Court on April 14th, as summarized in a Wall Street Journal editorial headline: “Supreme Court 9, Administrative State 0.” The subhead was “The Justices rule that individuals can take a constitutional challenge to federal agencies directly to federal court.” Here’s the beginning of the editorial:

The Supreme Court on Friday dealt the administrative state another blow with a 9-0 decision holding that individuals and businesses harpooned by an independent agency don’t have to suffer a torturous government adjudication to challenge its constitutionality in federal court (Axon Enterprise v. FTC and SEC v. Cochran).

The private litigants in these cases want to challenge Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission actions on grounds that the agencies are unconstitutionally structured. But the discrete question before the Court was whether they had to run through the agencies’ long and costly administrative process before they could go to federal court.

The government claimed they did, but a unanimous Court disagreed. In the controlling opinion, Justice Elena Kagan explained that both parties in the two cases allege they are “‘being subjected’ to ‘unconstitutional agency authority’—a ‘proceeding by an unaccountable [administrative law judge].’”

You’re welcome to read the full editorial. You can also read an Epoch Times account of the ruling.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 22, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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A heart for bumelia

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In Great Hills Park on February 21st I came upon a small tree, bare but for the occasional dry leaf still attached. Not recognizing the tree, I posted three pictures to the Texas Flora group on Facebook, and Brush Freeman quickly identified it as gum bumelia. I checked Bill Carr’s Travis County plant list and found it’s classified as Sideroxylon lanuginosum subsp. oblongifolium. A little later Richard Zarria commented that bumelia is a favorite of his, and when I asked why, this was his answer:


I am a big fan of what I call “C Student” plants that never make the cover of a magazine. Bumelia does not have the prettiest flower or leaf or bark. It does not grow the tallest. It is spiky and will draw blood from the unaware. This keeps it in the back of the classroom without (broadly) friends or advocates. Nobody grows it, nobody wants it. Even die-hard native plant enthusiasts are surprised when they learn it. Fair enough. Ugly little tree has no friends.

But it is everywhere and often in large quantities. Mother nature seems to think it is important, but we (broadly) don’t.

Bumelia is just one of a long list of “filler” species that are scraped off during development and never thought of again….even by the native plant/tree huggy/green-minded/save the earth crowd. I am this crowd and I love them, btw. Therefore, for the last 20 years I have been an odd cheerleader for this weird and unloved poster child.

Does everyone need to run out and grow it like crazy? No. They just need to be aware that we need diversity, not just beauty.


In return I traded some etymology. Bumelia is a Latinized version of Greek boumeliā. The first part is from bous, meaning cow (compare bovine); the second part is meliā, meaning an ash tree. Why a bumelia tree is a “cow ash,” who knows?

Coming back to the photograph: look at the pale gray-green lichen on that slender branch.




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So the current American administration has nominated a man named Phil Washington to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Here’s how that government department describes some of its missions:

We issue and enforce regulations and minimum standards covering manufacturing, operating, and maintaining aircraft. We certify airmen and airports that serve air carriers. The safe and efficient use of navigable airspace is one of our primary objectives. We operate a network of airport towers, air route traffic control centers, and flight service stations. We develop air traffic rules, assign the use of airspace, and control air traffic.

We build or install visual and electronic aids to air navigation. We maintain, operate, and assure the quality of these facilities. We also sustain other systems to support air navigation and air traffic control, including voice and data communications equipment, radar facilities, computer systems, and visual display equipment at flight service stations. We promote aviation safety and encourage civil aviation abroad. We exchange aeronautical information with foreign authorities; certify foreign repair shops, airmen, and mechanics; provide technical aid and training; negotiate bilateral airworthiness agreements with other countries; and take part in international conferences.

We do research on and develop the systems and procedures we need for a safe and efficient system of air navigation and air traffic control. We help develop better aircraft, engines, and equipment and test or evaluate aviation systems, devices, materials, and procedures. We also do aeromedical research.


Now, no one could blame you if you assume a nominee to head the FAA has many years of experience in at least some of those things.

Has Phil Washington ever designed aircraft? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about aeronautics? No.

Has Phil Washington ever worked as an air traffic controller? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about air traffic safety? No.

Has Phil Washington ever built or installed visual and electronic aids to air navigation? No.

Does Phil Washington know anything about air navigation? No.

Has Phil Washington ever taken part in investigating airplane crashes? No.

Is Phil Washington even a pilot? No.


Phil Washington’s only connection to aviation is that since July 2021—not even two years—he has been Executive Officer (CEO) of Denver International Airport (DEN). According to its website, “DEN is the world’s 3rd busiest airport by passenger traffic and is Colorado’s largest economic engine with an annual economic impact of $33.5 billion. Under [Phil Washington’s] leadership, DEN announced the Vision 100 strategy to prepare and improve the airport’s facilities and operations for the anticipated 100 million annual passengers within 10 years. He co-founded the Equity in Infrastructure Program (EIP) to improve contracting practices by creating opportunities for historically underutilized businesses (emphasis mine).”

That last sentence explains Phil Washington’s nomination to head the FAA. Apparently the administration thinks FAA is an initialism for Federal Affirmative Action. Except for the fact that Phil Washington is black, a person with his lack of technical aviation expertise would never have been nominated for such an important and demanding position. It’s an insult to the many people, of whatever race, sex, or other grouping, who do have aviation expertise and could capably head the FAA. Having an unqualified person in charge puts us all at greater risk when we travel by plane.

Oh, and there’s one more thing:

A Los Angeles County criminal probe that involves President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Federal Aviation Administration has some in the aviation industry on edge, fearing a prolonged vacuum at the top of the agency at a fraught moment for air travel. [There have been a bunch of airplane near-misses recently.]

“It certainly has everyone’s attention,” one former Transportation Department official said Friday, two days after sheriff’s investigators executed a search warrant at an LA county supervisor’s home that sought, among other evidence, correspondence with FAA nominee Phil Washington. An attached affidavit includes a whistleblower’s allegations about Washington’s handling of a no-bid contract during his past job heading the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.


 © 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 4, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Both sides now times two

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In neighboring Great Hills Park on 11/22/22 (great date) I noticed how different the two surfaces of this drying grape leaf were. I don’t recall ever seeing an upper surface colored and patterned like this one. The underside’s slight fuzz had and still has me thinking the vine was a mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis, the most common species of grape in Great Hills.



On December 23rd, hours before a more-than-daylong freeze was due to hit
central Texas, I was out documenting native plants that still had flowers on them.



One such was the blackfoot daisy, which you see here from above, above, and from below, below.



The maroon “nerves” or “veins” so conspicuous from underneath
are barely discernible on the ray florets’ white upper surface.



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Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.


That line from physicist Richard Feynman was quoted in Joanne Silberner’s January 4th article “The Reason There’s Been No Cure for Alzheimer’s.” For several decades now, the funders of medical research on Alzheimer’s disease have given grants almost exclusively to researchers pursuing one theory about the cause—and therefore the potential cure—for that ailment. As in so many fields, groupthink has settled in, despite the fact that treatments based on the reigning theory about the cause of Alzheimer’s have produced practically no improvements.

You can learn the details in Joanne Silberner’s article in the Free Press.



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UPDATE: On December 22nd I reported how Stanford University had created a compendium of supposedly harmful language. You know, despicable words like American and grandfather. On January 11th Inside Higher Ed published an article by Susan D’Agostino titled “Amid Backlash, Stanford Pulls ‘Harmful Language’ List.” Let’s welcome any move toward sanity in academia.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Like a seahorse

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Don’t you think this colorfully drying smartweed leaf (Polygonum or Persicaria sp.) that I found in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 14th looks like a seahorse?



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Thirty-three years ago, when I was a teenager in Nairobi, I was a book burner. The year was 1989, the year of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and I was seduced by the rising tide of Islamism. I greeted the fatwa with glee.

I rarely burnt actual books: we were too poor to afford a copy of The Satanic Verses. Instead, we wrote the title of the offending novel and the name of its author on cardboard and paper and set them alight. It was comical and pathetic. But we were deadly serious. We thought Ayatollah Khomeini was standing up for Islam against the infidels, bringing down the righteous fury of Allah upon a vile apostate. Had Rushdie been attacked then, I would have celebrated.

So begins a recent essay by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “The infidels will not be silenced: Like Salman Rushdie, I choose freedom.” Those familiar with Ayaan Hirsi Ali know that when she grew up she had a change of heart and mind and is now one of the world’s great champions of free speech (for which stance the forces of oppression have persecuted her). You’re welcome to read her full essay.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman



Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 23, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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Two species, three prominent colors

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Plenty of native species have been planted around the pond at the intersection of Gault Lane and Burnet Road. On the morning of July 7th I made this group portrait that includes a pavonia mallow flower (Pavonia lasiopetala), several purple bindweed flowers (Ipomoea cordatotriloba), and a yellowed leaf on the bindweed vine. The cordato in the species name means heart-shaped, and that wavily fits the bright leaf.


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I’ve mentioned a few times that a group of people who believe in the traditional purpose of a university—the pursuit of knowledge, whatever facts and truths that may lead to—are busy founding the University of Austin (UATX) right here where I live. An inaugural summer session was held in Dallas, and I invite you to read the talk that Bari Weiss gave to the first class of UATX students. It’s called “The New Founders America Needs.”



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 15, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Beach morning glory: purple

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The term “beach morning glory” is ambiguous: people use it for Ipomoea imperati and for Ipomoea pes-caprae, both of which grow on coastal sand dunes, often even together. One easy way to tell them apart is that the former produces white flowers and the latter purple flowers, as shown here at Port Aransas on June 3rd. Other vernacular names for the purple-flowering species are railroad vine (presumably because it tends to grow along railroad tracks), goatfoot morning glory (which is what the Latin pes-caprae means), and bayhops. Both kinds of beach morning glory have thick and leathery leaves, but those of the white-flowering species are only about 1.5 inches long, while those of the purple-flowering species reach as much as 3.5 inches in length. I found one of those larger leaves that had turned conspicuously yellow, and it contrasted nicely with the day’s blue sky.




All photographs are illusions.
Speaking of which, here’s an interesting article about optical illusions.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 14, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Revenge on poison ivy

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It’s all too common for poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) to cause itchy red splotches on people’s skin. It’s also not uncommon, at least in Austin, to see reddish splotches on poison ivy. As fitting as that “revenge” may seem, it doesn’t come from people but from Aculops rhois, a tiny mite that creates these little pouches in poison ivy leaflets. Today’s picture is from May 30 on the grounds of Hyde Park Baptist High School, which is home to some lush stands of poison ivy. No doubt the people who run the school wish that weren’t so.

I believe the leaflet gets its characteristic sheen from urushiol, the chemical that irritates human skin.
By the way, did you notice the ant on the margin of the leaflet?


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As both an American citizen and a longtime teacher I’m appalled at how my country’s schools have devolved and keep devolving. I recently came across a roughly 30-page document entitled “The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.

Here’s the gist of it:

Public education is central to American democracy. Ideally, children from every area of our country can graduate from effective and well-resourced schools that prepare them equally for active citizenship and meaningful lives. Yet, the conditions in our schools are not ideal. Schools across the U.S. tend to struggle with educating black and Latino students when compared to their white peers. This is the case even in cities where there is notable progress on other important issues like immigration, health care and neighborhood revitalization. In fact, as we show in this report, highly prosperous cities with progressive residents have particularly poor outcomes for children living at the margins. It is ironic that this is happening for children living in cities that are best positioned to reverse the nation’s shameful education “achievement gap.”

Leaders of progressive cities often frame their policy proposals in terms of what’s best for those with the least opportunity and the greatest obstacles — those who have been “left out and left behind” …. But, in education, we found the opposite: Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.

“The Secret Shame” is easy to read, maintains a calm tone, is typographically well laid out and nicely illustrated with charts and graphs presenting the data that supports the document’s claims. You’re welcome to check it out.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 13, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Stickleaf on a sunny morning

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Seems like I almost always have to go into Williamson County to find stickleaf, Mentzelia oligosperma. That was true on May 13th when we visited Northwest Williamson County Regional Park for the first time in years and found stickleaf in several spots there. The plant gets its common name from the fact that its leaves readily cling to clothing and even skin. The second picture shows why.



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I spend a fair amount of time looking things up because I strive for accuracy in my commentaries. That’s why I include so many links to documents. If you’re aware of any facts that I’ve reported incorrectly, please point them out. Of course people can disagree about what policies to follow, but we have to start from the facts.




Speaking of illegal immigration into the United States, as I did last time, here are the official 2022 figures for the number of monthly encounters border patrol agents have had with people who illegally entered the country by coming across the border from Mexico:

January: 154,812

February: 165,894

March: 221,303

And for April the number was 234,088, the highest ever recorded. Do you see a trend? While a portion of the people encountered get sent back, many are allowed to remain, and the current administration pays their way to go wherever they choose to go inside our country. The government even sends some of the illegal border-crossers to their destinations on charter flights, though officials have managed to conceal many of those from the public. According to an April 20th New York Post article by Miranda Devine:


… in recent weeks “the charters are back with a fury,” says a whistleblower from Avelo Airlines, one of three charter companies raking in millions of taxpayer dollars whisking migrants out of sight.

Staffers are disturbed by the secrecy of the operation, and the prospect that they are participating in a human-trafficking operation, the whistleblower says.

“The charters are not on our paperwork, not on the [air-traffic] breakdown, not on the schedule, not on the flight plan. They’re not listed anywhere”…

Avelo employees have begun openly to discuss concerns that they may be participating in human trafficking, says the whistleblower, especially with so many ­unaccompanied minors on flights.

“We’re trafficking children,” the whistleblower says. “I am not OK with that happening . . .
“The company is saying it’s not true, but people don’t believe that, and everyone wants to leave. People stay for three months and leave.”


Title 42, a Covid-era policy that allows authorities to immediately send illegal entrants back across the border without having to entertain their political asylum claims (most of which are really the understandable desire to have a better standard of living), is set to expire on May 23rd—just three days from today. According to the Texas Tribune: “Homeland Security predicts up to 18,000 daily encounters with migrants — more than double the current average — when Title 42 ends.” Now, I’ve long been leery of the phrase “up to,” a staple ploy that advertisers use to make people think the average value of something is larger than it really is. So let’s say that if Title 42 ends, the number of encounters with illegal border-crosses will rise to “only” 15,000 every day rather than 18,000 every day. And let’s say that without Title 42, authorities will have to let 12,000 of those 15,000 new illegal border-crossers remain inside the United States every day. Where will that leave us? Since 12,000 is a daily number, we’ll multiply by 365.25 to estimate the yearly toll. We find that the current administration will be allowing 4,383,000 illegal border-crossers to stay in our country every year. If that continues unabated, then between now and when the current administration’s term ends in January of 2025, something like 11,000,000 illegal entrants will have been allowed to stay in our country. To give you a sense of scale, remember that the country’s largest city, New York, has a little under 9 million people. In other words, the illegal entrants allowed to stay here in just the next two-and-a-half years could be imagined to form the nation’s new largest city, though not a contiguous one. And of course to those 11,000,000 illegal entrants we’ll have to add the presumed one million or two million or three million that made it past overworked and understaffed border authorities altogether—the so-called gotaways.

Some people think that this kind of mass lawlessness is how we should be running our country. I don’t.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 20, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Leaf and tendril

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The prostrate vine that botanists call Cucurbita foetidissima has as probably its two most common common names buffalo gourd and stinking gourd, with the latter referring to the plant’s unpleasant (to people) smell. Odor aside, the fuzzy young leaves and tendrils offer themselves up for photographic abstractions like this one from April 16th along the northernmost stretch of Spicewood Springs Rd. across from the library.


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“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

That sentence appears online in various places as a quotation from George Washington. The sentiment is indeed his, but the wording isn’t exact. I found out that Washington addressed the Continental Congress on March 11, 1783, at which time he referred to a certain anonymous document and criticized it:

With respect to the advice given by the author, to suspect the man who shall recommend moderate measures and longer forbearance, I spurn it, as every man who regards that liberty and reveres that justice for which we contend, undoubtedly must; for, if men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us. The freedom of speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent, we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman







Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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