Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘milkweed

Hierba de zizotes milkweed

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Austin is home to various milkweed species, including the Asclepias oenotheroides shown here from the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 22nd. As I explained in a 2015 post, vernacular names for this plant are side-cluster milkweed and (even in English) hierba de zizotes. Hierba in Spanish means ‘plant,’ and as best I can make out, zizote is one of various forms of a Mexican Spanish word—others being sicotecizotesisote—that refers to a type of skin lesion. When milkweeds are bent or bruised, they release drops of a white liquid that can indeed irritate some people’s skin, so perhaps this species of milkweed was known to cause those lesions. Or maybe the opposite was true, namely that this plant could be used to treat that skin condition.


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Yesterday I provided data showing the dismal lack of academic knowledge and skills among black and Hispanic schoolchildren in the United States. Ideologues blame that on “systemic racism,” and I’m willing to grant that our educational establishment is probably the last main institution to systemically hinder black and Hispanic kids by ensuring that they don’t learn much. (White kids on average don’t learn a lot in public schools either, but the disparity is still large.)

So what to do? For the past four decades I’ve advocated setting objective standards for each grade in school and then sticking to those standards no matter what. That means putting an end once and for all to the pernicious practice euphemistically called “social promotion,” where kids are passed along from one grade to the next to the next based on age, regardless of how much—or in most cases how little—the students have learned. The coddling excuse for social promotion has been that kids need to stay with their peers, so it would be emotionally damaging to hold back kids who hadn’t learned the required material. And I say, let the peer groups be determined primarily by knowledge rather than by the happenstance of chronological age.

My proposal in the 1980s was for standards to be reintroduced (re- because we amazingly once did have standards in our schools) one grade at a time, progressing over a dozen years from 1st grade to 12th grade. After the first year, students who fail to learn the required 1st-grade material would repeat the year, with as much extra help given to them as possible. Because the current level of knowledge as documented by NAEP is so abominably low, after standards are reintroduced many kids will fail the first grade. Separate classes of repeat first-graders can be made up entirely of kids who will be a year older than average, and therefore the desire to keep kids of the same age together will be fulfilled as well.

The initial failure of large numbers of minority kids will bring out the usual chorus of ideologues screaming “racism!” But they’re already screaming that about everything under the sun anyhow, so let’s follow the advice of John McWhorter, who is black, and simply ignore those accusations of racism. My contention is that getting things back on track will take some time, but it will be worth it in the end. Once kids master first-grade material, even if it takes them an extra year, they’ll be in a good position to be able to keep up from then on—provided that they do the required work and spend enough time studying. Telling black and Latino kids that doing homework and studying are “acting white” is counterproductive. It’s also racist.

Let me give you an analogy from personal experience. During my first three years of college I saved money by commuting an hour and a half each way from home. That meant a half-mile walk, one bus ride, and three subway rides, but by living at home I didn’t have to pay for room and board. The downside was that commuting three hours a day in New York rush-hour crowds while carrying a heavy academic load was wearing me out. With my senior year approaching, I finally got together with a fellow student and we rented an apartment a mile from school.

To pay for the apartment and all the meals I couldn’t get at home anymore, I applied for a part-time job through my college. The college got me a position shelving books in the law school library. When I showed up for my first day of work at the beginning of the semester in September, I discovered that apparently no one had been shelving for a long time, and huge piles of law books lay all over the place. Being new and not knowing where anything was or how the system worked, I decided not even to try putting any books away for awhile. Instead, I began to familiarize myself with the library. In the large holding area where all the returned books had been accumulating, I slowly started moving books around into general groups according to their call numbers. Later I began putting subgroups of those books onto carts so I could take them to the appropriate shelves and put them away. If someone had checked on me after a couple of days, it might well have looked like I’d been doing nothing, as I’d not yet shelved a single book. The truth is that I’d spent my time well by creating an efficient system. Finally I started putting books away and eventually I got the floor that I was responsible for cleaned up.

Once I’d cleared up the summer backlog, keeping my floor under control from then on as new books got returned was relatively easy. In fact it was too easy, and there wasn’t enough work to fill my allotted 20 hours a week. I went to the supervisor and asked what he wanted me to do with the extra time. He added another floor to my responsibilities. I used my system again and gradually got the additional floor under control. At that point I found that even with two floors I still had time left over, so I went back to the supervisor, who added a third floor to my responsibilities. Same story there. Putting away books on three floors kept me busy for about the right amount of time, and that’s how things stayed until I graduated the next spring. (One interesting aside: After I got things under control on my three floors in the law library, I went back to the supervisor, pointed out that I was now doing the work of three people, and asked if he could increase my hourly pay rate. He said the system wouldn’t allow for that, but he agreed to let me add extra hours to my time sheet that I hadn’t actually worked, and he signed off on them as if I really had worked them. Imagine that.)

I believe that getting our educational system under control is similar to what I did in the law library, though on a longer time scale. In the beginning and for some time it may seem like we’re not making progress, but we will be.

A second objection I expect will come my way is that it’s not the fault of black and Hispanic kids that they’re so far behind, so why should they have to pay the price of being initially held back in disproportionate numbers? Here again I’ll propose an analogy.

Suppose that you were riding in a car when a driver ran a red light at high speed and crashed into you. After you regained consciousness in the hospital a couple of days later doctors explained to you that you were seriously injured in the crash. They say your chances for recovery are good but it will take quite a while for your body to heal, and even then you’ll need a long period of rehabilitation to get back to normal.

Now imagine one reaction you could have: “No, no, no! It’s not my fault that somebody ran a red light and crashed into me. I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I don’t want to stay in the hospital for weeks with tubes in me while my body heals, and then have to drag through months of rehabilitation. I want to be normal now!”

I think you’ll agree that that reaction gets you nowhere. A better reaction is to acknowledge the unfairness of your situation but to understand that even though it’s not your fault, your body has undergone serious damage and will need time to heal. Rehabilitation will be arduous but it’s the only way to get back to normal strength and ability.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

P.S. A few days after I came up with my traffic accident analogy, I read a 2018 article by Coleman Hughes that mentioned ‘The Parable of the Pedestrian.’ Created by legal scholar Amy Wax, that parable is very similar to the analogy I independently devised last week when I put this post together. You’re welcome to listen to a minute-and-a-half video of Amy Wax telling her parable to Glenn Loury.

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 15, 2021 at 4:31 AM

It doesn’t take long for chaos to ensue

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Milkweed seeds are packed quite neatly into their pods. Once a pod opens, however, the fluff attached to the seeds readily yields to the wind and chaos soon sets in. That’s what you see in this antelope horns milkweed (Asclepias asperula) across the street from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on May 26th.

On the same day that these seeds were “migrating” out of their pod, thousands of people were illegally “immigrating” to the United States. With that abrupt turn, let me pause to tell you a little about my background. My father and his brother and parents escaped from the Soviet Union in the 1920s and came to the United States to get away from communism, corruption, and antisemitism. My mother’s father was also an immigrant. One of my nephews is married to an immigrant. I’ve had two brothers-in-law who were immigrants. I have friends who are immigrants. I’m married to an immigrant of a different race from the other side of the earth. Immigration has greatly contributed to the development of this country. I wouldn’t exist without it.

At the same time, I value fairness and order. The United States has set up a system in which people from other countries can apply to move here. Approximately a million people were allowed to do that in 2019. Some say that the number is too low and we should let in two million people a year. That might be okay. As needs change, Americans can decide on an appropriate yearly number that wouldn’t overwhelm the country’s resources.

What many Americans don’t find appropriate is people from other countries circumventing our immigration system and coming here illegally. I’ve heard projections that as many as two million people will have crossed into the United States illegally in 2021 alone. That number is plausible, given a report on National Public Radio that “More than 170,000 migrants were taken into custody at the Southwest border in March, the highest monthly total since at least 2006, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials who have been briefed on the preliminary numbers but are not authorized to speak publicly.” To that must be added the unknown number of people that the overworked Border Patrol didn’t manage to apprehend. Another indication of a huge increase in illegal immigration comes from a June 1st news story in the Epoch Times: “Border Patrol in the Del Rio [Texas] Sector has apprehended 95 sex offenders this fiscal year, compared to six during the same period in fiscal 2020. Apprehension of criminals has topped 813 compared to 161 in the same period in fiscal 2020.”

Those figures are evidence that for the most part our southern border is open. (A cynic would say the way we know the southern border is open is that the current administration tells us it’s closed.) Our government is letting many—perhaps the majority—of the people who enter illegally stay. Whereas applicants for legal immigration are screened in their country of origin to verify who they are, to ensure they’ll have a means of support, and to keep out criminals and people with infectious diseases, we have almost no way to determine the identities of those coming here illegally, what state of health they’re in, or whether they’ve been involved in crime—especially of the many who evade the Border Patrol entirely. During a worldwide pandemic our government is paying large amounts of money to send illegal immigrants into the interior of the country by bus and plane, sometimes without even testing for Covid-19.

People who don’t want any limits on immigration purposely and deceptively use the word immigrant to include those who come here illegally. That’s not fair, just as it wouldn’t be fair to describe someone who broke into your house as a resident. Advocates of unrestricted entry into the country hurl the epithet racist at anyone who distinguishes between legal and illegal immigration. That’s not fair. What’s fair is to establish an orderly immigration policy and to have the government enforce it, not flout it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 3, 2021 at 4:20 AM

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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

Whorled milkweed

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How convenient for a photographer: growing right at the edge of the path we walked on in Bastrop State Park on June 6th were some flowers whose structure yelled out “Milkweed!” Not recognizing the species, I later looked in Michael Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas, which led me to conclude the plant was whorled milkweed, Asclepias verticillata. Below is a closeup showing a developing seed pod, beyond which you can again make out the characteristic color of the iron-rich earth in Bastrop.

While preparing this post I realized that five years ago I showed a picture of a milkweed in New Mexico with a slightly different scientific name, Asclepias subverticillata.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2019 at 4:49 PM

Antelope-horns milkweed buds and flowers

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You’ve already seen how on April 5th the median in Morado Circle played host to rain-lilies and anemones, wild garlic and four-nerve daisies, and a white bluebonnet. Also growing there was Asclepias asperula, the most common milkweed species in central Texas. This picture is the latest reminder that milkweeds do things in fives.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 5, 2018 at 4:59 AM

How could I show you one without the other?

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That is, show you pearl milkweed flowers (Matelea reticulata) without also showing you one of the vine’s pods. By June 22nd this one had already split open and was beginning to release its seeds, each attached to a bit of aeronautical fluff. I followed suit and attached not fluff but a flash to my camera because the area wasn’t bright enough for me to get all the important details in focus without an extra helping of light.

By the way, the shiny fibers attached to the seeds explain why an alternate name for milkweed is silkweed.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2017 at 4:48 AM

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Haven’t shown you this for a good while

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2014 was the last time I showed you a flower of the pearl milkweed vine, Matelea reticulata. To compensate for that long lapse, here you have not one but two pearl milkweed flowers I photographed on a vine in my neighborhood on June 22nd. What happy propinquity.

If these flowers weren’t so common here, they’d be rare.* What I mean is that while pearl milkweed readily grows in northwest Austin, it’s easy to forget how seldom we see green flowers, much less any that possess net-like patterns and have a tiny pearly shelter covering their center. Notice that the central structure is curvily pentagonal, with each vertex gesturing toward the tip of a pointy petal. Milkweeds speak in fives.**

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* Google turned up no hits for “If they weren’t so common, they’d be rare,” so I’ll claim that witticism.

** In this case Google says I’ve just spoken a novel four-word sentence about fiveness.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 12, 2017 at 4:54 AM

A different kind of fluff

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In contrast to the fluff of the snake-cotton from Arizona that appeared in the previous post, behold the fluff I saw yesterday along Misting Falls Trail in my Austin neighborhood. I was driving to the store when I caught sight of a pearl milkweed vine (Matelea reticulata) hanging in some denuded tree branches. Several pods had opened, and as I watched them the breeze occasionally scattered bits of their seed-bearing fluff.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 28, 2016 at 4:53 AM

A less-common milkweed

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On September 7th, while walking across a field bordering Grand Avenue Parkway in Pflugerville on my way to photograph a few Maximilian sunflowers, one of which you saw last time, I spotted a milkweed that I come across only occasionally, Asclepias oenotheroides. It has appeared in these pages just once before, and I refer you to that earlier post for a closer look at a more advanced stage in the milkweed’s development and to find out more about one of its common names, hierba de zizotes.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 17, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Milkweed buds

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Melisa Pierson: "It is usually less than 2' tall, and the leaves are variable from narrow to wide oval. I do see quite a bit of variation out there, in fact, I thought there were 2 different species but research tells me that it is one species. I am seeing an increase of it at Illinois Beach."

On June 9th at Illinois Beach State Park I photographed this cluster of milkweed (Asclepias spp.) buds. In looking at the picture now, I like the way the curves and lines of the elements farther back complement the buds whose closest tips are sharply detailed in the foreground.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 12, 2016 at 4:53 AM

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