Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘native plants

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

Two kinds of curls

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In Robert Kamper’s side yard in Round Rock on April 11th two kinds of curls made themselves known to me. The more obvious even had the word in their common name: blue curls (Phacelia congesta). The other curls—smaller, much more tightly wound, and harder to see—were tendrils of a Passiflora species, either incarnata or lutea; further development will reveal which one.

 

UPDATE: From the flowers that emerged on the vine shown in the bottom picture, Robert Kamper is able to say the plant is Passiflora incarnata.

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The most obvious and unarguable source of black innocence is the victimization that blacks endured for centuries at the hands of a race that insisted on black inferiority as a means to its own innocence and power. Like all victims, what blacks lost in power they gained in innocence—innocence that, in turn, entitled them to pursue power. This was the innocence that fueled the civil rights movement of the ’60s, and that gave blacks their first real power in American life—victimization metamorphosed into power via innocence. But this formula carries a drawback that I believe is virtually as devastating to blacks today as victimization once was. It is a formula that binds the victim to his victimization by linking his power to his status as a victim. And this, I’m convinced, is the tragedy of black power in America today. It is primarily a victim’s power, grounded too deeply in the entitlement derived from past injustice and in the innocence that Western/Christian tradition has always associated with poverty.

Whatever gains this power brings in the short run through political action, it undermines in the long run. Social victims may be collectively entitled, but they are all too often individually demoralized. Since the social victim has been oppressed by society, he comes to feel that his individual life will be improved more by changes in society than by his own initiative. Without realizing it, he makes society rather than himself the agent of change. The power he finds in his victimization may lead him to collective action against society, but it also encourages passivity within the sphere of his personal life.

That passage is as pertinent today as when Shelby Steele wrote it in 1988—actually even more pertinent because it’s 34 years later and many people still haven’t gotten his message. You’re welcome to read the full Harper’s article, “I’m Black, You’re White, Who’s Innocent? Race and power in an era of blame.”

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Southern shield fern with scroll

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At the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on March 23rd I made portraits of the scrolls on several southern shield ferns, Thelypteris ovata var. lindheimeri. In this take the leaves shared prominence with the scroll.

 

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I keep hearing a particular progressive worldview that this country is irredeemably racist and that values like rational thought, hard work, and individualism are rooted in “white culture.” I think it’s important for those of us who disagree to speak up.

A pro-human effort to transcend race requires acknowledging and respecting diverse perspectives, both within and across our made-up racial categories.

So wrote Sita Nataraj Slavov, whose family came to America from India. You’re welcome to read all of her essay “Conversations about race should acknowledge diverse perspectives.” It’s one of many published on the website of FAIR, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 1, 2022 at 4:27 AM

35° was low enough

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Our outdoor thermometer yesterday morning had dropped to about 35°F (1.6°C). I’ve learned from years of experience that that’s normally low enough for me to find ice extruded from the frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) in the nearest portion of Great Hills Park, about half a mile away. From home to there is downhill, and the frostweed plants grow at the base of a slope that descends from where the road bottoms out. Down there it’s apparently colder enough for frostweed ice to appear, because that’s what’s been happening for years now.

I took a bunch of pictures. Most of them, like the one below, didn’t show any blue. That’s because frostweed ice forms at and near the base of the plant’s stalk, and it’s hard to include sky in a photograph of such a low subject. To get the top portrait I lay on my mat on the ground and struggled to line the ice up with a patch of blue sky while excluding the many other nearby plants. Usually at least a little junk showed up at the bottom in that set of photographs, but today’s top picture proved a success.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 13, 2021 at 4:31 AM

Joshua Tree National Park revisited

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On this date five years ago we spent much of the day at
Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California.

As tall as some of these “trees” grow, they’re actually members of the yucca family, Yucca brevifolia.

Not all Joshua trees remain erect:

In some places a mountainous wall of boulders dwarfed the Joshua trees.

According to Wikipedia, “The name ‘Joshua tree’ is commonly said to have been given by a group of Mormon settlers crossing the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century: The tree’s role in guiding them through the desert combined with its unique shape reminded them of a biblical story in which Joshua keeps his hands reached out for an extended period of time to enable the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan (Joshua 8:18–26). Further, the shaggy leaves may have provided the appearance of a beard. However, no direct or contemporary attestation of this origin exists, and the name Joshua tree is not recorded until after Mormon contact; moreover, the physical appearance of the Joshua tree more closely resembles a similar story told of Moses.”

The same article lists a whopping 14 scientific names synonymous with Yucca brevifolia. That raises a question I don’t know the answer to: which plant has had the most scientific names?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 5, 2021 at 4:39 AM

Snow-on-the-prairie and friends

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On October 4th I drove east to Manor and spent a couple of hours in the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision, new parts of which have kept springing up for several years now. As was true in October last year, I found no shortage of native species doing their autumnal thing this year. Some of those plants will likely survive development; others won’t. The picturesque group that you see above, because of its location, probably won’t last. The prominent red-stalked plants are snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor. Across the bottom of the picture is a carpet of doveweed, Croton monanthogynus (a genus-mate of the woolly croton you saw here a week ago and again yesterday. The erect plant a quarter of the way in from the left is annual sumpweed, Iva annua, whose pollen, like that of the related ragweed, triggers many people’s allergic reactions in the fall.

Aesthetically speaking, the top picture exemplifies a more-is-more, fill-up-the-frame approach to photography. In contrast, take the minimalist view below that gives a much closer look at snow-on-the-prairie.

And while we’re offering more-detailed views, the portrait below gives you a better look at doveweed, garnished with a dameselfly that might be a female Kiowa dancer, Argia immunda.


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Austin, where I’ve lived since 1976, is the Berkeley of Texas, with leftist ideologues controlling the city’s government. In 2020, the Austin City Council’s response to months of daily rioting in cities around the country was to cut $21.5 million outright from the Austin Police Department budget and to shift another $128 million to other city departments. Predictably, crimes in Austin have increased. As local television station KXAN reported on September 13, 2021, two murders that weekend were the 59th and 60th homicides for the year so far, “the highest number of homicides Austin has recorded in one year in modern history” — and the year still had three-and-a-half months to go.

Apologists argue that crime has also gone up in many other American cities in the past year. True, but that’s hardly a justification for Austin to cut its police budget. According to that “logic,” because Covid-19 was increasing in other parts of the country last year, Austin should have reduced funding to deal with the pandemic.

On July 5 this year, KXAN quoted Interim Police Chief Joseph Chacon: “When it comes to the most critical calls… — shootings, stabbings, rape and domestic violence in progress — the current response time average is nine minutes and two seconds…. That is a minute-and-a-half slower than the department’s three-year average of seven minutes and 30 seconds.”

In response to the increased dangers caused by such a large reduction in the police budget, a group called Save Austin Now got enough signatures (close to 30,000) on a petition to place a proposition on the ballot for November 2nd, just two weeks from now. Among the things that Proposition A [as it’s designated] would do are:

  • establish minimum police staffing and require there to be at least two police officers for every 1,000 residents of Austin;
  • add an additional 40 hours of training each year on “critical thinking, defensive tactics, intermediate weapons proficiency, active shooter scenarios, and hasty react team reactions”;
  • pay police officers a bonus for being proficient in any of the five most frequently spoken foreign languages in Austin; for enrolling in cadet mentoring programs; for being recognized for honorable conduct;
  • require police officers to spend at least 35% of their time on community engagement;
  • require full enrollment for at least three full-term cadet classes until staffing levels return to the levels prescribed in Austin’s 2019-2020 budget [in 2020 the City Council had canceled two cadet classes as part of its “defund the police” hysteria];
  • require the mayor, council members, staff and assistants of council members, as well as the director of the Office of Police Oversight, to complete the curriculum of the Citizen Police Academy and participate in Austin’s Ride-Along Program [in other words, the people in charge of the police should know what the police actually do in their job!];
  • encourage the police chief to seek demographic representation, as reflected in “racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the city,” in hiring police officers.

Do you find anything objectionable there? All of those things sound worthy to me. Nevertheless, leftist activists who want to keep the police underfunded are fighting fiercely against this proposition. Money to campaign against it has been coming in from many places outside Austin and outside Texas. As Austin’s NPR radio station KUT reported on October 4: “Billionaire and left-wing activist George Soros gave $500,000 to Equity PAC, a political action committee lobbying against Prop A. The group also received $200,000 from The Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization founded in 2016 that backs progressive ballot measures.”

So there you have it: the people pushing “equity” and “fairness” are working to undermine civil order and public safety. What a sorry state of affairs for my country.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Vendredi: vues verticales*

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⇧ Fraying leaf tip of a sotol, Dasylirion sp.

⇧ Cattail leaves (Typha sp.) at sunrise.

⇧ Annual sumpweed inflorescences, Iva annua.

These portraits are from the pond at Gault Lane and Burnet Road on October 11, 2020.

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* In case French isn’t among your languages, the doubly° alliterative title means “Friday: vertical views.” The Spanish equivalent would also work, “Viernes: vistas verticales,” as would the Italian “Venerdì: viste verticali.”

The greatest number of different possibilities for having a post title alliterate with a day name is seven because a week consists of seven days. (If you’re wondering how that came to be, you can check out this Britannica article.) Whether any language has all seven of its day names beginning with different sounds, I don’t know. English falls one short of the maximum because Saturday and Sunday begin with the same sound. (Tuesday and Thursday begin with different sounds, despite the initial written letter being the same; that’s because th represents a single sound.) French also has six, because mardi (Tuesday) and mercredi (Wednesday) both begin with m. Likewise for Spanish martes and miércoles.

° Although all 3 words in the title of today’s post begin with a v, the 2nd v creates only the 1st instance of alliteration, so the 3rd v would constitute the 2nd instance of alliteration. In that sort of “it takes two to tango” analysis, the number of alliterations will be 1 less than the number of identical initial letters. On the other hand, you could still make the case for triple alliteration in today’s title by considering the v-words in pairs: vendredi with vues, vendredi with verticales, and vues with verticales.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2021 at 4:39 AM

Where else to find snow-on-the-prairie but on the prairie?

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On the morning of September 10th I headed east from Austin in search of snow-on-the-prairie, Euphorbia bicolor, whose flowering time was at hand. I found some good stands close to and in Elgin, a town about 25 miles east of Austin whose name is pronounced with a hard g, as in give. To take my first snow-on-the-prairie pictures, I leaned my upper body over a barbed wire fence along US 290 west of Elgin, looked through the camera’s viewfinder, and composed pictures of the field you see here. For a few of my photographs I held the camera as high over my head as possible and guess-aimed somewhat downward to get a better angle and increased depth of field. I don’t know if the picture above was one of those, but it might well have been. The snow in the plant’s common name refers to the white-margined bracts that become so prominent leading up to the plant’s flowering. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous.


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I strive for accuracy. Even so, it’s human nature to make mistakes. If you’re aware of anything in my commentaries that’s not factually correct, please point it out, along with a link to legitimate evidence of the truth, and I’ll make corrections.


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The current American administration’s blatant dereliction of duty and collusion to flout the law

According to the official website whitehouse.gov, “The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress.” [I’ve italicized the second sentence for emphasis.]

Congress has passed immigration laws that set up the legal process by which people are allowed to immigrate to the United States. Nevertheless, for eight months now members of the Executive Branch, including the President of the United States, have worked strenuously to thwart the immigration laws Congress has put in place. Back on August 6th I reported that our government was letting some 40,000 people per week come across the southwestern border illegally. Customs and Border Protection reported approximately 210,000 encounters with illegal border crossers in July. (Some of those were people who had crossed illegally more than once that month.) The other day authorities released the figures for August: “208,887 encounters along the Southwest Border,” of which 156,641 were unique (the difference between those numbers being people encountered more than once that month). The July and August figures were 20-year highs. And remember that the official figures only include people who were apprehended; unknown tens of thousands each month managed to enter illegally and evade authorities.

So many people have walked unimpeded across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas, in the past few days that federal and local authorities are completely overwhelmed and can’t cope with it. The border there is wide open. Word has gone out around the world that anyone who can make it to Ciudad Acuña, the town on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, is free to wade across the Rio Grande River into Del Rio, Texas. And people around the world have heard the news and have come.

On September 15th, an estimated 4000 illegal immigrants who had walked across the river were taking refuge under the International Bridge in Del Rio. By September 16th the number of people under or adjacent to the bridge was estimated to have doubled. You can read about it and see photographs in an article by Adam Shaw and Bill Melugin. Representative Tony Gonzales, whose House of Representatives district includes Del Rio, is quoted in the article: “When you see the amount of people and how chaotic it is and how there is literally no border, folks are coming to and from Mexico with ease, it’s gut wrenching and it’s dangerous.” If you want, you can read/watch other stories about the situation.

On September 17th I heard an estimate on television that the number of people under and close to the bridge had grown to 10,500. Later that day I read that the estimate had risen to 12,000. I watched live television showing a steady stream of people walking across a low dam from Ciudad Acuña into Del Rio. The television reporter said this has been going on non-stop for days, and that thousands more people were reported heading up to the border from nearby places in Mexico. According to Del Rio’s mayor, Bruno Lozano, “There’s people having babies down there [under the bridge], there’s people collapsing out of the heat. They’re pretty aggressive, rightly so — they’ve been in the heat day after day after day.”

The situation is dire. Remember that this is summer, and afternoon high temperatures in that part of southern Texas have been running around 100°F (38°–39°C). The video that I watched showed rows of portable toilets, the insides of which must be horrendous. Food and drinking water are in short supply. The sun beats down from dawn to dusk. Thousands more people keep coming every day.

And let’s not forget that we’re still in the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week the current administration issued an edict—most likely beyond its legal authority, but that’s nothing new—according to which many American citizens who aren’t willing to get vaccinated or be tested every week will lose their jobs. Of course the hundreds of thousands of non-citizens who have been illegally pouring across the border, including the thousands now crowded together in Del Rio, often without masks, are exempt from the edict—despite the fact that a majority come from countries where few people have been vaccinated. Unlike American citizens, these people that our government is letting enter illegally don’t have to get tested. They don’t have to get vaccinated. Many of them will be allowed to come into the country illegally anyway, and our government will even pay their way into the interior.

If this isn’t lawlessness, then nothing is.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 18, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Portraits from our yard: episode 1

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Today and in probably nine posts to come I’ll be showing you portraits of native plants in our yard. Some are the progeny of a few plantings Eve made years ago, while others are here because those species have grown in this area for millennia. Let me begin by jumping back to April 25th, when the self-sown colony of white avens (Geum canadense) behind our house was happily doing its thing. You’re looking at buds in two stages of opening. Can you tell that this wildflower is in the rose family?


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You probably didn’t hear about an incident that made the news this week. To understand it, you should know that large numbers of people have been illegally crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. The current American administration has been letting them in anyway, in violation of American law. (Some eventually get sent back, but many are allowed to stay, and the government even pays to bus or fly them into the interior of our country.) How many illegal border crossers have been let in? On July 26, 2021, Border Patrol informed the police department in the little border town of La Joya, Texas, that the number of apprehensions of illegal entrants this year had surpassed 1 million through the month of June. That’s in addition to the unknown number of illegal entrants who’d managed to evade the understaffed and overworked border authorities altogether.

In the latest incident I mentioned at the beginning, federal authorities in La Joya had released a group of illegal entrants who had Covid-19. (I’ve heard that 7.9% of illegal entrants who have been checked for the disease have tested positive for it but I don’t know if that figure is accurate.) The organization Catholic Charities of The Rio Grande Valley had rented out all the rooms at a local motel and was housing the released Covid-positive group there. Instead of quarantining in the hotel, some of the infected people had gone to a fast-food restaurant called Whataburger, where a “concerned citizen at the restaurant waved down [a police] officer. The citizen told him about the family ‘coughing and sneezing without covering their mouths and not wearing face masks.’ Whataburger management also told the officer that they wanted the group to leave as well due to ‘their disregard to other people’s health.’” So much for following the Centers for Disease Control’s pandemic guidelines. While fully vaccinated Americans are being told to “follow the science” and mask up indoors once again, some people who actually have Covid-19 were released into our country and allowed to wander at will without masks as they mingled with the local population.

As for the number of apprehensions reported in the first half of 2021, some may say that the United States is a large and bountiful country, so that in addition to its already very generous quota of legal immigrants it can afford to have a million people entering illegally every six months. To give a sense of scale, let’s see what a proportional influx of illegal entrants would mean in a small country. Take New Zealand, for example, which is also a wealthy nation. Current population estimates for New Zealand and the United States are 4,864,000 and 332,900,000, respectively. That puts New Zealand’s population at not quite one-and-a-half percent of America’s, so the equivalent of a million people entering the United States illegally in six months would be about 14,600 people entering New Zealand illegally in half a year. Maybe I’m naïve, but somehow I don’t think many citizens of New Zealand would be okay with over 14,000 people every six months showing up at their borders illegally yet being allowed into the country anyhow. You know what a bunch of racist xenophobes those Kiwis are.*

Going in the opposite direction, China’s current population is estimated at 1,444,600,000. To match a million people crossing illegally into the United States in six months, China would have to allow about 4,339,000 people to illegally cross its borders every half-year. I’m sure once somebody pointed that out to Chairman Xi, who’s eager to surpass the United States as a world power in all respects, he’d agree to it. He’d probably kick himself for not having thought of it on his own.**

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* Call it satire or call it sarcasm, but don’t take that last sentence seriously. The fact remains, though, that New Zealand polices its borders much more stringently than the United States does. When Eve and I visited there in 2015 and 2017, upon arrival we were photographed before being allowed to leave the Auckland airport, and again before being permitted to board our flight back home. By that system the New Zealand immigration authorities could tell whether we’d left before our authorized time in the country as tourists was up, or whether we’d stayed on illegally.

** That’s also sarcasm. I think we all know the kind of reception even a small group of people who entered China illegally—much less 4.3 million of them—would receive from authorities in that Communist dictatorship.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 30, 2021 at 4:38 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

Closer looks at Spanish moss

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You’ve seen how Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) festooned the trees at Palmetto State Park on January 29th. Now here are two closer looks. In the top one the Spanish moss was still hanging from a tree, while in the bottom picture some had fallen onto a dry palmetto leaf (Sabal minor).

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” — Leslie Poles Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953. (Wikipedia notes that the opening sentence “had first been used by Hartley’s friend Lord David Cecil in his inaugural lecture as Goldsmiths’ Professor in 1949.”)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 12, 2021 at 4:38 AM

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