Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘naturalist

First guest post

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About a week ago, Linda of Forageporage announced that she was about to pass the one-year mark in her blog, and she asked several other bloggers if they’d like to write a guest post to mark that anniversary for her. I was one of those people, and I gladly accepted. If you’d like to see the result, you’re welcome to have a look at Convergent Evolution.

Being a language person as well as a nature person, I can’t help noticing that the title I casually chose for this announcement, First guest post, consists of three words that all end in -st. And being a math person, I see that I can truthfully claim that this is my Best first guest post, for the simple reason that it’s the only one. Of course you could answer with equal truthfulness and another -st that it’s also my Worst first guest post, again because it’s the only one. But go have a look, and with still another -st I trust that between the two logical truths you’ll be swayed to see the post as the best.

Wordplay aside, we all wish Linda well as she enters her second year promoting nature at Forageporage.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 2, 2011 at 10:02 AM

To Have and Have Not

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Click for greater detail.

Yes, once we had water. Ponds along whose banks I’ve taken pictures in years past have dried up. A week ago I went to Waller Creek, a place in central Austin where I’ve occasionally photographed, and found that it too was completely dry. I remember that I was there in the fall of 2006, when, looking down through my camera’s macro lens at bubbles and algae on the surface of the slow-moving creek, I could have repeated García Lorca’s words: “Verde que te quiero verde,” “Green how much I love you green.”

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 14, 2011 at 7:04 AM

Adieu to camphorweed

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A Syrphid fly on camphorweed; click for more detail.

As we bid goodbye for now to camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris, I’m reminded that it’s not just spiders and I who visit this species. In 2009 the Syrphid fly shown here hovered about and finally landed as I was photographing some camphorweed on the the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. I’m also reminded that before Europeans brought honeybees to the Americas, the flowers that had evolved here somehow managed to get themselves pollinated with never a word of English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese being spoken.

Update on August 23, 2011: Valerie Bugh has confirmed that the Syrphid fly is Toxomerus marginatus.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2011 at 5:44 AM

Camphorweed Chaos

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Seeds caught on drying flowers of camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris; click for more detail.

Yesterday’s post showed a fully open flower head of camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris, on the prairie site of Austin’s former Mueller Airport. Call that the idealized camphorweed picture.

Within a few feet of that bright and well-behaved day’s eyedaisy to us now—was the miniature landscape you see today. This is more typical of what’s out there in nature: chaos. Failure mixes with success. The two flower heads in the center are drying out—notice their tightly curling rays—perhaps without ever turning into the tan puffballs that are normally their next incarnation. Chalk it up to the drought, and no one will argue with you. As is true for most plants, this one has spiderwebs on it, spiderwebs that collect debris, dust, stray objects blown by the wind. Now add the stickiness of camphorweed itself. Result: parachuted seeds trapped in places where they do no good. Do you see five of them? Let’s count:

•  the long, dark seed at the bottom, a bit left of center;
•  the one resting on its side on the rim of the narrower flower head;
•  the one stuck to the bulging base of that flower head;
•  the one at the top of the picture, a bit left of center;
•  the one stuck to a stem in the upper right.

Will any of these seeds ever make it into the prairie soil and begin to grow? If not these, then others, because dozens of camphorweed plants had sprung up around the place where I sat. But all, they and any descendants whose seeds don’t blow far enough away, are still doomed, for this part of the old airport is scheduled to be built on.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Camphorweed Triumphant

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Fully open flower head of camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris.

This is what a camphorweed looks like when its rays are fully extended. Of all the camphorweed flower heads I’ve come upon in recent years, few were spread out as wide as this one at Austin’s former Mueller Airport three days ago, so I felt compelled to make a portrait of what I saw as a prairie pinwheel and mandala.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(For those interested in technique, see points 2 and 4 in About My Techniques.)

Camphorweed Lights the Way

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Opening bud of camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris.

Although most of the structures of Austin’s former Mueller Airport have been demolished as part of the redevelopment of the site, one thing that remains is the old air traffic control tower. Those of you who don’t remember it or have never seen it can have a look at some photographs posted by the Austin American-Statesman. Then tell me if you don’t find today’s “towering” camphorweed bud, all one inch of it, a better emblem of the site. I even give you leave to see it as a resinous torch tipped with yellow flames guiding the way.

As yesterday’s post mentioned, Heterotheca subaxillaris is commonly called camphorweed because of its distinctive odor. That scent is conveyed by the sticky resin that most parts of the plant exude in tiny drops; you can see dozens of those droplets on the green bracts and stem shown here. As I wished yesterday that you could smell the plant, I wish today that you could feel its stickiness on your fingers.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 10, 2011 at 10:09 AM

Camphorweed bud and flower

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Bud and flower head of camphorweed, Heterotheca subaxillaris.

The Texas thistles are mostly faded now, but in spite of the drought other flowers have come into their own. Yesterday I went back to Austin’s old Mueller Airport, which ceased functioning as such in 1999 and began to get redeveloped in around 2004. Since the last plane landed there twelve years ago, multiple times that number of native plant species have returned. One that was prominent on yesterday’s visit was Heterotheca subaxillaris, commonly called camphorweed.

To give you a sense of scale, the bud at the top of the picture that’s beginning to open is perhaps a third of an inch (roughly one centimeter) across. If you take a close look at that bud, you’ll see one characteristic that sets camphorweed apart from many of its relatives in the DYC clan (that’s the exasperated acronym for “darn yellow composites,” a reference to all those yellow daisy-type flowers that can be hard to distinguish): each of the pointy bracts that surround the base of the bud is outlined in dark red.

And now I have a deep metaphysical question for you: when does a bud cease to be a bud and begin to be a flower? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that the object in the lower portion of the photograph is no longer a bud; it’s still a flower (in the conventional sense of the word), but it’s fading. Its rays are conspicuously curled up, and its disk is beginning to dry out.

Regardless of the stage of flowerness of the plant, another distinctive characteristic of this species, and the one for which it was named, is the pleasant camphor scent imparted to the fingers of anyone touching the plant. I wish I could send that to you over the Internet, but this time technology fails me.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

(You can visit the USDA website for more information about Heterotheca subaxillaris, including a clickable map showing the many states where the species grows.)

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 9, 2011 at 10:18 AM

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