Portraits of Wildflowers

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Posts Tagged ‘seeds

Nelumbo lutea

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At 40 Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston on the morning of September 18th I zoomed my telephoto lens to 400mm to photograph both flowers and seed heads of the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. I’d have thought water lilies and this lotus are in the same botanical family, and in fact both used to be included in Nymphaeaceae. Now, however, botanists have found evidence to move the lotus into its own family, Nelumbonaceae, whose only extant genus is Nelumbo.



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From Mark Twain in London to ice sheets in Antarctica


As Emily Petsko reported in a 2018 article in Mental Floss:

“In 1897, an English journalist from the New York Journal contacted Twain to inquire whether the rumors that he was gravely ill or already dead were indeed true. Twain wrote a response, part of which made it into the article that ran in the Journal on June 2, 1897:”

Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London … The great humorist, while not perhaps very robust, is in the best of health. He said: ‘I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.’

People later exaggerated Twain’s last sentence into “The report of my death was a great exaggeration, and now we unfortunately find the incorrect version quoted much more often than the historical one.

I bring that up—and I’m not exaggerating—because a lot of people in the media and in government have been exaggerating, sometimes greatly, the dangers from the world’s changing climate. Physicist* Steven Koonin wrote about that in the September 19th Wall Street Journal. His editorial bears the title “Don’t Believe the Hype About Antarctica’s Melting Glaciers” and the subhead “Two studies carefully explore the factors at play, but the headlines are only meant to raise alarm.” Here’s how Koonin’s editorial begins:

Alarming reports that the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking misrepresent the science under way to understand a very complex situation. Antarctica has been ice-covered for at least 30 million years. The ice sheet holds about 26.5 million gigatons of water (a gigaton is a billion metric tons, or about 2.2 trillion pounds). If it were to melt completely, sea levels would rise 190 feet. Such a change is many millennia in the future, if it comes at all.

Much more modest ice loss is normal in Antarctica. Each year, some 2,200 gigatons (or 0.01%) of the ice is discharged in the form of melt and icebergs, while snowfall adds almost the same amount. The difference between the discharge and addition each year is the ice sheet’s annual loss. That figure has been increasing in recent decades, from 40 gigatons a year in the 1980s to 250 gigatons a year in the 2010s.

But the increase is a small change in a complex and highly variable process. For example, Greenland’s annual loss has fluctuated significantly over the past century. And while the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.


You’re welcome to read the rest of Koonin’s editorial.



* Some climate alarmist activists have made the ad hominem “argument” that because Koonin is a physicist he has no right to say anything about the climate. Of course someone as steeped in data evaluation and the scientific method as a physicist can spend time studying a situation in another field and draw valid conclusions. In fact Koonin has done enough recent research to write an entire book: Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. You can read a December 2021 discussion he had on the subject.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Three rather different takes on cattail fluff

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Raising the ante on yesterday’s “two rather different takes” theme,
here you have three views of cattails (Typha sp.) shedding fluff.

The most advanced stage is at the top, the least advanced in the middle.
All three pictures come from Round Rock’s Meadow Lake Park on August 23rd.



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Over the past year and a half I’ve reported on various illegal moves to treat people with different racial and ethnic characteristics differently. The other day I became aware of yet another one. Here’s the introductory paragraph in a class action lawsuit filed against Amazon on July 20:

Amazon.com enters into contracts with “delivery service partners” to bring packages to its patrons. It also engages it patently unlawful racial discrimination by providing a $10,000 bonus to “Black, Latinx, and Native American entrepreneurs” who act as its delivery service partners, while withholding this stipend from Asian-Americans and whites who deliver Amazon packages. Plaintiff Crystal Bolduc brings suit to enjoin Amazon.com from continuing these racially discriminatory practices, and to recover classwide damages on behalf of everyone who has suffered unlawful racial discrimination on account of this program.

It took my country hundreds of years to finally adopt laws that put an end to racial and ethnic discrimination. It pains me to learn there are still Americans who want to flout those laws and go back to discriminating against people based on their immutable physical characteristics. It’s barbaric.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Cattails releasing seeds

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When I spent time at Round Rock’s Meadow Lake Park on August 24th I was happy to find that some of the cattails (Typha sp.) were shedding their numerous seeds. In the view above, the arcs of drying cattail leaves made the scene even more attractive to me. The slender green plants mixed in among the cattails are Symphyotrichum subulatum, known as baby’s breath aster, annual aster, eastern annual saltmarsh aster, Blackland aster, wireweed and hierba del marrano (which we might translate as pigweed).

The second picture shows something I don’t recall ever seeing before. My first thought was that this cattail stalk had split in an early stage of development and each piece went on to produce seeds. Now I’m wondering if the hanging piece might have broken off from the far side of the main seed head, though I think I looked at this from different positions and would have noticed such an obviously missing chunk. Mysteries.



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On August 24th Quillette published “The Energy of Nations” by John Constable and Debora Lieberman. The first two words in the article’s subtitle, “Energy blindness is leading to policy blunder,” refer to the fact that many people don’t understand what energy is:

Indeed, we hold surprisingly few scientifically accurate cognitive intuitions to guide decisions about the character of energy and its importance. Without science, we are more or less energy blind, in the same way, perhaps, that fish are blind to the idea of waterThis is to be expected, perhaps, since the concept of energy was a recent development in science, dating only from the early to mid-19th century. And part of the problem we have in understanding this concept is that it is extremely abstract. Energy isn’t a substance like coal or oil; rather, it is an abstract property of all substances, namely the capacity to cause change in the world—to do work, a potential measured in joules.

The next paragraphs make an important point:

Joules can be realised as a property of the chemical bonds in fossil fuels, the forces holding an atom together, moving objects such as flowing wind or water, electromagnetic solar radiation, and objects acting on each other through gravity. All have the capacity to cause change, but this capacity varies in both quantity, which is intuitively obvious, and much more importantly, its quality, its ability to do work, to change the world, and here the mind is particularly weak in grasping the essentials. Yes, there is a large quantity of energy in the sunshine and in the wind blowing around the globe. But that energy is of very low quality and not available to do much useful work. There is also a great deal of energy in the vibrating atoms in the objects around you in the room as you read this article, or in falling raindrops—lots of energy, yet all basically useless. Wind and sunlight are only a little better. There is a reason why no creatures make a living by extracting energy from the wind—the quality level is just too low—and there is a reason that the organisms that manage to build lives from solar energy, plants, are relatively simple and, generally speaking, stationary. There is only so much you can do with a low-quality form of energy like solar radiation at the surface of the Earth. Creatures that eat plants can be more complex; creatures that eat herbivores can be more complex still. 

The science of thermodynamics tells us that for a fuel to have high value to us, what matters is the quality, and that the fuel must have a very low degree of disorder (low entropy) if it is to support a complex society such as our own. But we have few intuitions of this, and our energy blindness requires us to rely on evidence and reason to tell us that fossil fuels are of high thermodynamic quality, as is fissile uranium. By comparison, the plentiful energy of renewables such as wind and solar is of low quality. In fact, both wind and solar radiation are so disordered that their entropy is close to that of low-temperature random heat, that is, the random movement of atoms and molecules. Their potential to do work—to cause change—is very limited.

Moreover, transforming sunlight and wind into grid electricity requires turbines and photovoltaic panels, themselves complex and expensive states of matter, as well as any number of ingenious and expensive grid kludges such as batteries to render it useable. That makes renewable energy intrinsically expensive. The sunshine and wind might be free, but not the extraction, conversion, and stable delivery to market.

You’re welcome to read the full article for more details. And you can find out a whole lot more in Alex Epstein’s book Fossil Future, which I finished reading a couple of weeks ago.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 2, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Sunflower Sunday again

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Once again from August 14th in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and Mopac here’s a “common” sunflower, Helianthus annuus. The view from behind revealed a curlicue ray floret. Also notice the ant on the stalk.
Have a closer look from a different frame:

As sunflowers dry out, their rays tend to go from yellow to white, and curlicues become more common, as shown below. (And did you know that curlicue is just curly + cue, where cue comes from French queue, meaning ‘tail’? When people queue up for something they form a metaphorical tail.)


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I recently came across Gabriel Nadales’s article “I once hated America, but now I can’t wait to be an American.” The author is a former antifa member who had a change of heart:

To be sure, America has its problems. But as I learned more about America’s ideals and what it aspires to be, a country of equal opportunity, freedom, and civil discourse, I began to find a true sense of belonging. I realized that America is an imperfect nation defined not by our faults but by our accomplishments. It’s a promise to work toward greater equality and freedom for all, regardless of your skin color or background.

This equality of opportunity is exactly the reason I’ve been able to find success as a brown Mexican immigrant. In this country, I am judged by my merits, not my skin color. America has given me the equal opportunity and freedom to choose my own path despite my minority and immigrant status. The idea that I can believe in myself is incredibly empowering.


You’re welcome to read Gabriel Nadales’s full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Sinuous, dry, mysterious

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A bit of mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea) was flowering in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 14th. Even more than the fresh flowers, this sinuous dry seed stalk caught my photographic fancy.


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I call your attention to Harlyn De Luna’s August 8th article for The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, “Speech isn’t violence; it’s how we avoid it.” The article is in line with something I’ve been pointing out in recent commentaries: the way transgressive activists do violence to our language by pushing to redefine familiar words in ideological ways. Among the most flagrant attempts at redefinition have been man, woman, and mother. De Luna’s article focuses on another: violence. The word’s meaning has always been grounded in physical force, even if writers have used it metaphorically from time to time (as I did two sentences ago when I wrote about doing violence to our language). Now activists want to sever the word from physical reality altogether, so that any idea they disagree with is automatically “violence.” They even go one step further with the rhyming slogan “Silence is violence.” Not only does saying something that the activists disagree with count as violence, so does saying nothing at all. You must mouth the statements they want you to mouth or else you’re committing an act of violence.

You’re welcome to read Harlyn De Luna’s article about that.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 19, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,


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This is the first time I’ve ever shown a member of the genus Rumex here because some of the species in Austin are native while others are not, and I don’t know how to tell them apart. In the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on August 14th I photographed a conspicuous group of plants and posted a few pictures in the Texas Flora group, where Floyd Waller identified what I’d found as Rumex altissimus, called tall dock; in fact the plants’ height had attracted me to them in the first place. I then checked botanist Bill Carr’s Travis County plant list and confirmed that the species is native. A website from Illinois notes that it can grow to 4 ft. tall. That article also says this: “Like other docks, [it] is widely regarded as an unattractive weed and often destroyed. In general, species of the Smartweed family suffer from a lack of appreciation by members of the public (and even professional ecologists). However, [this] is a native plant that occurs frequently in natural habitats, and it is a potentially important food source for some insects….” It may well be those insects that attracted the spider that made the web on the dry tall dock plant shown below.



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Three related insights


1) A long time ago I noticed something about politics. A bill in a legislature would be under discussion, with opponents saying that if the bill became law it would cause X to happen, where X was something bad. Supporters of the bill would say that the bill wouldn’t actually bring about X, and would ask the opponents a question: If we add a provision to the bill that specifically prohibits X, then would you support the bill? At that point the opponents would raise a completely unrelated objection to the bill, thereby indicating that X hadn’t really been a problem in the first place; it was just an excuse. The real objection was one that the opponents couldn’t admit because it would reveal how beholden they were to some special interest that funded them and for which the public had little sympathy.

2) One morning two or three decades ago I was watching a Sunday television talk show. At one point the moderator interviewed a partisan who came on the show to oppose a bill that was pending in Congress. The partisan said that passage of the bill would cause X to happen, where X was some dire consequence that I no longer remember. The moderator, however, had done his homework; he pulled out a copy of the pending bill and read aloud the section relevant to the partisan’s claim that X would happen. It was clear to everyone listening that the provision in the bill would not cause X to happen. The partisan was now exposed as being at best incorrect, or at worst a liar. Nevertheless, twice more during the interview the partisan insisted that if the bill passed, X would happen.

3) Now jump forward to last week and the Orwellianly named “Inflation Reduction Act,” which allows for the addition of 87,000 additional tax agents at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Proponents of the bill had been assuring everyone that those additional tax agents would not be conducting a higher ratio of audits on Americans earning under $400,000 than the IRS had been conducting before. Skeptical Senators replied to supporters: if that’s the case, then there’s no harm in confirming what you say by adding an amendment to the bill:

To prevent the use of additional Internal Revenue Service Funds from being used for audits of taxpayers with taxable incomes below $400,000 in order to protect low- and middle-income earning American taxpayers from an onslaught of audits from an army of new Internal Revenue Service auditors funded by an unprecedented, nearly $, infusion of new funds.

Guess what: not a single Senate supporter of the bill was willing to add that amendment. You can read more in an article by Matt Welch in Reason.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 18, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Another water-loving plant

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In addition to pickerelweed, another water-loving plant I found at the edge of the pond along Gault Lane on July 7th was Ludwigia octovalvis, known as narrow-leaf water primrose, Mexican primrose willow, and seedbox. Its yellow flowers always bring cheer, and its drying seed capsules make colorful miniature sculptures; the one above even suggests a windmill.


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I was familiar with the school choice movement but hadn’t ever heard it called backpack funding till two days ago. As things are structured in the United States, property owners pay taxes based on the value of their property, and a portion (usually the largest portion) of those taxes is given to local public schools. That’s the case even for taxpayers who don’t have children because education is considered a public good.

Two main objections to that system have arisen in the past few decades. The first objection is that many public schools receive plenty of tax money but fail to educate their children. You can go online (as I reported last year) to see how abysmal many of the scores on standardized tests have been, even as funding has kept going up. The second and more recent objection is that increasingly many public schools have been turning into “social justice” factories to indoctrinate students in “woke” beliefs.

While people in the school choice movement agree that education is a public good, they also believe that tax money should not automatically go to our existing public schools but instead should follow each student to a school the student’s parents choose. The idea is that if a certain public school is failing to educate its students, parents can send their children to a public school that does a better job with education. If no public school in a given area is doing a good job, discontented parents can choose a private school that does a good job. If no good private school exists in the area, parents can pool their children’s allocated tax money and fund a new school that will follow principles designed to provide a good education.

Objections to the school choice movement come from where you’d expect them to come from: vested interests like educational bureaucrats and teachers’ unions, who don’t want to give up their monopoly and the sinecures that come with it. Objections also come from ideologues who don’t want to lose their power to indoctrinate students.

Me, born on the Fourth of July, I’m all for freedom here: my school, my choice.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 15, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Pale pentagon

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After not having taken any nature pictures for a week and a half, I inaugurated August by going out onto the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin. The first thing I found on that first day of the month—and for only the second time ever—was a plant that does things in fives: Mirabilis albida, known as pale umbrellawort, white four o’clock, and hairy four o’clock. Local botanist Bill Carr notes that it is “an extremely variable species found in a broad range of woodland to disturbed open habitats.” The USDA map shows this wildflower growing in places as far apart as Quebec and southern California.


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A University of Texas at Austin study found that subsidies per megawatt-hour of electricity amount to roughly 50 cents for coal, $1 to $2 for oil and natural gas, $15 to $57 for wind and $43 to $320 for solar.

That’s from an August 7th editorial in The Wall Street Journal. It explains the boasting claim that electricity from solar and wind in the United States is now cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels. Remove those enormous subsidies and the claim collapses. Also conveniently seldom mentioned in conjunction with the claim is that most solar panels are made in China, which overwhelmingly uses fossil fuels to manufacture them and then to ship them to the United States—just as fossil fuels are predominantly used to mine and process the rare earth elements necessary to make solar devices function, and to ship those elements to China from the places in other parts of the world where they’re mined.

It’s important to have all the relevant facts and statistics when evaluating something.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 9, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Clematis drummondii swirls

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I never get tired of the swirly strands that fertilized Clematis drummondii flowers produce each summer. Compared to the photographs two days ago, this is an intimate view, showing a span of maybe two inches. The photograph dates back to July 15th in Great Hills Park.


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As soon as ancient human remains are excavated, archaeologists begin the work of determining a number of traits about the individual, including age, race and gender.

But a new school of thought within archaeology is pushing scientists to think twice about assigning gender to ancient human remains.

It is possible to determine whether a skeleton is from a biological male or female using objective observations based on the size and shape of the bones. Criminal forensic detectives, for example, do it frequently in their line of work.

But gender activists argue scientists cannot know how an ancient individual identified themselves.

That’s the beginning of an article by Christian Schneider in The College Fix headlined “Gender activists push to bar anthropologists from identifying human remains as ‘male’ or ‘female.'” What the article reports on is just one more instance of “the woke” pushing to extend their ideology into the past.

I assume that the phrase “how an ancient individual identified themselves” is Schenider recording how the activists would put it, rather than the standard “how ancient individuals identified themselves.”

You’re welcome to read the full article, which includes this:

San Jose State archaeology Professor Elizabeth Weiss told The Fix that eliminating gender classifications amounts to “ideologically-motivated fudging.” Weiss said there is a move among academics “toward getting all of the academy’s favored shibboleths to accord with one another.”

Weiss said the recent explosion in the number of people identifying as transgender suggests that trend is “social and not biological,” so “retroactively de-sexing obscures this obvious fact.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 26, 2022 at 2:33 AM


with 10 comments

Here’s a word for you: terete. It means ‘barrel-shaped.’ That fits these insect eggs, perhaps from a stinkbug, that I saw on a couple of plants in the southern section of Great Hills Park on July 15th. In the top picture the grass seems to have been silver bluestem, Bothriochloa laguroides. In the bottom picture the vine was indubitably (there’s another word for you) Clematis drummondii, colloquially called old man’s beard. Poking its drying snouty seed head into that strand-rich chaos was a Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera.



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Four months ago I reported on a March 7th article on the satirical website The Babylon Bee that bore the headline “Biden Sells Alaska Back To Russia So We Can Start Drilling For Oil There Again.” The strangest thing about it was that USA Today went through the motions of fact-checking it. The newspaper found that the article was indeed satire yet still felt the need to add: “There is no evidence Biden plans to sell Alaska.”

I recently became aware of a similar incident from 2018 in which The Babylon Bee had run an article headlined “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication.” In that case the self-proclaimed fact-checking site snopes.com felt the need to investigate the claim. It really did. At least it came to the right conclusion.

Similarly, in 2021, when Covid was still a big problem, snopes.com looked into the satirical claim that CNN ran a banner announcing that Taliban fighters correctly wore masks during their take-over of Afghanistan. In that case the story had originated in The Babylon Bee but then circulated with no reference to its satirical source.

For more information about the clearly satirical Babylon Bee nevertheless repeatedly getting fact-checked, you can read a 2019 article by Bill Zeiser.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 22, 2022 at 4:22 AM

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