Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘seeds

Black and white versions

with 21 comments

 

In a comment on this morning’s post Alessandra Chaves suggested the image of tall goldenrod seed head remains (Solidago altissima) against wispy clouds would look good in black and white. Of the infinitely many ways to convert a given color photograph to monochrome, here are two.

 

 

You can compare these to the original color photograph.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 24, 2023 at 10:53 AM

Solidago sentinel

with 31 comments

 

At the pond by the Costco in suburban Cedar Park on the morning of January 11th wispy clouds enhanced the remains of what I take to be tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima. Though these plants’ yellow to yellow-orange flowers brighten up our autumns, the dried-out seed heads stand as sentinels far into the year that follows. Up wasn’t the only direction I could look at goldenrod seed heads to see blue; down worked as well, and it brought me a different shade of that color:

 

 

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Disconcertingly many measures that supporters claim will help disadvantaged groups actually end up harming them. You can read about that with respect to school discipline in a January 17th editorial by Jason L. Riley.

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 24, 2023 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , ,

What I found in the drizzle

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Forward into the new year, which you’ll be thrilled to know is very seveny because 7 x 17 x 17 = 2023.
The most recent year to be a prime number was 2017 and the next one will be 2027. Once again, seveny.

 

Let’s begin the year with a little look-back at the misty morning of December 12th at the Riata Trace Pond, where I found some luscious bushy bluestem seed heads (Andropogon tenuispatheus) covered in drizzle droplets. In the background you see brief traces of some falling droplets.

I also photographed a bird that I later learned is a white-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis.

 

  

And how could I resist a few drizzle-dropped flowers of gulf vervain, Verbena xutha?

 

 

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Speaking of sevens, I’ve been aware of the name Loren Eiseley for most of my life but until last month had never read anything by that naturalist who lived from 1907 to 1977 and who wrote prose with a sensibility more poetic than that of many people who identify themselves as poets today. Take an essay called “The Slit,” in which he describes working his way through a narrow slit in some sandstone and coming face to face with an embedded skull:

It was not, of course, human. I was deep, deep below the time of man in a remote age near the beginning of the reign of mammals. I squatted on my heels in the narrow ravine, and we stared a little blankly at each other, the skull and I. There were marks of generalized primitiveness in that low, pinched brain case and grinning jaw that marked it as lying far back along those converging roads where… cat and man and weasel must leap into a single shape.

… The skull lay tilted in such a manner that it stared, sightless, up at me as though I, too, were already caught a few feet above him in the strata and, in my turn, were staring upward at that strip of sky which the ages were carrying farther away from me beneath the tumbling debris of falling mountains. The creature had never lived to see a man, and I, what was it I was never going to see? …

I restrained a panicky impulse to hurry upward after that receding sky that was outlined above the Slit. Probably, I thought, as I patiently began the task of chiseling into the stone around the skull, I would never again excavate a fossil under conditions which led to so vivid an impression that I was already one myself. The truth is that we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world in which living creatures flow with little more consistency than clouds from age to age.

 

For wonderful prose and insights into nature and evolution you can turn to The Loren Eiseley Reader and also The Immense Journey, a collection of his essays from the 1940s and ’50s.

 

 

© 2023 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 1, 2023 at 4:32 AM

Veteran

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For the many times over the past decade that I visited a flowerful piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Boulevard north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville you could call me a veteran of that field. I went there most recently on Veterans Day, November 11, and discovered that development had expanded since my previous visit. More of the portion that had until recently hung on was now scraped of vegetation, with only a fringe in the back still left. That’s where I found things to photograph on that overcast and about-to-rain morning. Probably most conspicuous were many scattered tufts of Clematis drummondii that had turned feathery, one of which you see above. I also noticed some seed head remains of common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; on one I encountered a shield-backed bug (family Scutelleridae), seemingly Sphyrocoris obliquus. In spite of the bug’s species name, its “here’s looking at you” gaze was anything but oblique.

 

   

(Pictures from the New Mexico trip will resume tomorrow.)

 

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The basics of great education have been around for thousands of years; it simply doesn’t take tremendous amounts of money to teach well. In an English classroom, we rarely need more than a pen and paper and a book or an essay to get the job done. Small class sizes, high expectations for student academic performance and behavior, and diligent, invested, highly respected educators backed up by an administration who supports teachers over parents and students would fix so many of these problems. But until it starts getting better, fewer and fewer ambitious and competent youngsters will see teaching as an attractive profession. And so the teacher shortage problem is going to continue to get worse.

That’s the conclusion of Elizabeth Emery’s January 2020 article “The Public School Teacher Attrition Crisis.” Schools have indeed worsened since then, in part because of the pandemic but still primarily because of the terrible attitudes and practices of administrators that Elizabeth Emery detailed in her article, and that caused her to quit teaching in a public school after just one full semester. You’re welcome to read the full article.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Wand blackroot

with 20 comments

 

A year ago in Bastrop State Park I chanced upon some tall, slender, and erect plants that were new to me: Pterocaulon virgatum, a member of the sunflower family known as wand blackroot. I caught the plants past their flowering peak, as you see above, when seed heads were already coming undone. The genus name means ‘winged stem’ (think of pterodactyl, the winged dinosaur), which we can see in the top photograph. Below, I noticed that the plant’s drying leaves were turning into corkscrews.

 

When I chanced upon this species again on September 17th in Houston’s Memorial Park, the plants looked so different that I never drew any connection to what I’d seen in Bastrop until someone in the Texas Flora group identified the Houston specimens as wand blackroot:

 

 

In fact my first glance made me suspect I was seeing a decomposing cattail, but it was a wand blackroot.

 

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Every language has its quirks in vocabulary. English, with more words than any other language, certainly has plenty of quirks. Take verbs with prefixes, for example.

You can consume, presume, and resume but you can’t just plain sume.

You can conspire, inspire, perspire, and even respire, but you can’t just plain spire.

You can conceive, deceive, perceive, receive, and even transceive, but you can’t just plain ceive.

You can eject, inject, deject, project, reject, object, and subject but you can’t just plain ject.

You can abstract, distract, detract, contract, protract, extract, and retract but you can’t just plain tract.

You can induce, produce, reduce, deduce, transduce, and even conduce and abduce and educe, but you can’t just plain duce.

If you’re up for an experiment (or down with one, as young people say, having turned the expression 180° for no obvious reason), try using sume, spire, ceive, ject, tract, and duce on their own as verbs in your conversations or writings and see how people react.

 

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

 

 

 

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2022 at 4:24 AM

Nelumbo lutea

with 15 comments

 

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

with 8 comments

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

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