Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘strange

Icing strikes again

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When the Austin weather forecast on January 1st said that temperatures would drop into the high 20s by Sunday morning, I knew I’d have to go out and check local frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) again to see if any performed their ice trick. Some did, though the formations were fewer and mostly a lot smaller than on December 12th. Nevertheless, I found ways to portray what ice there was.

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A few years ago I read Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. The primary author was the late Hans Rosling, aided by his son Ola Rosling and Ola’s wife Anna Rosling Rönnlund. The book does a great job in bringing forth facts and statistics to document the progress our world has been making, despite many people’s belief to the contrary. I highly recommend Factfulness. You can also find lots of facts at gapminder.org that led Hans Rosling to the conclusion that the world has been getting better.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 3, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Another way-out-of-season wildflower

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Far outnumbering the lone way-out-of season bluebonnet I photographed along Mopac on December 9th were the many Engelmann daisies (Engelmannia peristenia) on the same embankment. I saw plenty of these flowers, along with lots of other Engelmann daisy plants that looked fresh and healthy but hadn’t yet produced any flowers. Marshall Enquist gives the normal blooming season for the species as March through July, so these Engelmann daisies were only a little less of a rarity in December than the bluebonnet. This season’s first good frost on December 11th apparently didn’t hurt the Engelmann daisies because I’m still seeing plenty of them flowering along Mopac.

Both pictures show the typical concave (pinched-in) configuration of the ray florets as a bud opens.

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The other day we watched the film Makala, which means ‘charcoal’ in Swahili. The documentary follows Kasongo, a rural Congolese man who ekes out a bare living laboriously cutting down trees, turning the wood into charcoal, and trekking that charcoal to a town to sell it. If you want to appreciate how good we have it in first-world countries, watch Makala. To learn more about the movie, you can read a review by Roger Ebert.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2021 at 4:28 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

Bluebonnet flowering in December!

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A week or so back we were heading north on the Mopac access road when the Lady Eve spied a bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) flowering. Bluebonnets typically reach their peak in April and fade away by May, so while it’s not unusual in December for this species to put out basal rosettes of leaves in preparation for the following spring, it’s highly unusual for a bluebonnet to flower now.

Because of the rarity, yesterday morning I went back with my camera gear, parked adjacent to the stretch of Mopac where Eve had glimpsed the bluebonnet (but I as the driver hadn’t), and walked along the highway embankment to see if I could find the plant—and find it I did. The fact that we haven’t even had any frost yet must have helped produce and maintain this prodigy. Even as the inflorescence shown above was beginning to show its age, a fresh one was opening:

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 10, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Shelf fungus

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At Palmetto State Park on November 23rd I photographed several kinds of shelf fungi. Not till I processed this picture the next day did I notice a spider over on the left side—and a strange spider it was, with only six legs. What happened to the other two, I don’t know. You’re welcome to click the excerpt below for a closer look at the six-legged spider.

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I call your attention to the article “The Empowering of the American Mind: 10 Principles for Opposing Thought Reform in K-12,” in which Greg Lukianoff fleshes out each of these:

  • Principle 1: No compelled speech, thought, or belief.
  • Principle 2: Respect for individuality, dissent, and the sanctity of conscience.
  • Principle 3: Teachers & administrators must demonstrate epistemic humility.
  • Principle 4: Foster the broadest possible curiosity, critical thinking skills, and discomfort with certainty.
  • Principle 5: Foster independence, not moral dependency.
  • Principle 6: Do not teach children to think in cognitive distortions.
  • Principle 7: Do not teach the ‘Three Great Untruths.’
  • Principle 8: Take student mental health more seriously.
  • Principle 9: Resist the temptation to reduce complex students to limiting labels. 
  • Principle 10: If it’s broke, fix it. Be willing to form new institutions that empower students and educate them with principles of free, diverse, and pluralistic society.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 5, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Hitched

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As a well-known and often misquoted statement by John Muir tells us: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Along those lines but nowhere near as cosmic was this aging four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris linearifolia) I found in my part of town on May 21st that had somehow managed to get itself hitched up to a rain-lily (Zephyranthes drummondii).

And here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “Many may be shocked to discover that independent researchers are generally only able to replicate the results of about one third of all biomedical and psychological science studies. This means there is currently no reason to give particular credence to the claims or conclusions of any single published claim merely by virtue of peer-review publication. The difficulty of establishing the validity of new alleged discoveries in the social sciences is often not readily apparent to those lacking the disciplinary expertise necessary to critically evaluate them. This problem is exacerbated by recent findings that many public misunderstandings of psychological research stem less from bad reporting or science writing than from scientists themselves overstating and overselling their findings to reporters and to an unsuspecting public.” — Edward Cantu and Lee Jussim, “Microaggressions, Questionable Science, and Free Speech,” Texas Review of Law and Politics, 2021.

If you’d like a more-detailed account of the “irreproducibility crisis,” you’re welcome to read a report entitled “Shifting Sands.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 28, 2021 at 4:34 AM

A strangely desaturated landscape

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While out driving in Austin on March 20th with no particular destination, I turned north off McNeil Dr. onto the confusingly named E. McNeil Rd. Soon we couldn’t help noticing that the land and trees on our left seemed oddly faded, almost as if we’d been teleported into a drier climate than Austin’s. The view on our right side offered an explanation: a tall stack and other machinery of the Austin White Lime Company. Ever-present rock dust from the quarry had settled wherever the wind blew it in the vicinity, causing the strangely washed-out look that caught our attention. If you’re familiar with the normal green of Ashe juniper trees (Juniperus ashei), compare that to the dullness of the two in the first picture’s lower left and the one below. Another comparison could be to a photograph last fall in which I purposely reduced the color saturation.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 27, 2021 at 4:41 AM

A second round of frostweed ice this season

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After I awoke yesterday morning and saw that our outdoor thermometer showed exactly 32°F (0°C), I knew that after the sun rose I’d be heading down to Great Hills Park to find out if the frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) had gone through a second round of their famous ice trick. The view from where I parked didn’t look promising, but once I walked down the slope to the frostweed plants, I saw that there’d be enough ice to work on. In fact I ended up spending a little over three hours there.

I took the third picture at almost 11 o’clock, when the temperature
had risen to 45° and the frostweed ice was slowly melting.

If you’re not familiar with this unusual phenomenon, what happens is that when the temperature drops to freezing the frostweed plant draws water up from underground via its roots and extrudes it through the splitting sides of its stalk as delicate sheets of ice, mostly close to the ground. You can learn a lot more about the science of frostweed ice in an article by Bob Harms.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2020 at 4:34 AM

Frostweed ice and frostweed frost

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The overnight temperature dropped enough from November 30th into December 1st for frostweed (Verbesina virginica) to do its magic ice trick, as I found when I spent a couple of hours that morning taking pictures in the shade in Great Hills Park (the sun hadn’t risen above the trees yet). I made photographs with and without flash; the latter came out softer and bluer, as you see above. If you’re new to the frostweed ice phenomenon, you may want to read an excellent article about it by Bob Harms.

Many frostweed leaves had actual frost on them, as shown in the second picture.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 2, 2020 at 4:33 AM

Flourishing fasciation

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The heavily fasciated tall gayfeather (Liatris aspera) that we saw in Bastrop was only budding on August 23rd, so back we went on September 6th to find out what the flowers would look like once they emerged on this distorted plant. Even after two more weeks of development, the flowers were just barely beginning to come out, so I figured we might have to wait a week or two longer and make the 95-mile round trip yet again. Fortunately, as we began heading home we spotted another fasciated specimen about a mile away, and it was fully flowering. In the picture above, the flower stalk in the distance lets you compare a normal specimen to the fasciated one in the foreground. The picture below gives you a closer look at the heart of the strangeness.

For more information about fasciation, you can read this article or this other one. The phenomenon could even serve as a reminder of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s iconoclastic statement in “Self-Reliance“:

“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2020 at 4:41 AM

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