Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘strange

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

Carstopper

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While driving on Park Road 1C in Bastrop County on August 23rd I spied a plant standing right at the edge of the pavement that was so unusual it made me pull over as soon as I could. It turned out to be the same Liatris aspera, known as tall gayfeather and tall blazing-star, that you recently saw here (do have a look back at the second picture in that post for comparison), but fasciation had greatly distorted the upper part of this budding specimen. The closer view below, which shows the plant rotated about 90° from its orientation when I took the first picture, reveals details of the super-duper wide flattened stalk, along with other irregularities. Call it strange and you’ll get no argument from me.

I chose to post these pictures today to coincide with Wonderful Weirdos Day, even if the creators of that celebration, being people, had their own kind in mind. All I can say is fasciated plants are my kind of people.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 9, 2020 at 4:40 AM

One strange Mexican hat

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On July 20th near the Taylor Draper entrance to Great Hills Park I came across one strange dude of a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). It had way more ray florets than a Mexican hat is supposed to have, and for once fasciation didn’t seem to account for it. Oh well, we take our weirdnesses wherever and however we find them.

I’m thankful to Dr. George Yatskievych at the University of Texas for providing an explanation: “Replacement of flowers is a bit different process [than fasciation].  Each meristematic cell on the receptacle produces a set of cells with the potentiality to become either a ray or disc floret.  Regulatory developmental genes in more than one gene family determine the outcome of the differentiation…. This accounts for ‘rayless’ mutants, as well as heads in which part of the disc has become replaced with rays.  This includes so-called ‘doubled’ heads in groups like zinnias and dahlias that have extra cycles of rays toward the periphery of the disc, as well as odder mutants with rays appearing in an atypical locations, such as the center of a disc.  In some cases, this switch to a different floral morphology is caused by something that disrupts normal development of the head (such as insects or micro-organisms), but in other cases there is a genetic mutation (in which case the plants will tend to pass the mutation to at least part of the next generation).  One of the more interesting mutations that I have seen pops up occasionally in Gaillardia, in which the marginal florets have corollas that are enlarged, but are still basically shaped like a disc floret at their tips. The bottom line is that there can be more than one cause, but it always comes down to the expression of regulatory genes during floral development.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 5, 2020 at 4:45 AM

Firewheel seed head on a sinuous stalk

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Today’s portrait of a firewheel seed head (Gaillardia pulchella) comes from June 17th near the northeast corner of Mopac and Braker Lane. If you count the color on the curiously bent and re-bent stalk as red, then the picture provides the requisite red, white, and blue that have come to symbolize Independence Day in the United States, those being the three colors of the American flag. The firewheel’s sinuous stem when viewed sideways, whether left or right, conveniently traces out the first letter in both names of the photographer, whose birthday has never failed to coincide with the national holiday.

Perhaps because of that coincidence in dates, and certainly because of my nature, I’ve always felt a connection to the founding period in this country’s history. The story goes that when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention finally emerged from their Philadelphia meeting room in 1787, a woman stopped Benjamin Franklin and asked him what form of government they’d given the country. His famous two-part reply, first factual and then oracular, was: “A republic, if you can keep it.” Now here we are 233 years later, and recent events make it seem more and more likely we won’t be able to keep it. I hope we can.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 4, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Fasciated double Mexican hat

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My first instance of fasciation for 2020 came on May 16th along Lost Horizon Drive. Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) in my neighborhood were approaching their peak around then, so I made plenty of portraits, individually and in small groups. (That’s also where I photographed a beetle on a buffalo gourd flower.) On the way back to my car after working for a couple of hours I noticed the double Mexican hat shown here. The fact that the flower stem was a little flattened suggested that fasciation was at work. What I find unusual, even for that phenomenon, is that the flower head on the right was so much more developed than the one on the left. If you’d like to see other instances of fasciation, you can scroll through some.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 18, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Mexican hat on a strangely curving stalk

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From a “vacant” lot in northwest Austin on May 19th comes this Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) on a stalk that had curved so far it left the developing flower head upside down. The saturated reds and yellows of the greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium) and Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) in the background make this picture as much about color as form.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 1, 2020 at 4:39 AM

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