Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘sunflower

Walking the walk, stalking the stalk

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My nature walk in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on July 10th had me stalking sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), not just their buds and flower heads but also their rough stalks that present so many opportunities for photographic abstractions. For this portrait I aimed down at a horizontal portion of a thick stalk. Note the two small ants on it. Note also that the stalk meaning ‘a stem’ and the stalk meaning ‘to pursue’ are unrelated. It’s not unusual for two words in a language to start out different and then coincidentally evolve in ways that lead them to end up the same.


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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 claimed that if the bill passed X would happen. What do you make of people who persist in repeating a verifiably false claim?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 21, 2021 at 6:45 AM

A sunflower bud unfurling its rays

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I was late tackling sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) this year. I finally took my first pictures of some on July 2nd but didn’t like the results. July 10th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 provided more magic. At about three minutes apart, here are two takes on a bud gracefully and asymmetrically unfurling its rays.


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And here are not two but three takes from Eric Hoffer‘s 1951 book The True Believer:

There is in us a tendency to locate the shaping forces of our existence outside ourselves. Success and failure are unavoidably related in our minds with the state of things around us. Hence it is that people with a sense of fulfillment think it a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change. The tendency to look for all causes outside ourselves persists even when it is clear that our state of being is the product of personal qualities such as ability, character, appearance, health and so on. “If anything ail a man,” says Thoreau, “so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even … he forthwith sets about reforming—the world.”

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business. This minding of other people’s business expresses itself in gossip, snooping and meddling, and also in feverish interest in communal, national and racial affairs. In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor’s shoulder or fly at his throat.

All active mass movements strive… to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ. “So tenaciously should we cling to the world revealed by the Gospel, that were I to see all the Angels of Heaven coming down to me to tell me something different, not only would I not be tempted to doubt a single syllable, but I would shut my eyes and stop my ears, for they would not deserve to be either seen or heard.” To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs. The fanatical Japanese in Brazil refused to believe for years the evidence of Japan’s defeat. The fanatical Communist refuses to believe any unfavorable report or evidence about Russia, nor will he be disillusioned by seeing with his own eyes the cruel misery inside the Soviet promised land. It is the true believer’s ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move. And it is the certitude of his infallible doctrine that renders the true believer impervious to the uncertainties, surprises and the unpleasant realities of the world around him. Thus the effectiveness of a doctrine should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity or the validity of the truths it embodies, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from his self and the world as it is. What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: it must be “contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure.”

Those insights about true believers in fanatical movements
resonate every bit as much today as they did 70 years ago.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 20, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Two disparate emblems from the Blackland Prairie

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On September 7th I headed out to the Whitehorse Ranch subdivision that’s been going up on the west side of Manor for the past few years. Ever on the lookout for new ways to portray familiar subjects, I noticed I could line up the soft bract of a snow-on-the-prairie plant (Euphorbia bicolor) with a sunflower (Helianthus annuus) beyond it, as you see above. I wasn’t the only one plying my trade there: men were working on nearby houses to the accompaniment of Mexican music. Because it was a construction site, I noticed a certain amount of junk lying around on the ground. One thing that caught my fancy was an “empty” and partly scrunched water bottle, inside of which the remaining bits of liquid had evaporated and then re-condensed on the inner surface. Picking up the bottle carefully so as not to dislodge the drops, I photographed the abstraction.

And here’s a quotation relevant to the second picture: “A drop of water, if it could write out its own history, would explain the universe to us.” — Lucy Larcom, The Unseen Friend, 1892.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 9, 2020 at 4:39 AM

Sunflowers on the prairie

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Behold the flower head of a “common” sunflower, Helianthus annuus,
on the Blackland Prairie in northeast Austin on August 24th.

Sunflower seed head remains also have their appeal, whether from the front or from behind.

As much as I normally don’t like shooting up into a white sky,
once in a while it serves as a good way to isolate a subject.

You may imagine the stem at the bottom of the second image continuing on into the stem
at the top of the third image. I didn’t do that on purpose but I like the way it came out.

©2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 9, 2019 at 4:41 AM

Soar, sunflower, soar

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Helianthus annuus. Cedar Park, Texas. June 22.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 10, 2017 at 3:34 AM

California sunflowers

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Outside the visitor center at the John Muir National Historic Site on November 2, 2016, I couldn’t help noticing a tall, bushy plant that I later learned is a California sunflower, Helianthus californicus, a species I hadn’t even known exists. Below is a closer look at one of its flower heads. Those of you in the depths of winter could probably use a dose of cheery yellow ‘long about now.

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© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 11, 2017 at 4:57 AM

Botanically speaking, fall is here.

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As you’ve been able to confirm from the recent pictures of snow-on-the-prairie and snow-on-the-mountain and goldenrod, central Texas has gone into full fall botanical mode, even if afternoon high temperatures are still around 93°F (34°C). Today and in the next bunch of posts you’ll get a look at some more of that autumnal activity.

One thing that native plant people look forward to in central Texas at this time of year is Maximilian sunflowers, Helianthus maximiliani. Not many have appeared so far this season, but on September 7th I photographed a few in a field along Grand Avenue Parkway in Pflugerville. Years ago I found hundreds of these sunflowers in that field but mowing has almost wiped them out there now.

Let me point out, as I’ve done in previous years, that the flower heads of Maximilian sunflowers tend to open asymmetrically. You can see that in the disk at the center of this flower head.

For an explanation (or reminder) of why today’s photograph shows dozens and dozens of flowers rather than just one, you can (re)visit a post from 2014.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 16, 2016 at 4:53 AM

Four years

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Four years ago on this date I launched into what has turned out to be an unbroken sequence of daily posts covering the rest of 2011, all of 2012 through 2014, and all of 2015 so far. To commemorate that, today I’ll begin a miniseries of one previously unshown picture a day from each of those five calendar years. Following that, you’ll have a fourth round of photographs from the great February trip to New Zealand, then some more Texas pictures, then a fifth and final round from New Zealand. After all that, it may finally be time to slow the pace a bit and post less obsessively, as you sane people do. That’s still likely to mean pictures frequently, even if not every day. (I know, I said the same thing a year ago, so let’s see what happens.)

The wildflower that appeared in these pages most often in 2011 was the sunflower, so here from June 7, 2011, on the Blackland Prairie in far northeast Austin is an abstract take on the opening of a sunflower bud.

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© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 6, 2015 at 4:25 AM

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