Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘Travis County

A bluebell flower

with 32 comments

On a sunny June 18th I photographed some bluebells (Eustoma sp.) that were coming up in Cypress Creek Park. Sixteen days ago you saw a distinctively shaped bud of this species, and now from the same session here are two portraits showing an opening flower. As I’ve said a zillion times, bluebells are purple.


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I recently read the book Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. The author, physicist Steven E. Koonin, was Undersecretary for Science in the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration, so is in no way a “climate denier,” meaning a person who denies that the climate is changing. The book’s title, however, indicates that Koonin takes issue with the widely bruited-about notion that climate change is “settled science.” Basing his book entirely on data gathered by the American government and the United Nations, he offers a rational assessment of the current climate situation, free from the hysteria and catastrophism that characterize so many activists and politicians.

As Koonin wrote in a Wall Street Journal essay in 2014: “Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is ‘settled’ (or is a ‘hoax’) demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences.” (Apropos of that, just last week someone who has worked for decades in a technical field at the University of Texas told me the atmosphere there has become so oppressive that an employee dare not even bring up the subject of climate change.)

I’m attentive to language, so I appreciate one point Koonin makes in Unsettled: some people, especially environmental activists, use “climate change” to mean only that portion of the change in climate attributable to human activity. That usage is misleading because it excludes the not-insignificant changes in climate attributable to natural causes such as volcanic eruptions, the wobble in the earth’s axis, and the varying intensity of the sun’s radiation reaching the earth. Distinguishing between natural causes and human causes of climate change turns out to be a difficult problem. Failing to consider the natural and perhaps quite large component of climate change that is natural ends up making the human-caused component seem disproportionately influential and urgent to deal with—which of course is what activists want.

In April I recommended environmentalist Michael Shellenberger’s rational book about climate change, Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. Now that Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters is out, I recommend it, too.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Bluebell time again

with 30 comments

On June 18th, after photographing some mountain pinks I’d been tipped off to, I stopped at nearby Cypress Creek Park and found to my pleasure that a bunch of bluebells (Eustoma sp.) were coming up. Bluebells put out distinctively shaped buds, as you see in this portrait of one with an opening flower behind it.


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For those of you who find yourselves in jobs where you feel like you’re walking on eggshells all the time and can’t speak openly about what you believe, here’s a relevant thought from someone who lived through Soviet oppression: “In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.” ― Czesław Miłosz. (If I understand right, Polish cz is pronounced like English ch, ł like w, w like v, and sz like sh. As a result, Czesław Miłosz comes out sounding like Cheswav Miwosh.)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 1, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Maybe autumn’s big five

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I recently referred to the “big four” native plants that are prominent in central Texas in the fall. The number is arbitrary, and even when I said four I was thinking that I could well add asters as a fifth. With that in mind, here’s a picture of one of our native asters, Symphyotrichum subulatum, known colloquially as eastern annual saltmarsh aster, baby’s breath aster, slender aster, annual aster, and blackland aster. Some in Texas call it hierba del marrano (hierba is pronounced the same as its alternate spelling yerba); translated loosely, the Spanish name means pigweed, but I think most people find the flowers as attractive as pigs are alleged to do. Notice the endearing way the tips of the ray florets curl under.

The picture above comes from October 4th at Cypress Creek Park (where I photographed a snail on a valley redstem and also a late-season bluebell flower). Fortunately the aster was growing close to another plant (I’m not sure what it was) whose leaves had turned pleasantly red and yellow, and those colors made a good out-of-focus background to set off the aster. And from August 13th on the Blackland Prairie, here’s a view showing one of these flower heads from below:

The ancient Greek word astēr had the same meaning as its native English cognate star. The Greeks extended the word to designate a daisy-like flower that they saw as a stylized star, and we’ve continued the tradition. Greek asteroeidēs, which meant ‘resembling a star,’ has become our asteroid. Similarly, we call the typographical character * an asterisk, literally ‘a little star.’ And “there you are, little star.”

And if it’s a famous quotation you’re after, try Ralph Waldo Emerson’s exhortation to “Hitch your wagon to a star.” Or, with a floral reference, take these lines from Longfellow’s Evangeline:

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 16, 2020 at 4:37 AM

The often seen and the seldom seen

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In several posts this year you’ve seen little snails that have climbed onto plants in central Texas. The plant that this snail found its way onto is one I’ve encountered only a couple of times in my two decades of nature photography. I couldn’t even remember its name, and had to go searching. Botanists call it Ammannia coccinea, whose species name is Latin for ‘scarlet.’ Colloquially descriptive names are scarlet tooth-cup and valley redstem. I found this specimen not in a valley but at Cypress Creek Park out by Lake Travis on October 4th. Turns out the species has a pretty wide distribution across a large part of the country.

And speaking of things seldom seen, I don’t believe I’ve ever come across a bluebell (Eustoma sp.) as late in the season as October 4th, but that’s what happened when I was calling it a day after photographing the little snail and already heading back toward my car. This was the one and only bluebell I saw there.

 © 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 11, 2020 at 4:35 AM

Mesquite pod and dry leaflets by pond

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While I was avoiding hikers near the boardwalk pond in River Place on August 10th, I made some portraits of honey mesquite pods (Prosopis glandulosa). The dark-looking water and otherwise black background in today’s photograph might make you think I used flash. I didn’t. The sunlit pod was bright enough to make the background dark by comparison, and in my processing of the image I played up that difference. (If clicking the photograph in your browser brings up a black page around the image, as Chrome does, so much the better; the picture, in particular the blue-indigo of the water, looks more vivid that way.)

While we’re on the subject of mesquite, you may remember I photographed what I called a zebra mesquite thorn back in June. I’m sorry to say that within weeks of my taking that picture the site was razed for construction. That’s at least the fourth loss in 2020 of a place where I’d taken nature photographs.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 30, 2020 at 4:40 AM

Powdery alligator flag

with 47 comments

On August 10th I drove out to the boardwalk pond in River Place for the first time this year. With many people still not going to work, the nature trail that wraps around two sides of the pond before following a creek through the woods turned out to be too well traveled for me to take it, as I’d planned. Instead I kept to myself on a non-trail side of the pond and still found plenty to keep me photographically busy.

What I thought were giant bulrushes seem actually to have been powdery alligator flags (Thalia dealbata), a fact I’m grateful to Linda at Lagniappe for pointing out. Here are views of a looser and a denser inflorescence. Along with the purple, who would expect those touches of bright red on the sheath that once enclosed the would-be flowers?

Here’s an unrelated quotation for today: “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point,” “The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing about.” — Blaise Pascal, Pensées (Thoughts), 1670.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2020 at 4:35 AM

A good sunflower colony

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Click to enlarge.

A recent post focused on two sunflowers in a large colony. Now here’s a panorama showing how wild sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) can take over a field. I found this bright yellow colony on the Blackland Prairie along Gregg-Manor Rd. east of TX 130 on June 10th. Texas knows how to do wildflowers, yes indeed.

I’m tempted to say the way I cropped this photograph shows the influence of my Indian friend Pano Rama, but I would never say such a thing.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 15, 2020 at 7:45 AM

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