Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘unusual

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

An octagon in the eleventh month that proclaims itself the ninth

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Hot on the heels of the out-of-season Indian paintbrush you saw last time, here’s another prodigy. It’s the Engelmann daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, a spring wildflower that normally has done its thing no later than July, but that I photographed in northeast Austin on November 13th. Engelmann daisies typically have eight ray flowers, as in this picture, and there’s a tendency for them to curl under, as you also see here.

If you’re wondering why September, October, November, and December, whose names indicate that they’re the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth month, are actually the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth month, it’s because the Roman calendar originally began in March. January and February got added later, bumping the already-named months two places further down the line. And here’s another related tidbit: before July and August got appropriated for Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar, those months had been called Quintilis and Sextilis, whose names proclaimed them the fifth and sixth month in the original calendar.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2020 at 4:35 AM

Red of a sort that shouldn’t be here now

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The warm autumn in Austin this year led to the blooming of some plants that normally wait till spring. Among those were three Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa) that we found in the wetland pond section of Barkley Meadows Park in Del Valle on November 12th. Below is a view looking straight down.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 30, 2020 at 4:35 AM

Bluebonnet in the fall

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The warm autumn in Austin this year has led to various “spring” wildflowers blooming out of season. So it was for this bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on October 23rd, which had risen from its basal rosette and was already forming an inflorescence. The behaving-as-expected, which is to say seasonal, flowers in the background were purple fall asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium). Oh well, now I guess I’ll have to break down and show you a picture of them in their own right, too.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 21, 2020 at 4:21 AM

Goldenrod flowering in March

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When I saw a bit of goldenrod flowering in Austin on February 27th I was surprised, and when I found some more in the Southwest Greenway at the old Mueller Airport on March 14th I was surprised again. That’s because normally the earliest we’d expect any Solidago species to flower here is late summer, with the peak coming in the fall. Coincidentally, when I saw the goldenrod flowering in February it was on the same outing that brought you the way-out-of-season Maximilian sunflowers that appeared here earlier this month.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 26, 2019 at 4:37 AM

What is that?

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That’s what we wondered at the Doeskin Ranch on November 24th after Eve spotted this strange thing and waited for me to catch up from my picture-taking so she could point it out. I’d read about insects that cover themselves with objects to act as camouflage, and that’s what appeared to have happened here. To learn the specifics, I turned to local expert Val Bugh, who identified this as “a bagworm moth case (Psychidae). Our big species here is Oiketicus abbotii (if I’m correct in estimating your example is about 2 inches long [she was correct] — the small species are less than half as big). This bag is empty and the exuviae is sticking out the bottom, indicating a male eclosed and flew off. The females never leave their sac.”

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2018 at 4:39 AM

An unusually open Turk’s cap

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We have Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. arboreus) growing in several places in our yard. On September 30th Eve looked out a back window and saw a flower that she first thought wasn’t a Turk’s cap but that turned out to be one when she went out to investigate. Turk’s cap flowers normally stay closed like a pinwheel, so why this one had come apart so much remains a mystery.

To make this picture I used my ring flash so I could stop down to f/18 and get all the nearer parts of the flower in focus. Another consequence of flash with such a small aperture is that the background went black.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2018 at 4:48 AM

Fasciation comes to a black-eyed susan

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Near the end of my visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on September 26th I photographed some seed head remains of black-eyed susans, Rudbeckia hirta. Here’s one of them, in which you can confirm the usual thimble shape:

Then I spotted an obviously fasciated specimen, with a flattened stem and a bunch of seed heads glommed together into an irregular bundle:

Click the “fasciation” tag below if you’d like to learn more about the phenomenon and see other examples I’ve shown over the years.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 13, 2018 at 4:50 AM

When five is four

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Five is the normal number of petals for the flowers of Solanum elaeagnifolium, known as silverleaf nightshade. Five is what every field guide I’ve looked at says. Five is how many petals I’ve always seen in the two decades I’ve known this common Texas wildflower.

Nevertheless, on September 2 at a property along Lost Horizon Dr. that’s getting houses built on portions of it, I found a silverleaf nightshade flower with just four petals. Because of the way adjacent petals in this kind of flower are fused at their edges, it doesn’t seem possible that the specimen started out with five petals and then lost one. Below is a slightly downward view from the other side of the flower that once again clearly shows four 90° angles rather than the expected five 72° angles.

For comparison, here’s the back of a regular silverleaf nightshade flower at the same location.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2018 at 4:28 AM

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