Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘vine

Closer looks at dodder

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Posts five days ago and three days ago showed you a field on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville where a parasitic vine called dodder (Cuscuta sp.) was preying en masse on other wildflowers. Notice that I said “other wildflowers.” People usually think of dodder as an angel-hair-pasta-like tangle of yellow-orange strands. Actually dodder produces flowers, too, often lots of them, only they’re so tiny—about an eighth of an inch, or 3mm—that you have to take a close look to appreciate them. The picture above gives you that close look.


The second photograph confirms that even being the official Texas state
wildflower doesn’t exempt the bluebonnet from dodder’s clutches.



And look at this triple predation on greenthread (Thelesperma filifolium),
firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), and prairie bishop (Bifora americana):



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Gender self-identification, a major belief in the religion of Wokeness, holds that whatever “gender” someone claims to be, you must “affirm” it. If a fully intact man with a beard declares that he’s a woman, and you have the temerity to question that counter-factual claim, trans activists will not only excoriate you, they’ll wage a campaign to get you banned from social media and fired from your job. Many such campaigns have succeeded, alas.

But two can play the self-declaration game. Last month in Indiana, Delaware County Councilman Ryan Webb, a white man, made this announcement on Facebook:


After much consideration I have decided to come out and finally feel comfortable announcing my true authentic self. It is with great relief that I announce to everyone that I identify as a woman and not just any woman but as a woman of color as well. I guess this would make me gay/lesbian as well, since I am attracted to women… Whew, that felt good to finally get that out there and start living life as my true self. I’m excited to bring some diversity to the county council. Until today we didn’t have any females of color or LGBTQIAPC+++ on the council. I’m glad that now we do! To avoid confusion, everyone can continue to address me as Ryan or as Councilman Webb. I will also retain my preferred pronouns of He/Him, however, this will in no way diminish my true identity as a woman of color. I’m excited to be a vocal partner of the LGBTQIAPC+++ movement. Who knows just how far we can take things, but I’m just glad that this is now possible so ANYONE can be ANYTHING or ANYONE they want.


Okay, so this is obviously a spoof. Yet according to the “rules” activists play by, we must accept a person’s self-proclaimed identity. If activists doubt the validity of Ryan Webb’s claims, they’re breaking their own rule of gender affirmation. Or, if activists are allowed to question this man’s proclamation, then why aren’t we allowed to question other people’s delusional claims?

There can’t be different rules depending on whose interests are being served.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2023 at 4:24 AM

Passion vine leaf and tendril

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Walking in the woods on April 8th in my part of town I spotted a leaf that I took to be from a yellow passion vine, Passiflora lutea. When I got closer I noticed a darker, tightly coiled tendril and followed it leftward to its hold on an adjacent Ashe juniper branch, Juniperus ashei.




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The United States Constitution established three branches of government: the executive (the President and subsidiaries), the legislative (Congress), and the judicial (the courts). The three branches are independent of one another in a system of what has been called “checks and balances.” For example, the President can’t make laws; only the legislature is allowed to do that. If the legislature passes an unconstitutional law, the courts can strike it down.

In recent years, critics of the American government on the political right and sometimes on the political left as well have decried what has effectively become a fourth branch of government: the administrative state. As explained on a Ballotpedia page:

The administrative state is a term used to describe the phenomenon of executive branch administrative agencies exercising the power to create, adjudicate, and enforce their own rules. Five pillars are key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of administrative agency action: nondelegationjudicial deferenceexecutive control of agenciesprocedural rights, and agency dynamics.

In other words, administrative agencies are in effect making laws, determining whether someone breaks those laws, and adjudicating any supposed violations. The administrative state has become an unauthorized three-branch government within the larger government, accountable to no one.

For several years I’ve been creating “fantasy” Constitutional amendments, things I would like to see added to the Constitution but that I doubt will get adopted. One of those deals with the administrative state. The amendment says that any time Congress authorizes an administrative agency to create rules, the rules must come back to Congress to be voted on, just as any federal laws get voted on in the first place.

In the spirit of my fantasy amendment, good news came from the Supreme Court on April 14th, as summarized in a Wall Street Journal editorial headline: “Supreme Court 9, Administrative State 0.” The subhead was “The Justices rule that individuals can take a constitutional challenge to federal agencies directly to federal court.” Here’s the beginning of the editorial:

The Supreme Court on Friday dealt the administrative state another blow with a 9-0 decision holding that individuals and businesses harpooned by an independent agency don’t have to suffer a torturous government adjudication to challenge its constitutionality in federal court (Axon Enterprise v. FTC and SEC v. Cochran).

The private litigants in these cases want to challenge Federal Trade Commission and Securities and Exchange Commission actions on grounds that the agencies are unconstitutionally structured. But the discrete question before the Court was whether they had to run through the agencies’ long and costly administrative process before they could go to federal court.

The government claimed they did, but a unanimous Court disagreed. In the controlling opinion, Justice Elena Kagan explained that both parties in the two cases allege they are “‘being subjected’ to ‘unconstitutional agency authority’—a ‘proceeding by an unaccountable [administrative law judge].’”

You’re welcome to read the full editorial. You can also read an Epoch Times account of the ruling.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 22, 2023 at 4:29 AM

Posted in nature photography

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An early-in-the-season yet late-in-the-year drive along the Possumhaw Trail

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The stretch of TX 29 between Liberty Hill in Williamson County and Burnet in Burnet County might well be called the Possumhaw Trail for the dozens and dozens of Ilex decidua trees scattered along the route. They become conspicuous from December through February for their bright red fruits (technically drupes, commonly called berries). This picture is from the last day of 2022. The green and tan leaves weren’t from the possumhaw, all of whose leaves had already fallen, but rather from a greenbrier vine, Smilax bona-nox.



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Last year and yesterday I mentioned Marva Collins, who for decades worked wonders of education with black children in a poor Chicago neighborhood. I’ve found some online videos about her and her school that you can watch:

Success! The Marva Collins Approach (1981).

60 Minutes: Marva Collins (1995, following up their first story in 1979): Part 1 and Part 2.

After the original 60 Minutes story aired in 1979, Marva Collins “received over 6000 letters from desperate parents.”

You can also read a thorough review of Marva Collins’ Way, the book I cited yesterday.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 20, 2023 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Both sides now times two

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In neighboring Great Hills Park on 11/22/22 (great date) I noticed how different the two surfaces of this drying grape leaf were. I don’t recall ever seeing an upper surface colored and patterned like this one. The underside’s slight fuzz had and still has me thinking the vine was a mustang grape, Vitis mustangensis, the most common species of grape in Great Hills.



On December 23rd, hours before a more-than-daylong freeze was due to hit
central Texas, I was out documenting native plants that still had flowers on them.



One such was the blackfoot daisy, which you see here from above, above, and from below, below.



The maroon “nerves” or “veins” so conspicuous from underneath
are barely discernible on the ray florets’ white upper surface.



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Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.


That line from physicist Richard Feynman was quoted in Joanne Silberner’s January 4th article “The Reason There’s Been No Cure for Alzheimer’s.” For several decades now, the funders of medical research on Alzheimer’s disease have given grants almost exclusively to researchers pursuing one theory about the cause—and therefore the potential cure—for that ailment. As in so many fields, groupthink has settled in, despite the fact that treatments based on the reigning theory about the cause of Alzheimer’s have produced practically no improvements.

You can learn the details in Joanne Silberner’s article in the Free Press.



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UPDATE: On December 22nd I reported how Stanford University had created a compendium of supposedly harmful language. You know, despicable words like American and grandfather. On January 11th Inside Higher Ed published an article by Susan D’Agostino titled “Amid Backlash, Stanford Pulls ‘Harmful Language’ List.” Let’s welcome any move toward sanity in academia.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 17, 2023 at 4:30 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Red and green

with 12 comments


In a nature area along Yaupon Drive on December 8th something small and bright red in the distance caught my eye. Once I walked over to it I saw that it was the ripe fruit of a balsam gourd vine, Ibervillea lindheimeri, that had draped itself over the pad of a prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engelmannii. On another pad I noticed that one of the vine’s slender tendrils had coiled tightly around one of the prickly pear’s spines.



Back on October 21st I’d taken a picture in which cactus provided both red and green. That time the cactus wasn’t a prickly pear but Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, known as pencil cactus because of its slender joints (leptocaulis means ‘thin stalk’) and Christmas cactus because of its many small fruits that ripen to bright red. You can see that below from our stop at the I-20 Wildlife Preserve in Midland on our zig-zag way back to Austin, where this species also happens to grow.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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More fall color from individual leaves and leaflets

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Poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans; December 1st in Great Hills Park.




Cottonwood tree, Populus deltoides; December 12th near the Riata Trace Pond.



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A main theme of my commentaries for the past two years has been the distortion of language for ideological purposes. The other day a great trove of data came my way from the EHLI, or the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative at Stanford University, which “identifies as” “a multi-phase, multi-year project to address harmful language in IT [Information Technology] at Stanford.”

In particular I’m referring to the document the group released on December 19th, which is a compendium of “harmful” words and phrases, along with suggested and therefore presumably non-harmful alternatives to them, plus notes putting the items in “context.” Preceding the list of frowned-on items are bold-faced words of caution:

Content Warning: This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.

You wouldn’t want to encounter too many horrific words too quickly or you might get a heart attack or stroke. You know, terrible words like “American.” That’s right, you’re not supposed to say “American” any more because there are lots of countries in North American and South America, not just the United States.* The recommended replacement is “U.S. citizen.” I don’t see how that can last, given that the kind of ideologues who would think of putting together a list of forbidden terms also want people in the country illegally to have all the same benefits as citizens.

The EHLI document is divided into sections according to the kinds of people the forbidden terms are supposedly offensive to. The first section is Ableist. In case you’re not familiar with that word, the document explains it: “Ableist language is language that is offensive to people who live with disabilities and/or devalues people who live with disabilities. The unintentional use of such terms furthers the belief that people who live with disabilities are abnormal.”

Notice the phrase “people who live with disabilities.” That itself is the suggested replacement for “the disabled.” It’s one of many instances of “person-first” language, in which a word or short phrase gets turned into something more cumbersome. “Handicapped,” for instance, is now “person with a disability.” As if the “dis-” in “disability” doesn’t still indicate that the person has a handicap compared to people without that disability. Similarly, the four-syllable “mentally ill” becomes the thirteen-syllable “person living with a mental health condition” and the two-syllable “senile” becomes the ten-syllable “person suffering from senility.” For the sake of inclusion, shouldn’t we extend this pattern to categories other than persons? In meal-first language, rather than say “I ate breakfast” we’ll have to say “I ate the meal that persons call breakfast” or “I ate the meal usually but not always consumed in the early part of the day.”

Some of the replacements are baffling. Rather than “committed suicide” we’re supposed to say “died by suicide.” Could the point be to shift agency and therefore remove blame from the person to the mental health condition? Or maybe “committed” has overtones of “committed to a mental institution.” Or maybe there’s no reason for the change except to make us jump through more language hoops and increase the chances for woke ideologues to call us out when we mess up on one of their shibboleths.

In the “Violent” section we’re admonished to replace “rule of thumb” with “standard rule” or “general rule.” The “context” for this is: “Although no written record exists today, this phrase is attributed to an old British law that allowed men to beat their wives with sticks no wider than their thumb.” The writers admit that there’s no evidence for the claim that “rule of thumb” originated in men beating their wives with sticks no wider than their thumbs,” but we’re supposed to ignore the lack of evidence and pretend that that cockeyed claim is true. If the writers had bothered to look up the etymology for “rule of thumb” they’d find it’s straightforward. The American Heritage Dictionary notes that the phrase comes from “the use of the thumb as a makeshift ruler or measuring device, as in carpentry.” Similarly, the English system uses “foot” as a familiar measurement, and the height of horses is traditionally measured in “hands.”

Another instance of fake history occurs in the “Additional Considerations” section. We’re advised to avoid “hip hip hooray” because “this term was used by German citizens during the Holocaust as a rallying cry when they would hunt down Jewish citizens living in segregated neighborhoods.” You should immediately be suspicious: why would German-speaking Nazis use an English interjection when hunting down Jews in countries where English wasn’t the native language? The obvious answer is that they wouldn’t. Once again the writers of the document could have looked up the actual origin of “hip hip hooray,” but apparently going to a dictionary was a step too far. English speakers were already using “hip hip hooray [or hurrah]” in the early 1800s.

 You’re welcome to work your way at your own pace through as much of the EHLI document as you want to or can stand.


* When I arrived in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer 55 years ago this month I quickly learned that people there refer to Americans as norteamericanos, i.e. North Americans. The compilers of the Stanford document will have to chide Hondurans and other Spanish speakers for their lack of inclusivity: aren’t Canadians and Mexicans also North Americans? In fact Wikipedia tells us there are a whopping 24 countries in North America.


UPDATE: On January 11th Inside Higher Ed published an article by Susan D’Agostino titled “Amid Backlash, Stanford Pulls ‘Harmful Language’ List.” Let’s welcome any move toward sanity in academia.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 22, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Virginia creeper

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One of the most reliable sources of late-year color in Austin is Parthenocissus quinquefolia, a vine known as Virginia creeper. Some people call it five-leaf creeper, though actually what there are five of are leaflets in each palmately compound leaf. The top picture is from December 1st in Great Hills Park. I photographed the leaf below, which was down to three leaflets, in our side yard a week later.




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The number of undocumented immigrant crossings at the southwest border for fiscal year 2022 topped 2.76 million, breaking the previous annual record by more than 1 million, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

That was from NBC News on October 22, 2022. The fiscal year ended on September 30. Here are figures from the government’s report about October 2022:

The number of unique individuals encountered nationwide in October 2022 was 196,479, a 2.9% increase in the number of unique enforcement encounters than the prior month…. 78,477 encounters, 34% of the total, were processed for expulsion under Title 42. 152,201 encounters were processed under Title 8….

In other words, two-thirds of the people the border patrol encountered who entered illegally were allowed to remain in the country anyhow. In addition, every month there are tens of thousands of so-called known gotaways, illegal border crossers that authorities observed but didn’t have the resources to catch. And in addition to that there are the unknown gotaways, people who crossed the border surreptitiously enough that authorities never even became aware of them.

In spite of this mountain of evidence, the current American administration keeps insisting that the border is secure. When facts belie people’s claims, I go with the facts. What do you do?

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2022 at 4:30 AM


with 18 comments


For the many times over the past decade that I visited a flowerful piece of prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Boulevard north of Wells Branch Parkway in Pflugerville you could call me a veteran of that field. I went there most recently on Veterans Day, November 11, and discovered that development had expanded since my previous visit. More of the portion that had until recently hung on was now scraped of vegetation, with only a fringe in the back still left. That’s where I found things to photograph on that overcast and about-to-rain morning. Probably most conspicuous were many scattered tufts of Clematis drummondii that had turned feathery, one of which you see above. I also noticed some seed head remains of common sunflowers, Helianthus annuus; on one I encountered a shield-backed bug (family Scutelleridae), seemingly Sphyrocoris obliquus. In spite of the bug’s species name, its “here’s looking at you” gaze was anything but oblique.



(Pictures from the New Mexico trip will resume tomorrow.)



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The basics of great education have been around for thousands of years; it simply doesn’t take tremendous amounts of money to teach well. In an English classroom, we rarely need more than a pen and paper and a book or an essay to get the job done. Small class sizes, high expectations for student academic performance and behavior, and diligent, invested, highly respected educators backed up by an administration who supports teachers over parents and students would fix so many of these problems. But until it starts getting better, fewer and fewer ambitious and competent youngsters will see teaching as an attractive profession. And so the teacher shortage problem is going to continue to get worse.

That’s the conclusion of Elizabeth Emery’s January 2020 article “The Public School Teacher Attrition Crisis.” Schools have indeed worsened since then, in part because of the pandemic but still primarily because of the terrible attitudes and practices of administrators that Elizabeth Emery detailed in her article, and that caused her to quit teaching in a public school after just one full semester. You’re welcome to read the full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 1, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Liatris on the prairie

with 17 comments


At the Wildhorse Ranch subdivision in Manor on October 2nd I got low and photographed these flower spikes of Liatris punctata var. mucronata, known as gayfeather and blazing star, doing their autumnal thing on the Blackland Prairie. The greenbrier vine (Smilax bona-nox) climbing on the central flower spikes was a nice addition. Before I left the site I made sure to use the wispy clouds as a great backdrop for a tall exemplar of Turris electrica var. pratensis.


(I’m still traveling, so my presence here continues to be mostly virtual.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 17, 2022 at 4:32 AM

Tight tendril

with 25 comments

Greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox) is a common vine in the woods of Austin. It’s admittedly a nuisance to people when its thorns snag our clothing and scratch our skin. Nevertheless, as a nature photographer I’ve found greenbrier an excellent subject for close views (and occasionally more distant ones). I asked the Texas Flora group about the many pale “starbursts” on the stem in this picture. The first suggestion was a scale infection. A second was trichomes. One website’s description of greenbrier’s stems said that they occur “infrequently with stellate trichomes.” Another website said the stems “are scurfy (i.e., with a scaly crust on the stem surface).” In any case, whatever the starbursts are, they add welcome texture to the portrait. And how about that tightly coiled tendril?


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I spend lots of time looking things up because, by personality and from decades of teaching math, I value accuracy. That’s why I include so many links to documents. If you’re aware of any facts that I’ve reported incorrectly, please point me to contradictory evidence. Of course people can disagree about what policies a government should follow, but we have to start from the facts.


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Just because I haven’t mentioned the southern border of the United States for a while doesn’t mean that it’s not still out of control. It is. The current régime continues to encourage millions of people to come here illegally each year by facilitating their entry into the country and giving them benefits once they’re here (like providing free transportation—sometimes by airplane—to wherever they want to go in the United States).

ABC ran an article on August 18 headlined “July border arrests decrease but expected to total a record 2 million by next month.” The subhead read “CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] has arrested more migrants so far in 2022 than in all of 2021.” And of course that number doesn’t include the great many “gotaways,” illegal border crossers that authorities observed but were unable to detain for various reasons, mainly having way too few officers to handle the incessant onslaught. As a July 25th New York Post article noted: “More than 500,000 known ‘gotaway’ immigrants have crossed the border into the US but evaded capture since the start of FY [fiscal year] 2022, according to a new report.” Notice the word “known”; it implies that in addition to the half-million that were observed, hundreds of thousands of other illegal border crossers came into the country completely undetected.

Accompanying this lawlessness is the current administration’s denial of it. A July 25th New York Post article bore the headline “Don’t believe your eyes: WH [White House] claims migrants are not just ‘walking’ across border.” As the article explained:

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted on Monday that migrants are not just “walking” across the border — an event captured near daily by press photographers.

The stunning answer came in response to a question by Fox News’ Peter Doocy, who asked why potentially unvaccinated migrants continue to arrive in the US but tennis star Novak Djokovic couldn’t compete in the US Open, which kicked off in Flushing Meadows, Queens today.  “It is not that simple. It’s not just that people are walking across the border….”

Karine Jean-Pierre’s flippant response was an outright lie. Take the 2 million people that the ABC article mentioned, divide it by 365, and you get an average of over 5000 people “just” walking in illegally every single day. The “Don’t believe your eyes” in the Post‘s headline refers to the fact that anyone can go down to places like Eagle Pass and Del Rio on the Texas border and watch groups of people that cartels have brought close to the border walk up to the Rio Grande River and wade or swim across it to enter the United States illegally. Those groups include dozens and occasionally even hundreds of people at a time. Here’s a video. Just because news outlets that favor illegal immigration rarely report on the thousands of people coming in illegally every day, or flat-out say it isn’t true, doesn’t make reality go away. Those news outlets are reality deniers.

What is undeniable is that “drug overdoses have claimed the lives of over 100,000 people in the United States [this year],” and “Fentanyl was reportedly the cause of two-thirds of them. According to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control], Fentanyl is now the number one cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45. Surpassing suicide, Covid-19, and car accident-related deaths.” One person in this country dies of fentanyl poisoning about every 9 minutes. Confounding the problem is that drug dealers are mixing fentanyl into pills that are made to look like other drugs, for example oxycontin. Especially insidious, drug dealers have recently been putting fentanyl into colored tablets that look like candy, thereby opening up the possibility that children will unknowingly eat one and die. Drug overdoses and poisonings contributed to making 2021 the second year in a row that life expectancy in the United States went down.

The previous paragraph is relevant to the ones that preceded it because much of the fentanyl in the United States is smuggled across the Mexican border, where agents are so overworked with processing and caring for illegal immigrants that portions of the border now go completely unguarded.

Like I said, lawlessness.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 3, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Posted in nature photography

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