Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘vine

Tight tendril

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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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Dodder again

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Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) is a parasitic vine whose often dense tangles of slender yellow strands remind some people of angel hair pasta, as you see above in a view of dodder attacking annual sumpweed (Iva annua). In contrast, the picture below is different from previous ones I’ve taken of dodder, with the interplay of light and shadow making it moodier, artsier. Both views are from Meadow Lake Park in Round Rock on August 24.



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In case you haven’t noticed, much of the world is facing an energy crisis. Since the current American administration took over on January 25, 2021, the average selling price of gasoline in the United States has risen from $2.39 to $3.84 per gallon as of yesterday, for a 60% increase. The average price for diesel rose even more: on January 25, 2021 it was $2.71, and as of August 29 it was $5.11. That’s an 88% increase. In a more extreme jump from January 2021 to now, the natural gas index (NG:NMX) on the NASDAQ exchange rose from $2.49 to $9.35. My house has natural gas heating, so I compared my bill from January 2021 to the bill dated August 12, 2022: the cost for a hundred cubic feet (CCF) has tripled, going from $0.34 to $1.013.

The high cost of gasoline strains the budget of tens of millions of commuters and shoppers. The high cost of diesel means that goods transported by ships and trucks and trains—which are almost all the goods you buy—now cost more. If you have natural gas heating, keeping your residence warm this winter will cost a lot more than it did two years ago.

And we in the United States still have it pretty good. Many European countries depend on Russia for oil and natural gas, so since that country invaded Ukraine prices in Europe have risen as supplies have fallen. “French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged businesses to cut energy use or face possible rationing this winter if Russia halts gas deliveries.” In the U.K. “pubs and restaurants could close this winter without support to tackle soaring energy bills. There are growing fears that some hospitality venues won’t survive as they struggle to cope with rising running costs.” “In Poland‘s late summer heat, dozens of cars and trucks line[d] up at the Lubelski Wegiel Bogdanka coal mine, as householders fearful of winter shortages wait[ed] for days and nights to stock up on heating fuel in queues reminiscent of communist times.”

Spain “published new rules [in early August] stipulating that no business will be allowed to cool its interior below 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) or to heat it above 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter. In place until November 2023, the decree also calls a halt to the illumination of monuments, bans stores from lighting up their windows after 10 p.m., and requires shops to have an electric display showing the temperature inside to passersby.” People in Germany “are feeling more frugal than at any point in the last decade, according to a survey by GfK. It found that consumers are putting aside any spare cash in anticipation of much higher energy bills.” Also “in Germany, where households face a 480 euro rise in their gas bills, people are resorting to stockpiling firewood.” (That’s in addition to clear-cutting ancient forests to make room for industrial wind turbines.)

The current Russia-Ukraine war has revealed the fragile state of the energy systems in Europe and elsewhere. The politicized push toward “green energy” has made the situation a lot worse than it needed to be. Although atomic reactors produce no carbon emissions, “green” activists have an irrational horror of nuclear energy. Germany was set to close the last of its nuclear reactors this year but is now reconsidering, given the current crisis. In the United States, not since 2016 has a nuclear reactor entered service, and the most recent one before that was 20 years earlier.

Elon Musk, erstwhile hero of the political left for producing hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles, “told European energy leaders that the world needs more oil and natural gas and should continue operating nuclear power plants while investing heavily in renewable energy sources. ‘I think we actually need more oil and gas, not less, but simultaneously moving as fast as we can to a sustainable energy economy,’ Mr. Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and largest shareholder, told a conference in Stavanger, Norway. Mr. Musk said work on developing battery-storage technology is key to making the most of investments in wind, solar and geothermal energy. ‘I’m also pronuclear,’ Mr. Musk said. ‘We should really keep going with the nuclear plants. I know this may be an unpopular view in some quarters. But I think if you have a well-designed nuclear power plant, you should not shut it down, especially right now,’ he said.”

Hooray for a voice of reason. As the Greeks told us more than two millennia ago: All things in moderation, nothing to excess.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 31, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Three takes on yellow

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Sunflowers weren’t the only yellow I found on August 14th in the northeast quadrant of US 183 and Mopac. Above is the fruit of western horse nettle, Solanum dimidiatum. Next you have a yellowing mustang grape vine leaf, Vitis mustangensis.

The sheen tells you it’s an upper surface. The fuzziness in the last picture indicates it’s the lower surface. 



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In 2016 in the New York Times, Samuel J. Abrams of Sarah Lawrence College summarized research on faculty political preferences and found that the leftward tilt in social sciences and the humanities was getting stronger. Citing studies by the Higher Education Research Institute, he noted that the ratio of liberal professors to conservative professors nationally by 2014 “was 6 to 1; for those teaching in New England, the figure was 28 to 1.” When restricted to the humanities and social sciences, it is difficult to find self-defined conservatives, period, as they fear losing their jobs, or if tenured, their promotions, or if adjuncts, their connection to universities whatsoever. In one small study, history departments were found to have a ratio of 33.5 to 1 of liberals to conservatives.

That’s from a 2019 op ed by Richard Vatz in the Washington Examiner. As these things go, 2016 and 2019 are ancient history. The pandemic and moral panic of 2020 accelerated the monopolization of one and only one kind of thinking at American colleges and universities. As others before me have pointed out — how could they not, when it’s so blatant? — the sacred and must-be-genuflected-to “Diversity” tolerates no more diversity of beliefs than does the dogma of any other hardcore religion.

You’re welcome to read the full article.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 24, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Two degrees of passing away

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In February of 2021 a days-long freeze killed off all the huisache trees (Vachellia farnesiana) in Austin. I saw no new growth for the rest of that year but am happy to report seeing some green springing up from the wreckage in the past few months, even with our current drought. The broken remains of the huisache tree shown here along John Henry Faulk Dr. on August 1st caught my attention because of the Clematis drummondii vine that had climbed on it and had entered its fluffy stage, with the seed-bearing fibers gradually turning dingy and accounting for the vernacular name old man’s beard. Seen from this angle, the fluffy mound calls to mind—at least to my fluffy mind—the way the main part of Spain looks on a map.


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Last month I quoted from a talk about free speech that Carl Sagan gave in around 1987. The other day I came across another prescient passage, this time from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 13, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Mustang grape gall

with 34 comments

When it comes to native grapevines, central Texas claims the mustang grape (Vitis mustangensis) as its most common. To the best of my recollection, not till July 12th of this year, while walking along Bull Creek, did I ever find a gall on a mustang grape. Below is a view from the side.

UPDATE: Thanks to a link from Steve Gingold, I can add that the gall midge Ampelomyia vitispomum seems to have instigated this growth on the mustang grape vine.



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While still teaching in the Austin public schools back in the late 1970s I became aware of Marva Collins, a black schoolteacher in Chicago who likewise became disenchanted with public education. She founded her own school and succeeded in educating poor black kids by holding them to high expectations and standards, not putting up with excuses, and loving her students.

I hadn’t thought about Marva Collins for a long time but for some reason she came to mind the other day and I looked to see if she’s still alive. She’s not, having died in 2015.

An article by Carrie-Ann Biondi in the Spring 2019 issue of The Objective Standard includes the following:

After graduating in 1957 from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia with a degree in secretarial science, Collins sought a job as a secretary. She explained, though, that “none of the private companies wanted to hire a black secretary.” So she took one of the few jobs open to an educated black woman in the 1950s American South: She became a teacher. Collins found that she enjoyed teaching secretarial skills at Monroe County Training School. There, she learned how to teach through trial and error, recalling what best helped her to learn, avoiding the mistakes some of her own teachers made, and taking seriously the feedback she got from the school’s principal. Even so, after two years at that job, she moved to Chicago, holding that it would help her develop independence from her father.

In Chicago, Collins first worked as a medical secretary. She soon fell in love, got married, and, in time, had three children. Finding that she “missed the classroom . . . the excitement of helping students discover the solution to a problem,” Collins applied for a teaching position in the Chicago public school system. Although she had no teaching certificate, because of a teacher shortage she was hired to teach second grade.

Collins’s lack of a teaching degree worked to her advantage—and to that of her students. She trusted her own experience and disregarded the Board of Education’s teaching guide, which prescribed the “look-say” method to teach reading, simplistic Dick-and-Jane books with lots of pictures, and dull workbooks that drilled “skills” without teaching students how to think for themselves. Ignoring all of this, Collins developed teaching methods that truly worked. She used phonics to teach reading, incorporated literary classics and poetry into the curriculum, facilitated in-depth discussions of the readings, had students memorize poetry and write papers for oral delivery, and used positive (rather than punitive) discipline to address misbehavior.

After 14 years in the Chicago public schools, Marva Collins felt so at-odds with what the district as a whole was doing that she resigned and eventually started her own school.

Observers in Collins’s classroom repeatedly were astonished by the high-level curriculum she developed for students ages three to thirteen. She began each year with essays such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and fables such as “The Little Red Hen.” Students soon moved on to poetry, including works by Rudyard Kipling and [Henry] Wadsworth Longfellow. In time, they progressed to Plato’s dialogues. By second and third grade, they were reading William Shakespeare’s plays (Macbeth and Hamlet were student favorites) and reciting Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. With these under their belts, it was not uncommon for students to dive headlong into a seemingly unquenchable reading frenzy. And Collins kept hundreds of books on hand, suggesting just the right one for each student to read next. Each student wrote a report every two weeks about his latest book, presented it to the class, and answered questions raised by the other students. This sparked so much interest in reading that book that students vied to be next on the waiting list.

Marva Collins went to the greatest works that English-language literature had to offer. What a contrast from today’s racial essentialist imperative to jettison anything by “dead white guys.”

In 1981 Cicely Tyson played the title character in the made-for-television movie “The Marva Collins Story,” with Morgan Freeman playing her supportive husband. I was surprised to find the full 112-minute film available to watch for free on YouTube. Check it out the next time you have two hours for an inspiring movie.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 7, 2022 at 4:33 AM

Carolina comes to Texas

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A common vine in central Texas is Cocculus carolinus, known as Carolina snailseed, Carolina moonseed, and Carolina coralbead. Here from July 12th along Bull Creek you get a close look at the vine’s flowers and a somewhat farther-back view of unripe fruit. One website calls the tiny blossoms “insignificant,” but they’re obviously not that to the humble snailseed, which manages to keep propagating itself just fine, thank you. The little fruits turn red as they mature.


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According to one online estimate, Austin in 2022 has 1,028,225 people living inside its city limits, making it the 11th most populous city in the United States. Austin has more people than each of the five least populous states had in the 2020 census:

  1. Wyoming (581,075)
  2. Vermont (623,251)
  3. Alaska (724,357)
  4. North Dakota (770,026)
  5. South Dakota (896,581)

Austin approximately ties with the sixth state in the list, Delaware, whose 2022 estimated population is 1.03 million. Whether Austin will pull ahead isn’t clear. Because Austin is continuing to grow, it may well soon surpass Rhode Island, which went from 1,061,509 in the 2020 census to a just slightly higher estimated 1.09 million in 2022.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman






Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 4, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Posted in nature photography

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Clematis drummondii flower and buds

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On July 15th in Great Hills Park I sat with some Clematis drummondii
vines and made these close portraits of buds and a flower.

I aimed at a higher angle in the second picture and so won the sky as a background.
Flash and a small aperture made the bright blue seem unnaturally dark but I like the effect.




Speaking of unnatural, there’s more “Hands up, don’t shoot” in the top picture than in the narrative that has become an article of faith—a false faith—among certain activists. The Clematis at the top hands-down has a greater claim to having its hands up.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 31, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Mound builders

with 20 comments

Sometimes my posts begin writing themselves in my head when I’m still out taking pictures. In this case while I was walking in the southern portion of Great Hills Park on July 15th I began thinking about how the Clematis drummondii vines formed a botanical mound beneath the mounded cloud in the sky. That reminded me of the Mound Builder cultures in North America, and how the Latin word for ‘mound’ was cumulus, which is the name scientists have given to the kind of cloud that drifted over the Clematis. All I had to do in putting this post together later in the day was transcribe the thoughts I’d had in nature that morning. Below is a closer look at the viney mound in its own right.



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There’s been a push among activists to “decolonize” a lot of things in modern society and to “center” indigenous ways of interpreting the world. But what happens when indigenous people reject “woke” world-ways? Will ideologues go ahead and insist on “colonizing” the indigenous into adopting modern “woke” ways? I haven’t heard anyone ask that question. It’s a serious one but it also has its humorous side, as in this two-minute video clip that begins with Matt Walsh interviewing a Maasai man and asking “What if a man decides that his gender identity is a woman?”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 24, 2022 at 4:33 AM


with 10 comments

Here’s a word for you: terete. It means ‘barrel-shaped.’ That fits these insect eggs, perhaps from a stinkbug, that I saw on a couple of plants in the southern section of Great Hills Park on July 15th. In the top picture the grass seems to have been silver bluestem, Bothriochloa laguroides. In the bottom picture the vine was indubitably (there’s another word for you) Clematis drummondii, colloquially called old man’s beard. Poking its drying snouty seed head into that strand-rich chaos was a Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera.



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Four months ago I reported on a March 7th article on the satirical website The Babylon Bee that bore the headline “Biden Sells Alaska Back To Russia So We Can Start Drilling For Oil There Again.” The strangest thing about it was that USA Today went through the motions of fact-checking it. The newspaper found that the article was indeed satire yet still felt the need to add: “There is no evidence Biden plans to sell Alaska.”

I recently became aware of a similar incident from 2018 in which The Babylon Bee had run an article headlined “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication.” In that case the self-proclaimed fact-checking site snopes.com felt the need to investigate the claim. It really did. At least it came to the right conclusion.

Similarly, in 2021, when Covid was still a big problem, snopes.com looked into the satirical claim that CNN ran a banner announcing that Taliban fighters correctly wore masks during their take-over of Afghanistan. In that case the story had originated in The Babylon Bee but then circulated with no reference to its satirical source.

For more information about the clearly satirical Babylon Bee nevertheless repeatedly getting fact-checked, you can read a 2019 article by Bill Zeiser.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 22, 2022 at 4:22 AM


with 18 comments


The seed strands of Clematis drummondii have a conspicuous sheen to them, as you see here in a July 7th portrait from the temporarily-hanging-on fringe of a property being developed on the Blackland Prairie in Pflugerville. Note the “echoing” sheen from the out-of-focus strands in the lower left. The portrait has a Rembrandtesque feel to it, don’t you think?


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The calls and text messages are relentless. On the other end are doctors and scientists at the top levels of the NIH [National Institutes of Health], FDA [Food and Drug Administration] and CDC [Centers for Disease Control]. They are variously frustrated, exasperated and alarmed about the direction of the agencies to which they have devoted their careers.

“It’s like a horror movie I’m being forced to watch and I can’t close my eyes,” one senior FDA official lamented. “People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.”

So begins an article by Drs. Marty Makary and Tracy Beth Høeg entitled “U.S. Public Health Agencies Aren’t ‘Following the Science,’ Officials Say.” Later comes this paragraph:

It is statistically impossible for everyone who works inside of our health agencies to have 100% agreement about such a new and knotty subject. The fact that there is no public dissent or debate can only be explained by the fact that they are—or at least feel that they are—being muzzled.

Read the article and you’ll see how the admonition to “follow the science” has actually played out in many cases as “ignore the science.”


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 16, 2022 at 4:33 AM

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