Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘weird

A strange juxtaposition

with 32 comments


At one point while wandering along Bull Creek on July 12th I looked down and saw this note on the ground. Whoever wrote it had a hard time with the last word, which was apparently supposed to be fulfilling. The little plant adjacent to the note is poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, which very few people find fulfilling. Only once before, if I remember right, have I posted a picture of a hand-printed message. It was in 2016, and upon looking back at it now I was surprised to notice that the writer of that earlier message also had a hard time spelling its final word—and only its final word. A weird coincidence, don’t you think?

In 2016 the message was on a light pole and therefore we assume whoever wrote it wanted people to see it. Do you think that was true for this month’s note, too, or had the writer accidentally dropped it and not noticed that it stayed behind on the ground?


❡         ❡         ❡


CNN reported on June 30th that 85% of US adults who responded to an AP-NORC survey said that things in the country are headed in the wrong direction. It’s something that polls often ask about, but it’s not nearly as useful a question as it could be. That’s because the country is heavily polarized, and many respondents were presumably unhappy with the country’s direction for opposite reasons. Pollsters would do much better to solicit more than just a yes-or-no answer about being content with the country’s direction. For instance, people who say they’re discontent could be asked to tell what specific things about the country’s direction they’re discontent with, and the pollsters could then group the reasons into categories when reporting the results. If the pollsters don’t want to do that much work, they could ask the question in multiple-choice format. Here’s an example:

We’d like to know how you feel about the direction the country is headed in.
Which of these best describes your feelings?

a) The country is headed in a generally good direction.

b) The country is moving a little too far to the left (progressive), politically speaking.

c) The country is moving a lot too far to the left (progressive), politically speaking.

d) The country is moving a little too far to the right (conservative), politically speaking.

e) The country is moving a lot too far to the right (conservative), politically speaking.

f) None of the above is the reason I’m discontent with the country’s direction.


What do you think the chances are that polling companies will adopt my approach?

  1. The people who run polling companies will swoon at my feet and make me their polling god.
  2. I’ll have to live to be 100 before polling companies follow such a good suggestion.
  3. Somebody dropped a zero: I’ll have to live to be 1000 before polling companies follow such a good suggestion.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 21, 2022 at 4:29 AM

Another Mexican hat anomaly

with 12 comments

Eight days ago you saw a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera) flower head that strangely had four columns instead of the single one that’s the norm. On May 15th the Mexican hats at the Floral Park Drive entrance to Great Hills Park were going strong, so I walked in to give them a closer look. On one flower head I discovered another anomaly: several ray florets were emerging from a place part-way up the column where only disk florets are supposed to grow. For comparison, check out the normally developing Mexican hat below, with ray florets coming out only at the bottom of the column.




To see some impressive wildlife photographs, check out the work of Dave Newman, a British office manager who takes pictures on his lunch break. Avian mavens among you should be especially interested.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 27, 2022 at 4:30 AM

Fascination of Plants Day

with 36 comments

Today is Fascination of Plants Day. The word fascination is fascinatingly close to fasciation, the strange botanical phenomenon that I’ve shown you various examples of. On May 5th I was photographing some of the many Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) that were coming up along the Sierra Nevada fringe of Great Hills Park when I noticed one flower head that lacked the characteristic flattening and spreading that fasciated plants exhibit but that had four central columns instead of the normal one. Whether that’s still fasciation or a different anomaly, I don’t know. I do know it was weird enough to show it to you on Fascination of Plants Day.

In case you’re not familiar with Mexican hats, I’ll add that the ray florets display varying amounts of yellow and brown. Often there’s a mixture of the two. Sometimes one color mostly drives out the other color, as in the middle picture, or entirely excludes it, as below.




§         §         §



By now you’ve probably heard about a deranged 18-year-old guy who drove several hours from a little town in New York to Buffalo, the state’s second largest city, to gun down people in a supermarket on May 14th. Most of the victims were black, and that apparently was no coincidence. A long manifesto allegedly written by the shooter soon surfaced, and the document made clear that he hated both blacks and Jews. The killer’s racist and anti-Semitic statements, along with the fact that he is white, almost immediately led some people in the news media to proclaim him, with good reason, a racist and a white supremacist. Among those people in the media were not a few who also somehow concluded that the killer is a Republican or a conservative and a follower of the conservative television network Fox News. How politically convenient—and how inconvenient that those quickly proved to be false accusations.

I couldn’t find the shooter’s manifesto online to check it for myself—it was apparently taken down not long after the incident—but I did find a May 16th Washington Examiner article by Tiana Lowe headlined “The Buffalo shooter was an eco-socialist racist who hated Fox News and Ben Shapiro.” That hardly sounds like your typical Republican or conservative, does it? Here’s a portion of Tiana Lowe’s article:

Hence, a seemingly concerted effort from the corporate media accusing the Buffalo barbarian of being some sort of Tucker Carlson [a Fox News host] acolyte would be baffling if it weren’t so transparently malicious. In the 180-page document purported to be authored by the shooter, he does not mention Carlson once. The sole explicit mention of Fox News is an infographic demarcating top Fox hosts such as Maria Bartiromo and Greg Gutfeld as Jewish. (Rupert Murdoch is decried as a “Christian Zionist” who may have Jewish ancestry,” although it’s never publicly admitted.) Ben Shapiro is mentioned multiple times, including as an example as the “rat” phenotype of Jewish people.

Moreover, the Buffalo shooter is a self-described “ethno-nationalist eco-fascist national socialist” who loathes libertarianism and conservatism in particular.

“Ask yourself, truly, what has modern conservatism managed to conserve?” the shooter wrote. “Not a thing has been conserved other than corporate profits and the ever increasing wealth of the 1% that exploit the people for their own benefit. Conservatism is dead. Thank god. Now let us bury it and move on to something of worth.”

Hell, the shooter admits that he’s a socialist, “depending on the definition.”

“Worker ownership of the means of production?” he writes. “It depends on who those workers are, their intentions, who currently owns the means of production, their intentions and who currently owns the state, and their intentions.”

The diatribe implies “those workers” better be white gentiles who worship Mother Earth. Here, crucially, is the shooter on his homicidal obsession with environmentalism.


To be continued tomorrow and the next day.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 18, 2022 at 4:32 AM

An uncommon common snapping turtle

with 12 comments

Seven years ago today I encountered a common snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina, not far
from Bull Creek. What made this common turtle uncommon was the inchworm on its nose.



§          §          §



Here are three passages from David Mamet’s latest book, Recessional.


Justice is the application of previously decided and accepted norms of conduct and the rules for their examination and dispute. It is as imperfect as any other institution. But a dispassionate, considerate, supportable, and moral resolution of differences is the goal toward which it aspires.

Social justice is the negation of that ideal. Here “feelings” are insisted upon as superior to process and order. The iconoclasts claim that justice is too slow, that it is biased, and that it is the right of the individual or whatever groups he may form to express grievances long held, and unheard, in whatever mode he elects.

It is the argument of an abusive parent: Yes, I hit her, but you would have hit her too, if you had to put up with the way she behaves.

Social justice means anarchy….

Huey Long said in 1933 that it was the easiest thing in the world to create a Fascist organization; all one had to do was call it an anti-Fascist organization.

But perhaps the greatest lesson of history is that we never learn from history. And that no great crime was ever committed save in the name of progress, or its stablemates historical necessity and redress of past wrongs.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman






Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 6, 2022 at 4:37 AM

A second round of frostweed ice this season

with 30 comments

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

Flourishing fasciation

with 28 comments

The heavily fasciated tall gayfeather (Liatris aspera) that we saw in Bastrop was only budding on August 23rd, so back we went on September 6th to find out what the flowers would look like once they emerged on this distorted plant. Even after two more weeks of development, the flowers were just barely beginning to come out, so I figured we might have to wait a week or two longer and make the 95-mile round trip yet again. Fortunately, as we began heading home we spotted another fasciated specimen about a mile away, and it was fully flowering. In the picture above, the flower stalk in the distance lets you compare a normal specimen to the fasciated one in the foreground. The picture below gives you a closer look at the heart of the strangeness.

For more information about fasciation, you can read this article or this other one. The phenomenon could even serve as a reminder of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s iconoclastic statement in “Self-Reliance“:

“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 19, 2020 at 4:41 AM


with 51 comments

While driving on Park Road 1C in Bastrop County on August 23rd I spied a plant standing right at the edge of the pavement that was so unusual it made me pull over as soon as I could. It turned out to be the same Liatris aspera, known as tall gayfeather and tall blazing-star, that you recently saw here (do have a look back at the second picture in that post for comparison), but fasciation had greatly distorted the upper part of this budding specimen. The closer view below, which shows the plant rotated about 90° from its orientation when I took the first picture, reveals details of the super-duper wide flattened stalk, along with other irregularities. Call it strange and you’ll get no argument from me.

I chose to post these pictures today to coincide with Wonderful Weirdos Day, even if the creators of that celebration, being people, had their own kind in mind. All I can say is fasciated plants are my kind of people.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 9, 2020 at 4:40 AM

One strange Mexican hat

with 44 comments

On July 20th near the Taylor Draper entrance to Great Hills Park I came across one strange dude of a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). It had way more ray florets than a Mexican hat is supposed to have, and for once fasciation didn’t seem to account for it. Oh well, we take our weirdnesses wherever and however we find them.

I’m thankful to Dr. George Yatskievych at the University of Texas for providing an explanation: “Replacement of flowers is a bit different process [than fasciation].  Each meristematic cell on the receptacle produces a set of cells with the potentiality to become either a ray or disc floret.  Regulatory developmental genes in more than one gene family determine the outcome of the differentiation…. This accounts for ‘rayless’ mutants, as well as heads in which part of the disc has become replaced with rays.  This includes so-called ‘doubled’ heads in groups like zinnias and dahlias that have extra cycles of rays toward the periphery of the disc, as well as odder mutants with rays appearing in an atypical locations, such as the center of a disc.  In some cases, this switch to a different floral morphology is caused by something that disrupts normal development of the head (such as insects or micro-organisms), but in other cases there is a genetic mutation (in which case the plants will tend to pass the mutation to at least part of the next generation).  One of the more interesting mutations that I have seen pops up occasionally in Gaillardia, in which the marginal florets have corollas that are enlarged, but are still basically shaped like a disc floret at their tips. The bottom line is that there can be more than one cause, but it always comes down to the expression of regulatory genes during floral development.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 5, 2020 at 4:45 AM

Sometimes a right angle is the right angle

with 37 comments

How about this curiously flexed rain-lily (Cooperia drummondii) that I found at the Doeskin Ranch on April 8th? And before anyone gets all bent out of shape by the flower in the picture not quite living up to the post’s title, yes, I realize that the angle here is a little less than 90°. I claim geometricopoetic license.

I also claim—and I think you’ll agree—that this is quite a different take on a rain-lily from the March 26th one that appeared here not so long ago.

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2020 at 4:40 PM

A Mexican hat mitten

with 35 comments

How about a Mexican hat that looked more like a mitten? I saw this strangely forming Ratibida columnifera in Austin six years ago today. Note the spider silk in various places. The colors in the background were from an Indian blanket, Gaillardia pulchella.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 6, 2019 at 4:56 AM

%d bloggers like this: