Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘weird

Conjoined firewheels

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Conjoined Firewheel Flower Heads 4547

In the Balcones District Park on May 13th I found these two firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) flower heads conjoined back to back on a single stem. The fact that the stem was somewhat flattened makes me think fasciation* was at work here. The purple in the background came from horsemints (Monarda citriodora).


* You can pronounce the sc in fasciation as ss or sh.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 12, 2016 at 5:00 AM

A malformed four-nerve daisy bud

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Malformed Tetraneuris Bud 2921

Among the four-nerve daisies (Tetraneuris linearifolia) that I photographed on Bluegrass Dr. on January 29th, I noticed one bud that had folded in on itself in an unnatural way that I’d never seen in this species and that might have been an instance of fasciation. If you’d like, you can compare the way a four-nerve daisy bud normally opens. You can also click the fasciation tag below to scroll down through previous posts showing other afflicted species.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 6, 2016 at 5:01 AM

The return of frostweed ice

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Frostweed Ice 2804

On the just-below-freezing morning of January 23rd I went back down to Great Hills Park and found more frostweed plants with extruded ice near their bases than when I’d visited 12 days earlier. Of the many pictures I took on that return outing, I’ve chosen to show you two that are rather different from the two you saw last time.

For the image below, I noticed a small piece of frostweed ice broken off on the ground, so I picked it up, held it out against the sky, and photographed it. The morning was bright (as you can see from the background in the first photo), yet the camera’s sensor rendered the clear blue sky dark in comparison to the sheen of the ice. That’s a reminder of how much more sensitive to light our eyes are than the cameras we use.

Frostweed Ice Detached 2732A


How quickly the time has passed: one year ago today we began our four-week trip to New Zealand, which yielded 72 posts for this blog.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

February 1, 2016 at 5:05 AM


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Dead Crawfish on Greenbrier Vines 1842

Surrealism was an early-20th-century literary and artistic movement that promoted the juxtaposition of incongruous things. I think you’ll agree with me that surrealistic is a good way to describe this little scene that I found near Tejas Camp in Williamson County on January 23. How a dead crawfish came to be lying upside down on a bunch of greenbrier vines (Smilax bona-nox) I don’t know. This spot was several hundred feet from, and considerably higher than, the nearest water, which was the north fork of the San Gabriel River, so I doubt a crawfish would have managed to walk here, much less climb up on these vines. In fact I doubt crawfish climb vines at all, but some knowledgeable reader may want to disabuse me of that idea. So what’s left? Did someone who was hiking near the river find a dead crawfish, carry it around for a while, then decide that was a strange thing to be doing and dump the crawfish on top of these vines? Could a bird have caught and killed the crawfish, started flying away with it, and then accidentally dropped it? Your suggestions are welcome.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 25, 2016 at 5:11 AM

Question Everything.

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Question Everything 1532

Okay, here’s something different. After I’d photographed the Mexican hats you saw in the last two posts, I walked a little further down Morado Circle looking for other plants along an undeveloped stretch of land on one side of the road. Before long I noticed that someone had gone to the trouble of painting a portion of a light pole white in order to write a message on it. As you can see, the person got off to a rough begiining beginning. Too bad there wasn’t any way to move the dot of the mistaken i to the end of the sentence to make up for the missing period.

Speaking of missing things, this is supposed to be a nature photography blog, so here’s another picture of a Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera, from that January 2nd outing. Notice how the tiny disk flowers develop from the bottom toward the top of the “thimble.” In terms of composition, I like the way the arc of amorphous yellow patches in the background echoes the predominant yellow in the subject’s ray flowers. That arc also amplifies the slight curve of the flower head’s stalk.

Mexican Hat Flower Head 1463

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 18, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Not quite freezing, but cold enough

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Frostweed Ice 1637

When I checked the outside thermometer yesterday morning at around 5:30, it read 38°F (3°C): not quite freezing but cold enough, I verified a few hours later in Great Hills Park, for frostweed (Verbesina virginica) to have done its ice trick overnight. Only a few plants were involved, and the formations fell short of the best and biggest ones I’ve seen, but at least we finally had a bit of icy delicacy in what has so far been a winter without a winter. If you’re new to this phenomenon, the next paragraph is a version of the explanation I gave in previous years.

The name frostweed comes from one of the strangest phenomena in botany. By the time the first freeze settles in overnight on the lands where this species grows, almost all of these plants have gone to seed. Although each stalk stands there dried out and unappealing, that first frigid touch can cause it to draw underground water up into its base. Now for the bizarre part: the section of the stalk immediately above the ground splits open as it extrudes freezing water laterally, and the process produces fragile sheets of ice that curl and fold around the broken stalk or even unscroll away from it.

Here’s a closer look at some of those little icy scrolls I photographed yesterday:

Frostweed Ice Detail 1621A

If you’d like to see views of frostweed ice from former years, here are a few:





© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 12, 2016 at 5:02 AM

“Always deal with it up,” or “I will try to get the cling oof it!”—Quaint spam comes my way

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For four New Year’s Days in a row I posted a compilation of strange search engine terms that had brought people to my blog during the preceding year. WordPress’s reporting of search-engine terms has largely dried up, but there’s never an end to spam, so this year for your “edification” I’ll give you a sample of some of the strange spam I’ve received. The grammar, spelling, and punctuation are just as they appeared.

So as not to have a pictureless post, at the end I’ve added a landscape photograph from the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park on November 22. No penalty for skipping down to the scenery and ignoring the babble.

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Chisos Mountains Scenery 0027

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 1, 2016 at 5:15 AM


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Dark Fly, Dead Bee, Dead Spider on Tatalencho 8237

When I was happily photographing tatalencho (Gymnosperma glutinosum) at Wild Basin on October 27th I came across this little drama that I had trouble understanding. Most conspicuous was the dead bee whose head-down posture on the flower stalk made it look like an airplane that had nose-dived into a crash-landing. We have to assume the bee had met its demise thanks to the spider that now too was upside down and immobile, and that I took to be dead as well. Standing on the bee’s upraised rump was by far the tiniest of the creatures in this arthropodal ménage à trois, a dark insect that appeared to be biting or sucking the tip of one of the spider’s upraised legs.

I e-mailed for help, which came quickly. From entomologist Alex Wild at the University of Texas I learned that the dark little insect is “a freeloader fly (probably Milichiidae or Chloropidae, hard to tell from the photo), taking advantage of the spider’s kill. As Joe [Lapp] said, this is a fairly common phenomenon, but since the flies are so small it is often overlooked.”

I also heard back from local expert Val Bugh: “The spider is not dead, it’s busy eating and crab spiders prefer to remain still, especially when their prey blocks them from view. The black fly, commonly called a freeloader fly (family Milichiidae) is actually just standing on the bee’s butt — it only looks like its face is touching the spider’s leg because of the angle. Really, the mouth of the fly goes down and it is probably waiting to scavenge some droplets while the spider feeds (or it is wondering whether or not it needs to leave because there is a big, scary camera pointing at it). Usually, spiders and other predators just ignore these little flies, which might walk all over both the predator and its victim.”

Joe Lapp added some more: “I think I’ve only ever seen this once on the prey of a spider other than a crab spider. I think crab spiders are preferential because they don’t masticate their prey like most do. Instead, they inject digestive fluids into holes and slurp out the yummy insides. That leaves opportunity for flies to go to town unharmed. I wonder if the venom or enzymes also assist the flies. In my mind, the wild thing is that these flies show up before the prey begins decaying.”

So there you have the explanation for this curious sight.


I’m away for a few days. You’re welcome to leave comments, but it may take me a while to answer.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 20, 2015 at 5:06 AM

A gooey gall

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Oak Gall with Drops of Goo on It 7435

It’s common to see galls on oak trees, but many of the ones on this live oak (Quercus fusiformis) had sticky drops on their surface that I’d never seen before and still don’t know how to account for. Joe Marcus of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center provided a couple of good hypotheses: “Apparently it’s an open question.  Does the host tree produce the sticky substance on the gall to capture the exiting adult wasp or perhaps to attract gall wasp parasites, or does the larval wasp cause the gall to produce the exudates to attract others of its species for reproduction?  I don’t think the question has been answered.”

Note the hole in the upper left part of the gall through which a wasp would have exited.

Today’s photograph is from an October 18th field trip to the Shield Ranch southwest of Austin.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 7, 2015 at 5:21 AM

On rare occasions 3 = 5.

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Poison Ivy with Five Leaflets 6189

“Leaves of three, let it be,” goes an old adage that’s meant to guide people away from the three “leaves” of poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. I put “leaves” in quotation marks because, technically speaking, poison ivy has compound leaves, each of which is normally made up of three leaflets; those three leaflets together comprise one (and only one) leaf.

Now for the word normally in that last sentence: a poison ivy leaf almost always produces three leaflets, but once in a rare while it produces five, as you can confirm in today’s photograph taken in Great Hills Park on April 27th. The picture you saw yesterday of a poison ivy vine climbing a rough-barked tree reminded me of my earlier sighting, which I’d meant to report to you but had forgotten about, so here it is now.

In case you’re wondering, the other leaves on this poison ivy plant had their normal complement of three leaflets.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 30, 2015 at 5:29 AM

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