Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflower

Nelumbo lutea

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At 40 Acre Lake in Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston on the morning of September 18th I zoomed my telephoto lens to 400mm to photograph both flowers and seed heads of the American lotus, Nelumbo lutea. I’d have thought water lilies and this lotus are in the same botanical family, and in fact both used to be included in Nymphaeaceae. Now, however, botanists have found evidence to move the lotus into its own family, Nelumbonaceae, whose only extant genus is Nelumbo.



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From Mark Twain in London to ice sheets in Antarctica


As Emily Petsko reported in a 2018 article in Mental Floss:

“In 1897, an English journalist from the New York Journal contacted Twain to inquire whether the rumors that he was gravely ill or already dead were indeed true. Twain wrote a response, part of which made it into the article that ran in the Journal on June 2, 1897:”

Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London … The great humorist, while not perhaps very robust, is in the best of health. He said: ‘I can understand perfectly how the report of my illness got about, I have even heard on good authority that I was dead. James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness. The report of my death was an exaggeration.’

People later exaggerated Twain’s last sentence into “The report of my death was a great exaggeration, and now we unfortunately find the incorrect version quoted much more often than the historical one.

I bring that up—and I’m not exaggerating—because a lot of people in the media and in government have been exaggerating, sometimes greatly, the dangers from the world’s changing climate. Physicist* Steven Koonin wrote about that in the September 19th Wall Street Journal. His editorial bears the title “Don’t Believe the Hype About Antarctica’s Melting Glaciers” and the subhead “Two studies carefully explore the factors at play, but the headlines are only meant to raise alarm.” Here’s how Koonin’s editorial begins:

Alarming reports that the Antarctic ice sheet is shrinking misrepresent the science under way to understand a very complex situation. Antarctica has been ice-covered for at least 30 million years. The ice sheet holds about 26.5 million gigatons of water (a gigaton is a billion metric tons, or about 2.2 trillion pounds). If it were to melt completely, sea levels would rise 190 feet. Such a change is many millennia in the future, if it comes at all.

Much more modest ice loss is normal in Antarctica. Each year, some 2,200 gigatons (or 0.01%) of the ice is discharged in the form of melt and icebergs, while snowfall adds almost the same amount. The difference between the discharge and addition each year is the ice sheet’s annual loss. That figure has been increasing in recent decades, from 40 gigatons a year in the 1980s to 250 gigatons a year in the 2010s.

But the increase is a small change in a complex and highly variable process. For example, Greenland’s annual loss has fluctuated significantly over the past century. And while the Antarctic losses seem stupendously large, the recent annual losses amount to 0.001% of the total ice and, if they continued at that rate, would raise sea level by only 3 inches over 100 years.


You’re welcome to read the rest of Koonin’s editorial.



* Some climate alarmist activists have made the ad hominem “argument” that because Koonin is a physicist he has no right to say anything about the climate. Of course someone as steeped in data evaluation and the scientific method as a physicist can spend time studying a situation in another field and draw valid conclusions. In fact Koonin has done enough recent research to write an entire book: Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why it Matters. You can read a December 2021 discussion he had on the subject.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 29, 2022 at 4:30 AM

An endemic wildflower

with 8 comments


In the United States Spigelia texana grows only in Texas.
On the morning of September 18th I got to see some
at Brazos Bend State Park southwest of Houston.



If Texas pinkroot has pink roots, I never got to see any.
I did see that the buds look yellow and turn whiter as they open into flowers.




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As woke as some segments of American society have rapidly become, the United States has nothing on our great* neighbor to the north, which in its sprint to claim the title of the Wokest Country on Earth has been leaving everyone else in the dust. If you haven’t heard about the latest in-your-face transgression at an Ontario high school, you can read accounts of it in the September 23rd Toronto Sun, the September 21st National Desk, and the September 21st New York Post. Scroll through each article for photographs and embedded videos. Alert: you won’t be able to unsee what you’ve seen. You can also watch a four-and-a-half minute video that interviews people protesting this affront. And you can read Brendan O’Neill’s take on this as confirming what he calls the cult of validation. It’s also possible that the teacher in question is trolling everyone and the whole thing is an outlandishly clever hoax.


* Canada has a greater land area than the United States, which is in fourth place. Canada is second, behind Russia and ahead of China. No known correlation exists between the physical size of a country and the extent to which its institutions promote freedom and sanity.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 27, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Purple passionflower

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I found myself sauntering (and at 95° sweltering) along a walkway in Houston’s Memorial Park on the bright afternoon of September 17th after I’d noticed while driving through the park that many native species seem to have been planted there. (All the ones I recognized were native, so I assumed the others were, too.) The most striking wildflower I saw there—one I’d walked past on the outward segment of my sauntering and only noticed when I’d made it most of the way back to my car—was a purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata. Me being me, I did some closer abstractions of the flowers on this vine.



Today’s post is the first of I don’t know how many that will cover the days we spent in Houston, at Brazos Bend State Park, and on Galveston Island.


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Two frequent themes in my commentaries have been: (1) We need to be accurate in reporting facts and incidents; (2) We should be wary when people try to change the longstanding meaning of a word or phrase. Those two things came together in a recent brouhaha brought about when Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said: “There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.”

Let’s examine this. Can an ultrasound detect, at least sometimes, activity from the heart area in a human embryo that has been developing for six weeks? The answer turns out to be yes. Stacey Abrams was therefore incorrect in calling the sound “manufactured.” Could she have meant that the embryo was “manufacturing” the sound? That hardly seems likely, based on the rest of her statement.

Supporters of Stacey Abrams rushed to defend her comment by saying that any “cardiac activity” detectable at six weeks isn’t really a heartbeat because the heart is only beginning to form at that stage. When I searched for information about that, one of the first hits I got was a 2019 article by Jessica McDonald on FactCheck.org called “When Are Heartbeats Audible During Pregnancy?” The article, which came in response to “fetal heartbeat” bills that legislators in various states had been proposing, noted that “‘fetal heartbeat’ is more of a legal term than a medical one.” Jessica McDonald went on:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also has said in a statement, “What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically-induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops. Thus, ACOG does not use the term ‘heartbeat’ to describe these legislative bans on abortion because it is misleading language, out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy.”

 But then she went on to add:

At the same time, many online medical websites, including the Mayo Clinic, do refer to the heart and its beating early-on in pregnancy. And plenty of medical textbooks use the words “heart” and “heartbeat” to refer to the embryo’s developing heart.

So even medical experts differ on when cardiac activity in a developing embryo or fetus qualifies as a “heartbeat.” That’s actually not surprising. In many kinds of development there’s no hard and fast line between one stage and the next. For example, when does a child become an adult? Americans in three states can get a full driver’s license at 16; the other 47 states grant a full license at varying older ages. In all states people can vote and serve in the military at 18, but they aren’t allowed to buy alcohol till 21. And scientists tell us that human brain development isn’t complete until approximately age 25.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 24, 2022 at 4:29 AM

A reward

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Our house had a conventional lawn when we moved here in 2004 and path-of-least-resistance me has never done anything to change it. As a result I do have to mow every so often. The most recent time was September 7th, by which date rain had finally caused the grass to come up noticeably from its drought-induced dormancy of the summer. Near the end of my chore I noticed a single wood sorrel flower (Oxalis drummondii) and carefully mowed around it. A little later I came back to get my photographic reward.

I took some of my pictures with flash and a small aperture to keep most of the flower’s details sharp. In this shot, however, I went with natural light, which in turn dictated a broad aperture and shallow depth of field.


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In 2007, the U.S. Congress mandated the blending of biofuels such as corn-based ethanol into gasoline. One of the top goals: reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But today, the nation’s ethanol plants produce more than double the climate-damaging pollution, per gallon of fuel production capacity, than the nation’s oil refineries, according to a Reuters analysis of federal data….

The ethanol plants’ high emissions result in part from a history of industry-friendly federal regulation that has allowed almost all processors to sidestep the key environmental requirement of the 2007 law, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), according to academics who have studied ethanol pollution and regulatory documents examined by Reuters….

That’s the shocking lead in a September 8th Reuters article by Leah Douglas. You can learn more by reading the full article. I’ll add that I’ve been against the ethanol boondoggle ever since Congress enacted it. One big reason is that converting so much corn to ethanol drives up the price of corn, which people around the world depend on as a primary food. Remember Mexico’s 2007 tortilla crisis?


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 17, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Bluebell time

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Two years ago, during the first months of the pandemic, I brought you a picture of probably the densest and most expansive colony of bluebells (Eustoma sp.) I’ve ever seen. It sprawled across a field on the south side of San Gabriel Blvd. in Leander, a rapidly growing suburb north of Austin. Unfortunately that rapid growth meant the field soon became a construction site and the great bluebell colony was destroyed before another spring came around. This year a post in the Texas Flora group announced that some bluebells had come up on the north side of San Gabriel Blvd, presumably the progeny of plants from the now-gone colony. On June 14th I went up there and, sure enough, I found some bluebells flowering, mostly in a ditch.

For the portrait above, I lay on the ground and aimed toward a patch of bright sky. (If I remember correctly, this is the first picture with a white background I’ve posted since a winecup in December 2021, and that was the first since a rain lily in March 2020.) The portrait below shows some bluebell buds beginning to open.


As I was finishing up my photography in Leander, I noticed a crew of mowers getting closer and closer to the wildflower-filled ditch. When a guy with a weed-whacker approached the far end of the ditch, I went over and talked to him in Spanish, asking him not to cut down the beautiful wildflowers. He asked me if I was the encargado—the person in charge—of the property. I said no, but as a citizen it was important to me to preserve the wildflowers. He pointed to a guy on a tractor who he said was the head of the ground crew, so I walked over and talked to him. He turned out to speak good English. He said the crew mowed on a schedule, and he didn’t seem at all concerned about cutting down the flowers. I asked who at his company I could talk to. He pointed to the company truck, which had a phone number on it. I walked close enough to the truck to read the phone number, called it, and got a message saying that number was out of service. It didn’t seem there was any more I could do, so I drove home.

Two days later I went back to see what had happened. To my pleasant surprise, I found that the guys in the crew had mowed a narrow strip along the top edges of the ditch but had left everything lower down alone. It seems my plea had done some good after all. Below, strictly for documentary purposes, is how a portion of the ditch looked when I returned there. Other than the bluebells, prominent flowers were horsemints (Monarda citriodora) and firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella), visible in the upper left, and two others that I’ll show in a separate post.


After I told this story in the Texas Flora group a couple of days ago, florally named Rose Thomas commented that the incident reminded her of Robert Frost’s poem “The Tuft of Flowers.” I didn’t know that poem, so I looked it up and found a version in which Robert Frost himself reads it as the lines of verse scroll to keep pace. I also replied to Rose: “In addition to the bluebells at the bottom of the ditch, the mowers had spared one that was flowering up high, at the level of the adjacent field, next to a culvert. Substitute the culvert for a brook, and that bluebell could have been the tall tuft of flowers in the poem.” (That will make sense if you check out the poem.)


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

June 19, 2022 at 4:34 AM

Red and green at Inks Lake State Park

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One reason I headed out to Inks Lake State Park on May 6th was that some of the prickly pear cactus flowers there in other springtimes have displayed more red than I see in their Austin counterparts. The top picture shows that was true this year, too. In contrast to that red, look at all the placid green around one inlet.



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Did you hear about how the imaging technique of photogrammetry has revealed details of cave art in Alabama from about 2000 years ago? “The motifs, which depict human forms and animals, are some of the largest known cave images found in North America and may represent spirits of the underworld.” Check it out.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 15, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Lace cactus

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Yesterday I found flowers on several adjacent lace cacti (Echinocereus reichenbachii ssp. reichenbachii) in my hilly northwest part of Austin. Today’s picture of one is the first I’ve ever shown here. Great saturated colors, don’t you think?


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For decades I’ve criticized the American education system. In the 15 years since I last taught, not only have the old problems persisted and worsened, but new problems have arisen. Here’s how Shane Trotter describes one of them in his Quillette article “Hidden in Plain Sight: Putting Tech Before Teaching.”

In its desire to embrace technology, our school district failed to recognize the social devolution that was taking hold of society. The iPad Initiative [which he’d just described in detail] came right as smartphones became virtually ubiquitous among American teens and adults. Teens began spending over seven hours per day consuming entertainment media. Twelfth-graders in 2015 were going out less often than eight graders Adolescent mental disorders skyrocketed. And at this crucial juncture, we decided to begin allowing students to use smartphones throughout the school day. These students would not know how to set boundaries for how they used their phones. They’d have no understanding of the psychological vulnerabilities that tech companies exploited—no training in how to use their phone without it using them. Most of all, they’d have no environment where they could be free from the incessant psychic drain that had come to define their world. Oblivious to any responsibility to help students or their families adapt better, our schools helped facilitate the community’s descent into becoming screen-addicted, constantly distracted people whose cognitive skills and attention spans were being chipped away rather than cultivated.

You’re welcome to read the full article.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 29, 2022 at 4:38 AM

Time again for prairie celestials

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During the first week of April native plantophile Robert Kamper kept me apprised of how the prairie celestials, Nemastylis geminiflora, were coming along in the greenbelt right behind his house in Round Rock. Early in the afternoon on April 11th I went out there and was pleased to find over half a dozen of the flowers scattered about, including the one shown here.



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So yesterday morning I went to Sprouts to buy some produce. While walking around the store I noticed in the dairy section that there was a Manager’s Special on the house brand of cream cheese, whose current regular price is $1.79 each. The sale sign told customers they’d get $2.58 off if they bought two packages. How could I pass up a good deal like that? I put four packages of cream cheese into my cart.

A little later, as the cashier was tallying my items, I noticed that each package of cream cheese was ringing up on the register at the regular price of $1.79. I pointed out to the cashier that the cream cheese was on sale, and I asked if the discount would show up at the end (some stores—do you hear me, Central Market?—annoyingly do it that way rather than showing the discount right after each item appears on the screen). The cashier seemed not to know the item was on sale. After a little back and forth, she finally asked whether I was talking about a Manager’s Special. Yes, I told her, that’s what it was. Her answer was that, oh, Manager’s Specials typically only last one day, and because of that they don’t get entered into the store’s computer and therefore don’t show up at the register. She asked me what the sale price was, but I didn’t remember exactly how much of a discount I was supposed to get, so she had to run all the way to the dairy section in the most distant part of the store to read the sign, do the calculations, and then come back and manually ring up each cream cheese for 50¢ rather than $1.79.

What kind of a way to run a business is that? Is each customer required to announce at the register that an item is a Manager’s Special? There was nothing on the sale sign that said I had to do that. Think about all the people who get enticed into buying Manager’s Specials and don’t notice at the register that they’ve been charged the regular price after all. A cynical shopper couldn’t be blamed for saying that that’s the whole point. What do you think, shoppers?

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 18, 2022 at 3:42 AM

Unexpected Missouri violets

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For whatever reason, I practically never come across Missouri violets (Viola missouriensis). The only time I showed a picture of one here was in 2016. Imagine my surprise, then, on April 1st when I discovered two little clumps of Missouri violets that had sprung up between bricks in a walkway behind our house. We’ve called this place home for almost 18 years, and these were the first Missouri violets I’d ever seen in our yard. To give you a sense of scale, let me add that a Missouri violet flower is at most 3/4 of an inch across.


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Welcome to New Discourses! We like to think of this place as a home for the politically homeless, especially for those who feel like they’ve been displaced from their political homes because of the movement sometimes called “Critical Social Justice” and the myriad negative effects it has had on our political environments, both on the left and on the right. If that’s you, welcome, and make yourself at home.

New Discourses is, by design, meant to be apolitical in the usual sense. That means it is not interested in conservative, progressive, left, right, center, or any other particular political stances. It is, in this regard, only broadly liberal in the philosophical and ethical stance. In that case, whether you’re a progressive left-liberal or a conservative right-liberal, traditional or classical in any case, you’re likely to find what we’re doing refreshing. (And if you don’t, we can talk about it! That’s the point!)

That’s from the About page of a website I recently came across (I don’t remember how). If those words resonate with you, check out New Discourses.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 15, 2022 at 4:36 AM

Calderón de la Barca comes to Austin

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When I walked in our untended back and side yard on April Fool’s Day I wasn’t fooled: I recognized a good half-dozen native species that had come up on their own, including this Carolina geranium (Geranium corolinianum). Apropos the foliage supporting that flower, look at this passage from Pedro Calderón de la Barca‘s 1632 play La Banda y la Flor (The Scarf and the Flower):

La verde es color primera
Del mundo, y en quien consiste
Su hermosura, pues se viste
De verde la primavera.
La vista más lisonjera
Es aquel verde ornamento,
Pues sin voz y con aliento
Nacen de varios colores
En cuna verde las flores
Que son estrellas del viento.

Green is the primary color
Of the world, and the reason
For its beauty is that
Spring dresses in green.
That green ornamentation
Is the most flattering view,
Because without voice but with breath
A green cradle gives birth to flowers,
Which are the wind’s stars.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 11, 2022 at 4:31 AM

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