Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers

More turn-of-the-year wildflowers in my neighborhood

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Like the Ageratina havanensis that you saw two posts back, Viguiera dentata blooms in the fall and increasingly into the winter. Common names for this species include plateau goldeneye, sunflower goldeneye, and just plain goldeneye. It’s not uncommon for yellow daisy-type flower heads to open asymmetrically, as the one shown here was doing on December 16th in my neighborhood. The same goldeneye bushes were still displaying flowers on the day 2022 began.

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See what you make of each of these. Are any more logical or plausible than any of the others?

  • This is Daniel. He was born 10 years ago. That means that everyone thinks he’s 10 years old. Only now he’s grown old enough to tell everyone that he’s actually an adult and is entitled to get married, vote, and buy alcoholic beverages.
  • This is Maria. She was born in Italy to Italian parents who trace their Italian lineage back 500 years. This means that when she was born everyone thought she was Italian. Until she grew a little older — old enough to tell everyone that she’s actually Japanese.
  • This is Juan. He was born to a human mother and a human father, so everyone thought he was a human boy. Until he grew older — old enough to bark and tell everyone that he’s actually a dog.
  • This is Mark. He has been a truck driver his whole adult life. That means everyone believes he drives trucks for a living. But now he’s gone to the White House to reveal that he’s actually the President of the United States.
  • This is Ruthie. She’s a transgender girl. That means when she was born, everyone thought she was a boy. Until she grew a little older — old enough to tell everyone that she’s actually a girl.


The third of those fits a rare condition called clinical lycanthropy, in which people believe themselves to be animals. “Canines are certainly not uncommon, although the experience of being transformed into a hyena, cat, horse, bird or tiger has been reported on more than one occasion. Transformation into frogs, and even bees, has been reported in some instances.”

The fourth of those could indicate schizophrenia, symptoms of which sometimes include delusions of grandeur. Approximately 1.2% of Americans suffer from schizophrenia., including the primary subject of the excellent documentary “I Am Another You,” which we watched last night.

The fifth of those is actual text from the book It Feels Good to Be Yourself, which some elementary schools have put in their library. You can read about it in a December 22nd opinion piece by Betsy McCaughey in the New York Post. Researchers have estimated that 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as transgender.

UPDATE: Here’s a follow-up on the last of those topics from Dr. Erika Anderson, who was the first transgender president of the US Professional Association for Transgender Health.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 6, 2022 at 4:27 AM

Turn-of-the-year wildflowers in my neighborhood

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Ageratina havanensis is a native bush known as shrubby boneset, Havana snakeroot, white mistflower, and fragrant mistflower. Field guides for central Texas note that it blooms in the fall. So it does, including very late in the fall, as confirmed by the buds-and-flowers view above from December 16th in my neighborhood. At the same time that new buds were emerging and opening, some of the flower heads were already going to seed, like the ones in the picture below.

☆         ☆         ☆

Eleven months ago Glenn Loury delivered a lecture. After recounting details of three murders in Chicago on the most recent Memorial Day weekend, he said:

All of the victims were black people. Sixty-three shot, six dead, one weekend, one city. Here’s the thing: reports such as this could be multiplied dozens of times, effortlessly. If a black intellectual truly believes that “Black Lives Matter,” then what is he supposed to say in response to such nauseating reports—that “there is nothing to see here”? I think not.

Violence on such a scale involving blacks as both perpetrators and victims poses a dilemma to someone like myself. On the one hand, as the Harvard legal scholar Randall Kennedy has observed, we elites need to represent the decent law-abiding majority of African Americans cowering fearfully inside their homes in the face of such violence. We must do so not just to enhance our group’s reputation as in the “politics of respectability” but mainly as a precondition for our own dignity and self-respect.

On the other hand, we elites must also counter the demonization of young black men which the larger American culture has for some time now been feverishly engaged in. Even as we condemn murderers, we cannot help but view with sympathy the plight of many poor youngsters who, though not incorrigible, have nevertheless committed crimes. We must wrestle with complex historical and contemporary causes internal and external to the black experience that help to account for this pathology. (There’s no way around it. This is pathology. The behavior in question here is not okay. That one can adduce social-psychological explanations does not resolve all moral questions.)

Where is the self-respecting black intellectual to take his stand? Must he simply act as a mouthpiece for movement propaganda aiming to counteract “white supremacy”? Has he anything to say to his own people about how some of us are living? Is there space in American public discourses for nuanced, subtle, sophisticated moral engagement with these questions? Or are they mere fodder for what amount to tendentious, cynical, and overtly politically partisan arguments on behalf of something called “racial equity”? And what about those so-called “white intellectuals”? Do they have to remain mute? Or, must they limit themselves to incanting anti-racist slogans?

Professor Loury goes on to discuss what he calls unspeakable truths about the situation:

  • Downplaying behavioral disparities by race is actually a “bluff.”
  • “Structural racism” isn’t an explanation, it’s an empty category.
  • We must put the police killings of black Americans into perspective.
  • There is a dark side to the “white fragility” blame game.
  • There is an infantilization of “black fragility.”

You can read his analysis on each of those in the full speech in a Quillette article. In fact it was the most viewed article Quillette had in 2021. You can’t go wrong reading the other top nine as well.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 4, 2022 at 4:41 AM

Old and new at the same time

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Most of the Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) we saw in Buda on December 20 in what is now last year had already dried out, as shown below. Even so, the top photograph confirms that some fresh plants were coming up and even producing flowers so late in the year, presumably thanks to the warmest December on record in Austin and the state of Texas as a whole.

If you’re an avid arachnid fan, click the thumbnail below for a much closer view of the peppered jumper spider, Pelegrina galathea, whose genus name traces back to the Latin pergrinus that meant ‘coming from foreign lands’ and that has given us, via Old French, the word pilgrim. Nevertheless, Pelegrina galathea is native in Texas and other parts of North America. The species name galathea seems to be fashioned from Greek galatea, meaning ‘white as milk,’ which this spider isn’t. And that reminds me of how I used to keep a straight face while quipping to my algebra students that we use the letter m to represent the slope of a line because the word slope doesn’t have an m in it.

Speaking of language, there was a time in your life when you didn’t know that the ti in English words ending in -tion, like lotion and contribution and vacation, gets pronounced sh. Years later, if you took high school chemistry, you learned that that rule doesn’t always apply, and that unlike the cation in vacation, cation as a word on its own gets pronounced in three syllables, as if it were cat-eye-on. Why these thoughts occurred to me a couple of mornings ago, I have no idea. But then a good question to start the new year off with is why so many of our thoughts come to us seemingly unbidden.

© 2022 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 1, 2022 at 4:35 AM

Bright red near the end of the year

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Here’s a new botanical red from the last month of the year: pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), whose stalks can be as richly colorful as anything in nature. On December 8th in Balcones District Park, after happily portraying the flowers on a new [to me] species of winecup, I spent time with this pokeweed plant that had even put out buds and a flower. If you look closely at the lowest lobe of the flower you’ll see what appear to be two insect eggs.

And speaking of entomology, the etymologist in me feels compelled to add that while it’s true you could get a poke from pokeweed if you’re not as careful as I was when I leaned through the branches of this bush to take my pictures, the poke in pokeweed is a different word. It comes from pocan, a dialectal version of a Virginia Algonquian term. In fact it’s the same word that has given us puccoon. That’s the true explanation; I’m not selling you a pig in a poke, which is yet a third unrelated poke in English.


☸︎        ☸︎        ☸︎


If you’ve never read “The Gift of the Magi,” by O. Henry (who lived in Austin), you should.
It’s only six pages long. Go for it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 25, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Mexican hats in December

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Unlike bluebonnets, which I’d never seen flowering in December till this year, Mexican hats (Ratibida columnifera) are an accustomed sight in months well past their late-spring peak. So it was that on December 9th, when I walked the Mopac embankment to find and photograph a single prodigious bluebonnet, I also found my share of Mexican hats, one of which appears above. Three days later, when I was in Great Hills Park to document frostweed ice, I came across a little Mexican hat bent over with frost and ailing as a result. That aside, Mexican hats are still flowering along Mopac—hardly surprising when afternoon temperatures have been in the 70s and predicted to rise into the 80s on the 25th.

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FAIR, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, recently hosted a discussion between Melissa Chen and Steven Pinker. A good portion of the discussion is based on Pinker’s latest book, Rationality.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 24, 2021 at 4:25 AM

Another way-out-of-season wildflower

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Far outnumbering the lone way-out-of season bluebonnet I photographed along Mopac on December 9th were the many Engelmann daisies (Engelmannia peristenia) on the same embankment. I saw plenty of these flowers, along with lots of other Engelmann daisy plants that looked fresh and healthy but hadn’t yet produced any flowers. Marshall Enquist gives the normal blooming season for the species as March through July, so these Engelmann daisies were only a little less of a rarity in December than the bluebonnet. This season’s first good frost on December 11th apparently didn’t hurt the Engelmann daisies because I’m still seeing plenty of them flowering along Mopac.

Both pictures show the typical concave (pinched-in) configuration of the ray florets as a bud opens.

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The other day we watched the film Makala, which means ‘charcoal’ in Swahili. The documentary follows Kasongo, a rural Congolese man who ekes out a bare living laboriously cutting down trees, turning the wood into charcoal, and trekking that charcoal to a town to sell it. If you want to appreciate how good we have it in first-world countries, watch Makala. To learn more about the movie, you can read a review by Roger Ebert.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 18, 2021 at 4:28 AM

A new winecup

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You’ve seen several species of the wildflowers known as winecups here before. On December 8th in Balcones District Park we came across a tall winecup that looked different from the standing winecup I’m used to. Ryan McDaniel from the Texas Flora group identified it as Callirhoe leiocarpa. Today’s two photographs show what a difference the background can make in a portrait; likewise for whether the light transluces, as above, or reflects, as below; also whether you look at a flower from the back or from the front.

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Political correctness didn’t decline and fall. It went underground and then rose again. If anything, it’s stronger than ever today. Yet some influential figures on the left still downplay the problem, going so far as to pretend that the increase in even tenured professors being fired for off-limits speech is a sign of a healthy campus. And this unwillingness to recognize a serious problem in academia has helped embolden culture warriors on the right, who have launched their own attacks on free speech and viewpoint diversity in the American education system.

We’ve fully entered the Second Great Age of Political Correctness. If we are to find a way out, we must understand how we got here and admit the true depths of the problem.

That’s an excerpt from Greg Lukianoff’s new article in Reason magazine. The article’s title is “The Second Great Age of Political Correctness” and its blurb is “The P.C. culture of the ’80s and ’90s didn’t decline and fall. It just went underground. Now it’s back.” And look at these figures from the article:

…[V]iewpoint diversity among professors [has] plummeted. In 1996, the ratio of self-identified liberal faculty to self-identified conservative faculty was 2-to-1; by 2011, the ratio was 5-to-1, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

More recent statistics paint a starker picture. A 2019 study by the National Association of Scholars on the political registration of professors at the two highest-ranked public and private universities in each state found that registered Democrat faculty outnumbered registered Republican faculty about 9-to-1. In the Northeast, the ratio was about 15-to-1.

In the most evenly split discipline, economics, Democrats outnumber Republicans “only” 3-to-1. The second most even discipline, mathematics, has a ratio of about 6-to-1. Compare this to English and sociology, where the ratios are about 27-to-1. In anthropology, it’s a staggering 42-to-1.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 16, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Actual frost on frostweed

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While frostweed (Verbesina virginica) is remarkable for the delicate ice it extrudes from its stalk when the temperature drops to freezing, the plant isn’t immune from having actual frost settle on it. I reconfirmed that on December 12th in Great Hills Park when I went down there for my annual documenting of frostweed’s ice trick. The top picture shows frost on some frostweed flowers that had lingered into mid-December, thanks to unusually mild temperatures. The portrait below shows frost on an already dry and curled frostweed leaf.

☙       ☙       ☙

I’m reading Steven Pinker’s new book Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters. At one point he cites figures from Bobby Duffy’s Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything. You can find out if you’re right or wrong about the following things by saying what percent of the American population you estimate each of these groups represents. (The percents in other countries would be different, of course.)

  • Immigrants.
  • Gays.
  • African-Americans.
  • Jews.

And for this last one, the scope is worldwide:

  • Girls and women aged 15–19 who give birth each year.

To allow people time to see this and come up with estimates, I’ll provide the answers two or three posts from now.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 15, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Bluebonnet flowering in December!

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A week or so back we were heading north on the Mopac access road when the Lady Eve spied a bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) flowering. Bluebonnets typically reach their peak in April and fade away by May, so while it’s not unusual in December for this species to put out basal rosettes of leaves in preparation for the following spring, it’s highly unusual for a bluebonnet to flower now.

Because of the rarity, yesterday morning I went back with my camera gear, parked adjacent to the stretch of Mopac where Eve had glimpsed the bluebonnet (but I as the driver hadn’t), and walked along the highway embankment to see if I could find the plant—and find it I did. The fact that we haven’t even had any frost yet must have helped produce and maintain this prodigy. Even as the inflorescence shown above was beginning to show its age, a fresh one was opening:

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 10, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchids revisited

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Last month you heard how on November 1st I went in search of Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) on a property in my part of town that I rely on for those flowers yet found only a few. Exactly three weeks later I returned and after much wandering about managed to find a few more orchids that I’d missed the first time around. One of those is shown above in a soft approach. In contrast, I made the portrait below when a shaft of light coming through the canopy of trees briefly lit up one of the orchids.


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“I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and… actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.” — John Malone in a CNBC interview on November 19, 2021. Malone is the top shareholder of Discovery, which is poised to take over CNN. For a long time now I’ve lamented the devolution of CNN, which I remember from the 1990s, when you could tune in even at 3 AM and get news of the world.

And how ’bout this for a strange story? “A dentist in Italy faces possible criminal charges after trying to receive a coronavirus vaccine in a fake arm made of silicone.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2021 at 4:34 AM

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