Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers

Widow’s tears revisited

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On July 19th I got an e-mail from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine with the photographic want list for their October issue. In the “Flora Fact” category, the species for that month will be Commelina erecta, the dayflower, which you saw here on June 27th. I’d also shown a few dayflower pictures here years ago, so I quickly searched back through old posts to see if any of those earlier portraits might be suitable to submit to the magazine. The first old dayflower photograph I found was from a post in 2012, and in it I noticed that I’d taken the picture nine years earlier to the day. Ah, coincidences.

Next I delved into my archive to see what other photographs I might have taken during that outing near Lake Travis. Turns out I took plenty, only a very few of which I’d processed. Of course some weren’t worth processing, but others were. As a result, today’s picture is a never-before-seen one from July 19, 2012. It shows why one vernacular name for the species is widow’s tears. Clear liquid collects in a keel-shaped part of the inflorescence called a spathe (from the Greek spathē that meant ‘broad blade,’ and that has also given English the kind of spade in a deck of playing cards, and has given Spanish its word for ‘a sword,’ espada). People noticed that if you gently squeeze the sides of a dayflower’s spathe, drops of the clear liquid inside emerge from the tip of the structure. Here I managed to record one such drop in the split-second when it was breaking loose from the tip of the spathe. Notice how the drop acted as a lens that focused an upside-down image of nearby trees.


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Two days ago Robert Contee, Police Chief for Washington, D.C., gave an impromptu press conference in which he expressed his frustration with the courts there for coddling violent criminals. Failure to keep those predators in jail lets many of them go on to commit more crimes, even as earlier cases against them are still pending. You can read more about the press conference by Chief Contee, who grew up in the District and who is black, in a Federalist article. Within that article is a 7.5-minute video clip from the press conference, which I recommend you watch, in which Chief Contee speaks about “the brazenness of the criminals…. We have a vicious cycle of bad actors who do things with no accountability, and they end up back in [the] community… [T]he way that we’re going and the things that we’re trying to do, we want to help people, yes we should. But you cannot coddle violent criminals, you cannot. You cannot treat violent criminals who are out here making communities unsafe for you, for your loved ones, for me, for my loved ones. They might not want a job, they might not, they might not need services. What they may require is to be off of our streets because they’re making it unsafe for us. And if that’s what it requires, then that’s what it requires. And we have to own that. We have to own it, because if not, we see more of this.”

I happened to catch most of Chief Contee’s impassioned press conference live. At one point it occurred to me to check CNN and MSNBC to see if they were carrying it. They weren’t.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 25, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Crab spider on germander

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As I wandered around on July 10th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 I saw some germander plants (Geum canadense) still flowering. In the one shown above, the yellowing older flowers provided good camouflage for a crab spider, which I hadn’t even noticed till I got in close to photograph the flowers. Poking around with my macro lens caused the spider to move lower on the plant, where I made the following portrait.

For both photographs I used flash, which let me stop down to f/16 for good depth of field.


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I recently listened to a good conversation between Andrew Sullivan and Amy Chua, both of whom deplore and are working against illiberalism in our country.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 24, 2021 at 4:42 AM

Walking the walk, stalking the stalk

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My nature walk in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 on July 10th had me stalking sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), not just their buds and flower heads but also their rough stalks that present so many opportunities for photographic abstractions. For this portrait I aimed down at a horizontal portion of a thick stalk. Note the two small ants on it. Note also that the stalk meaning ‘a stem’ and the stalk meaning ‘to pursue’ are unrelated. It’s not unusual for two words in a language to start out different and then coincidentally evolve in ways that lead them to end up the same.


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One morning two or three decades ago I was watching a Sunday television talk show. At one point the moderator interviewed a partisan who came on the show to oppose a bill that was pending in Congress. The partisan said that passage of the bill would cause X to happen, where X was some dire consequence that I no longer remember. The moderator, however, had done his homework; he pulled out a copy of the pending bill and read aloud the section relevant to the partisan’s claim that X would happen. It was clear to everyone listening that the provision in the bill would not cause X to happen. The partisan was now exposed as being at best incorrect, or at worst a liar. Nevertheless, twice more during the interview the partisan claimed that if the bill passed X would happen. What do you make of people who persist in repeating a verifiably false claim?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 21, 2021 at 6:45 AM

A sunflower bud unfurling its rays

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I was late tackling sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) this year. I finally took my first pictures of some on July 2nd but didn’t like the results. July 10th in the northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183 provided more magic. At about three minutes apart, here are two takes on a bud gracefully and asymmetrically unfurling its rays.


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And here are not two but three takes from Eric Hoffer‘s 1951 book The True Believer:

There is in us a tendency to locate the shaping forces of our existence outside ourselves. Success and failure are unavoidably related in our minds with the state of things around us. Hence it is that people with a sense of fulfillment think it a good world and would like to conserve it as it is, while the frustrated favor radical change. The tendency to look for all causes outside ourselves persists even when it is clear that our state of being is the product of personal qualities such as ability, character, appearance, health and so on. “If anything ail a man,” says Thoreau, “so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even … he forthwith sets about reforming—the world.”

A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business. This minding of other people’s business expresses itself in gossip, snooping and meddling, and also in feverish interest in communal, national and racial affairs. In running away from ourselves we either fall on our neighbor’s shoulder or fly at his throat.

All active mass movements strive… to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ. “So tenaciously should we cling to the world revealed by the Gospel, that were I to see all the Angels of Heaven coming down to me to tell me something different, not only would I not be tempted to doubt a single syllable, but I would shut my eyes and stop my ears, for they would not deserve to be either seen or heard.” To rely on the evidence of the senses and of reason is heresy and treason. It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible. What we know as blind faith is sustained by innumerable unbeliefs. The fanatical Japanese in Brazil refused to believe for years the evidence of Japan’s defeat. The fanatical Communist refuses to believe any unfavorable report or evidence about Russia, nor will he be disillusioned by seeing with his own eyes the cruel misery inside the Soviet promised land. It is the true believer’s ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move. And it is the certitude of his infallible doctrine that renders the true believer impervious to the uncertainties, surprises and the unpleasant realities of the world around him. Thus the effectiveness of a doctrine should not be judged by its profundity, sublimity or the validity of the truths it embodies, but by how thoroughly it insulates the individual from his self and the world as it is. What Pascal said of an effective religion is true of any effective doctrine: it must be “contrary to nature, to common sense and to pleasure.”

Those insights about true believers in fanatical movements
resonate every bit as much today as they did 70 years ago.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 20, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Rattlebush flowers

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At McKinney Falls State Park yesterday the rattlebushes (Sesbania drummondii) along Onion Creek downstream from the Lower Falls were flowering, so how could I not take some pictures?

A little earlier, after I’d arrived and was walking in from the parking area, I noticed that a man near me was heading in a direction that wouldn’t take him to the Lower Falls, which is the place I assumed he was trying to get to. I called over to the man, explained that he was heading the wrong way, and pointed him in the direction he needed to go.

On my way back from photographing the rattlebush flowers I passed by the Lower Falls and noticed the man sitting nearby. He looked like he was from India, and I wanted to find out his opinion about something, so I struck up a conversation. First I asked if he lived here or was just visiting the United States. He told me he’s been in the country about 20 years. He started in New York, then moved to Texas, where he’d run a Subway shop. I asked him what he thought of America. In particular, I pointed out that many people in the news media and now even many in our government are claiming that America is a horribly racist country, and I wanted to know if he agreed. He said that there’s always some discrimination in all countries, that it’s a reality of human nature. He mentioned the caste system in India as an example. Then he said that the United States is better. That immigrant to our country understands human nature and the United States in a way that too many Americans fail to—or refuse to—understand.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 19, 2021 at 4:35 AM

White against yellow

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Over the 10 years of this blog, it hasn’t been uncommon for me to spend time taking nature pictures at a place and yet not show you a single photograph from that outing. The other day I realized that was true of our May 26th visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, so here’s a portrait I made there showing American water willow flowers (Justicia americana) in front of a yellow waterlily (Nymphaea mexicana).

UPDATE: I should’ve mentioned that individual water willow flowers measure from one-quarter to five-eighths of an inch (6–15mm), so today’s photograph is quite a close-up.


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And now here’s a poignant passage from Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters:

None of the parents I spoke to was naïve about the pressures or hardship of adolescence. They knew the rigmarole: one day the little girls they had attended through countless flus and rushed to the hospital for casts and stitches would transmogrify into teenagers and curse their love. Every one of the parents I met had been prepared to be hated for a while. They knew their daughters would mock their fashion sense, even reject their values for a time. What they were less prepared for was the macabre spectacle of their daughters’ sharp turn against themselves.

Dozens of dogmatic Amazon employees pushed to get the company to stop selling the book, but I’m happy to say Amazon didn’t cave in to the ideologues’ pressure. That hasn’t always been the case: Amazon did ban Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, even as Amazon has continued to sell The Communist Manifesto and Hitler’s Mein Kampf, whose followers murdered tens of millions of people in the 20th century. Target originally carried Abigail Shrier’s Damage, then banned it, then rescinded its ban, then banned it again. I’m against banning books, even those I think are terrible.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 18, 2021 at 4:34 AM

A wet roughstem rosinweed flower head

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From July 6th along Bull Creek, here’s a somewhat wet roughstem rosinweed, Silphium radula.

And from Aldo Leopold’s essay “Prairie Birthday,” in A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949, comes this passage about mowers cutting down a Silphium in Wisconsin.

Heretofore unreachable by scythe or mower, this yard-square relic of original Wisconsin gives birth, each July, to a man-high stalk of compass plant or Cut-leaf Silphium, spangled with saucer-sized yellow blooms resembling sunflowers. It is the sole remnant of this plant along this highway, and perhaps the sole remnant in the western half of our county. What a thousand acres of Silphiums looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked.

This year I found the Silphium in first bloom on 24 July, a week later than usual; during the last six years the average date was 15 July.

When I passed the graveyard again on 3 August, the fence had been removed by a road crew, and the Silphium cut. It is easy now to predic tthe future; for a few years my Silphium will try in vain to rise above the mowing machine, and then it will die. With it will die the prairie epoch.

The Highway Department says that 100,000 cars pass yearly over this route during the three summer months when the Silphium is in bloom. In them must ride at least 100,000 people who have taken what is called history, and perhaps 25,000 who have taken what is called botany. Yet I doubt whether a dozen have seen the Silphium, and of these hardly one will notice its demise. If I were to tell a preacher of the adjoining church that the road crew has been burning history books in his cemetery, under the guise of mowing weeds, he would be amazed and uncomprehending. How could a weed be a book?

This is one little episode in the funeral of the native flora, which in turn is one episode in the funeral of the floras of the world. Mechanized man, oblivious of floras, is proud of his progress in cleaning up the landscape on which, willy nilly, he must live out his days. It might be wise to prohibit at once all teaching of real botany and real history, lest some future citizen suffer qualms about the floristic price of his good life.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 17, 2021 at 4:22 AM

Tropical neptunia

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On July 5th I found some Neptunia pubescens crawling out onto the sidewalk along the busy Capital of Texas Highway. The plant had produced several flower “globes,” of which this was one. The whole cluster might have been an inch long, so the individual flowers in it were tiny. Below you see one of the plant’s drying seed pods.


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Here’s another passage from Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds.

Until the last decade or so, sex (or gender) and chromosomes were recognized to be among the most fundamental hardware issues in our species. Whether we were born as a man or a woman was one of the main, unchangeable hardware issues of our lives. Having accepted this hardware we then all found ways — both men and women — to learn how to operate the relevant aspects of our lives. So absolutely everything not just within the sexes but between them became scrambled when the argument became entrenched that this most fundamental hardware issue of all was in fact a matter of software. The claim was made, and a couple of decades later it was embedded and suddenly everybody was meant to believe that sex was not biologically fixed but merely a matter of ‘reiterated social performances’.

The claim put a bomb under the feminist cause…. It left feminism with almost no defences against men arguing that they could become women. But the whole attempt to turn hardware into software has caused — and is continuing to cause — more pain than almost any other issue for men and women alike. It is at the foundation of the current madness. For it asks us all to believe that women are different from the beings they have always been. It suggests that everything women and men saw — and knew — until yesterday was a mirage and that our inherited knowledge about our differences (and how to get along) is all invalid knowledge. All the rage — including the wild, destructive misandry, the double-think and the self-delusion — stem from this fact: that we are being not just asked, but expected, to radically alter our lives and societies on the basis of claims that our instincts all tell us cannot possibly be true.

Douglas Murray’s book came out in 2019. The cognitive dissonance has increased since then. For example, you may have heard about a recent incident at a spa in Los Angeles.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 15, 2021 at 4:34 AM

Texas thistle like fireworks

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This Texas thistle flower head (Cirsium texanum) seemed to me like fireworks.
The picture dates from June 14th in northwest Austin.


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In my May 16th post about prairie resurgence I reported on a resurgence of racism in America. What made it particularly egregious was that the racism came from our government. A group of Midwestern farmers went to court and sued the federal government because, based solely on their race, they weren’t allowed to participate in a loan forgiveness program for farmers. Last week U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture should halt its distribution of funds through the program until the case is fully resolved. In his ruling, the judge wrote: “However important the goal of eliminating the vestiges of prior race discrimination, and it is important, the government’s efforts cannot withstand strict scrutiny. Therefore, Plaintiff has shown a likeliness of success on the merits at trial.” In other words, you can’t discriminate against people of a certain race now now just because people of another race got discriminated against in the past. Or, as an adage tells us, two wrongs don’t make a right.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 13, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Beyond its accustomed time

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Indian paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is an early-spring wildflower in central Texas. Individual plants don’t always know that, as evidenced by today’s portrait from June 14th along Capital of Texas Highway. In case you’re not familiar with paintbrushes of the floral kind, let me point out that the bright red elements are not petals but bracts, which is to say modified leaves. The actual flowers in this genus are pale and small, and therefore inconspicuous.

As with other recent pictures you’ve seen here, this one shows the effects of a ring flash and a small aperture (f/18), one consequence of which is the darker-than-life sky color.


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Did you hear about the appropriately named Zaila Avant-garde, who was indeed the avant-garde, i.e. winner, in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee? In the linked video she describes being interested in getting an education as a gate-opener. Good for her for saying so!

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 12, 2021 at 4:38 AM

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