Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers

Visiting nerve-ray

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On the first day of May this Tetragonotheca texana (known by the strange name nerve-ray) had two simultaneous morning visitors. Whether the non-me visitor was a non-bee. i.e. a bee-fly, I’m not sure. Nerve-ray is one of the few yellow daisy-type flowers that’s fragrant. Where the conventional wisdom is to stop and smell the roses, I always stop and bend down to enjoy the subtle fragrance of nerve-ray flowers.

Another colloquial name for nerve-ray is square-bud daisy. The starkly lit portrait below explains that name.

I’ll grant you that this bud looks a bit off from being exactly square—hey, nature’s not perfect. For that matter, neither is language. As nice and succinct as square is, English doesn’t have a simple word to designate ‘any four-sided closed figure in a plane.’ English has occasionally used Greek-derived tetragon, following the same pattern in the familiar pentagon and hexagon. Nowadays, though, English is pretty much stuck with the unwieldy five-syllable Latin-derived quadrilateral. If only we could follow the model of German, a related language, which has Viereck, literally ‘four-edge(s),’ and call a quadrilateral a fouredge or a fourside.

Speaking of quadrilaterals, here’s something interesting you may not know, or if you did learn it in high school geometry have probably forgotten. Take any quadrilateral you like, whether convex, concave, or even with two of its sides crossing each other. Connect the midpoints of the four sides (going in order from each side to the next) with straight line segments and you’re guaranteed to end up with a parallelogram. That’s just how the universe is. As a picture is often worth a lot of words—some say a thousand, others a myriad—you’re welcome to look at an example with a convex quadrilateral.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 11, 2021 at 4:32 AM

When is a dandelion not a dandelion?

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One answer to the question in today’s title is when it’s silverpuff, Chaptalia texana. As similar as its seed head is to that of a dandelion, nobody would ever confuse the two species’ flower heads, as you see from the silverpuff flower head below. Both of these photographs come from a wooded area in my neighborhood on April 28th. Because the woods were so shady, for once I used flash. That had two fringe benefits: good depth of field for my subjects and darkness beyond them.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 9, 2021 at 4:32 AM

Green and red will knock you dead

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Okay, so I don’t really expect today’s picture to kill you, but look at the bold contrast between this katydid nymph (I think) and the saturated red of the cedar sage flowers (Salvia roemeriana) it was on. This picture comes from April 25th in my neighborhood.

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I’d like to point you to a draft version of an important article entitled “The Empowering of the American Mind,” by Greg Lukianoff, co-author of the book The Coddling of the American Mind. This draft puts forth 10 principles, the first of which is that there must be no compelled speech, thought, or belief. The article includes quotations from various court decisions, including the following three from West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, United States Supreme Court, 1943.

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

[F]reedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

And from Greg Lukianoff comes this: “Any ideology that cannot be questioned is indistinguishable from fundamentalist religion.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 4, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Spiderworts were a star of the show

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At Enchanted Rock on April 12th spiderworts (Tradescantia sp.) were the most prominent wildflowers. You caught a glimpse of some in the recent post about vernal pools, and now you’re getting a few closer looks. In the top photo, spiderworts towered over dried ferns and some struggling prickly pears. The middle picture shows you a happy group flowering away in a vernal pool.

And below is an even closer view from an area that had granite in the background.

Back in September I ran an “editorial” in response to the widespread and intentional slanting of “news” stories. The jihad against fairness, factuality, objectivity, and due process in the United States has noticeably increased since September, so I feel I need to repeat what I wrote then.

Suppose you’re trying to determine how prevalent a certain thing is in a given population. The science of statistics requires that you get a sample that’s random and also large enough to greatly reduce the likelihood of being unrepresentative (which occasionally happens just by chance, like being dealt a straight flush in poker). Unfortunately, many in the news media violate those principles by choosing to present only occurrences that support a certain ideology, while purposely not reporting occurrences, often much greater in number, that contradict that ideology.

Let’s concoct an example. Suppose I’m a member of the Green Eyes Party, and I claim that adults with green eyes are rich. I go out searching until I eventually find four wealthy people who happen to have green eyes, and I produce a lavish documentary about them. At the end I say: “See, it’s clear that adults with green eyes are wealthy.” In so doing, I violated the axioms of statistics—and fairness!—because I included only green-eyed adults who are rich; I didn’t include many of them; and I didn’t take into account the much larger number of green-eyed adults who aren’t rich.

So when you hear on the news or elsewhere that X is a common occurrence, or that there’s an “epidemic” of X, do your best to find out whether large-scale, properly gathered statistics show that X really is common. In unfortunately many cases you’ll discover that X is actually rare but seems common only because certain interests are heavily promoting it.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 1, 2021 at 4:41 AM

Two views of a pink evening primrose flower

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In the first view the pink evening primrose flower (Oenothera speciosa) serves as a backdrop for a Texas bindweed flower (Convolvulus equitans). For the second picture I lay on the ground and aimed upward so the pink of the flower would play off the blue of the sky as much as possible.

I made these portraits on April 20th at the same place in Austin where I photographed a cucumber beetle and greenthread flowers.

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Two days ago I mentioned that if you run fast you move quickly but if you stand fast you don’t move at all. A word like fast that has opposite meanings is called a contronym or Janus word or auto-antonym. You’re welcome to read an article that gives other examples of such words. If you’re aware of contronyms in any other language, I’d be glad to hear them.

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Now here’s a new English language challenge: can you come up with a sentence containing the words “adopted finished stirred”? The three words must appear exactly that way, with no punctuation marks or other words between them, and the full sentence must be grammatical. I’ll give a solution in a couple of days.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 30, 2021 at 4:35 AM

Yellow on yellow

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Probably the wildflower I’ve seen the most in Austin over the past few weeks is Thelesperma filifolium, known as greenthread because of its thread-like leaves. Unless you get up close, though, what you’re most likely to notice is the yellow of the flowers. On April 20th I set out to photograph a nice little greenthread colony I’d spotted a day earlier that had sprung up at a road construction site. For some of my portraits I used a wide aperture and exposed for the dark center of a flower head, knowing that the flower heads in the background would come out with little detail and probably overexposed. It’s an aesthetic that questions whether there can ever be too much bright yellow.

On one flower head I found a cucumber beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata*, at the tip of a ray, giving a second sense to this post’s title of “Yellow on yellow.”

* Latin undecim means literally ‘one-ten,’ i.e. ‘one plus ten,’ or eleven. This species of beetle has 11 spots.

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Did you know that Austin has recently been the fastest growing metropolitan statistical area in the United States? The second fastest is Raleigh (North Carolina), where my oldest friend in the world now lives; I think we met when we were two or three years old. We grew up in Nassau County (New York), which during some of our years there I seem to remember was the fastest growing county in the country. And I’ll hasten to add that fast is one of those strange English words that can mean opposite things. If you run fast you move quickly, but if you stand fast you don’t move at all. Can you think of any other self-contradictory words?

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 28, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Radial arrangements

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It occurred to me that two of the plants I photographed on April 11th in Round Rock display radial arrangements. The picture above shows the top of a lace cactus, Echinocereus reichenbachii. In the other view the radial (and always five-fold) arrangement characterizes the flowers of the most common milkweed in my area, Asclepias asperula, called antelope horns. You also get to see a butterfly that I take to be Callophrys gryneus, known as the olive or juniper hairstreak, though this individual didn’t show much green.

Speaking of radial arrangements, the word that that adjective comes from is Latin radius, which originally meant ‘a staff, a rod.’ The Romans later put the word to work metaphorically to designate ‘a beam or ray of any shining object.’ In a less radiant way, geometers came to use the word abstractly for ‘any line segment connecting a circle’s center to the circle itself.’ We also find that notion of ‘going out from a central point’ in Old-French-derived ray and the Latin-based verb radiate. And then there’s rayon, which appears to have been borrowed unchanged (except for pronunciation) from the modern French word for ‘ray’; the connection is that rayon has a somewhat radiant surface.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 26, 2021 at 4:41 AM

My great land loss for 2021

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Today is Earth Day. That notwithstanding, not a single year in the past decade has gone by that development hasn’t claimed one or more properties where I used to photograph native plants. In the last few years the loss has been running four, five, or even six annually as the Austin area has kept up its rapid growth. Two days ago I drove out to a field in Pflugerville on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. immediately south of Spring Hill Elementary School. From 2016 onward I’d been photographing great colonies of wildflowers there in early May, and I went to see how things were coming along in 2021 after the delay or even total suppression of blooming that our frozen week in February had caused to some species.

Alas, I discovered that my flowerful field of yesteryear has become a construction site of today. As I did once before with another recently lost prairie site, today’s post commemorates the way the Heatherwilde Blvd. parcel of Blackland Prairie looked in the first half of May 2019 but will look no more.

The white flowers are prairie bishop (Bifora americana); the yellow are square-bud primrose (Oenothera berlandieri) and Engelmann daisy (Engelmannia peristenia); the yellow-green are prairie parsley (Polytaenia sp.); the red are firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella); the blowing grass is purple three-awn (Aristida purpurea).

I should add that the southernmost end of the property, separated from the construction site by trees and perhaps under different ownership, has so far survived. I got good pictures in that area last spring and will go back in the weeks ahead to see how the flowers are doing there. It may be my last chance.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 22, 2021 at 4:40 AM

White prickly poppy colonies

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On April 9th we drove an hour and a quarter west to the Willow City Loop, which people throng to in the spring to see vast colonies of bluebonnets. This turned out not to be an expansive year for them there (we found broad stands at Turkey Bend on the way home), but the white prickly poppies (Argemone albiflora) along the Willow City Loop were going gangbusters. Modest groups of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis) accompanied the prickly poppies in some places, as you see below.

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If you’re interested in learning about the ways in which increasingly many American schools are indoctrinating their students, you can read math teacher Paul Rossi’s recent testimonial that classical liberal Bari Weiss disseminated in her “Common Sense” column. As a longtime math teacher myself, I know “how rewarding it is to help young people explore the truth and beauty of mathematics.” That’s one reason I’m especially sensitive to untruths foisted off on students as being realities.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 21, 2021 at 4:33 AM

Drummond’s wild garlic

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A common spring wildflower in Austin is Allium drummondii, variously called Drummond’s wild garlic, wild garlic, or Drummond’s onion. I can’t tell you the name of the little critter that was ensconced in one of the flowers on April 6th in my part of town.

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Along the lines of my recent theme that some or even many commonly held notions are incorrect, I’m reading the 2020 book Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. The author, Michael Shellenberger, is no “climate denier.” At 15 he started an Amnesty International chapter in his high school. At 16 he held a fundraiser in his back yard for Rainforest Action Network. In college he learned Portuguese and went to live in Brazil to work with the Landless Workers’ Movement and the Workers Party. By 1995 he “was interviewing the leading lights of Brazil’s progressive movement.” He was a Time magazine “Hero of the Environment.” In 2008 he won the Green Book Award. On and on it goes. And yet, the book’s cover blurb notes, “…in 2019, as some claimed ‘billions of people are going to die,’ contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction.” And that’s what he does in this book, through 284 pages of text and an impressive 100+ pages of footnotes. Check it out (of your library) or buy it, as you prefer.

On the same day that I wrote the preceding paragraph I later became aware of a forthcoming book along similar lines, “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters,” by Steven Koonin. According to a review of the book in the Wall Street Journal by Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.: “Any reader would benefit from its deft, lucid tour of climate science, the best I’ve seen.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 20, 2021 at 4:34 AM

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