Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers

But it wasn’t just the prairie

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My jaunts to northeast Austin on May 9th and May 12th were making me tie the profusion of Bifora americana to the Blackland Prairie, and the common names prairie bishop and prairie bishop’s weed* reinforced that. Then on May 13th I found myself in the second suburb north-northwest of Austin, Leander, where prairie bishop once again became a hero**, this time on the west side of US 183 in a large field that’s prairie-ish but likely lies too far west to be considered part of the Blackland Prairie.

The Engelmann daisy colony (Engelmannia peristenia) there was probably the best I’ve ever seen. Notice the many firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) mixed in as well.

Except for a utility crew that had pulled over on the shoulder of the highway a bit ahead of me to do whatever work they’d been sent to do, not one person in the hundreds of other cars that passed by while I was there stopped to enjoy the view. Here’s how the prairie bishop looked in the swale by the side of the highway.

* Don’t confuse our native prairie bishop’s weed with bishop’s weed, Aegopodium podagraria, a species from Eurasia that has become an invasive nuisance in parts of the United States. As Joel E. Holloway notes sarcastically in A Dictionary of Common Wildflowers of Texas & the Southern Great Plains, the name bishop’s weed was “first applied in Scotland because it was almost impossible to get rid of, as it would be to remove a bishop from the church.”

**The Leander in Texas takes its name from Leander “Catfish” Brown, an official of the Austin and Northwestern Railroad Co. in the 1880s. That down-to-earth origin hasn’t deterred the town from playing up the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander, even to the point of renaming a road Hero Way. (Public information officer Mike Neu told me that the road’s new name was also intended as a tribute to public service men and women.) Additionally the town of Leander has inspired the clever and alliterative paleontological name Leanderthal Lady.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

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Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 22, 2019 at 4:40 AM

Prairie bishop writ large

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The Blackland Prairie on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. north of Wells Branch Parkway looked so good on May 9th that I went back three days later and once again took a slew of pictures. The star in many of them was Bifora americana, called prairie bishop or prairie bishop’s weed. Hardly a weed it is, and having a great spring it is, too. Also prominent in the first photograph: square-bud primroses, Calylophus berlandieri; firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella; prairie parsley, Polytaenia nuttallii.

The upright dark stalks in the second image are drying Indian paintbrushes, Castilleja indivisa, some red flowers of which you also see approaching the end of their reign.

These three pictures show the Blackland Prairie’s version of snow in May.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 14, 2019 at 4:53 PM

The Blackland Prairie does its spring thing

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The east side of Austin lies in the ecoregion known as the Blackland Prairie, named for its rich soil. When land there is left alone, as a plot on the west side of Heatherwilde Blvd. north of Wells Branch Parkway has been for some years now, spring brings colonies of wildflowers like those shown here on May 9th.

The white flowers that draw your eyes are prairie bishop’s weed, Bifora americana. The mostly red ones are Gaillardia pulchella, called firewheel and Indian blanket, which proliferate in May. The mostly yellow-orange wildflowers are greenthread, Thelesperma filifolium, also abundant in the spring. The tall plants with yellow-green flowers are prairie parsley, Polytaenia nuttallii. Below is a view in which the parsley predominates. I believe the dark little thingies are seed head remains of the greenthread.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 13, 2019 at 4:41 AM

The secondary players become primary

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The previous post about velvet gaura featured firewheels (Gaillardia pulchella) and to a much lesser extent mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea) as background color. Now here they are in their own right.

While mealy blue sage flowers are normally light purple, I noticed a bunch of white variants like the one highlighted below; the regular color predominates in the background. Both of these views are from the edge of the office building parking lot from which I walked a short distance to the Mopac embankment at Braker Ln. Unlike those wildflowers along the highway that got prematurely mowed down, these by the parking lot are maintained by a different company and were left alone to thrive.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 11, 2019 at 5:38 PM

Velvet gaura

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It’s been a few years since I showed you a flower spike of velvet gaura—long enough for the botanical name to have changed from Gaura parviflora and Gaura mollis to Oenothera curtiflora (in fact every Gaura species is now an Oenothera). Some people find this plant weedy and refer to it as velvetweed; me, I’m happy to encounter it and photograph it. One reason, not apparent here, is the plant’s downiness, which was clear in a portrait from 2011. Today’s takes are from May 5th at the edge of the parking lot from which I walked a short distance to photograph dense wildflowers along MoPac shortly before mowers destroyed them. Fortunately whatever company maintains the land around the parking lot did only narrow mowing at its edges and left the wildflowers intact. And speaking of narrow mowing, how about the way the first photographed is cropped? It’s a good example of point 6 in About My Techniques.

On the gaura plant shown below I found two stilt bugs, probably in the genus Jalysus. The red-orange flowers in the background were firewheels, Gaillardia pulchella, happily ubiquitous at this time of year here, and the pale violet ones were mealy blue sage, Salvia farinacea. More about those two next time.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 10, 2019 at 4:29 AM

Giliastrum incisum once more

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As far as I know, not since 2013 have I come across Giliastrum incisum, called cut-leaf gilia and split-leaf gilia. On April 11th off Yaupon Dr. on the west side of my neighborhood I began noticing plant after plant of this slender forb, so naturally I took pictures. Each flower measures only about a third of an inch across. Below you’ll see what a bud looks like.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 8, 2019 at 4:40 AM

Wildflowers along Mopac

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Mopac, named for the Missouri-Pacific railroad whose tracks it partly runs alongside, is a north-south expressway on the west side of Austin. For hours each morning and again each afternoon from Monday through Friday it’s jammed up, but not on Sunday mornings. That’s the time on May 5th when I went to the embankment at the northeast corner of Mopac and Braker Lane to photograph the dense wildflowers I’d enjoyed seeing there in April and May in other years and again this spring. The mostly red flower heads are Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheels, Indian blankets, and blanketflowers. The mostly yellow flower heads are Thelesperma filifolium, called greenthread because of the plant’s thread-like leaves.

The astute viewer will have noticed (as some writers used to put it) the contrast between the flowerful embankment that fills two-thirds of the photograph, and the bare one on the other side of the highway. I don’t recall whether that opposite embankment had looked as good as the near one; I do know that just a few days earlier I saw mowers cutting down all the wildflowers on that side of Mopac farther south, in the vicinity of Far West Blvd. I’d been planning to photograph there but didn’t make it. Fortunately I was in time to catch this display on the east side of the highway. Below is another view, now in my usual way, which is to say without any human elements. The bits of white are gaura, Oenothera sp., and the darker flowers are Mexican hats, Ratibida columnifera, a strange one of which you saw in the previous post.

UPDATE: When I drove past this intersection three days later, on May 8th, I found that all the wildflowers on the east side of the highway, the ones you see above, had been mowed down.

© 2019 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2019 at 4:44 AM

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