Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers

One more take on woolly croton

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On a woolly croton plant (Croton capitatus) in Bastrop State Park on September 23rd I noticed that a green lynx spider (Peucetia viridans) had caught what appears to be a potter wasp, seemingly in the genus Parancistrocerus, from the subfamily Eumeninae.

One of the great existential questions of our time, at least in the Anglosphere (i.e. the English-speaking parts of the world), is how to spell the adjectival form of wool: is it woolly or is it wooly? Dictionaries accept both, though the form with a double-l seems to be favored, for the same reason we write really rather than realy and totally rather than totaly. For people who come to woolly as non-native speakers, its non-literal meanings must seem strange. Merriam-Webster gives these:

2a: lacking in clearness or sharpness of outline
woolly TV picture

b: marked by mental confusion
woolly thinking

3: marked by boisterous roughness or lack of order or restraint
where the West is still woolly— Paul Schubert—used especially in the phrase wild and woolly

Though my pictures have usually come from the wild and my posts have sometimes been wild and woolly, I trust you haven’t found any instances of really totally woolly thinking in them.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 16, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Vendredi: vues verticales*

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⇧ Fraying leaf tip of a sotol, Dasylirion sp.

⇧ Cattail leaves (Typha sp.) at sunrise.

⇧ Annual sumpweed inflorescences, Iva annua.

These portraits are from the pond at Gault Lane and Burnet Road on October 11, 2020.

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* In case French isn’t among your languages, the doubly° alliterative title means “Friday: vertical views.” The Spanish equivalent would also work, “Viernes: vistas verticales,” as would the Italian “Venerdì: viste verticali.”

The greatest number of different possibilities for having a post title alliterate with a day name is seven because a week consists of seven days. (If you’re wondering how that came to be, you can check out this Britannica article.) Whether any language has all seven of its day names beginning with different sounds, I don’t know. English falls one short of the maximum because Saturday and Sunday begin with the same sound. (Tuesday and Thursday begin with different sounds, despite the initial written letter being the same; that’s because th represents a single sound.) French also has six, because mardi (Tuesday) and mercredi (Wednesday) both begin with m. Likewise for Spanish martes and miércoles.

° Although all 3 words in the title of today’s post begin with a v, the 2nd v creates only the 1st instance of alliteration, so the 3rd v would constitute the 2nd instance of alliteration. In that sort of “it takes two to tango” analysis, the number of alliterations will be 1 less than the number of identical initial letters. On the other hand, you could still make the case for triple alliteration in today’s title by considering the v-words in pairs: vendredi with vues, vendredi with verticales, and vues with verticales.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 15, 2021 at 4:39 AM

Yet another Euphorbia

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You’ve already seen Euphorbia bicolor, Euphorbia marginata, and Euphorbia cyathophora here this season. Now comes Euphorbia corollata, which doesn’t grow in Austin or anywhere else in Travis County but which I found 40 miles southeast of home in Bastrop State Park on September 23rd. (In searching past posts, I discovered that 1200 miles northeast of Austin, during a visit to Illinois Beach State Park in 2015, I’d taken and shown you a photograph of this wide-ranging species in an earlier stage of flowering.)

The crab spider in the picture above is a bonus—for you as well as me, given that I didn’t notice it at the time I took the picture. I did notice the plant’s red stems, which are also a feature of Euphorbia bicolor and Euphorbia marginata. And now that I’ve brought up those other red stems, I guess I’ll have to show you one. Below is a minimalist view of a snow-on-the-mountain stalk against blue sky at Tejas Camp in Williamson County on September 25.


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© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 14, 2021 at 4:35 AM

From croton to cotton

with 25 comments

Speaking of woolly croton (Croton capitatus), as I did the other day, in Bastrop State Park on September 23rd I found a large stand of it that blended nicely into an even larger colony of snake cotton (Froelichia gracilis). In the picture above, the croton predominates toward the left, the snake cotton toward the right. The second picture gets a little closer to the snake cotton colony in its own right.

As you’ve already seen a closeup of woolly croton, so below I’ve given you one of snake cotton. (Due to what seems a WordPress quirk, the last photograph looks blurry in my preview of today’s post, but when I click it I get the original version with normal sharpness. If the bottom picture looks out of focus to you, see if clicking it solves the problem.)


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“It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years. — Bill Clinton; January 24, 1995.

“We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked, and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently, and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.” — Barack Obama; December 15, 2005.

“Let me tell you something, folks, people are driving across that border with tons, tons—hear me, tons—of everything from byproducts from methamphetamine to cocaine to heroine, and it’s all coming up through corrupt Mexico.” — Joe Biden, 2006.

“You can’t continue to have open borders. And you’ve got to put more technology and personnel along the borders to make sure we know who know who is coming into our country and prevent people from entering illegally.” — Hillary Clinton; November 6, 2007.

“Illegal immigration is wrong, plain and simple…. People who enter the United States without permission are illegal aliens and illegal aliens should not be treated the same as people who enter the U.S. legally.” — Chuck Schumer; June 24, 2009.

“We’re a nation-state. We have borders. The idea that we can just have open borders is something that … as a practical matter, is unsustainable.” — Barack Obama, September 2021.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 13, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Maximilian sunflower time

with 24 comments

As September approached its end, erect stalks of Maximilian sunflowers (Helianthus maximiliani) became an increasingly common sight in central Texas. In a field along TX 71 in Spicewood on October 3rd I took advantage of the morning’s wispy clouds to photograph a good stand of those sunflowers. The maximum Maximilian in the field towered above me and could well have climbed above 10 ft. (3m):

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 12, 2021 at 4:29 AM

Pyramidflower

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Making its debut here now is Melochia pyramidata, known as pyramidflower, a species I’d never photographed till yesterday. Mark Alexandre of the Texas Flora group on Facebook had showed a picture of it on October 6th, and the place he mentioned finding it is the Arbor Walk Pond, just a few miles from where I live. I asked him for the specific location, and armed with that information I found a few of these plants there yesterday morning. It took some careful looking because at 8:30 in the morning the flowers hadn’t fully opened, and even if they had they’d have measured only about half an inch across.

One curiosity is that although field guides say the flowers of this species have five petals—and almost all online photographs show five petals—my specimens had only four. I asked about that yesterday in the Texas Flora group, and Michelle Wong replied with a link to an iNaturalist photograph from this year showing a pyramidflower in Austin with four petals. What percent of the time that variant occurs, I don’t know. I do know that in 2018 I found four petals instead of the customary five in a silverleaf nightshade flower.

Making its debut here today simultaneously with Melochia pyramidata is the botanical family Sterculiaceae, of which Melochia pyramidata is the only native representative in my county (or the rest of Texas, from what I can tell). Probably the most familiar member of that family is cacao, from which we get chocolate. As tasty as most people find chocolate, the botanical family name betrays a different sensibility: the Latin word stercus meant ‘dung, the excrement of domestic animals,’ and the Romans had even created Sterculus (a.k.a. Sterculinus and Stercutus), as the deity who was supposed to have invented the valuable agricultural practice of manuring. Apparently the smell of one or more plants in Sterculiaceae reminded people of dung. (It was my familiarity with the Spanish word estiércol, which means ‘fertilizer, manure, dung,’ that put me on the scent of Sterculiaceae‘s Latin origins.)

And while we’re on the subject of names, let me add that pyramidflower is misleading: it’s not the plant’s flowers but its tiny fruits that fancifully look like little pyramids.

Also now misleading is my reference to the botanical family Sterculiaceae, which botanists recently tilled into the soil of the mallow family, Malvaceae.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 11, 2021 at 4:28 AM

Fuzzy, pink, and blue

with 40 comments

The genus Croton is home to plants that don’t have conspicuous flowers. Woolly croton (Croton capitatus) makes up for that, at least from a photographic standpoint, by offering a pleasant fuzziness. I found it especially appealing in Bastrop State Park on September 23rd when it was backed up by the pink of some showy palafoxia flower heads (Palafoxia hookeriana) and the blue sky that morning. As I so often do, I lay on my mat on the ground for the somewhat upward-looking first view. If you prefer your croton straight, which is to say without pretty colors coming from other things, you can have the Rembrandtesque portrait below.

WordPress tells me this blog has accumulated a little over 90,000 comments, about 42,000 of which are my replies. Both are big numbers.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 10, 2021 at 4:39 AM

Two quite different portraits of the same rain-lily

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The last few days of September gave my northwestern part of Austin some 5 inches of rain, so it’s not surprising that on October 2nd in Great Hills Park I found some rain-lilies (Zephyranthes drummondii) budding and even flowering. The very different looks in these two portraits of the same rain-lily are due to the fact that in the top one I used flash and an aperture of f/22, which led to a black background, while in the view at the bottom I went with natural light and a broad aperture of f/5 for a softer effect. The three bands in the second picture’s background also served that portrait well; the middle band came from a sunlit area.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 9, 2021 at 4:31 AM

The other Liatris in Bastrop

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The other species of Liatris we saw on September 23rd in Bastrop that doesn’t grow in Austin is Liatris elegans, elegant blazing-star, which is unusual in having pale yellow or cream-colored flowers rather than the expected purple ones. As with other Liatris species, the flower spikes of this one tilt at varying angles, with the most extreme being largely horizontal, as above (which meant I had to lie on the ground and aim high enough to get a shot clear of distractions in the background). Even so, the predominant orientation for Litatris flower spikes is upright, which you can confirm in the closer frame-filling view below. Does your imagination let you see how “blazing star” came to be a common name for Liatris?


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At least twice in these pages I’ve quoted George Santayana’s most famous line: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The other day a friend pointed me to a passage by Santayana that I didn’t know, from the essay “The Irony of Liberalism“:

Now what is the direction of change which seems progress to liberals? A pure liberal might reply, The direction of liberty itself: the ideal is that every man should move in whatever direction he likes, with the aid of such as agree with him, and without interfering with those who disagree. Liberty so conceived would be identical with happiness, with spontaneous life, blamelessly and safely lived; and the impulse of liberalism, to give everybody what he wants, in so far as that is possible, would be identical with simple kindness. Benevolence was one of the chief motives in liberalism in the beginning, and many a liberal is still full of kindness in his private capacity; but politically, as a liberal, he is something more than kind. The direction in which many, or even most, people would like to move fills him with disgust and indignation; he does not at all wish them to be happy, unless they can be happy on his own diet; and being a reformer and a philanthropist, he exerts himself to turn all men into the sort of men he likes, so as to be able to like them. It would be selfish, he thinks, to let people alone. They must be helped, and not merely helped to what they desire—that might really be very bad for them—but helped onwards, upwards, in the right direction. Progress could not be rightly placed in a smaller population, a simpler economy, more moral diversity between nations, and stricter moral discipline in each of them. That would be progress backwards, and if it made people happier, it would not make the liberal so.

That’s as true of illiberals today as when Santayana wrote the essay a century ago.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 8, 2021 at 4:37 AM

Giant ragweed flowers and drying leaf

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On September 24th along the Brushy Creek Regional Trail in Cedar Park I noticed plenty of giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) flowering. The portrait above shows one inflorescence with some happily out-of-focus patches of blue sky peeking through the canopy of trees. (Not so happy was my nose: those yellow clumps in little downward-opening holders are pollen grains, which were getting released into the air whenever the breeze blew strong enough or something like a hapless photographer bumped up against the plant.)

Where I managed to get a clear shot of the sky I made a sculptural portrait of a drying and curling giant ragweed leaf. What let me stop down to f/25 for good depth of field was flash, which also caused the sky to register as a preturnaturally dark blue-indigo. But hey, what’s reality, anyhow? That’s a question I and a zillion philosophers have asked many times. We’re all still waiting for an answer.

For a different diagonal take on a drying leaf, check out this monochrome composition by Alessandra Chaves.

During one of my photographic stops along the Brushy Creek Regional Trail that morning several women walked past me and I heard a single sentence that one of them said to the others: “She spent $30,000 on her dog, including therapy.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 7, 2021 at 4:29 AM

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