Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers

First wildflower for 2023

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About a week ago I checked out a property a couple of miles from home where I expect ten-petal anemones (Anemone berlandieri) to spring up early in the year. I found exactly two of those flowers, and both were the worse for wear (and apparent nibbling). A day or two later we had a little bit of rain, so I returned to the property yesterday to see if the watering had had its effect. It had, and this time I found a bunch of anemone flowers scattered about. The “petals” on a ten-petal anemone are actually sepals, and 10 is more typically a lower bound than a requisite number. I count a dozen on the flower above. There are also more than 12 droplets of rain, thanks to the drizzly morning.

Hoverflies in the genus Toxomerus outnumbered me dozens to one on that property.
For the first time ever I managed to photograph three of them together on a flower.




⥥      ⥥      ⥥


Over half a year ago I requested Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom’s Do You Think What You Think You Think? from the Austin Public Library system. When month after month went by without the book showing up for me at my local branch, I figured maybe the system’s one copy had gotten lost and the long delay came from a new copy having to be ordered. Last week I unexpectedly got a notice that the book was in. Upon picking it up, I found it was an old, worse-for-wear copy, so where it had been for over half a year remains a mystery.

Anyhow, one question the book takes up is: what makes a great work of art? The authors say that “six broad types of answers have been given time and again in the history of art theory and aesthetics”:

  • The work displays great technical ability.
  • The work is enjoyable.
  • The work conveys the feelings of the artist.
  • The work conveys an important moral lesson or helps us to live better lives.
  • The formal features of the work are harmonious and/or beautiful.
  • The work reveals an insight into reality.

As is true for each topic in the book, what follows is a quiz in which you rate each of those six factors from 0 (not important at all) to 4 (vital). After a second quiz, this time comparing the works of two artists, the authors analyze your ratings. I won’t discuss them here, so anyone who wants to get the book and take the quizzes can do so with a blank slate, so to speak.

Other topics dealt with are reason, morality, taboo, God, ethics, being alive, and freedom. Interesting stuff. If that sounds interesting to you, too, check out Do You Think What You Think You Think? (and if you literally try to check it out of your public library, let’s hope it doesn’t take more than half a year for you to get it).



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 30, 2023 at 4:36 AM

Pink tinges in December before the freeze

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On December 21, the day before I went hunting for wildflowers hours in advance of a forecast deep freeze, I’d found two species near each other in my neighborhood whose flowers had tinges of pink. The flower head above, no more than an inch in length, is Chaptalia texana. The species epithet in the former scientific name, Chaptalia nutans, means ‘nodding,’ and that’s indeed what these flower heads usually do. The common name, silverpuff, refers to the seed heads, which are a good native substitute for those of the invasive Eurasian dandelion that has conquered the world.

Where silverpuff produces one flower head on each 3-to-12-inch long stalk, Ageratina havanensis grows in the form of a bush as much as 5 feet high with scads of flowers all over it. Below is one scad. Common names for this species are shrubby boneset, thoroughwort, and fragrant mistflower. That last is an allusion to the scent that attracts many insects, though the just-about-at-freezing morning three days earlier may account for my not finding any insects on this bush.



(Pictures from the Texas panhandle will resume next time.)


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 5, 2023 at 4:24 AM

Yellow flowers in December before the freeze

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On December 22, knowing that a freeze was imminent, I went over to Gault Lane to see what flowers I could still find. A paloverde tree stll had a few blossoms remaining on it, one of which you see above. All those red splotches give it character, don’t you think? I also found a bit of zesty zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).



The view from below reveals other features.



UPDATE. Three posts back I mentioned that in the second photograph of icicles I imagined seeing something which wasn’t actually there (that phenomenon is called pareidolia). Wanting to give people a chance to look for themselves, I didn’t identify it then but will now. Below and to the right of the sunburst I seem to see a face with one Cyclopean eye, a bright nose, and an open mouth.



If you go back to the full image maybe now you’ll see the face
in there too, or maybe not. Pareidolia is quite subjective.


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 2, 2023 at 4:26 AM

What I found in the drizzle

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Forward into the new year, which you’ll be thrilled to know is very seveny because 7 x 17 x 17 = 2023.
The most recent year to be a prime number was 2017 and the next one will be 2027. Once again, seveny.


Let’s begin the year with a little look-back at the misty morning of December 12th at the Riata Trace Pond, where I found some luscious bushy bluestem seed heads (Andropogon tenuispatheus) covered in drizzle droplets. In the background you see brief traces of some falling droplets.

I also photographed a bird that I later learned is a white-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis.



And how could I resist a few drizzle-dropped flowers of gulf vervain, Verbena xutha?



∆        ∆        ∆


Speaking of sevens, I’ve been aware of the name Loren Eiseley for most of my life but until last month had never read anything by that naturalist who lived from 1907 to 1977 and who wrote prose with a sensibility more poetic than that of many people who identify themselves as poets today. Take an essay called “The Slit,” in which he describes working his way through a narrow slit in some sandstone and coming face to face with an embedded skull:

It was not, of course, human. I was deep, deep below the time of man in a remote age near the beginning of the reign of mammals. I squatted on my heels in the narrow ravine, and we stared a little blankly at each other, the skull and I. There were marks of generalized primitiveness in that low, pinched brain case and grinning jaw that marked it as lying far back along those converging roads where… cat and man and weasel must leap into a single shape.

… The skull lay tilted in such a manner that it stared, sightless, up at me as though I, too, were already caught a few feet above him in the strata and, in my turn, were staring upward at that strip of sky which the ages were carrying farther away from me beneath the tumbling debris of falling mountains. The creature had never lived to see a man, and I, what was it I was never going to see? …

I restrained a panicky impulse to hurry upward after that receding sky that was outlined above the Slit. Probably, I thought, as I patiently began the task of chiseling into the stone around the skull, I would never again excavate a fossil under conditions which led to so vivid an impression that I was already one myself. The truth is that we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences, the marks of a world in which living creatures flow with little more consistency than clouds from age to age.


For wonderful prose and insights into nature and evolution you can turn to The Loren Eiseley Reader and also The Immense Journey, a collection of his essays from the 1940s and ’50s.



© 2023 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 1, 2023 at 4:32 AM

One from the home front, another from the side

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On December 8th I took some pictures at home. From the front yard comes the portrait above of a Turk’s cap “pinwheel,” Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, and from the side a somewhat more than dual portrait of Pavonia lasiopetala, known as rock rose, rose pavonia, and pavonia mallow.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 27, 2022 at 4:28 AM

Texas lantana flowering in December

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Lantana urticoides in the woods in my Great Hills neighborhood on December 10th.
A floral mandala, don’t you think?


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2022 at 4:31 AM

Down to around freezing overnight

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As recently as this past week I was still finding a few flowers on frostweed plants (Verbesina virginica) in Austin. The picture above is from the drizzly morning of December 10th.

The common name for this species comes not from its white flowers but from one of the strangest phenomena in botany. By the time the frost begins settling overnight on the lands where frostweed grows, almost all of these plants have gone to seed. Although each stalk stands there unappealingly as it dries out, the first good freeze can cause it to draw underground water up into its base. Now for the strange trick: the exterior of the part of the stalk near the ground splits open as it extrudes freezing water laterally, and that process produces thin sheets of ice that curl and fold around the broken stalk.

Yesterday morning the temperature in Austin got down to around freezing, so off I went to the stand of frostweed plants in Great Hills Park I’ve been relying on for a decade to produce ice. They didn’t disappoint me. Here are three frostweed ice portraits:



As always with a familiar subject, I worked to get pictures that look
at least somewhat different from the ones I’ve taken over the years.



All of these fit that description.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman






Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 19, 2022 at 4:30 AM

December bluebonnet

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It’s quite a stretch for a bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) to be flowering now, but that’s what I found this one doing on December 9th at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The normal bloom period is March–May.

More to be expected at this time of year was a queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, on Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii. With an angled portrait like this one you can’t expect to get a subject, especially a frequently moving one, sharp throughout. I aimed for the head, knowing the farther parts would be out of focus. Some motion blur back there actually appeals to me.



© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 14, 2022 at 4:29 AM

A scarcity of ladies’ tresses

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On November 17th I hunted for Great Plains ladies’ tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) on a property in northwest Austin where I count on finding that species each fall. After 20 minutes of looking in likely spots and not finding any of those flowers, I sat down to photograph an ironweed; when I next looked up, I noticed a single orchid a few feet away. The inflorescence wasn’t very long and its lower flowers were already beginning to turn brown, but at least I found one. This year’s drought may be responsible for the fact that the orchid had no kin accompanying it.


(Pictures from our time in New Mexico will resume in the next post.)




“Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.”
— a Zen Buddhist saying.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 9, 2022 at 4:25 AM

Two takes on goldeneye

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After I saw frost on my neighbor’s roof the morning of November 13th I hied me down to Great Hills Park hoping for some pictures of frost-bedecked native plants. Though I found no frost at all there, some of the plants I photographed did have water droplets on them. One was the goldeneye (Viguiera dentata) you see above. And look how a spider had folded the ray florets of another goldeneye flower head:



Now it’s three weeks later and some goldeneye flowers are still making their presence known in Austin.


Today’s pictures continue the “golden yellow” theme of recent posts
about New Mexico. That state will be back next time.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 6, 2022 at 4:28 AM

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