Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Posts Tagged ‘yellow

Prickly pear cactus flower opening

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Note the ants on this Opuntia engelmannii flower opening in my neighborhood on April 28th.

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About 20 years ago I got to meet a distant relative of mine from another country who came to stay with us for several months. He enjoyed nature, so one morning we set out for an attractive place west of Austin. During the drive we talked about various things, and at one point he startled me by admitting that he would say something he knew to be false if it furthered a cause that he favored. And just the other day I came across something similar in Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never. He quoted a Sierra Club member saying “I think that playing dirty, if you have a noble end, is fine.”

I’m too wedded to the truth to lie or play dirty, but alas, those tactics have become all too common in the past several years and especially since 2020. Time after time I’ve encountered media “news” stories putting forth a claim that readily available evidence shows isn’t true. What usually happens in those cases is that if you bring the refuting evidence to the attention of the people making the false claim, they still continue making it, sometimes even more fiercely than before.

Another practice unethical people in the “news” media engage in is to quote something that a person said but to leave out words that cast the statement in a different light, often the opposite of what seems to be the case in the edited version. If you see an ellipsis (three dots indicating words have been omitted) in a quotation that seems damning, don’t draw any conclusions until you see what has been left out, along with the statements preceding and following the quoted words. In short, get the full context. It’s disheartening to see activists suppress evidence and quote people in purposely misleading ways, but that’s the sad world we’re living in.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 7, 2021 at 4:41 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

Huisache daisy colony

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Botanist Bill Carr says that husiache daisies, Amblyolepis setigera, are a western species that reaches the eastern edge of its range in Travis County (which includes Austin), and that they’re uncommon here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any huisache daisies within an hour or two of home. On April 9th I came across a pretty colony of them flowering in what was either far eastern Burnet County or far western Travis County. The few violet-colored flowers mixed in were prairie verbenas, Glandularia bipinnatifida. Speaking of which, in my neighborhood the previous morning I’d found one of those with spittlebug froth on it.

Did you know that the United States Congress has designated April 2021 “National Native Plant Month”? Here’s a letter about that from the Native Plant Society of Texas.

April 14, 2021

Senator Rob Portman
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Senator Mazie Hirono
109 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: April 2021 National Native Plant Month

Dear Senator Portman and Senator Hirono:

On behalf of the Native Plant Society of Texas and its 35 local chapters, I am writing to express our thanks for your joint resolution S. 109 designating April 2021 as National Native Plant Month. We are pleased to join all the other conservation organizations, including other state native plant societies, that supported your resolution that was approved unanimously by the Senate on March 26, 2021.

Your resolution stated that there are more than 17,000 native plant species in the United States which are beneficial and part of our natural heritage. Texas, which has over 5000 species of native plants and 11 different ecoregions, is one of the most biologically diverse states because of its size and geography. However, as your resolution clearly stated, there are challenges ahead due to habitat loss, degradation, and invasive species.

Our mission statement responds to the challenges with these words: “To promote research, conservation and utilization of native plants and plant habitats through education, outreach and example”. Through these efforts, we strive to protect the native plant heritage of Texas and preserve it for future generations. We are a non-profit organization, run by volunteers and funded by membership dues, individual and corporate contributions, and foundation grants.

Thank you for your authorship of the resolution designating April 2021 as “National Native Plant Month”. Our Executive Board will definitely inform all of our local chapters of your successful resolution and encourage them to incorporate your observations in their programs in April.

Respectfully submitted,

Clarence E. Reed
VP-Advocacy & Affiliations
Native Plant Society of Texas

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 19, 2021 at 4:43 AM

Yellow star-grass and corn salad

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Yet another species makes its debut here today: Hypoxis hirsuta, known as (eastern) yellow star-grass and common goldstar. I found a bunch of them on March 29th in the same field north of La Grange that was home to Drummond’s sandwort colonies. Nudging a different one of the yellow flowers was some flowering corn salad, Valerianella sp., as shown below.

In some places in that large field the corn salad was the star of the show, with a few Indian paintbrushes (Castilleja indivisa) and sandyland bluebonnets (Lupinus subcarnosus) mixed in.

As a long-time observer of language, in recent years I’ve noticed an upsurge in the construction “It’s not about X, it’s about Y,” spoken by politicians and activists who get interviewed on television to give their point of view about some matter that’s been in the news. My take-away is that when you hear “It’s not about X, it’s about Y,” you can be pretty sure that it really is about X, at least in part, but the speaker wants to divert your attention to Y, which is a favored policy or talking point.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 18, 2021 at 4:46 AM

Texas flax

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From April 9th along FM 1431 north of Marble Falls comes a colony of what I take to be Linum hudsonioides, known as Hudson flax or Texas flax, that turned the land yellow. Below is a closer look that includes some flowering and budding globes of antelope horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula.

The third picture offers an even closer view so you get a better sense of what these flax flowers are like. The yellow flowers without red centers are a kind of bladderpod (Physaria sp., formerly Lesquerella).

A theme I’ve been pursuing for over a week now is that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense,” which I find to be a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense can be shown not to be true.

Here’s an example from geography. Suppose you have access to a list of all the rivers (including streams, creeks, etc.), in the United States, along with the length of each one (rounded to the nearest whole mile). For example, that list would include:

The Missouri River (various states): 2341 miles.
The Rio Grande (various states): 1759 miles.
The Ohio River (various states): 979 miles.
The Yellowstone River (mostly Wyoming): 678 miles.
The Cache River (Missouri): 213 miles.
The San Marcos River (Texas): 75 miles.
The Scott River (California): 60 miles.
The East Mancos River (Colorado): 12 miles
The Chelan River (Washington): 4 miles.
The Kisco River (New York): 3 miles.

There’d be thousands of rivers in the full list. The number for the length of each river has a first—and in some cases only—digit. Now here’s the question: of all those thousands of lengths, what portion (or fraction or percent) of them have 1 as their first digit? “Common sense” would lead many people to think as follows: “Rivers are natural phenomena, free from any human bias. They come in all sorts of lengths, from very short to very long, so it seems the length of a river is as likely to begin with any digit as with any other. There are 9 possible first digits (0 can’t be a first digit for a length), so on average 1/9 of the lengths, or about 11%, would have 1 as their first digit. The same would be true for each of the other possible first digits.”

Alas, rivers don’t have that sort of “common sense.” Dumb aqueous brutes that they are, they keep on going with the flow in their own stubborn way. If you could see the list of all the river lengths, you’d find that about 30% of them begin with a 1, nearly 18% with a 2, and so on down the line in decreasing fashion, with not even 5% of the lengths beginning with a 9.

Ah, you say, maybe that’s because Americans are recalcitrant and cling to antiquated measures of length like inches, feet, yards, and miles. Surely there’d be “equity” (oh, that horrid word, which means forced sameness of outcomes for groups) if we did our measuring in civilized kilometers rather than hillbilly miles. It turns out that if you converted miles to kilometers, most individual river lengths would end up having a different first digit than before, yet amazingly the first digits as a group would still follow the same distribution, from 1 as the most common down to 9 as the least common!

This phenomenon, which holds for many things other than lengths of rivers, has come to be known as Benford’s Law. You’re welcome to read more about it. (And we should add that Benford’s Law follows Stigler’s Law, which “holds that scientific laws and discoveries are never given the names of their actual discover.”)

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 16, 2021 at 4:36 AM

A visit to Bastrop

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On March 26th we visited Bastrop State Park for the first time since last fall. Almost 10 years ago a disastrous fire destroyed the majority of trees in the park, and the landscape is still full of burned dead trunks, both standing and fallen. The charred pine trunk in the photograph above was on the ground. I don’t know why the resin in the upper part of the picture picked up so much blue.

In contrast to that log, take this opening flower of plains wild indigo, Baptisia bracteata var. leucophaea, a species that makes its debut here today.

If you’re wondering what a full inflorescence looks like, the last picture will show you,
complete with the kind of insect that I assume was eating the flowers.

Four posts back I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said that’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. In that post and the next and the next and yesterday’s I gave examples of “common sense” leading to incorrect conclusions. Here’s another example.

Every person has a birthday. A year consists of 365 days—or 366 if you want to count February 29, which occurs only about a fourth as often as other days, thanks to leap year—so there are 365 or 366 possible birthdays. You’re naturally curious, and you get to wondering about groups of people, and how likely or unlikely it is that at least two people in a group have the same birthday (the day, not the year). In particular, you get to wondering how large a group of randomly chosen people it would take for there to be a 50-50 chance, i.e. 50%, that at least two people in the group share a birthday.

Many folks would answer that “common sense” tells them they’d need a group half as big as 366, namely 183 people, for there to be a 50-50 chance of a matching birthday. The truth is that with a group of only 23 randomly chosen people in it there’s about a 50% chance two or more people in the group will have matching birthdays. (I won’t go into the math, though it’s not difficult). By contrast, in a group of 183 people there’s a virtual certainty of at least one matching birthday.

You could also turn things around and ask how likely it is that in a group of 23 people there’ll be at least one pair of matching birthdays. Many folks might pull out a calculator, find out that 23 is about 6% of 365, and conclude by “common sense” that there’d be only a 6% chance of a pair of matching birthdays. You’ve already heard that in fact there’s about a 50% chance.

Here’s a way to confirm this without trying to rely on “common sense.” Stand on a busy street and ask people passing by what their birthday is. Mark the dates on a yearly calendar to keep track of them and see if there’s a match. If necessary, keep going until you’ve asked 23 people and still haven’t found a match. Then repeat the experiment a bunch of times. With enough repetitions, you should find that about half of the time you’ll get a matching birthday pair.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 12, 2021 at 4:22 AM

Nueces coreopsis alone and in combination

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On March 29th in Colorado County I photographed mixed colonies of Nueces coreopsis (Coreopsis nuecensis) and sandyland bluebonnets (Lupinus subcarnosus). I also got on the ground and aimed upward so I could get a different blue overhead and use it to isolate one of the Nueces coreopsis flower heads.

In the last post I noted that it’s common to hear politicians and activists bandy about the phrase “common sense.” I said it’s a loaded and misleading term because some or even many things that a majority of people believe to be common sense are easily shown to be untrue. The first example came from arithmetic, and now here’s one from chemistry.

Suppose that you have an empty one-quart clear glass container with markings on the sides so you can tell how much liquid is in the container. Now pour a measuring cup’s worth of water and then a measuring cup’s worth of alcohol into the container. How much liquid will you have in the container? “Common sense” will tell most people that 1 cup plus 1 cup equals 2 cups, but that’s not correct here. Water molecules and alcohol molecules interpenetrate somewhat, so the volume in the container will fall short of the 2-cup mark on the glass container. You’re welcome to watch a couple of cheerful kids perform the experiment.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 9, 2021 at 4:39 AM

Cost of a buttercup

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What this gialloscuro take on one buttercup (Ranunculus sp.) in front of another cost me was a more-than-an-hour drive to a roadside on FM 366 west of the little town of Cost in Gonzales County on March 19th. And speaking of this kind of flower, you’re welcome to listen without cost to “I’m Called Little Buttercup” as sung in a 2014 production of H.M.S. Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan Austin.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 30, 2021 at 4:44 AM

Tansy mustard buds opening

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From Gonzales on March 19, here are the opening buds of tansy mustard, Descurainia pinnata. What you’re seeing wasn’t much more than an inch across. The red in the background came from phlox flowers.

And here’s a passage from John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty that’s every bit as germane today as it was in 1859, and probably even more so:

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly*, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant — society collectively over the separate individuals who compose it — its means of tyrannising are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling, against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development and, if possible, prevent the formation of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.

* Mill is using vulgar in its original meaning, which referred to ‘the common folk, the populace.’ The word later developed the pejorative sense that now dominates.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 29, 2021 at 4:40 AM

Texas toadflax and colorful friends

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From the McKeller Memorial Park north of Gonzales on March 19th, here’s Texas toadflax (Nuttallanthus texanus) in front of some bright red phlox (Phlox sp.). The yellow glow came from a flower head of Texas groundsel (Senecio ampullaceus). How about those saturated colors?

Unrelated to these wildflowers, here are two whimsical quotations from the article “In Naples, the formula calls for pizza,” by Franz Lidz, in the March 2021 issue of Smithsonian:

“Da Michele’s amoeba-like pies overflow the plate, and you’re not sure whether to eat them or keep them as pets.”

“The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says, ‘Can you make me one with everything?'”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 28, 2021 at 4:39 AM

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