Archive for the 'Flora' Category

Shooting Stars

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

We were not able to visit our favorite site for Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) at their peak bloom this year. When we did visit we found some still fresh and lovely. Most of the ones at this location are pale lavender though some are more lavender or pink and a few are white. The plants are taller than the bright magenta ones (Dodecatheon pulchellum) we have seen in the Rocky Mountains. The western and northern species are more brightly colored than the ones we typically see in the Midwest and further east.

Some of the plants still had buds and showers of shooting stars plus a few blossoms already gone to seed. Even the seed heads retained their starburst shapes as seen in the top two pods.

There were several big burly Bumble Bee queens and other smaller bees among the flowers. Bumble Bees are one of the major pollinators of Shooting Stars. We saw several follow zigzag paths and then go into holes. They may have been taking pollen into nest holes or just have been exploring to pick a nest hole.

Because the plants grow close together with other spring flowers, it was necessary to use a very shallow depth of field (DOF) to isolate the blooms. Sometimes this meant a petal or blossom was not as sharp as it would have been with a deeper DOF. Just another compromise decision when photographing.

Drooping Trillium

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

A friend called to say that he had seen several trilliums with large leaves along a trail in one of the county conservation areas. He thought they may be Large White Trilliums. Bob followed our friend’s directions and found the small group of Drooping Trilliums (Trillium flexipes). They were in among some tangled vegetation with other treasures – Bellwort, Jack-in-the Pulpit and other spring ephemerals - just where they had been described..

While the Large White are lovely, we think that the Drooping Trillium and the Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) are among the most charming of the trilliums. There are many trillium species across temperate North America and Asia. As a group they have been moved around taxonomically and currently are listed as in the tribe Parideae.

Both species are similar as the blooms are at the end of pedicels (stalks) that poke out from clusters of three large leaves. The Drooping blossoms usually are more erect and stay above the leaves. The Nodding blossoms often are tipped below the leaves. While the Drooping Trilliums’ stamens are usually white or yellow, the Nodding’s stamens may be a deep red color, at least along the edges.

Whichever species we find, it is almost always possible to make an interesting image to celebrate the beauty and importance of these contributors to biodiversity in the woodland areas. Sometimes it is difficult to capture the gesture or essence of the subject because of location, what surrounds it and where light falls.

Linda has been reading Jay Meisel’s work on “Light, Gesture & Color” in photography. She thinks that gesture may be the place in the composition from which the subject speaks to the viewer most clearly. It literally waves “look here.” Not because of any arbitrary composition rules, but because it is in the right location to wave most vigorously.

Spring Woods

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Midwestern woods in mid April sometimes sparkle as the sunlight reaches the leaf litter. At first it seems like the light is glinting off shiny oak leaves. Then the False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum) comes into focus. Linda calls them May Flowers. The woods near her childhood home in north-central Wisconsin came into flower about May 1st.

We were in the back section of a large county conservation park yesterday and there were thousands and thousands of False Rue Anemones in bloom along the steep ravines and ridge tops. From a distance the white specks among the leaf litter are rather plain. When examined more closely they are cheerful round-petaled gatherers of sun with spikey stamens to attract insects.

There were occasional Hepatica, Spring Beauties and one lonely yellow Buttercup in this part of the woods. False Rue Anemone is in the buttercup family. More frequently the Dutchman’s Britches added their lacey leaves and longer stems of blossoms. The Dutchman’s Britches were often close to logs and in thickets near trees. Some late blooming Blood Root was in the shadier areas under nearby pines. There were Wild Ginger leaves with tiny buds just waiting for more warmth.

Bob found this attractive Dutchman’s Britches in the tangle of fallen branches. The light was patchy to his portable cloud (white umbrella) was useful. The individual blossoms were grouped in a cluster at the top of the stem instead of more widely spaced along it as is typical.

Linda was intrigued by the patch of dense leaves looking like heavy brocaded lace with just one simple spray of blossoms extending from it.

The Dutchman’s Britches varied in color. Some flowers had more yellow and others were a soft pastel pink. Some white flowers turn pink as they fade but these seemed fresh.

It was a lovely several hours in the woods. A Pileated Woodpecker announced our presence when we arrived and we heard several Red-bellied Woodpeckers letting the world know about who owned this or that territory. A thumb-nail size Spring Azure butterfly fluttered past as we entered the woods after the hike up the hill. Along the ravine an Eastern Comma posed for a second against a log – just long enough to identify its scalloped wings. Two white butterflies bid us good-bye as we left.

Pasque Flowers

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Yesterday afternoon we headed to a preserve in eastern Iowa where Pasque Flowers (Anemone patens) were found several years ago. They are thinly scattered on the top and north and east sides of a hill among Eastern Red Cedar trees and little limestone outcrops. The lovely buds and open blossoms looked like they are wearing mohair sweaters. When they go to seed, the fruits will be fluffy star bursts often on longer stems.

Several open blossoms were being visited by ants that seemed to be picking up pollen that had fallen under the stamens. Sometimes we saw them walk across the stamens or onto the petals but mostly they stayed deep in the bowl. We think they are Winter Ants (Prenolepis imparis), a common species that they resemble.

This trio invited a vertical composition with the larger blossom at the top rather than at the bottom of the frame. Sometimes subjects suggest compositions that are atypical or unusual.

The tangle of old grasses over and around most of the tiny plants needed a bit of “gardening” to reveal some of the blossoms. Most we found were less than 3 inches tall.  This pair seemed to be looking up and out at the world.

Just as Snow Trilliums are harbingers of spring in woodlands, Pasque Flowers are the ones that announce the equinox on dry hill prairies.

Spring Snow – Snow Trilliums

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Today the Spring photography juices warmed and starting flowing when we saw the Snow Trilliums (Trillium nivale) at a nearby park. This is the earliest that we have photographed this very early ephemeral. Usually it is at the very end of March and into April. Rarely into May. Snow Trilliums are very particular about their preferred settings so are somewhat rare in their range in the Midwest and Ohio River Valley. When they do occur they may be profuse in a small area.

Usually we have found them scattered along the steep wooded slope. This year as well as many single plants,  there were also small clusters of blooms in several areas. Most were in full fresh flower. No dirt spots or fading flowers.

There were still some unopened buds like this one peeking out from the leaf litter. Some may still be underneath to come out later.

The day was very windy but in the cover of the wooded slope we and the flowers were protected. Our umbrella windbreaks were seldom needed. The sun had been coming out and retreating behind clouds most of the day. While we were in the woods, the sun stayed behind the high clouds so the light filtering through the trees produced only soft shadows. This is the kind of light that we like. The white umbrellas were not needed to be the high cloud cover.

Our patch of yellow trilliums is up in the back garden so there should be early blooms this year. Native flowers are one of our favorite subjects. We hope that the jewelry (pretty insects) they sometimes wear are also in a good supply this year.

RBG plus Y and White

Friday, August 28th, 2015

One of the signs of the coming autumn is that many late summer flowers and some seeds seem to be more vividly colored than those from spring and early summer. Among the most colorful is the Cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis) whose brilliant red is difficult to reproduce digitally or on film. It sometimes is out of gamut or beyond what the camera sensor can record. Shade helps along with setting the flash at a minus 2 flash exposure.

These image shows the buds at three stages of development on their way to opening. As buds the color is easier to capture. Open petals reflect light differently than closed buds.

Groundnut (Apios americana) blossoms are usually a pale rose. This cluster is a deep rose, almost wine colored. Sometimes this color is called red-brown. As pretty as they are, this legume in our garden are very aggressive winding themselves around the other native plants. Bob pulls them in the spring but they still entwine other plants like the goldenrod in this image. Their tubers are considered quite nutritious and were used by Native Americans and settlers.

The yellow of many Goldenrod species with their delicate blossoms in plumes or flat-topped composites invites closer inspection of the little star-like flowers or little tufts. This one has little starbursts.

Cream Gentians (Gentiana alba) are uncommon and open in late summer as do the blue and purple gentian species. The contrast of their white blossoms and dark green foliage is a handsome contrast whether in a prairie or native garden. These look as if several flowers have already been pried open by bumble bees that come to gather nectar and pollinate them.

In the spring Solomon Seals (Polygonatum biflorum) have pale yellow-green bell-shaped flowers hanging beneath an arching stem. In late summer the seed fruits are blue. There are a dozen clusters hanging like small weights. Several other native flowers have blue or purple berries – Blue Cohosh, Corn Lily, Indian Cucumber-root - and add accents to a native woodland garden.

Now is the time to enjoy and photograph the deep rich colors of flowers while getting ready for tree foliage and native grasses in a month’s time.

Keeping Cool on a Hot Day

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

It was 94 degrees F. (34 degrees C.) in the shade of the steep-sided road cut through an algific talus formation but our ankles and tripod legs were cool. We were in a ditch along the road which had the rare threatened Northern Wild Monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense) flowers growing from along the ditch up the steep slope. There were cracks and openings all over the cliff-like cut. The largest were near the bottom along the ditch. Little gusts of cool air (algific) emanated from these openings.

Algific talus slopes are rare and fragile landforms, found in the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois. Driftless indicated that the last glaciers, some 12,000 years ago, did not cover this area. Ordinarily natural algific talus slopes are north facing.

The road cut through the talus (broken rocks) faces west. The cracks deep in the hillside hold water which freezes in the winter and cools the soil  and air so that highly specialized rare plants can survive and in this case prosper. We suspect there must be large ice blocks deep in this hillside to keep this garden of Northern Wild Monkshood and the ice age relict Canada Yew thriving.

We try to both document and make small works of art with some of our images. This shows a maturing bud, an open blossom and several seed pods. The background is softened by the very shallow depth of field and the fact that this plant reached out away from the slope. Getting the tripod at a useful position in the ditch without disturbing the plant was the challenge.

Algific talus slopes are very fragile and easily damaged. That is why we were so pleased to be in a location where we could photograph these lovely plants.  Interestingly several other species not ordinarily found in these cold locations were also on the road cut – among them, columbines. They were closer to the top of the slope but still among the monkshood.

We were able to do a couple of images reminiscent of one in our book Deep Nature; Photographs from Iowa. Bumble bees are a major pollinator of Northern Wild Monkshood and there was one very busy bee systematically moving among the flowers. It would pick one plant and then move around the plant and enter almost all of the flowers. Then it would go to another. It sometimes came back to a plant to check.

When we finished and headed back to our car, we quickly became aware of how nice and cool the ditch had been. Our equipment felt damp and cool from the condensation that had occurred while in natural refrigeration.

IPNS 20th Anniversary & Iowa Preserves 50th Anniversary

Monday, May 25th, 2015

As we are reviewing the photographs we made this weekend at the INPS & Iowa Preserves Anniversaries celebration, this one of a Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum)  is representative of the pleasure of those attending. We visited several important preserves and parks to enjoy the native plants they protect and preserve.

The enjoyment and collegiality continued over a dinner and presentation by John Pearson about the history and development of the Iowa Preserves. John wrote an essay for our book Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa. His love and respect for the plants, people and landscapes he works to protect as state ecologist was apparent and appreciated.

This lady’s slipper was found at the park where we attended the first meeting to discuss the possibility of forming an Iowa Native Plant Society on a cold and blustery April day twenty years ago. As the group started down the trail we all missed the lady’s slippers because something on the opposite side of the trail provided a lesson from one of the botanists leading the walk.

It is also a lesson to look at all sides – front, back, left, right, up and down – when entering an area, especially if you are not returning the same route. Fortunately someone saw the yellow pouches as we returned and many of us had the opportunity to admire and/or make images.

It rained on Sunday and the group thinned out. Bob said he hoped the rain would stop so we could stop to make a few images of the two orchid species we had seen the day before. It did not look hopeful but to our delight, the rain took a rest and we were able to make a few more images. This one is one of Bob’s files.

On Saturday we also had an example of why we co-sign all of our images. It seemed to be also a celebration of our photographing together for 50 years. At one of the locations we were working separately over the same general area on a steep, rocky, wooded slope. There were nodding trilliums and yellow violets and ferns and more.

Of all the yellow violets we each could have photographed, we both saw a particular one and a similar composition. One uses a 180mm macro lens and the other a 100mm macro lens. The cameras and tripods were situated at different angles. However the personal responses to the subject are often similar.

The exposures, apertures and angles are different while the general composition is the same. Before digital cameras we always labeled our slide development envelopes so we could be certain of which one of us photographed particular slides. Now we have each of our cameras identified so that the filenames right out of the camera include whose camera was used for that file.

Yellow Trout Lilies

Sunday, April 19th, 2015

Several years ago a Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) appeared under a shrub in our garden. Now there is a small colony. We have several large colonies of  White Trout Lilies (Erythronium albidum). These have expanded over the years. The yellow ones chose a place separate from the white ones, though we think some young white ones have joined them. The leaves of the yellow ones seem to have darker mottling than the white.

We both have photographed them at different times over the last several days. Bob was fortunate to see one bloom literally pop open. The next two images are of the same flower – bud and open blossom – made 3 minutes apart.

He hopes he might do a time lapse or video if he suspects another bud is ready to open.

While Linda was photographing one of the blossoms, a Carpenter Bee (probably a Xylocopa virginica) came in and collected much of the pollen from it. It systematically went up and down each stamen and soon its underside and even hair on its back was bright yellow with pollen. We wonder if she was provisioning places where she was going to lay some eggs.

Linda wished she had been using a flash to capture the bee and pollen. Because the bee is dark, she opened the exposure a bit more than Bob had done for the two just above so the yellow is brighter. Camera settings and processing affect color from one camera and lens combination to another.

There have been several bee species foraging among the white blossoms. We hope to make images of several of them while the blooms are still laden with pollen.

April Showers

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

Spring arrives when Bloodroot, Spring Beauty, Virginia Bluebells and Dutchman’s Britches start to bloom. The trilliums are still just budding. Today we were several woodlands when it started to sprinkle just after we finished photographing the Dutchman’s Britches. The light had been soft and subtle. However, the wind was an issue so the umbrellas were wind shields before changing to their traditional uses as we headed for the car.

Bloodroot shows itself as it unwraps its leaves. Then opens wide for just a day or two and then shatters. Raindrops can facilitate the petals fall, leaving just the yellow centers on slender stems.

Spring Beauty is usually white or pale pink. Sometimes blossoms are stripped or even quite pink. This cluster of striped flowers pushed aside the leaves from last autumn as do many of the spring ephemerals.

Leaves of this clump of Virginia Bluebells on only three inches high and still the pink buds are getting ready to open and turn blue. Many of the early spring plants are very short this year. It must be a lack of rain so the shower this afternoon is most welcome.

We both thought that our images of Dutchman’s Britches were the best in several years. Perhaps it was the assistants we acquired in one of the woodlands. Just after we walked off the trail well into the woods, two dogs came up to greet us. Both wore orange collars and seemed to know the woods. They were well mannered, smiling a greeting and wagging their tails.

The dogs moved off walking along the trail and we settled down to get to photograph the Dutchman’s Britches. Much to our surprise they quietly returned and lay down about 10 feet behind us to watch us kneeling behind our cameras and tripods. After they became bored with us they again headed up the trail. We soon left because of the raindrops.

The red trilliums will call us back to the woods within a few days.