Archive for the 'Plant' Category

Timing & Location Are Important.

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

This morning we visited Hanging Bog, known for its Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) community. It is not a true bog but a year round seep coming from a tall hillside. There are limestone layers or terraces which direct water out of the ravine to several tiny brooks. The little brooks wind down into a flat where later the Marsh Marigolds will wet their feet about the time the Skunk Cabbage leaves look like giant leaf lettuce clumps. Other spring ephemerals will bloom on its banks and into the surrounding woodland.

Most of the few Skunk Cabbage spathes we found were just peeking out of the little brook. Since this has been a mild winter with little snow, the  spathes and immature spiraled leaves were frost bitten and not very pretty. Many had been nibbled on by deer and possibly wild turkeys. Years ago we saw some wild turkeys munching on Skunk Cabbage.

Linda found this one in reasonable condition. When she found it there was a little patch of ice at the base of the opening into the chamber for the spadix or blossoming part. The spadix behind the ice patch is just visible in the top image and the mottled interior is visible in the lower one. The tiny white spot at the top of the opening (top image) was a little bit of ice inside the spathe that melted before Bob came to share the plant. The ice patch had also melted and showed the damage to the surface of the spathe and to previous damage on  the leaf (bottom image). It looked more frost bitten than when the top image was made.

We have photographed Skunk Cabbage protruding through snow in January. They are one of the plants that are thermogenic – producing excess heat that can melt snow. Today this was the only one to have a maroon spathe visible. It was protected by a dark chunk of fallen tree branch in the water at its back and was in a place where the sun peeked through the trees for several hours each day.


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.


Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Solomon's Seal

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) is a subject for several seasons. In the spring it is hung with pairs of lovely little pale green bells. The bells turn to green fruit which darkens as summer progresses. It provides a number of studies in monochrome before the fruits finally turn a deep purple/black and the leaves yellow.

Monochrome is an image (photograph, drawing, painting) in shades and tints of all one color. Mono is one and chrome is color. If the shades and tints are variations of gray from black to white, the work is in gray-scale. Mix a single color to the gray scale from black to white and the work is a monochrome. Most definitions speak of only shades of a color or adding black to the color. Tints are when white is added to a color so when we prepare a monochrome image in one color we think of shades and tints.

In 2009 the University of Iowa Press published the second edition of Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands and used  one of our images of the Solomon’s Seal blossoms to illustrate its beauty. When we saw the green fruits on this stem last week we were reminded that the blossom photograph is also a monochrome. It has a dark green background with light green bells.

Plants with green blossoms as sometimes overlooked as subjects. We think they are ideal for monochromatic studies. Monochrome is more than black/white or gray-scale.


Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is known by other names. Virginia Creeper, Thicket Creeper and Five-leaf Ivy, to name a few. It has a similar, less-common relative (Parthenocissus vitacea), also having the same common names. They are found in much of the U.S. and southern Canada. We found this one yesterday at a nearby nature center on a lovely day before the cold spell was forecast.

From a distance the vines and leaves of these two species are similar without close inspection. One difference is in their fruit. Below is the fruit of P. quinquefolia. The pale green flowers produce a cluster of shiny blue black berries. P. vitacea also has blue-black berries but they are often in more open clusters and have reddish stems. This cluster of P. quinquefolia is quite compact – perhaps because of the very unusual growing season here in Iowa this year.

One of the attractions of this native vine is its beautiful color on an autumn day like yesterday. The example above is mottled orange and yellow with a little red. It also can be crimson, red or purple in various combinations and degrees of brightness.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also is very pretty in the autumn and its scientific name indicates its toxic nature. These leaves were in the same woodland and were on a vine that was protecting a lovely brown and white shelf fungus. Did not move the leaves to photograph the fungus. The  three leaflets and large teeth along the edges are indicators to remember “shiny leaves of three, leave it be.”


Thursday, September 29th, 2011

One of the pleasures of September is that Ten-petal Mentzelia bloom. This post is also a celebration of the return of our blog after a month of confusion and frustration. It is also a test of how this version of WordPress works and how we should prepare our posts.

We are grateful to the Earthlink technician who was able to return our posts to the correct order – from newest to oldest. It took several blogware updates and his skill. Strange things sometimes happen when servers are updated and our blog order was one of those.

Ten-petal Mentzelia is a western prairie species that found its way to our area and lives in a small sandy patch quite happily. The plants are tall, thin and scraggly. They feel a bit thistley, but the blossoms are exquisite. The blossoms open late in the afternoon and close by morning. They may open and close for several days before dropping their stamens and petals. We brought this stem home to photograph in our tabletop set-up. Controlling light and wind is sometimes easier indoors.

We expect to get back to regular posting if this really works.

Inchworm on Coneflower

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Dried Gray-headed Coneflower

The coneflower bouquet on the dining room table has dried, leaving beautiful remains of Purple and Gray-headed Coneflower heads. Yellow coneflowers are reminiscent of modern dancers in flowing silk. The petals had dried in wind-swept positions, as if the blooms had twirled and jumped while still attached to stiff stems. This and the memory of old still-life oil paintings led to playing with light to emphasize the textures, surfaces and colors while photographing them.

Inchworm on Coneflower

The bouquet had been on the table for several weeks, so we were surprised to see this inchworm on one of the dry blooms. It is just visible on the right side of the flower in the top image. The closer view shows it matching the flower’s colors as it looks like a mug or teapot handle.


Inchworms are the caterpillars of Geometer moths, of which there are hundreds of species. As this one hunched its way around the seed head, we rotated the blossom to make ever closer images from several angles. Most inchworms that we have seen are pale green. This one is tan and banded with several shades of brown. It must have been an egg when we brought in the flowers. Its presence is another kind of modern “found art.”


Tuesday, July 19th, 2011


Last night, as we walked a trail to collect fresh milkweed for the ‘children’ (the five Monarch Butterfly caterpillars growing toward ‘chrysalishood’ on the corner table in our living room), we came upon several stands of Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris).

Teasel is considered to be an alien weed in North America but the dried flower heads are also pretty additions to dried flower arrangements. The ones we found have white florets though guide books state that they are lavender.

In their book, The Metamorphosis of Flowers, Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou have several lovely sequences of teasel images. We admire the work of these French photographers and were influenced by their work as we selected images for Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa.

Therefore, we brought several very prickly stems home to make portraits in our style.


Nuridsany and Perennou frequently photograph blooms, buds, seeds, etc. against plain, often dark green, backgrounds. We like soft out of focus backgrounds of several colors for portraits, both outdoors and in. In the field we hope to isolate subjects far enough from the background for it to fall out of focus. For table-top work, we use prints of out-of-focus flowers and foliage as backgrounds. We used daylight quality compact florescent bulbs without the light tent for general lighting, plus off-camera fill-flash for some images. This made varying patterns of light and soft shadows.

It is a good exercise to do variations on subjects done by photographers one admires. Artists and musicians have long done variations on a theme produced by another artist or musician.

BTW, the caterpillars are growing well and established on their new cuttings. They all hatched from eggs on plants we found last week. The last one was a surprise yesterday morning. We had missed the location of an egg on a leaf that was being devoured by a much larger, several day old caterpillar. The very tiny caterpillar quickly migrated to another leaf. It now has its own milkweed stem in its own jar.

Bumble Bee at Work

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Bumble Bee

The importance of bees and other pollinators is sometimes an abstract idea when not observed up close. Bumble Bees are large enough to see pollen sticking to their furry bodies and sleek legs. Pollinators have a variety of ways of carrying pollen for their own food and for distributing it to the next plant they visit. We have several species of native flowers including these Grey-headed Coneflowers which serve as good stages for photographing the bees, butterflies and other insects that visit our garden.

One of the organizations working to increase awareness and assist those individuals and groups involved in pollinator conservation is the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. A series of workshops is being held throughout the country, conducted by Jennifer Hopwood, to teach the “latest science-based approaches to reversing the trend of pollinator declines.” (from Xerces Society announcements) The hope is that more people will become involved in improving pollinator habitats and in learning how to conserve pollinators while managing land for agriculture and conservation uses.

Bumble Bee

We are seeing even fewer bee species and fewer bees in our garden this summer than last. Each one is celebrated. And if we can get a good image, even more so.

Here and Now

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Noelridge Park landscape

One of the maxims we try live by is “the best place is here and the best time is now.” The necessity of remembering this was again brought home this week. On Sunday evening we went to a local park and garden to look for some fall color images. Most of the flowers were fading though there still were some like those is this image. The tops of colorful trees were softly lit by the evening sun so we made a few images including the one above.

We noticed a few insects including a sphinx moth, sometimes referred to as a hummingbird moth. That was another reminder to bring other lenses and equipment than the ones we planned to use because other subjects can and will appear. So we decided to return late Monday afternoon to do some more photography.

Well, when we got there we found that the gardeners had pulled almost all of the flowers in the large garden, preparing the garden for the winter. To our disappointment this flower bed and most others were bare earth. We had hoped to use a different lens than the one used Sunday to improve the image. This was made with a 100mm macro lens rather than the 70-200mm lens that would have been preferable.

Images are an effort to make the ephemeral more permanent. We all must spend more time in the here and now.

Asters in October

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Each October the late autumn asters are one of the last pleasure of Indian summer day. The lovely weather has presented many opportunities to enjoy these common delights. Two colors, both native – one much admired and the other sometimes considered a weed – are the topic of this entry.

Old Field Aster or WHite Heath Aster

There are several native, white asters with a spindly growth pattern that sometimes leads to people calling them weeds. It may be because they are found competing with real weeds in open areas. We think this one may be the Hairy Aster (Aster pilosus) because of its hairy stems and leaf pattern. It offers pretty plumes of half inch (1 cm.) blossoms often seen along roads, in pastures and woodlands, and other dry locations. The yellow center is the cluster of tubular disk flowers surrounded by white ray flowers. The above blossom and stem are about 1 inch (2 cm.) tall. One of the pleasures of using macro-lenses is being able really look at a small subject.

New England Aster

It is often easy to look into the face of one of the tall purple asters found in prairies and increasingly in native plant gardens. The fresh New England Aster (Aster novae-anglia) above shows the opening yellow tubular flowers. The dense purple rays provide a cheerful fringe. A late season honey bee is foraging in the mature yellow disks below.

Aster and Bee

The ray flowers are usually dense but these are less so, providing a peek-a-boo moment when viewed from the side.

New England Aster

The bract pattern at the bases of blooms are often described when keying out a species. The Hairy Aster is sometimes described as having needle-like in-rolled bracts at the base and the New England Aster is described as having a broad, clasping base of overlapping bracts. Close-up photography allows one to really look, enjoy and marvel at the great variety in nature.

P.S. The white aster was photographed with a 180 mm macro lens and the purple ones with a 100mm lens. The main difference is working distance for similar sizes on the sensor (or the film of the past).