Lion’s Teeth

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I am a philologist, a lover of words.  As an English and Latin double major in college, I pursued my love of language (even through the trials of reading Beowulf in its original Old English).  As you have seen in many of my previous posts on nature, I like to include the taxonomic name of the plants, not because I want to show off my knowledge of nature – it’s a notch above rudimentary, at best – but because I love the Latin names.  A white oak is so much more august as a Quercus Alba, or the sweet-gum tree as Liquidambar Styraciflua, which literally means a tree flowing with amber liquid (referring to the gum that exudes from the tree when it is cut).

In this vein, I give you a (false) dent de lion, a lion’s-tooth flower, better known as a dandelion.  Although the appellation refers to the coarsely toothed leaves, this photograph – one of my early macro lens experiments – focuses on the petals and the pseudanthium, or false flower head in the middle, which is actually a small cluster of tiny flowers grouped together.  The pictured flower is actually a false dandelion, or a Carolina desert chicory flower (Pyrrhopappus Carolinianus).

The simplicity of the composition is appealing to me on the one hand, and on the other, I have always been troubled by the dead center focus on the flower.  Unfortunately, when I was first taking my macro shots, I was more concerned with aperture and focus than I was with composition.  I have sincerely amended my ways.  Nevertheless, the clarity and the stark contrast of the petals and the void behind them have always been pleasing to me.

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Southern Needleleaf

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This photograph of a southern needleleaf air plant (Tillandsia Setecea) on a water oak (Quercus Nigra) was taken on a hike in Nocatee Preserve near my home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  The needleleaf is an epiphyte, an organism that grows on the surface of a plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and debris accumulating around it. I am fascinated by epiphytes, like the resurrection fern in an earlier post.  In Florida, they are everywhere.  We had a few large crepe myrtles in our back yard, and the needleleafs practically covered the trunks and branches of the trees.  I have always been curious how they take hold on their host tree.  Many people have seen these members of the bromelaid family, but few have ever seen the beautiful and delicate purple flowers that bloom for an instant and are gone.  I have been lucky enough to see the blossoms, having grown up around them, and perhaps as the Romantic Poets believed, they are all the more beautiful because they are so evanescent and fleeting.

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Invasive Beauty

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This post was originally titled “Native Beauty,” as I had seen these beautiful purple flowers up and down the coast near Carmel, California.  With a bit of research, however, I found that these stunning flowers are an invasive species known as Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans).  In fact, forestry officials are removing them from native plant communities as part of habitat restoration efforts in coastal parks such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The genus name is from an ancient Greek word for the plant. It is derived from “echion,” with the root word “echis” meaning “viper.”  There are conflicting etymological justifications for the name, including that the shape of the seed resembles that of a viper’s head, and  that Echium Vulgare, a related plant, was a historically thought to be a remedy for the adder’s bite.  Candicans or “shining white” refers to one of the more famous varietals in Madeira, Portugal, where the plants originate.  It was originally referred to as Echium Fatuosum, which is where the “pride” in the name originated.  In California, however, the purple E. Candicans varietal shown in the photograph is the most common.

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Bee and Balm

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This photograph is a companion to Anna’s Hummingbird, which I posted on Wednesday.  This photograph shows a bee and its balm, specifically a Halictus Poeyi (sweat “furrow” bee) about to collect pollen from a Monarda Clinopodia (white “bergamot” bee balm).  The sweat bee and bee balm are native to North Carolina, where this photograph was taken.  I was busy taking macro photographs of the native flowers in the beautiful gardens of a family friend, and I hardly noticed this little bee hovering near the dew-kissed bee balm.  I was looking at my camera screen to see whether I had captured a focused shot of the flower when he drew closer, and I was able to catch him mid-flight.  I would have loved to increase the shutter speed to catch his wings, as I did with Anna’s Hummingbird, but the lighting under the the dense rhododendrons was not conducive to such a shot.

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Anna’s Hummingbird

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This photograph of a female Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte Anna) feeding on alium flowers was taken in my in-laws’ garden in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  She visited the flowers nearly every day we were there, but she always visited alone.  Her mate would have had beautiful pink plumage around his neck.  I have always been fascinated by the drab colors of female birds (such as cardinals and tanagers) in contrast to the fantastically colored feathers of the males.  My grandfather was an avid bird-watcher, and he was the first to teach me to distinguish between the sexes of birds.   My mom carried on his love for watching and identifying birds, which she passed on to me.  I have already begun teaching Kemper the species of birds that live in our yard.  He was especially fond of the “tipmouse” that took up residence in our garage over the summer.

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Iridescence

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This photograph is a macro shot of an Augochlora Pura (Green Sweat Bee) on a Monarda Fistulosa (a wild bergamot or bee balm).  As the title of the post suggests, I was captivated (and I still am) by the iridescence of the sweat bee’s green head and thorax, and his purple wings that look like stained glass.  This photograph was taken in Brevard, North Carolina on the property of a family friend.  I had to be terribly patient to get this shot, but in the end it paid off with a beautiful capture.

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Emergence

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This photograph of an allium (a member of the garlic family) breaking out of its protective sheath has been one of my favorite photographs since I took it a couple years ago.  To me, this photograph is evocative on so many levels.  It was taken, like Herrick’s Bud in my in-laws’ garden in Carmel, California.  Although I thought that the emergence would be relatively slow, I came back the next day and the buds had fully emerged, with the sheath having shriveled up and hanging by the wayside.  The ephemera of nature is simply amazing to me.  I hope you enjoy this photograph as much as I do.

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Herrick’s Bud

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It’s rare that I can combine both my Latin and English major in a photography post, so I apologize for the length up front.

This photograph was taken in my in-laws’ garden in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.  The title refers to the first line of the 1648 poem by Robert Herrick’s, “To the Virgins, Make Much of Time,” which even non-English majors will remember from the scene in Dead Poet’s Society.  As Robin Williams’ character notes, the theme of the poem is carpe diem – seize the day.  Carpe diem is one of those phrases that has stood the test of time and meandered its way into the modern lexicon both in its original Latin and in its widely accepted translation.  Unlike phrases such as et cetera or even cave canem (a common phrase, even written on a floor mosaic in Pompeii), carpe diem has a wonderfully beautiful, poetic history.

The ephemerality of life has long been a preoccupation of poets, and it should, therefore, be no surprise that the greatest poets of the greatest ages wrote about the transient nature of beautiful things.  One of the earliest (extant) examples is Quintus Horatius FlaccusOde 1.11, which features the line from which the phrase originates: “Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi spem longam reseces.  Dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.”  Translated, this means “Be wise, strain your wines, and because time is brief, cut short your long-term hopes.  Even while we are speaking, jealous time will have fled: so, seize the day, trusting as little as possible in what comes next.”

Carpe” is an agrarian word, and though it can be (and usually is) translated as “seize,” it would have been understood by the readers of the Ode to mean “pluck” (like a grape from the vine).  It is this meaning that Herrick ascribes to when he says, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may / old Time is still a-flying / and this same flower that smiles today / to-morrow will be dying.”  And it is this meaning I ascribed to the photograph, which I took after my son Kemper (who was four at the time) plucked this bud for his mother, who ultimately set it afloat in the birdbath outside our window.

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Rhododendron

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This photograph of a rhododendron bulb was one of the first macro photographs that I ever took.  It was taken in Deep Gap, North Carolina (near Brevard and Cashiers) on the property of a very close friend where my family spends two weeks in July and again at Christmas each year.   The word rhododendron is Greek for “rose tree” and counts azaleas among its many varietals.  The beautiful white-petaled flowers on this Rhododendron Maximum (“Rosebay” or “American” Rhododendron) had not yet emerged on the trees on the property, but the compact tulip-like bulbs were ripe to bloom very soon thereafter.

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