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Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

As I approached a patch of thistle in bloom on Tuesday, I was looking carefully to see if there were any butterflies feeding on the flowers. Suddenly I noticed a flash of bright red and realized immediately that it was a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe).

Hummingbird Clearwing moths, which actually do resemble hummingbirds as they dart among the flowers, hovering periodically to such nectar, are not exactly rare where I live, but I tend to see them only a few times a year. Fortunately I reacted quickly enough to capture this image, because the moth flew out of sight after it had finished feeding on this flower.

For shots like this, the wing position is really important and I was thrilled that I was able to capture the wings fully extended, which highlights the transparent portions of the wing responsible the common name of this species. The details of the moth and the thistle are pretty sharp and the background is blurred enough that it is not a distraction—I like this shot a lot.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I am still learning to take videos with my iPhone 11. During my recent road trip, I convinced myself that it could be used with large subjects like bison and wild horses. I wasn’t sure, however, if it could be used effectively with the small subjects that I enjoy photographing.

Yesterday I visited Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, my favorite local wildlife photography spot, and kept my iPhone in my front pants pocket—normally I keep it in my backpack, which it is much less accessible. I was still using my Canon 7D with the Tamron 18-400mm zoom lens most of the time, but I made a conscious effort to look for subjects that I could also film with my iPhone.

I was astonished when I encountered a relatively cooperative Zebra Swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus). Normally these butterflies are extremely skittish and it is a challenge to get a photo of one, even with a long telephoto lens. How could I make a video of one when I would have to be really close to it?

The first video, which is hosted in YouTube, is a short clip I was able to capture of a Zebra Swallowtail. I added a piano track as accompaniment to enhance the experience.

The second video features an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) feeding on a colorful thistle plant. This video was a bit easier to capture, because the butterfly was perched much higher and was really preoccupied. I was therefore able to frame the video much better. Once again I added piano music to the video, using the copyright free music available in the YouTube Studio.

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I have chosen to embed YouTube links to the videos rather than place them directly in my blog, where they would count against the blog’s data limits. In order to have an image appear for this posting in the Reader section of WordPress, I have reprised an image of a Zebra Swallowtail that was in a May 2022 posting.

I am having fun playing with videos and think they give a slightly different perspective to my normal blog postings.  What do you think? Do you enjoy these kinds of short video clips?

Zebra Swallowtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Goldenrod was in full bloom on Wednesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, attracting all kinds of insects, including a little Skipper butterfly and a colorfully-patterned Ailanthus Webworm moth (Atteva aurea). I believe that the butterfly is a Sachem Skipper (Atalopedes campestris), although it is hard to be confident when identifying skipper butterflies—there are quite a number of similar looking species.

I love the intricate orange, black, and white pattern on the body of the Ailanthus Webworm moth, a type of ermine moth. This moth looks quite a bit like a beetle when it is at rest with its wings tucked in, but reportedly it looks like a wasp when in flight. I encourage you to click on the image to get a better look at the wonderful details of the two insects.

When I composed this image, I was conscious of the fact that my primary subject, which was initially the skipper, filled only a small part of the frame. However, I really liked the brilliant yellow of the goldenrod and framed the shot to focus viewers’ attention as much on the sweeping curve and color of the goldenrod as on the insects. The goldenrod became the co-star of the photo and therefore has equal billing in the title of this blog posting.

goldenrod and insects

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Yesterday I visited Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State. The namesake mountain is one of the most prominent features of the park and it is a real challenge trying to figure out a creative way to capture the beauty of the snow-covered mountain.

Different vantage points and different altitudes give you different views of the mountain. I also played around a bit with aspect ratios too.

I was particularly delighted to see that some of the wildflowers were still in bloom and the first photo is one of my favorites. I worked hard to frame the composition with the flowers in the foreground. The fact that all three of these photos were taken with my iPhone 11 meant that almost the entire image in focus. It would have been a bit of a challenge to get that kind of depth of field with my DSLR.

I took the second shot from much lower on the mountain. I love the way that the image is almost abstract, reduced to shapes of the mountain and the trees.

The final image is a panoramic-type shot, which somehow seems suitable for the sweeping mountain views. It is a cropped version of a “normal” photo in which I tried to emphasize the mountains—too much of the original image was taken up by sky.

I may have some more images of Mount Rainier to share with you when I go through my images from my DSLR, but I have to say that I am more than happy with these images from my iPhone.

Mt Rainier

Mt Rainier

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Normally I try to do a posting to my blog every day, but for the next three weeks my posting schedule will be much more erratic. I am in the final stages of packing my car for a trip to visit my son and his family outside of Seattle, Washington. There are multiple decision points along the way and I have not yet decided on my final route, but no matter how I go, it is likely to be about 3,000 miles (4828 km) each way.

I have some camping gear with me, including a water jug that holds six gallon (23 liter), so I may well be spending some time disconnected from the virtual world. I’ll try to take some photos along the way and will share them when I am able.

I am leaving you with a shot of a pretty little butterfly, which I think is a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) perched on some Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa). I love the different shades of orange in the image.

In case some of you do not know it, my KIA Soul, in which I am driving out West, is orange in color. It is a coppery orange and not a pumpkin orange and it definitely stands out in a parking lot. My license plate holder has SOUL on it and my license plate itself is “BLESS MY.”

I am attaching a couple of photos of my car from January 2016, after a big snow storm. So many of us throughout the Northern Hemisphere are suffering from oppressive heat and I thought that the sight of snow might cool us off a little. I’ll close with a joke that I say on-line today that is a perfect fit for my quirky sense of humor—”Just be thankful that it is not snowing. Imagine shoveling snow in this heat!”

KIA Soul

KIA Soul

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I have not yet made it to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens this year, so I was especially happy to see that a dozen or so lotuses were in bloom last week at Green Spring Gardens. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. is a National Park Service site with several dozen ponds with a variety of water lilies and lotuses—it is the go-to place in my area to see this kind of aquatic vegetation.

However, I am pretty content with the smaller selection at Green Spring Gardens, which is only a couple of miles from my home. Every time that I see lotuses, I am faced with the dilemma of how to photograph them. Should I try to get a group shot or should I photograph a single flower? Should I try to capture an image of a whole flower or of some of its parts? When I am trying to photographic birds and insects, I usually do not have the luxury of thinking about all of these compositional considerations, so it feels a little strange to be so intentional when photographing flowers.

Here are three photos from my outing that day that represent several different ways that I approached my subject. The first image is a kind of traditional portrait of a lotus that I took when the sun had slipped behind the clouds and softened the harshness of the light. For the second shot, I moved in closer and focused on the center of a lotus, creating an image that simultaneously realistic and abstract. For the final photo, I moved even closer and tried to emphasize the texture of a lotus leaf and all of its interlocking veins.

It’s fun to play around with my camera and try some different creative approaches that I do not regularly use in photographing wildlife.

Have a wonderful weekend and consider trying a new approach to something you regularly do. It may not necessarily work, but it will undoubtedly be fun.

 

lotus

lotus center

lotus leaf

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I love the way that this acrobatic bee was able to position its antennae for optimized access to the nectar in this bee balm flower last Friday at Green Spring Gardens. The bee was so focused on the flower that it paid me no attention, allowing me to get really close to it to capture this image.

I believe that the bee is an Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica). As for the flower, there was quite a variety of flowers in different colors that looked like this one. I think that it is a type of bee balm (g. Monarda), though I really do not know flowers very well.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was absolutely thrilled on Wednesday when I streaks of bright yellow flashed in front of my eyes while walking among the flowers at Green Spring Gardens—goldfinches were present. Few other birds in my area can match the brilliant yellow color of the male American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) in breeding plumage. It is easy to spot these birds, but it is a challenge to photograph them, because they are small, fast, and skittish.

My camera was equipped with my 180mm macro, which can also serve as a short telephoto lens, so I had to use all of my stalking skills to get as close as possible. Fortunately, the goldfinches were preoccupied with feeding and I was able to capture these images. I had to be quite patient, though, because the goldfinches spent most of their time with their heads buried in the flowers and only rarely gave me a good view of their faces

Together with the goldfinches, the abundance of blooming flowers helped me to create images that have a happy feel to them, a welcome antidote to the gloom of these troubled times.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I noticed on Friday that quite a few milkweed plants are now in bloom at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Hopefully they will attract some Monarch butterflies. In the meantime, I was happy to see this Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) with its cool “longhorn” antennae.

Over ten years ago, I encountered these strange-looking insects for the first time and was utterly fascinated by their appearance. That fascination has not diminished over time. Milkweed plants are amazing hosts to a wonderful variety of insects and it is always fun to examine them closely.

I was a pretty good distance away from this beetle, so I was not able to get a close-up shot of it, so settled for a shot that included a bit of the milkweed. I really like the resulting image, a reminder to myself that the primary subject does not necessarily have to fill the frame for a photo to be effective.

If you want a better view of a Red Milkweed Beetle, check out my June 2013 posting entitled “Red Milkweed Beetle—he’s back.”

Red Milkweek Beetle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have had rain and clouds the last few days and I feel the need for a pop of color today. This blanket flower (g. Gaillardia) provided a wonderfully colorful backdrop for a little bee that I spotted during a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens. I think that it may be some kind of sweat bee, but I did not get a close enough look at it to be able identify it.

bee

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There was only one water lily in bloom last week at Green Spring Gardens—it did not have to share the spotlight with any other floating flowers. In some ways, its uniqueness made it even even more special. I love water lilies, but it may be a bit early for them to be blooming, at least at this pond.

As I was looking through my camera’s viewfinder, trying to think of an interesting way to photograph the single water lily, I spotted a tiny hover fly making a beeline for the center of the water lily. I reacted quickly and frantically clicked away. In most of my shots, the hover fly was out of focus, but my luck and timing allowed me to capture the first image below, in which the little insect is in relatively sharp focus—click on the image to get a closer look at the patterns on the hover fly’s body.

I realize that some viewers may prefer to enjoy the beauty of a flower without having to see insects, so I have added a second shot of the water lily that I took from a slightly different angle. No matter which image you prefer, I am confident that you will agree that the water lily is stunning—I love the way that the center of the flower seems to glow.

Water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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I never know what will catch my eye when my camera is in my hand. On Monday, for example, I spotted these tiny, colorful flowers while hunting for dragonflies at Occoquan Regional Park. The blue one is a type of blue-eyed grass (g. Sisyrinchium), but I can’t identify the pretty pink one.

I am not a gardener, so I never learned to differentiate between flowers and weeds—they are all flowers to me. I find the names of plant species to be confusing at times. Blue-eyed grass, for example, is not actually a grass, but a perennial related to the iris, and it comes in multiple colors. Yikes!

The good news is that my lack of knowledge about plants does not keep me from enjoying fully the beauty of these tiny flowers. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

If you recognize the pink flower and can identify it, please let me know what it is. Ten years ago I could not identify a single dragonfly, but over time I have learned a lot about them. There is hope, therefore, that I will similarly expand my knowledge of flowers as I encounter and photograph them.

UPDATE: Thanks to Steve Gingold, I now know that the pink flower is a Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), a plant species native to Europe that is naturalized in much of North America. Be sure to check out Steve’s blog for lots of wonderful nature images and a wealth of information about plants, insects, and other aspects of nature, especially in Western New England, where he lives.


pink flower

blue-eyed grass

pink flower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Lilies are now blooming in the garden of my neighbor, Cindy Dyer, who is also my photography mentor and muse. There are all kind of lilies there, including daylilies, Asiatic lilies, and giant white ones. Cindy deliberately likes to plant flowers that she knows will be photogenic.

I always feel overwhelmed when trying to photograph groups of anything, so I naturally gravitate to close-ups of individual flowers, focusing in on details that grab my eyes. Sometimes it is shapes, while at other times it may be colors or textures. Here are a few photos from my visit on Tuesday to Cindy’s garden, my impressions of some of the beautiful lilies that I encountered.

lily

lily

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the triangular shape of Spiderwort plants (genus Tradescantia). I tend to think of spiderworts as being a bluish-purple in color, but was delighted to discover them blooming in a variety of colors during a recent visit to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historical garden near where I live. I think my favorite color combination may be the one in the middle photo, with the white flowers and the purple “fuzz” in the center.

Spiderwort

Spidewort

spiderwort

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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During a recent trip to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historic garden near where I live, I was delighted to see that Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) was in bloom. Love-in-a-mist  is a flower that looks like it came from outer space, with wild tendrils shooting out of its middle and green spiky vegetation surrounding it. Like many forms of love, the flower simultaneously looks to be both inviting and threatening.

I find this flower to be incredibly beautiful and exotic and it is one of my favorites. Typically Love-in-a-mist is blue, but it also comes in shades of white, pink, and lavender. Many flowers lose our interest after they have bloomed, but I find the seedpods of Love-in-a-mist to at least as intriguing as the flower itself, as you can see in the final photo.

When I did a little research I learned that the striped, balloon-shaped object that I call a seedpod, is actually an inflated capsule composed of five fused true seedpods, according to an article by Wisconsin Horticulture. I also discovered that the thorny-looking spikes that make up the “mist,” which are not sharp, despite their appearance, are technically bracts, a specialized kind of leaves.

I smile whenever I use the name of this flower—we can always use more Love, whether it comes in a mist, in the sunshine, or even in a downpour.

 

Love-in-a-mist

Love-in-a-mist

Love-in-a-mist

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many irises have come and gone this spring, but I was delighted to see that this stunning dark violet one was blooming yesterday in the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer, a variant that she told me is a Louisiana iris ‘Black Gamecock.’ Cindy also has some gorgeous Calla Lilies blooming in a container on her front porch in a wide variety of colors.

Intermittent thunderstorms are in the forecast for most of today and I doubt that we will see the sun. My senses need the stimulation provided by bright colors, like those of these beautiful flowers in Cindy’s garden in late May.

iris

Calla Lily

Calla Lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Do you worry about how you look when you are taking a photograph? Most of the time I am by myself in remote locations, so I don’t feel at all self-conscious when I kneel and lean or even sprawl onto the ground in order to get a better angle for a shot. Recently, though, I was at Meadowlark Botanical Garden, a relatively crowded public space, with some friends and one of them, my photography mentor Cindy Dyer, photographed me in action.

You probably cannot help but notice my brightly colored sneakers. Since I retired, I have developed a fondness for Chuck Taylor Converse All Star sneakers and have pairs that are aqua, orange, and blue, in addition to the hightop coral ones in the photos. Did you notice that I was using a monopod for additional stability for the macro shot that I was taking? I was also leaning my elbow onto my knee to steady my shot.

What was I shooting? I was photographing a tiny spider on the side of a snowflake flower that is barely visible in the foreground of the photos. I reprised the photo of the spider that I originally included in a posting entitled Spider on snowflake to give you a sense of the distance that I was from the subject. One of the real benefits of the 180mm macro lens is that it lets me get close-up shots without having to be be on top of the subject, as would be necessary with my 60mm macro lens or even my 100mm macro lens.

In case you are curious, I tend to wear more subdued footgear when I am out in the wild. Many of my subjects are probably colorblind, so they would not be mindful of my bright shoes—I am more worried about covering them with mud and dirt, which I seem unable to avoid when I am trekking about in nature.

mike powell

Mike Powell

spider and snowflake

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Orchids are rare and beautiful and it is amazing to find them growing in the wild. Last Thursday I went on a hike in a hilly forested area of Prince William County in Virginia. It was cool and overcast, less than idea circumstances for finding the dragonflies that I was seeking. After coming up empty-handed at my favorite dragonfly spots, I decided to switch to Plan B.

I vaguely remembered where in previous years I had seen some Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), a beautiful wild orchid that is native to North America, and decided to go off on a quest to find these treasures. I noticed that a lot of trees had fallen over the past year. Although workers at this national park had cleared the trails themselves, the limbs from the fallen trees obstructed my view in my target areas.

Orchids are pretty fragile and require specific habitats and I was worried that those habitats might have been damaged or destroyed. I walked very slowly, scanning the forest floor for hints of red or pink, wondering if I had come too early or too late. Eventually I found one small patch and then a second one a bit later (as shown in the final photo).

Pink Lady’s Slippers are sometimes called “moccasin flowers.” According to the New England Today website, “Native American folklore tells the story of a young maiden who ran barefoot in the snow in search of medicine to save her tribe, but was found collapsed on the way back from her mission with swollen, frozen feet. As a result, beautiful lady slipper flowers then grew where her feet had been as a reminder of her bravery.”

As I did a bit more research I learned more about this delightful flowers, including the specific requirements for them to grow that include a particular type of fungus. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “In order to survive and reproduce, pink lady’s slipper interacts with a fungus in the soil from the Rhizoctonia genus. Generally, orchid seeds do not have food supplies inside them like most other kinds of seeds. Pink lady’s slipper seeds require threads of the fungus to break open the seed and attach them to it. The fungus will pass on food and nutrients to the pink lady’s slipper seed. When the lady’s slipper plant is older and producing most of its own nutrients, the fungus will extract nutrients from the orchid roots. This mutually beneficial relationship between the orchid and the fungus is known as “symbiosis” and is typical of almost all orchid species.”

In a recent posting about Bleeding Hearts, I commented that I really liked heart-shaped flowers. At that time I was referring to the stylized shape that we associate with love. In the case of these Lady’s Slippers, I have always found that they look like actual human hearts, at least as I have seen them in movies that included open-heart surgery. Wow!

Depending on your angle of view, I also find that Pink Lady’s Slippers look like angels. I have tried to show you what I mean in the second photo, in which I have focused on a single flower. Do you see the hovering angel?

The final photo is one that I snapped with my iPhone. It gives you a sense of the habitat in which I found these beautiful little flowers. I feel blessed to have found them again this year and hope to see them again in future springs. According to the U.S. Forest Service article cited above, Pink’s Lady Slippers can live to be twenty years old or more.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is prime time for the bearded irises in the garden of my dear friend and fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. There are several dozen irises in bloom now in multiple colors, including these beauties, and it looks like even more flowers will be blooming soon.

Beauty is everywhere.

bearded irises

Bearded Iris

Bearded Iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It did not seem like there was much pollen inside of each little phlox flower, but bees were busily collecting it when I spotted several of them last Saturday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. I love the way that some bees, including honeybees, collect pollen in little pouches on their back legs. When the pickings are really good, I have seen those pouches, which technically are called corbiculae, so full and bulging that they seem ready to burst—that was not the case this early in the spring, when not very many flowers were in bloom.

I was pleasantly surprised when I managed to capture a bee in flight in the second photo below as it surveyed the phlox flowers and planned its next assault. My 180mm macro lens is notoriously slow to acquire focus, so I rarely try to use it to try to capture moving subjects. The lens also is so noisy when focusing that one of my friends calls it “The Grinder.” Nonetheless, my trusty Tamron lens is my constant companion during the warm months and it is the one I use most often for my insects and other macro shots.

bee and phlox

Bee and Phlox

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some of the coolest looking plants that I saw last Saturday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens were Japanese Jack-in-the-Pulpit flowers (Arisaema sikokianum). There is something so alien and exotic about this plant that it stopped me in my tracks when I first spotted it.

According to the Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. website, the dark pitcher and two five-lobed leaves of this plant emerge on a 12 inch tall (30 cm) fleshy stalk from an underground tuber in early spring. As the pitcher opens, it reveals a swollen, pure white, protruding spadix that provides a dramatic contrast to the purple of the pitcher.

The Japanese Jack-in-the-Pulpit is closely related to the Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), which, according to Wikipedia, is common to the eastern United States. I checked the range map and the Jack-in-the-Pulpit can be found in Virginia where I live, though I have not yet spotted one. When I looked at photos of the American species, it looks fairly similar to the Japanese variant, but the spadix, the part that is the “Jack” in the name, is darker in color and the pitcher more closely matches the leaves. Check out this blog posting by Steve Gingold to see a beautiful photo of a Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing wild in his area of New England.


Japanese Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Japanese Jack-in-the-Pulpit

Japanese Jack-in-the-Pulpit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am a bit of a romantic, so my eyes are immediately drawn to the heart-shaped blooms of Bleeding Heart flowers whenever they are present in a springtime garden. Most of the time they are reddish in color, as their name suggests, but they also come in other colors. I spotted these beautiful White Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis alba) last Saturday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

I was fortunate to be able to get close enough for the first photo to be able to focus on the delicate shape of a single flower. Somehow the little wings on the hearts make me think of angels or maybe the little cherubs that we associate with Valentine’s Day. The second image gives you an idea of the way that these flowers grow in rows, suspended from tiny filaments from a stalk, twisting and turning in the wind.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the shape and colors of columbine flowers that appear in many of the gardens that I visit during the spring. According to Wikipedia, the genus name for these flowers Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because of the shape of the flower petals that are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.

I spotted several spectacular columbines during a visit to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia last Saturday. The purple columbine was in the middle of a flower bed and I could not get very close to it. I was really happy though that I had to shoot from a longer distance away than normally, because I able to capture some of the shadowy shapes of the ferns in the background.

I did manage to get quite a bit closer to the pretty pink columbine. I smiled when I saw a marker that indicated that this variety is called “Strawberry Ice Cream.” I now have an overwhelming urge to buy some strawberry ice, one of the many ice cream flavors that I love.

columbine

columbine

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As we were photographing some Spring Snowflake flowers (Leucojum vernum) on Saturday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer noticed what looked like a spider’s leg on the side of one of the flowers and asked me to go around to the other side of the flower to investigate.

Sharp-eyed Cindy was right—I spotted this tiny spider clinging to the side of the snowflake and was delighted that I was able to capture this image of it.

Leucojum vernum

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the rich color, velvet-like texture, and geometric shape of this beautiful little flower that I spotted yesterday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. I believe that this is a Red Trillium (Trillium erectum). According to Wikipedia, Red Trilliums are also known as wake robin, bethroot, and stinking benjamin.

I was curious about the name “stinking benjamin,” so I searched on-line and learned that Red Trilliums produce fetid or putrid odors purported to attract carrion fly and beetle pollinators. Some describe the odor as similar to that of a wet dog—I did not get close enough to verify personally the accuracy of this assertion.

Red Trillium

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Most flowers have blooms at the end of their stems or at least in places above their leaves. Each spring, though, I encounter Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum), a weird plant that seems to work in a totally different way. It puts out large umbrella-shaped leaves and eventually a single white blossom appears at the juncture point where the stem branches off in two directions. If you don’t know that the blooms are there, it is easy to miss them, because the large leaves hide them from view.

I saw a large number of Mayapples on Wednesday at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge at the edge of Fort Belvoir, a nearby Army base where I have seen Mayapples in the past, but most often before or after they had flowered. I tried to capture the unique way that this plant grows in these photos, which was a bit of a challenge, because the blooms are so close to the ground.

I came across a fascinating article on the Wisconsin Horticulture website that noted that Mayapple  “typically grows in colonies from a single root in open deciduous forests and shady fields, riverbanks and roadsides…The upright stems grow from a shallow, creeping, branched underground rhizome, composed of many thick dark or reddish-brown tubers connected by fleshy fibers and downward spreading roots at the nodes. Each terminal bud produces a shoot. The mostly unbranched 12-18 inch tall stems are topped with umbrella-like (peltate) leaves. The leaves remain furled as the stem elongates in the spring, unfolding when the stem nears its full height. Each smooth, pale green, rounded, palmate leaf has 5-9 shallowly to deeply cut lobes. There are one or two leaves per stem, each up to a foot across. Only stems with more than one leaf will flower. Mayapple often forms large, dense colonies in the wild.”

As most of you know, I focus mostly on wildlife in my photography, but my almost insatiable sense of curiosity draws me to anything weird and wonderful that attracts my attention, like these Mayapples.

mayapple

Mayapple

Mayapple

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is now the season for irises. All kinds of irises are starting to pop open in the garden of my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. We are neighbors in a townhouse community in Northern Virginia, which means there is relatively little space for gardening, but Cindy manages to pack an amazing amount of flower power into her limited area. Fortunately, she and her husband, who is also a Michael, live in an end-unit, so they have a bit more space than the interior units.

Cindy likes to select flowers to grow that she knows will be photogenic and love to pore over the flower catalogues on line. Our challenge is to figure out how to capture the  beauty of these carefully selected flowers in the crowed garden. One of Cindy’s techniques is to use a small artificial background to help to isolate the flower. Often she uses a white foam core board to which she has attached a piece of black velvet-like material. She can then create studio-like images with a black or white background, depending on the flower.

This technique requires two people, because it is almost impossible to hold the background in place and frame a shot at the same time. I took these iris photos yesterday while Cindy held the background in place for me and then we reversed positions. In some of the images it looks like I was using some kind of studio lighting, but it was all natural night on a somewhat cloudy day that diffused the light nicely.

You don’t really need any special equipment to create this effect—you could use almost anything for a background. The day before, our improvised background was a collapsible black storage cube from IKEA that Cindy had just given me. The final photo, taken by Cindy with her iPhone, shows me holding that black cube and gives you a sense of the garden environment and how the technique is used.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

iris

background

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Happy Easter. My childhood memories of Easter are full of flowers, with the interiors of churches filled with lilies and tulips. Today, I decided to post images of some of the orchids that I photographed during a recent visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. This garden has a wonderful glass-domed conservatory that houses all kinds of exotic plants—it was a fun challenge to try to capture a sense of the beauty of these flowers in such a confined, warm, and humid space.

Not everyone, of course, is celebrating Easter and for Orthodox Christians Easter will come next Sunday. Still, I think that today is a good moment for us all to pause and reflect on what is important to us. My simple prayer is that all of our lives will be filled with peace, love, and with renewed hope, irrespective of whether you are observing this holy day today.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Orchid

orchid

orchid

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was delighted to spot some Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) during a trip last week to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. This spring ephemeral plant has beautiful bell-shaped sky-blue flowers and is native to eastern North America. The bees seemed to be equally excited to see these flowers. My photos suggest that the bees, which appear to be Carpenter Bees, were getting to the nectar through the tube of the flowers rather than through the bell.

I really like the varied shades of blues and pinks in the bluebells in different shades of development. The colors work well together, sometimes even combining to produce a lovely shade of violet.

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

Virginia Bluebells

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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For a brief period each spring, tiny wildflowers spring up from the forest floor, giving the forest a magical feel. Some are colorful and some are pure white, but the wildflowers are all beautiful.

I spotted these little flowers on Monday as I was searching for dragonflies in Prince William County, Virginia. I came up empty-handed that day and am still searching for my first dragonfly of the season. However, I had an enjoyable day, covering almost six miles (9.6 km) on hilly trails through the forest.

The first photo shows a bluet (Houstonia caerulea), a species that is sometimes referred to as a “Quaker Lady,” because its shape is reportedly similar to that of the hats once worn regularly by women of the Quaker faith. The flower in the second shot is a Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), I believe. The flower in the final photo is probably a wild violet (Viola sororia).

As you can readily see, I got really close to the flowers and used a macro lens. I love the detailed views of their shapes, patterns, and colors and encourage you to click on each image to immerse yourself more deeply in their beauty. In these troubled times, nature continues to serve as a balm to my soul.

bluet

star chickweed

wild violet

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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As we move deeper into spring, more and more flowers are popping up in the garden of my neighbor, fellow photographer Cindy Dyer. It is a fun adventure to walk over to the garden every few days to see what new bits of beauty have sprung forth out of the earth.

One of my favorites that I look forward to seeing each spring is the Lady Jane tulip (Tulipa clusiana var. ‘Lady Jane’), featured in the first photo below. It is a small tulip with pointed petals and a delicate pink and white coloration.

The red tulips are a bit more traditional in terms of their shape and coloration. I love to explore them from all angles and their bright, cheery color is a joy to behold.

Some more tulip buds are beginning to mature and it looks like there may be yellow tulips next. Spring is such a beautiful season.

Lady Jane tulip

tulip

tulip

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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