Monday, September 22, 2014

Fall Flower Selfies

Sunflower selfie (Helianthus annuus).
“Selfie” was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2013:
selfie noun, informal (also selfy; plural selfies):  a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website 
Courtesy of randomtruth; used with permission.
Did you know that animals other than humans take selfies?  They trigger cam traps and then a human uploads them to social media.  My current favorites feature pygmy rabbits (above) and their neighbors (like the young coyote below), posted by randomtruth at nature of a man.  It’s wonderful to see these guys going about their daily business unperturbed by us.
Courtesy of randomtruth; used with permission.
As a botanist, I’m envious.  Few plants move enough to justify cam traps.  I thought it would be interesting and fun to help wildflowers take selfies.  But results were mixed.

I started in the backyard, where I could figure out logistics without anybody staring.
It's easy to forget that the camera lens is on the side of the iPad.
Marigolds are still holding on, in spite of the frost.
I put the iPad mini in selfie mode.  Plants can’t use a touch pad as leaves don’t conduct nearly as well as fingers, so I triggered the camera for them.  Rarely were both flowers and photographer in the frame and in focus, so I gave up on that approach.  I just pointed the screen at the plants, pushed the button from the side, and hoped for the best.

It’s been fall here for awhile.  Some days are warm, some are cool, leaves are turning color (there was a frost two weeks ago), and late-season wildflowers are in bloom.  Most are yellow and members of the aster family (Asteraceae) ... but not all.  Let’s have a look.

I walked through the light-industrial/riparian ecotone west of my house, and then along the path by the Laramie River.  Many late-season plants were in bloom and fruit.
Golden aster, Heterotheca villosa.
Curly-cup gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa.  In the close-up below, an arrow points to the “curls” on the “cup” (involucre); click on image to view.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalegrows almost everywhere, and all through the growing season.
Families other than Asteraceae were occasionally represented.
Yellow sweetclover (Melilotus officianalis, pea family); it's native to Eurasia.
Tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum, mustard family) is Mediterranean.  This is one of our tumbleweeds -- plants that dry, break off near the ground, and tumble blown by the wind, dropping seeds along the way.
What’s this?!
It’s purple mustard, Chorispora tenella.  This is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring, then it dries up and disappears.  Apparently it occasionally blooms late in the season too.  The things we learn when we look close!
Purple mustard is another introduction from Eurasia.
Me and my tree -- the lanceleaf cottonwood I’m following.  It flowered in May.
“We” took many many photos.  It was very much trial-and-error, mainly because I couldn’t see what was framed.  Eventually my aim improved, so much so that the photos degenerated into simple compositions with none of the charm of selfies.

Wikipedia says selfies “are usually flattering and made to appear casual.”  I’m no expert, but I would add that perspective is somewhat odd.  Also, the composition is often unexpected and, when we’re lucky, whimsical -- like the earlier coyote legs and nose.  I adjusted accordingly.
A casual shot of dandelions casting their seeds to the winds.
One of our purple-flowered wild asters.  Flattering?  I think so.  And nicely out-of-balance.
Firewheels or blanketflowers (Gaillardia aristata), with bumblebees intent on finding food and not the least bit bothered by my intrusion.  (Subjects out-of-focus, background sharp.)
Two sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) with prairie coneflowers (Ratibida columnifera) behind.
Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus or Ericameria nauseousa) above and below.
Of course these aren’t true selfies.  But I couldn’t resist poking a little fun at this extremely popular and most curious phenomenon.  What drives our selfie-ing?  All kinds of things it seems to me:  narcissism, whimsy, social nature, hope ... for acceptance or immortality, desire to hang onto good times, or maybe just the need for a good chuckle.

These are Emmie’s first selfies, taken with Photo Booth on a MacBook Pro, and random steps on the keyboard.
Even though Emmie triggered the camera herself, she probably didn’t “make a creative contribution to the work” so she can’t copyright the photos.  But this is a moot point because Emmie isn’t human.  So if you want to use her photos, feel free.  For more explanation, see this article about copyrighting selfies.

Emmie is the newest addition to the Plants and Rocks team.  She loves plants and rocks and everything else.  Black Dog Animal Rescue advertised her as a comedian and entertainer ... and they were right!  She plays with athleticism, enthusiasm and whimsy -- speeds away, leaps in the air, turns so sharply she almost loses her footing, comes flying back, passes me just out of reach, soooo happy.  Then she takes off again ... and again ...  And when I point a camera at her, she poses!  So selfies are understandable ;-)
A real ham (I shot this one).
Geo-dog in-training contemplates 2-billion-year old quartzite tilted to vertical; Snowy Range.


  1. Looks like you have found the perfect buddy. My teenage neices are all over the selfie thing, pouting lips and striking awkward poses seems part of it.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I was lucky to end up with this dog, I'm still amazed. The selfie thing is so curious. It can be really fun, or twisted self-absorbtion!