Over the Line

Three years ago, when I started this blog, I was making simple posts that combined my interest in plants with my newfound hobby of photography. My focus changed as these two interests grew and reinforced one another: the more I learned about the plants, the more I wanted better pictures of them. And as I got better pictures, I wanted to learn even more about the plants.

So this blog is mostly an exercise in teaching myself photography and botany. Which leads me to irises, because while attempting to identify the beautiful flowers pictured here, I crossed a line: I’m not just interested in native wildflowers, I’m obsessed with them.

This iris is a perfect example. Last Sunday I went out to visit two stands of these plants, with the single goal of getting better pictures than I’d gotten in past years. But then I decided to reconsider my earlier identification of them as Iris versicolor (harlequin blue flag, or northern blue flag). Could they be Iris virginica (Virginia iris or southern blue flag)?

The pictures didn’t provide enough information, or the right information, so Monday morning, as soon as the rain passed, I donned rain jacket, rain pants, and gaiters, got a notebook, pen, hand lens, and measuring tape, and went back to the site. The rain gear was really for protection against poison ivy (it didn’t entirely work), as I’d have to scramble along a bank covered in it to get at one of the stands.

Then I went home and compared my notes to every description of the two species I could fine on-line. I came to a tentative conclusion, but wasn’t convinced. One of the problems was that even under 10x magnification with a hand lens, I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. So Tuesday morning, with rain in the forecast, I went out again, with full kit including camera, tripod, and macro lens, and spent more time taking pictures and more time making notes. And then spent more time on-line trying to figure it all out.

To understand technical descriptions you need to know the language, and to identify species you need to understand flower structure. And irises have a language and structure all their own, so that’s going to be the subject of tomorrow’s post.

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