Photo of the Week – September 9, 2011

This week our Platte River Prairies are in full autumn regalia.  Everywhere you look, big yellow composite flowers, especially sunflowers and goldenrods, dominate the visual landscape.  At least 15 different species of yellow flowers are blooming right now.  They are set against the golds and purples of the warm-season grasses, which are also in full bloom. 

Maximilian sunflowers have just started to bloom, joining a crowded field of five other sunflower species in our prairies. (Click on the photo to see it full-screen)

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A grasshopper sits on one of the last remaining blossoms of stiff sunflower, an early blooming perennial sunflower - most common in the sandier soils of our prairies.

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Our seed harvest crew is swimming through the tall grasses and late yellow flowers to find ripe seeds from shorter plants that bloomed earlier this year. In this photo, Mardell Jasnowski (left) and Nanette Whitten (right) look for black-eyed Susan seeds in the burned/grazed portion of a prairie. A light stocking rate and an unexpectedly wet season has left even this grazed area with plenty of tall growth.

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The abundance of yellow makes flowers of any other color really stand out. In this photo, Mardell is harvesting seed near a particularly showy dotted gayfeather plant.

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This cluster of Maximilian sunflower blossoms was arrayed nicely for a photo...

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A tree cricket feeds on pollen from a stiff sunflower, while two grasshoppers do the same on another flower in the background. Tree crickets are omnivorous - feeding on both small insects and plant material.

In another week or so, some of the yellow flowers will start to fade, and the rest will be joined by the whites and lavenders of late season asters.  In the meantime, yellow is definitely the color of the week. 

Enjoy the autumn!

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is an ecologist and Eastern Nebraska Program Director for The Nature Conservancy. He supervises the management and restoration of approximately 4,000 acres of land in central and eastern Nebraska - primarily along the central Platte River. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press.
This entry was posted in General, Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants, Prairie Restoration/Reconstruction and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Photo of the Week – September 9, 2011

  1. Anna says:

    When some people think of prairies they think of them as brown and gold, like they are now… I wonder why? They’re certainly pretty now..

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Anna – I think most people think of prairies as a lot of grass. There’s an increase in the use of native grasses (which turn nice gold and brown colors in the fall) for landscaping, and you see fairly large areas of those native grasses around now. That’s great, but the downside is that people tend to think of those as prairies because they’re the only prairies they see. It’s hard to get people to see prairies as diverse communities of animals and plants because most people don’t get outside of town or spend the time walking in to prairies far enough to really see what’s there. The perception of prairies as a lot of grass doesn’t help the conservation effort, that’s for sure. People who have seen the diversity of plants and animals up close will see prairies as much more important, and have a more intimate relationship with them that they feel is worth preserving.

  2. Ime A. says:

    Thanks for your blog Chris. I’m a student currently currently doing some research for a biology class. I wanted to know if you know of any reference to native/invasive species (flora/fauna) to the northern part of Illinois.

  3. Ime A. says:

    Sorry, I forgot to check both of the “Notify me” check boxes.

  4. Karen Hamburger says:

    Hey Chris
    UM…Sky blue is the season color for me!!!!
    Just got back from 5 days at our cabin in SW Ne for some much needed R&R and while I was there I found a large stand of picther sage. I jumped out to investiate the extent of the patch and I came across the bees (five in all) that you featured in a previouse blog. I made that picture my desk top backround and was able to compare…it was the same bee!!!! I am very sorry I didnt have my camera!
    Didnt find their nest…had an incounter with a rattler…. (beautiful little guy)…..but I have an idea where to look next year. Need some more info to follow this through. What to look for and approxamate niches to look!
    Love the blog
    Karen

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Karen – sorry for the delay. Very cool that you’re seeing those bees. Be careful on the ID – there are a lot that look very similar to the one I photographed. There’s a much more common one (Anthophora sp) that has similar striping on the abdomen, for example. (I’m only parroting what I’ve been told, by the way – I’m still very new at this).

      I don’t know anything about where to look for their nest. It could be in a LOT of different places. They are notoriously hard to find.

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