Photo of the Week – December 16, 2011

I was in the mood for something green today.  Our snow has mostly melted (after a couple days of rain and above-freezing temps), leaving most of the landscape a drab brown color. 

The red stripe and hairs along the margin of this leaf would go unnoticed from further away.

This photo was taken in Illinois.  It looks like a studio shot because of the simple black background, but that’s actually due to the limitations of a camera’s sensor to capture the complete range of light tones in the scene.  The leaf had bright sunlight coming through it toward the camera, so it was strongly lit.  The camera could either capture the details in that bright leaf or the details in the shadows behind it – but not both.  I chose the leaf, making the background black.

Can you guess the plant species of the leaf?  A few hints:  The species is not native to Nebraska, but is a well-known prairie plant in eastern tallgrass prairies.  The leaf is very large, and this photo shows only a small portion of it.  I’ll put the species name in the comments section below, so you can guess to yourself and then check to see if you’re right.

Enjoy the weekend!

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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.
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16 Responses to Photo of the Week – December 16, 2011

  1. Chris Helzer says:

    It’s Prairie Dock. Closely related to compass plant, with the same kind of flower but with an entire leaf – as opposed to a dissected leaf.

  2. Hal Mann says:

    Nice Chris – beautiful and very interesting. I would never have noticed the red fringe had you not shown it in this macro view. And thanks for the photography lesson too. Keep up the great, inspirational work.

  3. Glenn Pollock says:

    Dang I was right at my guess.

  4. Pat Hardesty says:

    Hey, that was fun! Let’s do it again! HA!

  5. Trent says:

    I thought all the silphiums were native to NE.

  6. I presume the native range of prairie dock is further south? It’s one of my favorite Missouri glade plants.

    Interesting use of natural light to acheive the look of flash, while I’ve been using flash techniques in some of my more recent photos to acheive the look of natural light (i.e., blue sky background).

  7. Steve Clubine says:

    I was right but only because of your hints, not so much from a closeup familiarity with the leaf. I believe prairie dock occurs as far north as Wisconsin. It doesn’t seem to like deep, fertile soils as do compassplant, rosinweed and cupplant. In Missouri, it occurs on glade and cherty soils but not loess or loams.

  8. Donna Gibson says:

    I live in Alabama but I’m from Nebraska. Didn’t recognize the plant leaf, no wonder, I’m not familiar with Illinois or places Northeast.
    Enjoy you daily emails and all the interesting photos you do. I, too, do photography and love it!
    Also love plants, animals, etc. All of natural history.
    Thanks so much for your knowledge.
    Down here, we hate Dock in any form. Can hardly kill it in the yard and fields. Any tips other than digging it out with a long sharp knife?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Donna,

      I’d be surprised if the dock you’re fighting is the same -or similar – to prairie dock. More likeley, you’re dealing with something in the genus Rumex (curly dock, etc.) Up here, we mostly ignore it – it doesn’t seem to be a big ecological threat, but can be abundant in wetlands where water levels fluctuate wildly, and in new prairie seedings (until the prairie plants push it out of the way). Not sure what would kill your dock…

      Glad you like the photos and blog posts. Sorry you can’t still be in Nebraska!

      • Donna Gibson says:

        Thanks for responding so quickly! Guess the long bladed knife will be the only answer to the curly dock! Humph! Our water levels here do fluctuate quite a bit.
        I miss my home state and sometimes I wish to be back there.
        God Bless and have a wonderful celebration of Christ’s birth!

  9. Great photo! Can’t believe you got that in the field (and not in the studio).

    If it looks like tall clumps of sunflowers, we have lots of dock down here in Oklahoma … it pops up along roadsides and in pastures. Seems to be the only thing blooming with color when the summer sun has burned off everything else. Will have to look closer for the red stripe!

  10. Jenna Motz says:

    Awesome! I guessed right. Then again, I’d be disappointed if I didn’t. I spent my summer interning with a local Audubon Society chapter working at a few sites in southern Wisconsin doing prairie restoration work. Thanks for the picture, it reminds me of better times (than sitting in the library preparing for final exams, at least).

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