Photo of the Week – June 29, 2012

This week I visited a portion of one of our restored prairies that I hadn’t been to for a while.  During the last couple of years we’ve been grazing it fairly hard, so the wildflower displays haven’t been fantastic.  I was pleased to see that the rest we’re giving the prairie this year has allowed those wildflowers to do their thing.

The site was seeded in 2003, and included a number of excavated wetlands.  Portions of the upland seeding came in well and others have some issues, but for the most part, the wetlands look great. 

This year, for the second time since we seeded the site, some of the wetlands are experiencing an explosion of an annual plant called prairie gentian (Eustoma grandiflorum).  The plant is closely related to, but in a different genus than, the gentian species familiar to many tallgrass prairie enthusiasts.  Our gentian is an annual that shows up mainly in wet prairies, with an apparent affinity for alkaline soils.  It’s an awfully pretty flower, and when it’s blooming in abundance, makes for a spectacular floral show.

Prairie gentian blooming along the edge of a restored wetland slough. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.  You can click on this and any of the other photos in this post to see a larger, clearer, version of the image.

Click below to see more photos from yesterday morning.

I’m not sure whether the weather or last year’s grazing management (or a combination of both) were responsible for the explosion of prairie gentian this year.  I need to dig through our seed harvest records and my field notes and see if I can figure out what other year we saw a similar phenomenon.  It’d be interesting to see if I can find a pattern of response.

A close-up view of one of the flowers. They certainly have a distinctive bloom. Interestingly, I didn’t see any insect pollinators on them at all – though nearby prairie clover plants were being mobbed by honey bees as well as native bees.

I don’t feel like I did a good job of capturing the scene very well.  Sometimes, I feel like my photos end up pulling out selective views of a prairie that overestimate the aesthetic beauty and abundance of flowers there.  In this case, it was the opposite.  You’ll just have to use your imagination! 

Our restored wetlands at this site are long winding sloughs (shaped like shallow wide stream channels), and there was a 8-10 foot band of prairie gentian along each side of the entire length of several sloughs.

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This little katydid nymph was perched on the petal of one of the flowers. It was the only insect I saw on any of the flowers – very surprising. They do apparently get pollinated, since they’re all annual plants and had to have come from seed dropped by previous generations. I’m curious to know what insect pollinates them (and when!).

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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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4 Responses to Photo of the Week – June 29, 2012

  1. Kathy Roccaforte says:

    That picture with the katydid is amazing!

  2. Karen Hamburger says:

    Hey Chris

    Our volunteers found your field of gentian today. Your pictures didnt hold a candle to what we saw!!!! WOW!!!

    Found a few white ones too!!!

    Thanks Chris

    Karen

  3. Pingback: Best of Prairie Ecologist Photos – 2012 | The Prairie Ecologist

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