A Weekend Walk in the Woods

We visited family in eastern Nebraska this weekend.  My in-laws have an oak woodland that I’ve become familiar with over the years, and I was glad to have a little time to wander through it.  Because of the cool spring, I was curious to see if anything had started blooming.  Trout lilies, dutchman’s breeches, violets, and other wildflowers were up and growing, but the only flowers I found weren’t really flowers – they were moss sporophytes …and even they were few and far between.

The only blooms in the oak woodland weren't even real flowers.

This patch of moss was one of the few patches in “bloom” this weekend in an oak woodland south of Omaha, Nebraska.

By mid-April in most years, I would have expected to see violets in bloom, and would have had a decent shot at seeing flowers on trout lilies and woodland phlox as well.  Not this year.  Instead, I gave up on flowers and spent some fruitless time trying to find one of the chorus frogs that were calling down by the creek.  Having failed at that, I went back up the hill and looked more closely at the moss.  Why fight it?

A close-up of moss sporophytes.  Sarpy County, Nebraska.

A close-up of moss sporophytes. Sarpy County, Nebraska.

Ironically, the most colorful things I found in the woods weren’t plants, but invertebrates.  I saw several tiny red mites crawling around in the leaf litter - including the one below, which contrasted nicely with the lush green moss it was exploring.

A tiny red mite

A tiny red mite, about 2mm long.  Photographed with a Nikon 105mm lens and extension tubes on a Nikon D300s camera, assisted by two small flash units.

Spring flowers will come eventually.  In the meantime, the delayed growth does have its advantages.  In both woodlands and prairies, soil moisture is still low from last season’s drought.  The longer it takes for plants to start using water, the more moisture will be left for summer wildflowers.  Personally, I’m in no big rush.

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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 A Weekend Walk in the Woods

  1. Chris: awesome closeup of that mite. Have you heard about the connection between our odd weather and reduced arctic ice cover? Might be an interesting topic for your blog.

  2. Brodie says:

    You were visiting in my neck of the woods almost, though greenery on my home farm is not as lush and there are no oak trees. Nevertheless…..makes me homesick!

  3. Danny Staehr says:

    Any morels in that oak woodland??

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