Photo of the Week – November 14, 2013

Last week, I took a short early morning trip out to my family prairie.  As the sun came up, its light was caught beautifully by the fuzzy seeds of various prairie plants, particularly stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) and dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata).

A stiff goldenrod seed is ready to fall from a seedhead.

A stiff goldenrod seed is ready to fall from a seedhead.  Helzer prairie, near Stockham, Nebraska.

Species with fuzzy parachute-style seeds trade distance for time.  Their seeds can be carried far from the plant, giving them a chance to colonize new areas.  However, because the seeds have to be light weight, they tend to have short shelf-lives, and can’t survive for very long – they will either germinate quickly or die.  Bulkier seeds often have the ability to survive for years in the ground and then germinate when favorable conditions appear – but they don’t typically travel very far from their parent plant.  Life is a series of tradeoffs!

More goldenrod seeds.

More goldenrod seeds.

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And more.

And more.  In this photo, the contrast between the brightness of the seeds and the shadows behind the plant were such that the camera couldn’t capture it all, resulting in a black background behind the correctly-exposed seeds.

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Even after the petals (and even the seeds) fall, goldenrod flowers are still very attractive.

Even after the petals (and even the seeds) fall, goldenrod flowers are still very attractive.

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Dotted gayfeather also has short-lived, high-flying seeds.  However, once a new plant is established, it puts down deep roots (literally - as deep as 10-15 feet).

Dotted gayfeather also has short-lived, high-flying seeds. However, once a new plant is established, it puts down deep roots (literally – as deep as 10-15 feet).

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More dotted gayfeather seeds.

More dotted gayfeather seeds.

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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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13 Responses to Photo of the Week – November 14, 2013

  1. krithya G says:

    Those are lovely shots! What a lovely way to spend the morning :D
    If you don’t mind can you share the details of camera settings and lens you used to get these. I have been trying to get macro shots, but have not been very successful so far.

  2. pathill682056510 says:

    How gorgeous!

  3. Awesome photo of the seeds! I didn’t know about the relation between their weight and how long they are viable. Last fall, I planted some prairie larkspur, the native kind of cleome, a penstemon of some kind and a couple other kinds of seeds that did not come up this spring. Do you think they may yet come up next spring? I thought maybe I planted them before I should have and the birds ate them or something.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Sue, I’d definitely give them another year. It’s hard to say, of course, but it’s not uncommon for us to see it take several years for prairie plants to show up in prairie seedings. Also, the larkspur and penstemon will likely be small rosettes the first year they come up and bloom the second year.

  4. Mike Suiter says:

    Chris – these are some of my favorite photos of yours! Maybe I’m just unlucky, but whenever I take my macro in my prairie there is always a breeze which makes things difficult.

    I’ve haven’t seen any of my gayfeathers show up in my 2010 seeded prairie. My guess is drill seeding could have planted them too deep. Like Chris mentioned above, I’m still hoping them suddenly show up.

  5. Leticia says:

    Great pictures! Brown goldenrod flowers are beautiful, but the way you took this pictures, it makes them more attractive.

  6. margherita24 says:

    I love the first and third. Great job and lovely blog :)

  7. Oh my goodness, that’s incredible!

  8. Jacob says:

    Interesting how much life is interconnected.

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