Photo of the Week – June 14, 2013

This was an interesting week for observations.  Here are some of the things I saw and learned.


Our burn from last week is greening up nicely.  This photo was taken one week after the burn.  We’re supposed to get some rain today and through the weekend, so that should help keep the green-up going.  In a few more weeks, it’ll be difficult to tell the site had been burned.



Another photo of last week’s burn.  Most of the earliest regrowth was grass.  Wildflowers were just barely resprouting.  Cattle have access to this now, and we expect them to switch their focus from unburned portions of the prairie to this lush regrowth.



Some of you who have followed this blog for a long time may find this particularly interesting.  In general, patch-burn grazing with a light stocking rate leads to very selective grazing by cattle in our prairies – the cattle eat mostly grasses and avoid most wildflowers.  However, rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) is one of the few wildflowers cattle often target even in unburned areas of our prairies.  One of the joys (truly) of using cattle grazing as a management tool is that I’m often surprised by what cattle do.  In this case, cattle seem to be ignoring rosinweed completely, which is very unusual.  I have some theories…



This headless and hollowed out carcass of a gar, lying along a restored wetland, was a great indication that river otters are still active along the creek where we did the restoration project.  We converted ponds into a stream with adjacent shallow wetlands, and I wondered whether we’d see a decrease in otter activity since the ponds were excellent feeding areas for the otters.  Based on some scat (poop) sightings recently and the presence of this gar, it looks like the otters are still around.



This is a photo of some remnant sand prairie, showing two species that are prominently blooming right now.  The grass in the foreground is needle-and-thread (Hesperostipa comata) and the yellow flowered plant is hairy puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense).  Both species are present, but still in low numbers, in a restored prairie we seeded immediately to the south (see below).



This is the photo of the restored sand prairie mentioned above.  You can see the same tree line on the horizon of both photos.  The re-seeded prairie has most of the same plant species, but often at different levels of abundance.  The shell-leaf penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus) shown here is an obvious example of that.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, our restoration goal is not to recreate history or mimic an existing site.  Rather we want to use restored areas to enlarge and reconnect isolated remnant prairies to increase their health and long term viability.  Having somewhat different plant species compositions in adjacent sites has advantages – especially for species such as pollinators.  Right now, many bees nesting in the remnant prairie are likely spending foraging time in the restoration, where the penstemon is providing easy and abundant food.  (A PhD student is currently trying to document that.)


12 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – June 14, 2013

  1. I like your goal of extending remnant prairies with prairie restoration activities. It isn’t perfect and takes a lot of management, but the results are the creation of corridors that are essential to wildlife and habitat creation. We are following closely. Thank you.

  2. what an interesting post; i love that you cover so many facets in the photos in one post. the info about the significance of the gar was new to me…thanks for a great post!

  3. Very fun post – it’s very interesting to see the juxtaposition of different parts of the landscape and plants within them in the same timeframe. (I trust you’ll share your ideas about the rosinweed at some point!) The hairy puccoon is gorgeous and I can just imagine how much pleasure you had in roaming to see that and the purple poppy mallow at the same time – what a knockout combo! I planted some purple poppy mallow in one of the ‘wilder’ portions of my yard this year; but partnered it with iris. Now I’m thinking I should be trying to find some puccoon seed.

    • Teresa, FYI I am finding the closely related Lithospermum canescens and incisum both need a double dormancy (two winters) to germinate properly. A few seeds may germinate after the first winter, but they are not robust and soon die. A large number germinate the second year. I am still waiting to see if the seedlings will survive long enough to get planted in the prairie. I do not know if L. caroliniense would behave similarly. My guess is it would also need a double dormancy.


      • James and Teresa,
        I too am interested in dormancy/germination/establishment of our native Lithospermum species. James- is your comment about 2 winters based on your own experience? Have you found much information in the literature? I know a propagator who gets some germination, but then the seedlings fail after one or two years or in the transition of being transplanted (still in the greenhouse.)

        • Hi Steph!

          I think we’ve talked about this before, but we have very good germination of L. incisum in our seedings, but for L. caroliniense we get few plants, and usually don’t see them blooming until maybe 10 years after seeding. We used to get poor establishment of L. incisum but realized we were waiting too long to harvest seeds and what we were just harvesting the empties that didn’t fall right away. Now we harvest as soon as they’re ready and get lots of plants. We’ve never spent any time doing greenhouse work, so we’ll let you guys figure that out!

          • I have made cinch tie sacks out of chiffon fabric. This way I can place a sack over the entire seed bearing portion of the plant and collect the seed after it has all matured.

            I have not conducted a literature search on Lithospermum germination. The comments about double dormancy are from my own experience. I actually have found double or longer dormancy to be a common requirement for plants people have called ‘difficult from seed.’ I am trying inoculation of seedlings with crumbs of native prairie soil on the surface of my plug trays. I am hoping this will give the plants any symbiotes they require. Looking at the tuberous looking tap-root of Lithospermum canescens, I find it hard to believe it is parasitic.

            Most commercial seed starting/potting mixes are acidic. I have added lime to neutralize the acidity.

            Only time will tell if I am successful. Since it took me two years to get a decent crop of seedlings (150 to 200) this may be something that does not get repeated. I do not have a green house. I grow everything outside on my deck/patio. I would suggest methodically spreading the seed across an entire site, as Chris does, if restoration is the goal. I am growing my plants for my personal seed garden and sale to local native plant gardeners. Hence, the desire to have head started plants instead of seed. Excess plants get donated to local restorations. Seed also gets donated once the plants mature.

            It may take a decade for the plants to mature. I do not yet know. As a comparison, my Prairie Lilies (Lilium philadelphicum) have taken three growing seasons to finally get the first blooms. I expect elimination of competition and an ample supply of water has increased their rate of growth. I believe the situation will be similar with Lithospermum.

  4. In his book “Buffalo for the Broken Heart” Dan O’Brien describes noticable differences for the plant community between cattel grazing and buffalo grazing – do you have any experience confirming this fact?

    • I like Dan very much. When comparing bison to cattle, there are very few situations (maybe zero) where their grazing impacts on the plant community have been compared side by side, keeping stocking rate, grazing season, and management system constant for both. Because of that, it’s hard to know what to attribute differences to. What I see on our sites is cattle in a patch-burn grazing system (with a low stocking rate) selecting forage much like what bison do. I’m not an expert on bison or cattle, but my understanding is that their digestive systems and nutritional needs are pretty similar, so you’d expect forage selection to be similar as well – and that differences come from the grazing systems that affect the selection available to them. There are certainly behavioral differences, though (trailing, standing/pooping in water, etc.) that are true differences regardless of management. On our relatively small pastures (100-400 acres), cattle make the most logistical sense, so we’re trying to find ways to manage them to best meet our objectives. We (TNC) are trying to design and implement at study at our Niobrara Valley Preserve to standardize the variables I mentioned above and do a good test of side-by-side differences between cattle and bison. Stay tuned!


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