Photo of the Week – May 22, 2014

Last weekend, I took advantage of a beautiful evening and went for a hike at Griffith Prairie, a site north of town owned and managed by Prairie Plains Resource Institute.  It was mostly cloudy, but I was banking on the clouds thinning before the sun went down.  They did.

Prairie ragwort (Packera plattensis) at Griffith Prairie, near Marquette, Nebraska.

Prairie ragwort (Packera plattensis) at Griffith Prairie, near Marquette, Nebraska.

Griffith Prairie has been managed with patchy fire and relatively intensive grazing during the last couple of years, and experienced a severe drought in 2012.  As a result, the perennial grasses are pretty weak, opening up lots of space for wildflowers – both short-lived and long-lived ones.  Leadplant (Amorpha canescens), prairie clovers (Dalea sp.), prairie violets (Viola pedata) and other long-lived forbs are thriving, but are joined by a throng of more opportunistic species such as shell-leaf penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus), false dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata), windflower (Anemone caroliniana), and prairie ragwort (Packera plattensis).  Short grass, steep hills, abundant wildflowers, and pretty clouds combined to make a great hike!

Some people consider ragwort to be “weedy” but it’s a beautiful plant and a good resource for bees and other insects. It tends to come and go, based on the degree of grass competition present.

Violets and false dandelions were mostly done blooming, and penstemon hadn’t started yet, but ragwort was flowering in big beautiful patches.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to compose a photo that represented what it really looked like.  I couldn’t, but I hope you can imagine it anyway.

And more.

And more.

I took a break from photographing ragwort to explore a cut bank on one of the loess hills.  There were cacti growing right on the steep bank, which made me wonder how deeply the roots penetrated into the bank, and whether they went horizontally as well as much as vertically.

Cactus on a loess hill

Cactus on a sloughed off portion of a loess hill

Hoary (showy) vetchling (Lathyrus polymorphus) was also blooming in patches along some of the steep hillsides.  A beautiful perennial legume, vetchling forms colonies that make pretty amazing color displays early in the year.  Again, I couldn’t figure out how to photograph those patches to show how they really look, but the plants sure are gorgeous, aren’t they?

Hoary vetchling

Hoary vetchling

.

Hoary vetchling.

Hoary vetchling up close.

Thanks to Prairie Plains for making this prairie available for me and anyone else who wants to visit it.  If you’ve not had the pleasure, click here to find directions.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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8 Responses to Photo of the Week – May 22, 2014

  1. Thanks so much for the Spring flower post. In the Twin Cities of MN the temps have just warmed up after a half year of Winter. Your post reminds me of the favor of the Universe to present us with some plant blooming joy. Violets and dandelions are abundant now that the snow has ceased. More to come for sure!

  2. James McGee says:

    I have Senecio pauperculus in my garden. It is a spreader. However, that should not be a problem in a wildflower garden. We also have S. plattensis and a few other Senecios locally. I give S. plattensis credit for being able to survive in the driest areas where all the top soil has been eroded away. I do love all the great legumes in the western states. I especially like the Astragalus and Oxytropis, some of which I have included in my rock garden. Our local Illinois prairie Lathyrus are L. palustris of wetlands and L. venosa of prairies and open savannahs. Although it is present, I have not yet come across L. venosa in the wild. We also have a great closed savannah species, the state listed Lathyrus ochroleucus.

    I really like the topography of the loess. The loess’s ability to support itself, even when the slope approaches vertical, creates some really great scenery.

  3. Reblogged this on The Great Plains Trail and commented:
    Beautiful photos!

  4. trailsnet says:

    Thanks to Great Plains Trail blog for sharing this. Beautiful photos & great information. Feel free to submit trail information/photos to http://www.Trailsnet.com on our new/improved “Add a New Trail” feature.

  5. Pingback: Photo of the Week – May 22, 2014 | Gaia Gazette

  6. That sure is a pretty prairie, Chris. Thanks for letting us know about it.

  7. Senecio plattensis is an awesome greeter plant for entry walks since it stays short. I refer to it as groundsel vs. the disparaging ragwort. Another horrible common name: ratstripper vs. Paxistema…

  8. Pingback: Photo of the Week – May 30, 2014 | The Prairie Ecologist

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