This post was written by Evan Barrientos, one of our Hubbard Fellows. Evan is a talented writer and photographer and I encourage you to check out his personal blog. If you would like to see more of his photographs, you can follow him on Facebook.
Watching plants resprout this spring has been really interesting for me. Spending time with Chris Helzer has made me appreciate the small details of prairies, particularly plant diversity and distribution. Through him I’ve learned to read a prairie’s history of management and disturbance even in early spring…and appreciate its minute aesthetics! On March 21 I was taking a sunset walk (looking down rather than at the sky) when I noticed several attractive sprouts growing on the sandy mounds created by pocket gophers as they dig tunnels. I remembered reading how burrowing animals play an important role in plant germination. By providing patches of bare soil, these rodents give seeds an open place to spread their roots and leaves with much less competition from other plants. It was neat to witness this happening for myself!
On that walk I also found my first flower of the year! Carpeting just a small segment of our trail as it runs through the sandhills were dozens of tiny Sun Sedges (Carex heliophilis) already in bloom. If you weren’t looking for them, you might not even realize what they were. Their flowers were quite small, but in March their waving yellow petals were like thousands of little victory flags. Two nights later, a sudden snowstorm roared through Nebraska. I was eager to see if the delicate flowers had survived, so the next morning I was trekking back to them before sunrise. To my delight, the flowers were still there, poking through the snow. I got on my belly and started photographing. I wanted an image that represented spring’s triumph over winter. As the sun crested the hill it bathed the sedges’ petals in gold. Like dozens of tiny torches, the sedges proclaimed that spring had indeed won.