Photo of the Week – May 5, 2016

Wildflower viewing this time of year, at least in the prairies I know best, is more like an Easter egg hunt than a fireworks show.  Spring wildflowers tend to bloom within just a few inches of the ground, nestled among the early growth of grasses and wildflowers that will literally overshadow them within just a few weeks.  Their short stature, small blooms, and (usually) solitary nature don’t detract from their beauty, however, and each “egg” is well worth the hunt.  Earlier this week, I enjoyed a pleasant hour or so finding these colorful little surprises at our family prairie.

Prairie violet is scattered across the prairie, but numbers are highest near

Prairie violet (Viola pedatifida) is scattered across our prairie.  I assume some host caterpillars of regal fritillary butterflies, which are common in our prairie and can only feed on violets, but I’ve never actually found a caterpillar on a violet.  They’ve got to be there.  Somewhere.

Broad patches of pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) have already gone to seed.

Broad patches of pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) have already gone to seed.  Competing vegetation is kept short within pussytoes patches because the species is allelopathic, meaning that it releases chemicals to stifle growth of other plants.

Most dandelion (Taraxacum officianale) plants have also gone to seed. While they were blooming, they were a major source of food for early spring pollinators.

Most dandelion (Taraxacum officianale) plants have also gone to seed. While they were blooming, they were a major source of food for early spring pollinators.

Fringed puccoon, aka narrow-leaf puccoon (Lithospermum incisum) is on the downhill side of its blooming period.

Fringed puccoon, aka narrow-leaf puccoon (Lithospermum incisum) is on the downhill side of its blooming period but is among the most abundant of spring flowers at our prairie right now.

It's not hard to see where fringed puccoon gets its name.

It’s not hard to see where fringed puccoon gets its name.

American vetch (Vicia americana) seems to sprawl awkwardly across its neighboring plants.

American vetch (Vicia americana) seems to sprawl awkwardly across its neighboring plants.  It never seems to be abundant, but I seem to stumble across a few plants each year – and often in different places than I remember seeing them before.

Tendrils on the tips of American vetch leaves wrap tightly around stems of adjacent vegetation.

Tendrils on the tips of American vetch leaves wrap tightly around stems of adjacent vegetation.  I’m not sure what benefit this might provide the vetch plants.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) might be the most elegant of the flowers currently blooming in our prairie.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) might be the most elegant of the flowers currently blooming in our prairie.

 

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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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7 Responses to Photo of the Week – May 5, 2016

  1. Pat says:

    Amazing how well behaved dandelions are on the prairie. :) Excellent shots.

  2. Gay Gilbert says:

    Lovely, Thank you

  3. Chris Muldoon says:

    It makes me envious to see the beauty on your prairie — but, of course, when I look more closely, I see as much (different, maybe more!?!) here at home. Fringed puccoon, in particular, is to die for! Apparently it was native to Michigan once, but has been extirpated. Thanks, though, for encouraging us to open our eyes and look more closely and enjoy the wondrous environment that surrounds and embraces us all. Keep those good pics, and encouragement, coming!

  4. James McGee says:

    I grew a few dozen fringed puccoon from seed. I planted them at Citizens for Conservation in their gravel prairie seed garden. I should visit to see how these plants are doing. CFC collects the seed from their gardens and donates them to area restorations. Below is a link to their website.

    http://citizensforconservation.org/

    I once collected seed of prairie violet also. The Chicago Botanic Garden grew them into plants. They were planted in a restoration, but I was never able to locate any plants in subsequent years. However, I have seen this plant succeed in restorations where tall grasses are not so dominating.

    I have prairie blue-eyed grass in my personal seed garden. I collected the seed of this species from a local railroad prairie. Since I live in suburbia the prairie blue-eyed grass is heavily browsed by the rabbits. Of course many other prairie plants, especially prairie phlox, are rabbit magnets too. Every year I donate the seed I get from the prairie blue-eyed grass to restoration.

    I’ve collected seed of pussytoes for restorations, but I have never cultured it since it is so common in the worn out pastures that different groups are trying to restore.

    I’ve never worked with American vetch. I think Carolina vetch would be worth growing for savanna restoration. There are also a few Lathyrus species that I would like to try to get established in prairie or savanna restorations. However, all the populations I have found are in locations where I do not have permission to collect seed which has stopped me from working with these species.

  5. OM God!!! Magical…!! Taking my breath away… 💕 Great blog :)

  6. Terrence Cox says:

    Very nice flowers. Makes me a little homesick for upper Michigan… :)

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