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 (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. 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.
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.
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. 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.