Photo of the Week – August 18, 2016

There is an unmistakable look to late summer prairies, and that look is YELLOW.  Sunflowers, goldenrods, and Silphiums (compass plant, cup plant, rosinweed) are all front and center this time of year.  The visual dominance of yellow flowers is obvious as I look back through some of my favorite prairie photos from this week.

Cup plant in restored tallgrass prairie at Deep Well Wildlife Management Area west of Aurora, Nebraska.

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) in restored tallgrass prairie at Deep Well Wildlife Management Area west of Aurora, Nebraska.

A black blister beetle and another small beetle feed on the same Missouri goldenrod flower head.

A black blister beetle and another small beetle feed on the same Missouri goldenrod flower head.

Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus).

Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus).

Compass plant.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum).

Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium).

Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium).

During yellow season, anything that's not yellow really stands out - especially when it's tall and BLUE. Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea).

During yellow season, anything that’s not yellow really stands out – especially when it’s tall and BLUE. Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea).

I wonder if anyone has gone through all the prairie flower species to see which color is most common (I’ll be someone has).  It has to be yellow, doesn’t it?  Purple, pink, and white are in the running, but I bet yellow wins pretty easily.

No complaints here.

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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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11 Responses to Photo of the Week – August 18, 2016

  1. Cheryl-Lynn says:

    Lovely photos!! I am travelling to Regina, Sk. in September and hope to get a glimpse of the landscape there.

  2. Turns out the color of late-summer Montanan meadows is BROWN. Missing the extended bloom period of the tallgrass prairie!

  3. James McGee says:

    I looked at the text and photos in “Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers” by Doug Ladd and Frank Oberle. I used my experience and sometimes did an internet search for additional photos. I then made a judgement calls on all the species with photos in the book. My judgement sometimes differed from where the authors had placed the species. The tally comes up as follows.

    White – 77 species
    Yellow – 74 species
    Pink – 25 species
    Purple/Lavender – 42 species
    Blue – 24
    Green – 9 species (not including grasses/sedges/rushes/burr oak)
    Red and Orange – four species each

  4. Rita Otis says:

    The author Robin Wall Kimmerer has a lovely essay on “Asters and Goldenrod” in her book Braiding Sweetgrass. When asked why she wanted to major in botany, she replied because she wanted to know why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together. The counselor told her to take and art class instead, but she went on to become a distinguished teaching professor of environmental biology and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment.

  5. What a great post! I’ve heard blue is rare in general in nature, but 24 seems like a fair amount. I guess relative to most other colors it’s less common. Will check out those books! What a great story and point. “Why” and curiosity can be driven by different motivations and interests.

    • James McGee says:

      I think true blue is rarer than my numbers suggest. Most blue flowers have some degree of violet. It was more difficult than I expected to assign a color to a species.

      Some species have flowers with multiple colors like Gaillardia and Tephrosia. I called Gaillardia red because that was the color nearest the center of the disk. I called Tephrosia pink because that was the color of the keels and wings of the flower.

      Some flowers have minute petals like Hogwort (Croton capitatus) which I called yellow because of the hairs on the bracts in the photo in “Tall Grass Prairie Wildflowers: A Field Guide.” However, the pictures I am now seeing on the internet makes me think white would have been a better choice. This species does not live in my area and I have no experience with it.

      Next, how does one classify a species like Verbena hastata with flowers that can be pink, blue, or purple. I just chose the flower color that is most frequent in nature. Then there are the flowers that have different colors depending on the light like Vicia american. Is it pink or purple. I think I chose purple.

      My point is classifying color is really a judgement call and the result of the list depend on the decisions of the person making it.

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