Photo of the Week – July 14, 2017

We had a great time at the Grassland Restoration Network meeting at Konza Prairie this week.  The long-term research going on there is phenomenal, and we were blissfully overwhelmed with knowledge and data about prairie ecology.  I will try to synthesize some of that information into a blog post or two, but it might take me a while to digest it and figure out how to share it.

Compass plant at sunrise

In the meantime, one of many highlights of the trip for me was the hour or so of early morning photography I managed to squeeze in right around the headquarters of Konza Prairie.  As the sun came up, I wandered around prairie full of compass plant (Silphium laciniatum), a plant that sorta looks like, but isn’t, a tall sunflower.  There were lots of other plants and animals around too, but compass plant was clearly the star of the show, standing at least three or four feet taller than the surrounding vegetation and blooming audaciously.  It was hard to point my camera toward anything else.  As a result, today’s post is a kind of tribute to compass plant…

A blooming compass plant is surrounded by the huge beautiful leaves of non-blooming companions.

This tree cricket was one of many creatures, including lots of bees, enjoying the pollen of compass plant flowers.

Dickcissels were using compass plant as singing perches, but occasionally seemed to be feeding on them as well (or maybe just trying to get the sticky rosin off their feet – I couldn’t really tell.

Few of our prairies in central Nebraska have compass plant – we’re on the far western edge of its range. It’s too bad. Compass plants add a great architectural structure to prairies that the sunflowers and other tall plants in our prairies don’t quite achieve.

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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.

12 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – July 14, 2017

  1. The Compass Plant on the roadsides from Nebraska City to about 1/2 way to Lincon are amazing. Someone did a masterful seeding job!

  2. Love the composition on that second to last photo Chris. Heard good things about the workshop from other attendees as well. Might just have to attend next go around.

  3. I work on tallgrass prairie remnants and restoration in central Iowa, where several of the sites are blessed with abundant compass plants. One of my favorite prairie plants! Thanks for the wonderful photos.

  4. re Dickcissels… birds…sometimes they just stop and look at their feet. My Severe Macaw assumes that posture frequently.

  5. I agree, it was an excellent and information-filled gathering, Chris. I’m so glad I went.
    One thing I found interesting was how tall the congeneric rosinweed was there at Konza, sometimes even taller than the relatively short compass plants (compared to what I’m used to in eastern Missouri) right next to it.

  6. I love these sensitive pictures of the compass plant. Do they have prairie dock too? In Illinois we have usually have both growing together but occasionally only prairie dock.

  7. Silphium was always one of my favorites. I love the raspy texture of the leaves and, of course, the flowers are striking. I think I was influenced in my appreciation for compass plant by Aldo Leopold’s descriptions of it before I ever encountered it in the field.


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