Photo of the Week – August 24, 2017

Today at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, we were hosting a field trip for a group of land managers from around the Sandhills.  As our caravan of pickups was traveling across our east bison pasture at around 5pm, Gerry Steinauer (state botanist for Nebraska Game and Parks Commission) was sitting in the passenger seat of my truck and writer/photographer Bill Allen was in the back seat.  We had spotted a small group of bison and were detouring across a gravelly flat toward them.  Out of nowhere, Gerry suddenly called out to stop the truck.

He jumped out of the truck and knelt down next to a tiny plant with a pink flower.  The plant was prairie fame flower (Talinum parviflorum, aka Phemeranthus parviflorum).  It’s the most common of the three fame flower species in the Sandhills, but is still a plant that can be difficult to find.  It tends to grow in well-drained coarse sand or gravelly soils and doesn’t get very tall.  When it’s not blooming, its small succulent leaves are only a couple inches tall, so it hides well – even in the sparsely vegetated habitat it prefers.  During its blooming season, Gerry says fame flower doesn’t start flowering until about 4pm, so it’s not very visible for most of the day.  As a result, it’s always a pleasure to see one.

Prairie fame flower. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

As we started walking around the truck, we kept seeing more and more fame flower plants in bloom, so all three of our truck’s passengers grabbed our cameras and proceeded to start taking photos.  I think I’ve seen maybe 5 or 10 fame flower plants in bloom during the last 20 years, and we were seeing at least 100 flowering plants within  20 or 30 yards of the truck.

Before long, the rest of our caravan visited the bison and then came back our way, trying to figure out why we were crouched and/or laying on the ground.  We showed them the fame flower and they at least pretended to be impressed, which was kind of them.  (That’s not really fair – they were genuinely interested in the plant, though maybe not enough to stretch out prone in cactus-infested prairie to photograph it.)

Fame flower up close.

As we finished our drive across the pasture, our brains were programmed to see the little flowers, and we ended up spotting a couple more good patches of it.  The field trip had gone really well, with lots of thought-provoking discussion , but finding this big patch of fame flower put a perfect finishing touch on the day.

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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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10 Responses to Photo of the Week – August 24, 2017

  1. marknupen says:

    Fun to read about your flower story and the Need to Get Down on Your Knees to see what is there on the prairie. I grew up in the Sonoran Desert of south central Arizona and belong to a Friends of the Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area in the pine barrens of northwestern Wisconsin, which is much like the prairie and the desert. You have to get Down on your Knees sometimes to see the beauty, Or, at least Get Out of Your Car!

    Great Story, thanks.

  2. Rick Champeau says:

    Wonderful little plant, easy to germinate
    from purchased seed, comes back yearly. So tiny its easy to miss unless you remember where it was planted. I lost quite a few inadvertantly while digging around adding bricks to my tiny rock garden. Grows best when situated next to a rock in front- easier to notice when blooming. Blooms last for a few days then seem to rebloom at the whim of the little plant. Milwaukee, Wi.

  3. Ernest Ochsner says:

    Leave it to eagle eye Gerry to see the unseeable.

  4. Patrick says:

    I remember seeing this plant in Maryland and Pennsylvania where it is associated with Serpentine barrens (e.g. Soldiers Delight and Nottingham Park) and is still considered (I think) a species of special concern there. Makes me wonder whether there is any relationship between its location in NVP and soil mineral content, since it seems to have the ability to tolerate the high metal concentrations found in Sepertine soils.

    • James McGee says:

      The species in Maryland and Pennsylvania is Talinum teretifolium. The soil mineral content of the T. teretifolium and T. parviflorum habitats would be at opposite extremes. The serpentine soil would be very high in magnesium whereas sandhills prairie would be low in minerals. However, both these situations create a nutrient limitation which would be important in reducing competition. The lack of competition because of nutrient limitation along with dry soil conditions is what would allow such small dought-loving plants to compete in such very different habitats.

  5. bysylviaanne@gmail.com says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for all your work and information and beauty you share. Is there a good email address I can type into the address line so I can send you some tracks I am wondering if you can identify, please?

    Thanks.

    Take care, ~Sylvia Anne.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  6. carol Salerno says:

    Did you happen to get a picture of a PATCH of fame flowers? Would love if you’d post it!
    Love your story!

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Carol,

      The plants were all still a few feet apart from each other in the “patches” I found, so they were difficult to photograph in aggregate. As we drove around, though, I could look out the truck window and see 15-20 plants at a time pretty easily. It was really cool.

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