I spent a couple long days collecting data at the Niobrara Valley Preserve this week. There wasn’t a lot of time (or light, honestly) for photography other than the first hour of sunlight on Thursday morning. The Sandhills prairie is nearing the end of flowering season and sliding quickly into its fall costume. A few late-season flowers are in full bloom, but the most of the color in the prairie this time of year comes from leaves changing from green to various shades of brown and red. Here are a few photos from yesterday morning.
Sunrise over the Sandhills and Niobrara River, with sunflower skeletons in the foreground.
The flurry of sunflower blooming was nearly over, but a few plants held on to their last blossoms, much to the delight of the bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, and other insects feeding on their pollen and nectar.
Wild rose (Rosa arkansana) had a great fruit year in the Sandhills, especially in recently-burned prairie.
Aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolium) is one of the last flowers to bloom in the Sandhills season, and patches were scattered about the prairie.
Smooth sumac in the the middle of its transition to from green to red. In this burned area, skeletons of previous growth are surrounded by the regrowth from the base of the plants.
Whether on your prairie or the pine barrens of northwestern Wisconsin, the colors never stop coming spring through fall. Too bad most travellers don’t stop and get out of their cars to enjoy. ‘Always has to be something big eg a tree or mountain before they understand’.
Beautiful and Thanks!
Hi Chris! I’m thinking about quickly putting together a “red” post. If I do is is ok with you if I use your wild rosehips shot above (with usual credit and links back)? Thanks, Liz
Yes, and I think you can just assume you have permission for similar posts in the future.
Thank you Chris! That’s really wonderful!
The prairies of the central North American steppe once boasted areas with as many as 300 different plant species per acre. Today, with the almost complete suppression of the ecological forces that shaped them, diverse grasslands are extremely rare and generally confined to a few protected acres scattered across the steppe. In the over ten years I spent traveling and exploring the central steppe, I can honestly say the best natural prairies I saw may have had at most 150 species per acre, and that was only in tiny patches that had somehow evaded severe grazing or plowing due to a quirk in topography or an anomaly in fencing. Case in point: near the small hamlet of Cambridge, Kansas, in the southern Flint Hills, a tiny patch of tallgrass prairie survives along a small swale with deep soil, nestled into the west face of a rocky ridge. I never really could imagine what true tallgrass prairie looked like until I discovered this remnant over 20 years ago. Less than two acres in size, this patch contained almost every prairie plant I associated with tallgrass prairies and several I had never seen before! Purple and white Camassia scilloides tucked in next to Lithospermum onosmodium, rusty red Asclepias tuberosa with hot pink Mimosa quadrivalvis poking up through it; the Tall grass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City, Kansas, has a good base of prairie species, but nothing I have seen on that property approaches the diversity I observed on this mere two acres. It will take years and years of plant restoration and reintroduction of the natural ecological forces to even begin to approach a more natural state of the original prairie. “What a thousand acres of compass plant looked like when they tickled the bellies of the buffalo is a question never again to be answered, and perhaps not even asked” (Leopold 1949)
“Steppes: Plants and Ecology of the World’s Semi-Arid Regions”, Denver Botanic Gardens, Michael Bone, Dan Johnson, Panayoti Kelaidis, Mike Kintgen, and Larry G. Vickerman
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I look forward to your posts all week. Not only are the photos pretty, but I usually learn something about plants. For example, a few years back I had been stymied in the ID of a plant, then you posted about horse gentian, and that was the plant.