Photo of the Week – October 20, 2017

I’ve written before about the value of native thistles, both to pollinators and other parts of prairie ecosystems.  Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum), in particular, seems to be a key food resource for pollinators during the late growing season, including the migration period for monarch butterflies.  Here in the Platte River Prairies, we include native thistles in our seed mixes for prairie restoration work and try to promote them through our management activities.  Here are some photos of tall thistle from last month.

This bee was one of many feeding from tall thistles this fall.

Skippers like this one often feed from thistles, but this one was just resting on top of a half-empty seed head.

While bees get great value from tall thistles, this one got trapped and killed by the sticky substance on the bracts beneath the flowers (which is probably meant to capture nectar-stealing ants).

Tall thistle seed.

More tall thistle seeds.

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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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7 Responses to Photo of the Week – October 20, 2017

  1. Jill Haukos says:

    Native thistles are so misunderstood and undervalued. Thanks for this essay Chris!

  2. Kelly Haller says:

    A good friend and myself tagged several hundred Monarchs this fall in NE Kansas (she tagged most of them), and while some were on aster and goldenrod, the vast majority of them were feeding on native thistle when captured.

    Kelly

  3. russell studebaker says:

    Chris,
    you take fantastic photos of both plants, insects, & landscapes. Are you familiar with Heather Holm’s books, “Pollinators of Native Plants” and her 2017 newest book on native bees ? She spoke to the Oklahoma Native Plant Soc. recently and is an excellent author and speaker.

  4. Kathryn Kerr says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  5. pstuckey says:

    Gorgeous pics, as usual. The way you use sunlight is amazing, especially on these thistle seeds. Sunrise or sunset, yes? Perfect tone for the seeds. Thank you!

  6. Neat post! Native thistles also perform well in our seed mixes for Central Texas savannas, where competition with non-native invasive old-world bluestems can be fierce. Texas Thistle is somehow able to come up amidst the densest grass thatch.
    I wonder why the thistle sets a trap for ants? Doesn’t it provide nectar exactly for the purpose of luring them and other potentially pollenating insects?

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