Photo of the Week – April 20, 2018

The prairie is finally waking up (again) around here.  Before last weekend’s blizzard weather, plants were starting to green up, but all that stopped for a while last weekend so we could enjoy one last (?) snowstorm.  We didn’t end up with much accumulation on the Platte River, but our Niobrara Valley Preserve got over a foot of snow.  Yesterday afternoon, the sun was warm and bright along the Platte, so I took a few hours to enjoy the latest reboot of spring.

This tiny orb weaver spider was starting a web in a recently burned patch of prairie. The grass was only a few inches tall, but the spider was using the breeze to string silk between the young shoots. I laid on my belly for quite a while and watched it work.

I’m not sure if it finally noticed me or just needed a rest, but after working for quite a while, the spider retreated to this little hiding place. I waited for several minutes, but it apparently wasn’t going to keep working, so I left it alone.

I noticed this open hole in a fresh pocket gopher mound and thought maybe I’d catch the gopher bringing a load of dirt out of its tunnel. I sat quietly near the hole for a few minutes until I looked more closely and decided it didn’t look as fresh as I’d first thought. I don’t think anything had disturbed the soil at the mouth of the hole since the snow melted. Pretending not to feel foolish, I moved on…

This roundheaded bushclover (Lespdeza capitata) leaf had what I think were probably fungal spots on it. While it wasn’t fresh green growth, I thought it was interesting and attractive enough to be photographed.

While it doesn’t look like much, the yellow-flowered sun sedge (Carex heliophila) shown here was my most exciting discovery of the day. We can’t get it to establish from seed, so we’d moved some plants from a nearby remnant into this restored prairie back in 2011.  Since then we hadn’t been able to find any (tiny plants under tall grass). Since the plants were blooming yesterday, I went looking in an area that was grazed last year and found hundreds of them! The plants survived and are spreading quickly via rhizomes.  This was the first one I found.

Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are playing their annual role of supporting early pollinators until native wildflowers get rolling. Yesterday was the first time I’d seen any blooming, but I saw several flies (including this one) and a honey bee already feeding from them.

It’s supposed to cool off again this weekend, but the forecast doesn’t show temperatures dropping below freezing – at least for the next week.  Maybe spring will actually catch on this time?  It’ll be interesting to watch plants like windflower (Anemone caroliniana) that started to grow and then got frozen off – multiple times.  Will they still bloom, or will they just give up and wait for next year?  Regardless, it’s sure nice to see something moving around in the prairies besides dead plant stems being blown around by the wind.  Let’s go spring!

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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.
This entry was posted in Prairie Insects, Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Photo of the Week – April 20, 2018

  1. Mitch Coffin says:

    Chris,
    Did you plant the lespedeza? I’ve only seen it in the southeast part of the state and along the southern border.

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Hi Mitch, We did plant the lespedeza but there was a strong population in the adjacent remnant before we planted it. It’s a pretty common plant across the whole eastern half of the state. Still more common than Sericea – at least for now.

  2. Robert Narem says:

    Chris,
    Interested that you felt the need to transplant the sunsedge. I have been thinking about that for my restoration, especially for a few expensive species I have very limited amounts of seed for (such as A. Crassicarpus and P. Esculentum). Any thoughts on species I should consider starting in a controlled environment and then transplanting? I will only consider it for species that are almost impossible to get going by seed, but I realize there may be a few. Might be a topic of interest to others planning restorations as well

    • Chris Helzer says:

      For us, the decision to transplant sun sedge from wild populations was made because we can’t get the plant to grow from seed at all – including in a greenhouse situation. Because the plant is strongly rhizomatous, we felt we could take plants out of existing populations (on our own land, directly adjacent to the restored plot) and move them without either hurting the source populations or causing problems in our restored area. We have also raised seedlings and moved them into our plantings in the past. And as you’re talking about, we did that with species for which seed supplies were really limited. Ideally, raising and transplanting plugs is a way to be efficient with seeds and get more plants per seed because we’re helping to make sure seeds grow into plants before we move them. However, seedling work is time intensive, and we have had widely varied success getting them to survive after transplanting. So, I don’t think I’m qualified to make specific recommendations about how to do it or which species to transplant, but I do agree with what you’re saying – it’s worth considering for species with limited seed availability. I would also suggest doing some experimentation with ways to reduce competition in transplant locations and with how much care (watering, weeding) might be needed to get the plants to survive. With our sun sedge project, we just dug up little plants, tossed them (with dirt on the roots) onto a tray, walked them into the restoration, stuck them in the ground and gave them a little water. Then we walked away and let them live or die from there. Apparently, enough of them survived to start some very robust populations!

      • James McGee says:

        My experience growing related western Astragalus (and Oxytropis) is they do not transplant well even as one year old seedlings. To get these species established I’ve had to direct sow them in my rock garden. Better success might be possible if they were grown into plugs, but I have my doubts. They just don’t seem to tolerate root disturbance. I would sow these legumes directly into marked locations at your site and taking Chris’ advice about reducing competition, watering, and weeding.

  3. James McGee says:

    Congratulations on your success getting yellow-flowered sun sedge established. You really had to wait a long time to see the fruits of your labors for that project. If the vernal dam hypothesis holds true then this sedge should be performing an important ecological function in your restorations.

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