Photo of the Week – May 4, 2018

“I love it when a plan comes together.”   Col. John “Hannibal” Smith.

Last summer, my wife and I were exploring at the Niobrara Valley Preserve and found what we thought were pasque flower plants, though they were well past blooming.  There were hundreds of plants on north-facing slopes in the mixed-grass prairie north of the river.  The soils in that mixed-grass prairie are more loamy than the vegetated sand dunes south of the river, and they support a different prairie plant community.  We don’t see pasque flower along the Platte River or at my family prairie, so I was really excited to see it.  I hadn’t realized it grew at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, so it was a pleasant surprise.

Pasque flowers (Anemone patens, aka Pulsatilla patens) are among the earliest bloomers in Nebraska prairies, but are found only in selected locations around the state. They are more widespread to the north and west of Nebraska.

As Kim and I walked around those hills last summer, I promised myself I’d figure out a way to photograph the pasque flowers in bloom during the spring of 2018.  As spring finally staggered out of the gate this year, I kept a watchful eye on Facebook and Instagram posts and checked in periodically with friends – all in an effort to gauge the best time to head north for pasque flower photography.  A couple weeks ago, our Hubbard Fellows made a trip up to the Preserve, and I had them scout the site for me.  Olivia sent me a photograph of a blooming pasque flower, but said the majority of plants hadn’t flowered yet.  Shortly after that, the area got over a foot of snow, which I figured would slow things down a little.  For the next two weeks, I nervously watched the calendar, focusing on this week’s scheduled staff meeting at the Preserve, and hoping the timing would work out for pasque flowers too.  I was sorely afraid I’d arrive only to find that I’d missed the peak bloom by just a few days.

Finally, this Monday, we drove up to the Niobrara Valley Preserve, arriving about 45 minutes before our noon meeting was scheduled to start.  I immediately hopped on my ATV and rode out to the hills north of the river to find the pasque flowers.  The sky was cloudy, but the clouds were thin enough to create beautiful diffused light, and winds were light.  I tried not to get my hopes up as I climbed the last hill to one of the spots Kim and I had found the flowers last summer.  As I crested the hill I grinned from ear to ear.

It looked like nearly every pasque flower in the prairie was blooming when I arrived at the Niobrara Valley Preserve this week.

I spent the next 30 minutes frantically scampering about, trying to photograph as many flowers as I could before I absolutely had to head back for the meeting.  Later, during a break before supper, I talked a few colleagues into coming out again with me, and I managed another hour or so of photography.  I could have stayed for days.  Everything had worked out just as I’d hoped.  I was right on time for peak bloom, and the light and wind cooperated as well.  Life was just perfect.  I loved the world and the world loved me.

The very next day, I broke my ankle.  No kidding.

My photography outings might be a little limited for the next few weeks, but I’ll have a whole raft of pasque flower photos to stare at in the meantime:

The flowers and early leaves of pasque flower are amazingly hairy. One of the reasons I wasn’t completely sure of the identification of the plants we saw last summer was that their summer leaves are much less woolly.

Many of the flowers were nearly completely white, while others had more lavender color to them, especially on the undersides of the petals.

Olivia (Hubbard Fellow) and Amber (Bio-Technician) came out later in the day to appreciate the abundant flowers.

These flowers show the more lavender extreme of the color spectrum represented by the flowers we saw.  I’m not sure if the color changes  (becoming more white?) with maturity or if there is just a lot of variation from plant to plant.  Someone with more experience with pasque flowers might be able to chime in on that.

This photo, taken with a short telephoto lens, gives a better feel for the density of the plants than my more wide angle shots, which make the plants look more widely dispersed than they really were.

I hope to photograph these flowers every year, now that I know where they are. I captured a lot of angles and perspectives this year, but I feel like there are nearly unlimited possibilities for more photos in the future!

This entry was posted in Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

19 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – May 4, 2018

  1. Glad you made it there in time! Look forward to your photo of the week coming in my e-mail! Hope you heal quickly.

  2. Heal soon! I can look at a lot more Pasque flower photos. I used to have them in my garden and I really miss them.

  3. I, too, go chasing after those fleeting moments of wildflower beauty. Living in OK with extensive travel across both OK and TX, I get the opportunity to stop and “smell the roses” figuratively; trying to capture the beauty of massive, picturesque wildflowers. Love your column. I tell all my fellow employees with PFQF to sign up for your newsletter. Broken ankle – so sorry you have to go through that. Broke mine about 6 years ago and it’s never been the same!

  4. Yes, they are so photogenic to the point of being addicting. I know. They bring out some obsessive behaviors…maybe because winter is long.

  5. I can’t remember ever hearing of these flowers, let alone seeing them. They’re so beautiful — I can understand why you’d find it hard to stop photographing them. I suspect all of us will happily look at as many photos as you’d like to share. I don’t anticipate boredom setting in.

    Sorry about that ankle. I hope you heal quickly, and without complications. I’m sure it’s even more frustrating during this beautiful season.

  6. I agree that the pasque flower is addicting. I saw them in the Colorado foothills, and have heard that they occur here is Washington County for the next decades, but have never found them here, at the right time. Your photos are really great. Very sorry to hear about your leg, especially frustrating in spring! Be patient. ;)

  7. Thank you for sharing. I have never heard of these flowers. Must be a western species. Hope you can get around ok with your broken ankle. So sorry.

  8. Pingback: Best of 2018 – Part 2 – The Prairie Ecologist

  9. Pingback: Photos of the Week – April 17, 2020 | The Prairie Ecologist


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