Something Blue

One of the most striking plants in our prairies this time of year is pitcher sage, also known as blue sage (Salvia azurea).  It’s tall, of course, but more importantly, as the surrounding prairie is dominated by green-becoming-gold grasses and big yellow flowers, pitcher sage stands out simply because it is starkly and unabashedly blue.

A few weeks ago, I posted a photo of a bee that specializes on pitcher sage, but there are many more insects commonly seen on the plant.  Last week, I spent about 45 minutes in our Platte River Prairies, photographing pitcher sage and as many visitors as I could.

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I initially pulled my camera out because there were several monarch butterflies flitting around a patch of pitcher sage.  While chasing them around (and, as always, being thankful no one was watching me), I came across quite a few other insects – some of which I managed to photograph.

A sulphur butterfly (and a second partially shown at the bottom left) enjoys pitcher sage.

Anthophora walshii (a digger bee) is a species I see on pitcher sage frequently, and this was just one of several hanging around a single patch of flowers.

This moth was nose deep.

Several skipper butterflies were around, including this sachem skipper.

Not all the insects were feeding on pollen and nectar.  I’m not sure what this plant bug was doing, but there it was.

This blister beetle was feeding on the flower itself.

This monarch was so distracted by the nectar of pitcher sage, I took this photo from about a foot away with a wide angle lens.

One more monarch…

In addition to being tall, striking, and beautiful, pitcher sage is also pretty good at withstanding drought.  During late August of 2012 – a year of extreme drought, pitcher sage stood out against a background of brown dormant grass, blooming just like it does every year.  Not only did it provide some welcome color when many other plants were wilting, it gave all the insects pictured above, and many others, something to eat when they needed it most.

What a great plant!

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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 Natural History, Prairie Photography, Prairie Plants and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Something Blue

  1. Beautiful plant and wonderful images !!

  2. marknupen says:

    first of all what Stunning photos you have produced here!
    Yes, the contrast of color in the last days of summer is always amazing to me. Up here in northwestern Wisconsin, we have the Northern Blazing star tucked into the the tops of the little bluestem grasses.

  3. Kathryn Kerr says:

    Lovely, thanks.

  4. Hi Chris. This post is really wonderful! I’ve decided to profile it to my followers soon. I’ll use the digger bee and sulphur butterfly shots and recommend folks follow my link to your post to see the rest. Thanks for the fabulous photos, Liz :)

  5. Tom P. says:

    Considering that pitcher sage is pretty drought resistant it would be interesting to see what it’s roots look like. Are they very deep or do they have a tuber that stores water?

  6. anastaciast says:

    The photo of the digger bee is stunning! Excellent use of field of ,, oh, you know the word. I think I saw some of these guys yesterday on my Autumn Joy.

  7. I used to know a couple of good sites for Salvia azurea on the northeast fringes of Austin (Texas) but unfortunately both places got developed.

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