Looking for prairie wildflowers in the spring is much like an Easter egg hunt. Spring wildflowers tend to be small and difficult to see until you get close to them. From a distance, prairies might look like they haven’t yet woken up, but if you take the time to wander out into them, there’s abundant color and movement – albeit in small scattered bits.
Spikerush sedge ( Carex eleocharis) is a small-statured sedge that hides for most of the year, but becomes more apparent when it blooms each spring.
Earlier this week, I spent a wonderful morning exploring
Gjerloff Prairie (owned and managed by Prairie Plains Resource Institute). As I hiked up and down the steep loess hills, it felt like catching up with an old friend.
“So, how’s your spring going so far?”
“Ah, I see your anemones and early milkvetches are blooming, but the puccoon isn’t quite…oh – there’s one!”
“It was a wet winter, but the soil is sure dry now, isn’t it?”
“It’s nice to see the dragonflies migrating back north again and hear the grasshopper sparrows and western meadowlarks singing.”
…Here are some photos from that cool dewy morning at Gjerloff Prairie.
Spikerush sedge framed against the morning sun.
Missouri milkvetch ( Astragalus missouriensis) is a tiny legume that grows on dry ridgetops and especially thrives when those areas have been recently short-cropped by grazers.
More Missouri milkvetch.
Carolina anemone, aka windflower ( Anemone carolinianum) hadn’t opened up for the day.
Carolina anemone photographed with a wide-angle lens, showing more of the clone and prairie in the background. The front blossom was either starting to open or didn’t close property the night before.
A tiny crab spider on prairie dandelion ( Nothocalais cuspidata).
Buffalo pea, aka ground plum ( Astragalus crassicarpus).
Buffalo pea is like an exponentially larger version of Missouri milkvetch – in terms of footprint – but still only reaches 3-4 inches in height.
A variegated meadowhawk dragonfly, presumably a recently-arrived migrant, was cold and dew-covered.
The same dragonfly from a different angle.
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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.
Lovely! A great way to start my Friday morning, viewing your amazing photos. Thank you for sharing.
What conditions led to such interesting dew – it added immeasurably to the beauties of Nature. Chase
We frequently have dew in the mornings here. It is certainly pretty, and also helps slow down insects for easier photography! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dew_point
I learned two new things today. One, you talk to things that usually do not answer; at least not right away. Two, there are loess hills in Nebraska. If I knew that, the information had wandered away. I thought you were in Iowa and was wondering how you had made it there.
I hope they get a visitor’s center! :)
I think Gjerloff Prairie is the best prairie you have showcased on your site. I can see why you visit it so often.