Photo of the Week – May 24, 2019

I was at a workshop most of this week. It was a great workshop, but it was entirely indoors, covered some heavy topics, and was book ended by four hour drives. When I woke up this morning, back in my own house, I knew I needed some serious prairie time. I drove out to our Platte River Prairies as a foggy overcast sky started to break apart. When I arrived, I wandered out into some hilly sand prairie, still wet from last night’s rain. While the shell leaf penstemon wasn’t yet blooming (I was hoping…) the hairy puccoon, bobolinks, and fresh air did the trick, and I quickly felt right with the world again. Here are a few photos from my therapeutic prairie hike.

Flowers-in-waiting on a hairy puccoon plant (Lithospermum carolinianum).
These little caterpillars were hanging out on quite a few puccoon plants. I never caught them eating the flowers or leaves, but I’m assuming that’s what they were there for…
Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides) is a short mat-forming grass that shows up most in frequently disturbed portions of our prairies. This patch was right inside a gate.
More buffalograss. I often talk about being grateful that people can’t see me as I lie prostrate on the ground with my camera. That didn’t apply with this photo, which I took just a few yards off the highway – with vehicles passing by and drivers doing double takes. No one stopped, thank goodness. That would have been counterproductive for my prairie therapy.
Hairy puccoon is sure a gorgeous plant, and even as the blossoms start to dry out, they just get pretty reddish-brown highlights.
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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.

8 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – May 24, 2019

  1. I’ve been going out every other night and pulling weeds in a prairie reconstruction. I think I get the same benefit as you get from photographing the prairie. The big difference being a lot more people see your photos than see the results of my efforts.

  2. Love it. I can just imagine the conversation in the van from Chicago.

    “That was a man on the ground.”
    “Should we turn around?”
    … finally someone said. “But, I think he had a camera.”

    And they raced on to Denver albeit more attuned to the prairie roadside.

  3. I strongly suspect the caterpillars are a species of Ethmia, a “micro” moth. I reared one species, Ethmia monticola, from Lithospermum canescens in southwest MN many years ago. Found the pupa in a cocoon on the plant and never got to see the larva. There are photos of Ethmia larvae on BugGuide, some of which resemble these you photographed. Didn’t find any photos identified as of E. monticola larvae, however. You might post your images to BugGuide, which will bring them to the attention of folks with more knowledge than I have.

  4. This was my first year to find fringed puccoon (Lithospermum incisum), so it was a delight to see your photos of this species. As for ground-level photography, it’s been rather nice to know that people will stop to be sure the lady lying in the ditch hasn’t had a heart attack.

  5. Your posts & photos always help me feel right with the world again! Thank you so much for your breaths of fresh air!

  6. Love hairy puccoon. Used to see them while hiking the dunes and beaches on the east shore of Lake Michigan. I’ve been in AZ now for 11 yrs. Thanks for posting them… :)

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