Photo of the Week – June 7, 2019

This was a great week, during which Kim and I attended the North American Prairie Conference in Houston, Texas. The conference was wonderful, and it was great to meet a lot of new people, including a lot of you who were nice enough to come up and tell me how much you enjoy this blog. Thank you for that.

Tuesday was field trip day, and Kim and I got to travel to a couple sites, including The Nature Conservancy’s Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary. While there, we wandered through some pine savanna habitats and saw a WHOLE LOT of plants and animals that we don’t get to see in Nebraska. If you’re fortunate enough to live close to this property, I’m jealous – I’d love to explore it on a regular basis. It’s a beautiful site, and very well managed.

Longleaf pine savanna is essentially a prairie with scattered trees in it. It’s a fire-dependent plant community, and the Conservancy manages this site with frequent fire to keep brush subdued. I’d’ only seen longleaf along the eastern seaboard prior to this trip, so it was fun to see the more western end of the ecosystem in Texas.

I’m sharing just a small sample of the photos I took during the tour, and it was really hard to narrow the selection down. Just about everything I saw was new, and there were quite a few plants that are apparently endemic to a pretty small geographic area around the site. I wish I could share some good natural history stories about each of these, but the best I can do is pass along identifications generously provided by Matt Buckingham, a fantastic ecologist and photographer who has a blog you should all check out. Here are some images from Sandyland Sanctuary:

I can’t believe how many Mimosa species we saw in Texas. Matt told me which this one is, but I’ve forgotten, and I didn’t remember to send him this photo to identify after the fact.
Alophia drummondii is a gorgeous iris that drew a lot of attention from our tour members.
Young longleaf pines maintain a grass-like growth form for several years which allows them to develop a strong root system but weather frequent fires fairly easily. After those root systems are in place, they can shoot up very quickly to get tall enough to survive fire in their more typical pine tree shape.
This caterpillar and a friend (sibling?) was busily munching on the leaves of a young longleaf pine.
Commelina erecta, a native day flower, was one of the few plants I recognized from the longleaf savanna, though it certainly grows within a different context in Nebraska.
Delphinium carolinianum (Carolina larkspur) is also found in Nebraska, but I’ve only seen it in its white form there, and the flowers are smaller and pretty different-looking.
Callicarpa americana (beautyberry) is a plant Kim recognized from her horticulture background, but a new one to me.
Our tour group, venturing into a wetter portion of the site, where the vegetation grew a little more densely.
This green anole sat patiently while many of the tour members took its photo. I was the last, and it was patient enough to allow me a few quick shots before it finally scurried away.
Sabatia gentianoides (rose gentian) is related to the gentians I’m more familiar with, but is in a different genus.
I bet many of you are like me, and didn’t recognize this as a sedge. It is. Rhynchospora colorata has distinctive white bracts that makes it look more like a wildflower.
When we got into the wetter portion of the site, we started seeing a little more dense understory and more loblolly pines than longleaf pines. (I can’t tell the difference between those trees unless I can see the cones).
Polygala mariana (Maryland milkwort).
Aletris aurea (golden colicroot) was really striking, standing more than two feet tall, with gorgeous yellow flower spikes.
Kaytdid nymph with an ant on its foot for some reason.
We don’t get to see bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum) in my area, so it was fun to see them in abundance. This one had turned brown for some reason, which probably wasn’t positive for it, but made for a beautiful image.
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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.

11 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – June 7, 2019

  1. Fun pics! Love the long leaf pine savanna. There a really nice state park north of Orlando that has a fantastic pine savanna – and a great swimming hole. Wekiwa Springs State Park

  2. Yay Chris! Thanks for taking such great photos of a fun day and sharing them. I’m still dreaming of the white-topped sedge, what a stunner!

  3. Oh, so glad you got to go to Sandylands! I’ve only been once but it is magical. Reminds me so much of portions of Florida and some other habitats of the southeast. And I love Matt’s blog—been following him via Flickr for years.

  4. I did not realize how many of the plants in my northern Illinois garden live in Texas until I looked through Matt Buckingham’s blog.

    Aesculus pavia, Clematis texensis, Cypripedium kentuckiensis, Echinacea paradoxa, Penstemon cobaea, Penstemon murrayanus

    And plants in my garden that live in Texas which are also native to my area like Asclepias tuberosa, Calopogon tuberosa, Hibiscus moscheutos, Hypoxis hirsuta, Oxalis violacea, Platanthera cilaris, Sanguinaria canadensis, Trillum recurvatum, Viola pedata, and many others that are in the same genera, but are closely-related distinct species

  5. Hi, Chris!
    Thanks so much for sharing these. Reminds me a bit of lowland GA! Neat fact about the baby pines.
    My bookcase has been excavated! :)
    Cheers!

  6. Hey Chris I’m glad you got to see our coastal prairies down here! I met you while interning at Valentine NWR a couple summers ago and felt the same way about the grasses and forbs up there as you seem to have felt with ours. I’m glad you added a close up of the beautyberry because I think the common name could just as easily be beautyflower. I made sure to tell everyone I knew that as going to the conference to listen to your talk!

  7. Wonderful photos of a day in a remarkable place. I’m one of those lucky enough to be able to visit on a day trip, and I’ll be taking advantage of the opportunity.

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