Photos of the Week – April 23 2021

Spring is a season of extremes. Temperatures have fluctuated between the low 20’s and the low 80’s (Fahrenheit) over the last couple weeks. That has to make life interesting for prairie animals and plants…

We’re still on the early edge of wildflower blooming, but activity has been ramping up slowly. Many of first round of flowers are going now, though most are still blooming mainly in areas cattle grazed short last year. Temperatures this weekend and next week should bring out the rest, including in the shadier/thatchier areas.

Last weekend, Kim and I went to Gjerloff Prairie on a pleasant evening. Kim was there to run trails and I was there to find flowers and just get a pulse of the prairie. Flowers were still pretty scarce that evening. A few ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) were blooming, along with a few isolated plants of other Astragalus species. I was hoping for prairie dandelions (Nothocalais cuspidata) but only found four blooming plants (all on grazed south-facing slopes). After walking most of the prairie to make sure there weren’t more, I returned to the biggest patch (3 plants) spent at least half an hour photographing them from various angles and perspectives.

Prairie dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata) at Gjerloff Prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 400, f/20, 1/125 sec.
Prairie dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata) at Gjerloff Prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 400, f/10, 1/1250 sec.

We had a dusting of snow Monday night so I zipped out to our family prairie Tuesday morning to get some photos before it melted away. When I arrived, the temperature was still well below freezing, so I wore my insulated coveralls for what I hope was the last time this spring (though I haven’t packed them away yet).

Spring flowers are awfully tough, aren’t they? The 23 degree F temperatures and a light covering of snow didn’t seem to phase them at all. As with Gjerloff prairie, most of the flowering plants I found were where grazing had been most intense last year. Shadier areas were still pretty dormant.

Ground plum, aka buffalo pea (Astragalus crassicarpus) and light snow at the Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 250, f/22, 1/160 sec.
Ground plum, aka buffalo pea (Astragalus crassicarpus) and light snow at the Helzer family prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/18, 1/100 sec.
Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) and light snow at the Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 250, f/22, 1/80 sec.
Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) and light snow at the Helzer family prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/10, 1/250 sec.
Ground plum, aka buffalo pea (Astragalus crassicarpus) and light snow at the Helzer family prairie. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 250, f/22, 1/80 sec.

I also checked out a big patch of wild plum shrubs at Lincoln Creek, here in Aurora. It was pretty cool out, but I was hoping to find at least a few pollinators using the flowers. When I arrived, I got to watch a queen bumble bee work her way through the patch, but once she left, I only saw a couple of flies, and only one of those seemed to be interested in the flowers. I might head back over this weekend when it’s warmer and see what’s moving then.

Wild plum blossoms (Prunus americana) at Lincoln Creek Prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/14, 1/500 sec.
Bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) feeding on wild plum blossoms (Prunus americana) at Lincoln Creek Prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/14, 1/250 sec.
Wild plum blossoms (Prunus americana) at Lincoln Creek Prairie. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 250, f/14, 1/640 sec.

I hope you’re enjoying spring wherever you are too. This winter seemed like one of the longest in memory. I’m really looking forward to a summer full of exploration!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized 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.

10 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – April 23 2021

  1. I put Ground plum in almost all my seed mixes and it is almost never available. It is a difficult seed to find in MN, as is veiny pea…and others. I keep asking for them knowing they are not available in the hopes that a market is shown and seed is sought by vendors.

    • It’s a funny species to harvest from. I haven’t figured out why it makes fruits and why it doesn’t. We had one banner year in 2001 and collected 20 or 30 gallons of pods from about 15 acres or prairie. That same site has never produced more than a handful of fruit/seed since then. We got good establishment from the seed we did harvest that year but I’d love to get more seed too.

      • My guess would simply be that a plant flowering so impressively early needs a very warm spring with absolutely no frost to set seeds.

  2. The first, ‘uphill’ photo of the prairie dandelion is marvelous. Our so-called false dandelion belongs to the genus Pyrrhopappus ; the flowers resemble chicory. This one has double appeal — the flowers are pretty, but those leaves are terrific.

  3. Lovely pictures. It’s incredible how plants and flowers, and especially insects like bees and even butterflies, can survive freezing conditions. The real vikings :-)

  4. First Prairie flower to flower for me this year has been Prairie Violets. But the cluster that flowered are in a sheltered favorable micro climate. Other prairie violets in less favorable areas are just coming out of the ground.

    I have noticed the differences in several woodland flowers too. Bloodroots for example haven’t come up yet but I have one patch of them that is just setting seed pods already.

    Its been an odd spring, very uneven plant growth.

    Cory, I have Veiny Pea in a couple of places in my woods, they like burns and the deer like them too. They are up and get about 6-10″ tall and the deer browse them down. I have thought of fencing the area to see how their growth responds. Too many deer to eliminate them.

      • They have become a detriment to the ecosystem in much of their range. To the point that they will eliminate many species of plants due to browsing. Many studies and methods have been done to exclude deer from the ecosystem to the ecosystems benefit.

        Trouble is their is a lack of natural predators in much of their range and the human predator has proven ineffective. Humans prefer to harvest the larger, healthier males of the species which does very little to control the population.

        • You are right, too many is just as bad as too few.
          So, yes, the lack of top-predators like wolves in the ecosystem is a problem.
          Any missing species is a problem, just that we don’t know much about how.

PLEASE COMMENT ON THIS POST!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.