Penstemon and Primroses – A Quick Stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Kim is training for a 50k race and wanted to do some running on a rocky trail last weekend, so we took a trip to southern Kansas. On the way, we stopped for a quick leg-stretching visit at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. We arrived after the visitor center had closed, which was fine with us. It’s a terrific visitor center but we just needed a break from driving. Kim wanted a brisk walk and I wanted to wander around and look at flowers and bugs. We both got what we wanted.

Kim walked a trail loop but I didn’t get very far at all before I had my camera out and was kneeling/lying around in the prairie. I always forget how much I like seeing rocks in prairie – it’s not something I get in the prairies closest to home. The stars of the day weren’t the rocks, though. Both showy evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa) and Missouri evening primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) were putting on a show and I spent the majority of my time enjoying them.

If you’ve never visited it, TPNP is well worth heading to as a destination, but it’s also a pretty great pit stop too. Here are some photos from our quick visit.

Buffalo pea, aka ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus). And a rock!
False gromwell, aka marbleseed (Onosmodium molle) and Flint Hills prairie.
Cobaea penstemon (Penstemon cobaea)
Cobaea penstemon from a different angle.
Missouri evening primrose through a fisheye lens.
Missouri evening primrose through a fisheye lens, but vertical!
Showy evening primrose from behind.
Showy evening primrose, spiderwort, and sky.
More showy evening primrose and sky.
The backside of the visitor center and headquarters building. You should see it from the front side!
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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.

16 thoughts on “Penstemon and Primroses – A Quick Stop at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

  1. Thank you so much for this, Chris! We will be driving near there on our return east from Garden City, KS later this summer and it will make a perfect lunch stop.

  2. Love the penstemon for its June flowering. I’ve germinated three different ones this year to help flower up my June garden.

  3. Never underestimate rocks. All sort of different lichens growing on them can be both colorful and interesting. But they are very difficult to know by species.

  4. Showy evening primrose, spiderwort and sky and More showy evening primrose and sky are especially spectacular.

  5. If Kim is in to long dirt races, check out the offerings of Mad Moose (they have 6 running races in Moab and another 6 or so in Colorado). Enjoyed reading about Kansas. [,h_1330,al_c/06165b_c2ed8dd4e00046559e2915621af2879f.png] Mad Moose Events Mad Moose Events hosts running events in Utah and Colorado.


  6. I’ve been a The Nature Conservancy supporter for longer than I can remember. However, I’ve stopped my support. The reason is the new volunteer agreement that volunteers are required to sign. I cannot surrender my right to talk with whomever I choose about the work I do. Subsequently, I expressed my objection on a Friend’s of a preserves Facebook page about how herbicide was being used. I was reported to Facebook for violating community standards like bullying, violence, etc. However, the volunteers who run the Friend’s group said they did not report me. I have enjoyed your blog all these years. However, I will no longer be following it.

    The comment in question is below. The name of the preserve was removed.

    Red clover can be removed by the root with a knee pad, dandelion weeder, and palm pad (see link) without too much difficultly. I tried to show a good example by using this method, but it was not adopted. I can’t understand why ******* continues spraying a disturbance adapted weed that can be removed without using herbicide. The herbicide damages adjacent native plants this season and reduces their vigor for many more season because herbicides are persistent. The disturbance caused by herbicide means more weeds needing treatment in the future creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

    • All I can say is that it’s too bad (most) people won’t listen to common sense. Unfortunately, stupidity (shortsightedness) is without limits.

      • The people making these decisions aren’t stupid. They have teams of PhDs working on these problems. Unfortunately, scientific studies are expensive and only provide short term results. Difficult decisions are made because of resource limitations. I understand why this spraying is being done, I just don’t think it is in the best interest of the prairie in the long-term.

        • Yes, nothing is easy. However, herbicides etc. are not natural and have therefore nothing to do in nature.
          But the main point is that there is a frighting amount of so-called intelligent people completely lacking in common sense. And that’s the real problem in most things. Personally I don’t understand how anybody can have the patience, motivation and energy to discuss topics with people who see the world completely differently. Life’s just too short. And I don’t do things I find stupid. That’s what I can contribute.

          • “Personally I don’t understand how anybody can have the patience, motivation and energy to discuss topics with people who see the world completely differently.”

            Prairie is very rare. The stakes are high. The point is worth being made, even if I am banned from volunteering ever again.

            In the end, The Nature Conservancy owns the preserve and will manage it how they see fit. However, I don’t have to watch it. Frankly, I can’t handle seeing it happen. Last year after spraying Trifolium pratense, the Baptisia leucanthas were keeled over and the Silphium leaves were twisted and yellow. Maybe these plants will survive and the red clover will be gone. However, it makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it. I can’t read this blog anymore because this is what anything associated with The Nature Conservancy brings to my mind.

  7. I love the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and have had very similar experiences of my wife running out there while I barely make it past the visitor center with my camera!


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