Photos of the Week – April 25, 2023

It’s been a dry and windy spring here in east-central Nebraska. Up north, including at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, they got a lot of snow this winter, but most of that missed us. Oh well.

Often, when we have dry and windy springs, wildflowers show up a little early because dry and windy is accompanied by warm temperatures. That hasn’t been the case this year. I’m guessing a combination of cool and dry soils is behind what seems like a slow year for plant growth and flowering.

Buffalo pea, aka ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) seems to be on schedule at our family prairie this year, but it feels like other wildflowers are behind schedule.
Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) are starting to bloom, but are even shorter than usual, and it seems like a small percentage of plants have blossoms. Dry soil?

Regardless, spring is marching on, albeit with a distinct limp. This weekend, I spent a few pleasant hours wildflower hunting at Gjerloff Prairie (Prairie Plains Resource Institute) north of Aurora. Appropriately for the year, the early morning temperature was below freezing (27 degrees F) as I waited the sun to come up, and there was frost in the lower valleys.

Sunrise behind lead plant at Gjerloff Prairie on a cold Sunday morning.
More lead plant and sun.

Like the spring, my hunt started out slowly and I walked a long way before seeing anything in bloom. Eventually, I found some sun sedge plants in a recently-burned patch. Following that, I started to come across more flowers, but they were few and far-between. As the sun rose, the temperatures quickly followed, and it was a beautiful morning to be out, despite the low number of flowers.

Sun sedge (Carex heliophila) in the early morning light.
More sun sedge.
Hey, look, sun sedge!
Frost and morning light.
I saw a couple flies hanging out on last year’s plant stems. They looked cold.
Somebody was living down in this hole, judging by the frost accumulation around its opening. I’m not sure what the creature might have been – the hole was about the diameter of a dollar coin.
I only found two small patches of windflower (Anemone caroliniana) and only one had a couple flowers that were open.
More windflower.
Last windflower.
I found a slope with a dozen or so prairie dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata) plants, but none were fully open.
Fringed puccoon (Lithospermum incisum).
Sarah Bailey, with Prairie Plains Resource Institute, tells me this is Astragalus lotiflorus. I believe her. There are about 25 Astragalus species in Nebraska and more that look like they could be. A lot of the smaller ones are tough for me to identify.
More of that little Astragalus. This species hangs out on very dry slopes and this plant was the only one I found in flower this week.

I didn’t come across any bees out at Gjerloff Prairie this weekend but I’m sure they’re out and around. I’ve been seeing butterflies in my yard (mostly orange sulphurs, which migrate north to us each spring), along with some moths, flies and wasps. Wild plum and other shrubs are starting to flower, which are always crucial pollinator resources, but might be even more important this spring if the other wildflowers are slow to get started.

Wherever you are, I hope you’ve had the chance to see some spring wildflowers in a prairie near you. (Unless you’re in the southern hemisphere, in which case I hope you’re having a pleasant autumn!) It should be an interesting summer – as always.

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.

6 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – April 25, 2023

  1. Always beautiful and informative. I have Lesser Pussytoes that cover almost our entire front yard of about a third of an acre. If you would like a couple of awesome photos e-mail me at You will love them! Thanks for all you do and for sharing your experiences and photos. Truly amazing.

  2. Oh, that first windflower picture! I’m swooning!! It’s so stinkin’ cold here in ND – the “only state where planting hasn’t yet (USDA)”. The overall snow just melted this week leaving only large drifts near trees and in towns.

  3. It seems that spring has arrived, dragging her beauty slower than we would like. I am grateful to see the flowers starting to grow, the wild raucous wonder of spring 🌼 🌱 only beginning.

    P.S. Live near southern shore of Lake Erie its chilly and raining. We are expecting snow 🌨️
    Thanks for sharing 🦋🪰 your early spring.


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