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.

Spring Marches On in April

I have a blog post rattling around in my head, but don’t have time to get it written this week. There’s too much spring going on. Between finalizing data collection plans, tracking the progress of spring wildflowers (almost blooming), and prescribed fire, I’m a little distracted. It’s a really good blog post, though, and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it when I have time to put it together. In the meantime, here is a lazy post consisting only of recent spring photos. I’ll try to be better next week.

Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) getting ready to bolt and bloom at our family prairie late last week.
More pussytoes.
Sun sedge (Carex heliophila) looking like it wants to bloom, but just isn’t quite there yet.
This gorgeous jumping spider was soaking up some sunshine on the side of a livestock water tank (made from a giant rubber tire).
A Siberian elm, scorched by our prescribed fire yesterday. Because this is a visual medium, you can’t hear the tree mocking us, knowing that it will soon send up three or four new stems, making it that much harder to kill later. I guess we at least knocked it back for a few months…

Photo of the Week – April 4, 2019

My stepson Atticus and I had a fun discussion about writing this morning and he reminded me about an April Fools post I wrote back in 2013. It’s the only time I’ve purposely misled my audience on this blog, and even then, I tried to make it pretty obvious that I was being funny, not serious. I hadn’t read the post in a long time and I enjoyed revisiting it. Here’s a link to it in case you’re interested.

The post also made me think about lobelias, since that was part of its topic. We have three different lobelia species that grow and bloom in our Platte River prairies. Palespike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) is the smallest and earliest bloomer, and grows in mesic sites. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) grow in wetter habitats, often along the edges of wetlands and streams.

Cardinal flower and blue lobelia intermingle in a restored wetland in our Platte River Prairies.

All three species are wonderful, and are always a welcome sight when they bloom. Cardinal flower is certainly the most spectacular, its scarlet color rare among wildflowers and particularly attractive to hummingbirds. Palespike lobelia doesn’t blare its presence nearly as loudly. It is often widely scattered across the prairie and its small flowers aren’t visible from very far away. Trying to find the post-flowering stems for seed harvest can be incredibly difficult, but each plant rewards the finder with hundreds of seeds. Blue lobelia has been the most difficult for me to photograph, but only because I struggle to get my camera to capture the beauty that is so obvious in person.

Here is a quick visual celebration of these three lobelia species to hold all of us over until mid-late summer when they start blooming again.

Blue lobelia.
Blue lobelia.
Palespike lobelia.
Palespike lobelia.
Cardinal flower.
Cardinal flower.