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.
According to my itchy eyes, we are in peak blooming season for warm-season grasses. The subtle beauty of grass flowers mirrors that of the prairies they inhabit. Since their pollen is carried by the wind, grasses don’t have to spend energy creating fancy petals and sepals to attract pollinator insects. Regardless, the flowers of grasses are both pretty and functional, especially if you take the time to examine them closely.
Pollen is encased within (usually) colorful anthers, attached to long filaments. Feathery stigmas catch wind-borne pollen from other plants. The combination is effective, without being extravagant. While grasses don’t rely on insects to carry pollen from plant to plant, some insects do feed on the pollen of grasses, including bees and flies, but also beetles, grasshoppers, tree crickets, and others. As far as I know, those insects are mostly just stealing pollen without providing any benefit back to the grass plant, but grasses seem to produce enough to share.
Here is a selection of grass flower photos, taken over the last couple of years. I hope you enjoy them, especially if you’ve never looked closely at these common species and their flowers.
This is a great time of year for foggy mornings with (fairly) calm winds. Those mornings offer some pretty fantastic opportunities for photographers, especially as the sun just begins to break through the fog. I do, however, recommend good rain pants and waterproof boots, though even that often doesn’t keep my pants and socks from becoming completely saturated. Ah, the suffering I go through for my art…
A couple weeks ago, I shared some photos from a foggy morning up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve. Last weekend, I spent a really nice morning at our family prairie. Here are some of the images from that trip.
Special Note:This Sunday, August 11, I’ll be appearing on “Digging Deeper”, a Facebook Live broadcast by “Backyard Farmer”, with Nebraska Educational Television. Tune in to Facebook Live at 6:30pm if you want to watch the program, or you’ll be able to find it on YouTube, starting Monday. Jim Locklear, of Lauritzen Gardens, and I talk about prairie conservation and the use of native prairie plants.It was a lot of fun – I hope you enjoy it.