Photos of the Week – August 17, 2019

We were at the Niobrara Valley Preserve this week. It was a quick trip, with little time for photography. I did manage a few shots, though, so I’m sharing them here.

A few of us went for a short walk up the hill behind the headquarters Thursday afternoon. I don’t remember who spotted the first one, but we suddenly realized we were in the midst of an impressive congregation of walking sticks. We were finding 3-5 per square meter for a while. After we walked another 20 meters or so, the numbers thinned, but we were still seeing them here and there. Imagine how many we must have missed! It appeared to be a meeting of potential lovers, given the kind of activity many were engaged in…
This salt marsh caterpillar species (I think?) seems to become a photographic subject for me at least once or twice a year, including this handsome individual.
We drove to town for supper and on the way back, the sun was rose big and orange over the horizon. By the time we got back to the headquarters and I could escape with my camera, most of the moon’s color had gone, but I did manage one decent photo of sand bluestem in front of it.
With a rising full moon, star photography was tricky, but I wandered down to the Norden Chute to see if I could use the moonlight’s illumination of the falls to my advantage, while still getting a few stars in the background. It’s not my all-time favorite photo of the Chute, but it was worth the (pleasantly quiet) time I it took to play around near the water.

Grasses Have Flowers Too

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.

This big bluestem plant (Andropogon gerardii) was blooming yesterday at our Platte River Prairies, along with many of its cousins. Some warm-season grasses are nearly done flowering, but others, like Indiangrass, are just getting started.

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.

Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
Tree crickets are big consumers of pollen, both on grasses and insect pollinated plants. This one is feeding on the pollen of prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata).
This tree cricket is pretty well matched with the colors of these prairie sand reed (Calamovilfa longifolia) flowers.
Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) produces a beautiful combination of golds and yellows.
A hover fly feeding on Indiangrass pollen.
Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)
Junegrass (Koeleria macrantha) blooms during the month it’s named for.
I think this is western wheatgrass (Paspopyrum smithii).
Big bluestem.