Photo of the Week – November 18, 2016

Back in April, I wrote a post about the regrowth after one of our spring prescribed fires.  That’s a fun time of year to burn because the growing season is getting started and the response of green plants pushing through the black ash comes strong and fast.  Typically, fall burns don’t show any green-up until the next spring.  This year, however, the crazy warm weather has changed things a little. In the two burns we’ve done this fall, most of the ground is still black and barren, but here and there, some green is pushing up through the ash as well.

Here are some photos I took this week of a burn we conducted two weeks earlier.  The site was a recently restored prairie (2013 planting) and this was the first burn at the site.  Green plants weren’t the only interesting things I found as I walked around.

Big bluestem skeletons
Big bluestem skeletons stand tall in the ashes.
Cedar tree
Cedar trees are uncommon on our land because of our consistent use of fire.   This one won’t give us any more trouble….
Some grasses and sedges
Despite the lateness of the season, patches of grasses and sedges were showing signs of growth, taking advantage of warm days and some recent rain.
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Sedges often stay green well into the winter, but I was still surprised to see these actively growing after a fire.
Goldenrod galls
Among the scorched plants were goldenrod stems with galls.  The insects in these galls left well before the fire, but there other invertebrates overwinter in aboveground plants and are vulnerable to dormant season fires.
Gophers
The bare sand of pocket gopher mounds stand out against the dark background.  Ant hills, vole runways, and mole tunnels were also spread across the burned area.
Sunflower stalks
Most plants burned completely, but in some places, fire intensity was lower and bigger stems of sunflowers and other plants only partially burned, sometimes falling as if they’d been chopped down.
Back fire
Lines of fallen grass and forb stems show where the fire backed into the wind, rather than being pushed by it.  In a backing fire, only the lower parts of plants are consumed, and the wind blows them over into the already burned prairie where they escape being further burned.
skeleton
A white skeleton of a long dead rabbit (I think?) was left tarnished but intact by the fire.
Grasshopper
Near the edge of the burned area, grasshoppers skipped away from my feet as I walked.

Photo of the Week – November 3, 2016

To this prairie photographer, milkweed seeds are like candy – I just can’t get enough.  As I’ve walked around this fall, I’ve had a very difficult time walking past any milkweed plant without stopping to photograph the silky seeds shimmering in the light.  They’re just so FLUFFY!

(And yes, botanist friends, I know the fluffy part isn’t actually the seed, but is an ‘appendage’ called the coma – or less accurately, the pappus – that aids in wind transport of the seed.  And the brown parts are actually the follicles that CONTAIN the seed.  Yes, yes, and yes. Allow me this vulgarization for the sake of simplicity, ok?)

FLUFFY!!

Whorled milkweed

Common milkweed

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It’s getting a little harder to find milkweed seeds that haven’t yet blown away, but they’re out there.  I keep seeing them as I walk through prairie and drive down the highway.  I can hide the Halloween candy so I don’t snack on it all day, but who’s going to hide all those milkweed seeds?