Photo of the Week – October 19, 2018

Dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata) seeds at our family prairie last weekend.

This is the season of flying fluffy seeds.  Asters, thistles, blazing stars, milkweeds, and other late season flowers are sending their seeds into the air, a few of which might actually land in a place where they can germinate.  Each of those seeds is attached to a filamentous structure, variously called a pappus or coma, depending upon the species of plant.  Those fluffy structures catch the wind and allow the seed to travel many miles, in some cases – though most land within a few meters of their origin.

Seeds that can float on the air are a nice adaptation for plants, but they are also attractive photographic subjects.  Over the last week, I’ve photographed the seeds of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), dotted gayfeather (Liatris punctata) and tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum) in some local prairies.  Here are a few of those photos for your Friday enjoyment.

Common milkweed seeds lined up inside their pod, nearly ready for launch.
A common milkweed seed temporarily hung up on big bluestem.
The coma of this milkweed seed got stuck and was drifting lazily in the breeze, having become separated from its seed.
Tall thistle seeds.  Many of these get eaten by insects before they get a chance to fly away, but at least one of these managed to escape – so far.
Dotted gayfeather seeds, backlit by the autumn sun.

Photo of the Week – December 13, 2013

Monday morning was cold here.  If I remember correctly, it was about 4 degrees below zero when I decided to go for a walk with my camera.  (Because, hey, what else would you do on a morning like that?)

There wasn’t much wind, so it honestly didn’t feel all that bad, especially since I was dressed for it.  However, my camera was sure cold.  It worked fine, but I had to keep an extra battery in my pocket (so it would stay warm) because batteries don’t last long at very low temperatures.  The biggest issue, though, was that the viewfinder on the camera kept frosting over from my breath.  Those of you who think photography is easy haven’t tried holding your breath every time you put the camera up close to your face…

As the sun came up, the prairie was populated with seedheads wearing little snow caps.  Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to find a single one that photographed well.  So, I ended up with this photo of milkweed seeds, in which you can’t even really tell it was snowy.

But trust me, it was cold.

Common milkweed seeds on a frigid, snowy day.  The Leadership Center Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.
Common milkweed seeds on a frigid, snowy day. The Leadership Center Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.

Oh, and by the way – I took several versions of this photo and struggled to decide which I liked best.  You might ask, “Chris, why don’t you just put a couple versions up and ask us which we like better?”   Sure, that’d work great.  I tried that yesterday with the bison photos.  Twenty four hours later, well over 100 people voted, some contacting me outside of the blog, and the vote was almost exactly evenly split.  A number of you tried to have it both ways, so your “vote” didn’t really help.  The remainder of you did, at least, express an opinion, but in the end, there was no consensus.

I suppose I could take my cue from the United States government, and decide that since the readership is polarized I should just shut down the blog for a while.  However, as an example to my country, I’ll take the high road and compromise.  Both photos will be included in next week’s “best photos of 2013” feature.  You have only yourselves to blame, though, when you look at through that photo montage and think to yourself, “Gee, this is nice, but it seems like there’s one too many images in it…”

(Seriously, though, thanks for voting.  Both images were obviously popular.  Some people felt very strongly one way or the other.  Others liked them about equally.  It was fun to read the reasons people chose one over the other.  While there were some very thoughtful responses, my favorite was definitely the one from Mary, who chose photo B  because the bison reminded her of her old uncle!  As of the time I’m writing this, the vote count is 53 votes for A and 50 for B…)

Photo of the Week – January 17, 2013

Ok, I know milkweed seeds have been done to death by photographers.  I, personally, have somewhere around a zillion milkweed seed photos.  But milkweed seeds in the winter?  With hoar frost?  And a snowy background?  That’s just magic.  How can I not photograph that?

Frosty milkweed seeds and pods.  The Leadership Center Prairie.  Aurora, Nebraska.
Frosty milkweed seeds and pods. The Leadership Center Prairie. Aurora, Nebraska.

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These photos are all from the same morning as those in last week’s photo of the week post.  I’ve got even more from that morning saved up for future weeks…  It was that kind of morning.

Testing Assumptions – The Milkweed Seed Fiasco

A few months ago, I mentioned a technique that we use to clean milkweed seeds after harvest.  We spread the fluffy seeds out on a concrete floor and light the thin pile on fire, burning the fluff off the seeds.  It’s quick, easy, and fun.  I learned of the technique from a fellow prairie restoration ecologist many years ago, and we’ve been using it ever since.  I’ve also shared the idea with quite a few others.

Burning the fluff off of milkweed seeds. Don't try this at home.

Those of you who have either read this blog frequently or know me personally know that I am a strong advocate for experimenting with techniques whenever possible.  In fact, I often reduce people to blank stares by blathering on about the importance of always testing restoration and other methods to be sure we’re using the most effective strategies.  Surely, then, over the last decade or so that I’ve been using and advocating the “burn the fluff off” technique, I’ve followed my own advice and checked to make sure it actually works, right?   Well…

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