Photo of the Week – May 7, 2015

As I’ve said many times, the prairie is an ecosystem best seen up close.  You have to look carefully to see much of the beauty.  Dillon (one of our Hubbard Fellows) and I were poking around today and found this yellow wood sorrel flower.  It looked as if an artistic child had been playing with a hole punch.  There were a few scattered holes in nearby blossoms but this was the only one that looked as if it had been purposefully accented.  Any insect smarties out there know what might have made the holes?

Wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) with insect holes.  TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta) with insect holes. The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

This is the season of small statured wildflowers.  Puccoon, ragwort, locoweed, wood sorrel and many others are just starting to bloom.  Perhaps the most ostentatiously-colored of our spring flowers, however, is purple poppy mallow.  This one was just getting ready to open today.

Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata).  TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata). The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Purple poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata).  TNC Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Another look at the same flower.

We’ve been getting a lot of rain lately, which bodes well for a good wildflower season, at least for the next month or so.  We’ll see what kind of weather the El Nino brings after that.  We might get really wet or really dry.  For now, I’ll enjoy the colors.

Photo of the Week – (And a Tongue Twister Too)

Purple Poppy Mallow – – say it 5 times fast! 

Purple poppy mallow, glowing like a light bulb in early morning prairie.

Besides being a favorite tongue twister for my 10-year-old son, purple poppy mallow is a plant of two divergent reputations.  On the one hand, this sprawling plant is seen by many around here as a weed because it grows well in dry sites under heavy grazing.  Its giant taproot (imagine the biggest carrot you’ve ever seen) helps it survive just about anything, including both intensive grazing and at least some kinds of herbicide application.  I have personal experience with the herbicide resistance from some spot treatments with Roundup herbicide several years ago – trying to kill patches of mostly Kentucky bluegrass.  The Roundup killed everything in the plot EXCEPT the poppy mallow.  I assume the big taproot played a large role in that survival.

A second audience, however, sees purple poppy mallow as a beautiful flower, worthy of horticultural selection and distribution.  It is used as ground cover and in flower gardens throughout much of the midwestern U.S. – and probably far beyond.  In this case, the tough sprawling nature of the plant becomes a positive attribute.

Purple poppy mallow, showing both the distinctive flower and leaf.

My own personal opinion is that purple poppy mallow is an important part of our prairies.  In some of the more degraded prairies of Nebraska, it’s one of the few highlights of color during the early summer – and often blooms in abundance.  It also does well in prairies that are in good condition, especially in dry sandy areas. 

We harvest seed from it and enjoy seeing it show up in our prairie restoration plantings.    Like other poppy mallow species, its seeds occur in a round disk that splits into pre-sliced pie pieces when they’re ripe.  When we harvest them, we usually just cut off entire sprawling branches, each with multiple flowers, and throw them in our buckets.  After they dry, it’s easy to separate the seeds from the branches. 

As to its weed status, I’ve never seen it act aggressively.  It’s just tough – something to be admired, really.  Because it can withstand intensive grazing and other kinds of disturbances that many other plant species can’t handle, it often grows in the company of other “weedy” species, and gets lumped into that category by association. 

Yet another photo of purple poppy mallow...

If you’re lucky enough to live where this poppy mallow occurs in native prairies, now is a great time to enjoy its low-growing, but very attractive flowers.  And – as you walk around enjoying its almost glowing magenta flowers, you can also entertain yourself…  

…purple poppy mallow purple poppy mallow purple poppy mallow purpy poppo…..dang!