Photo of the Week – December 15, 2017

I haven’t done much photography lately, and that always makes me cranky.  I spent a couple days at the Niobrara Valley Preserve this week, but between the short day length right now, a busy meeting schedule, and cloudy/windy conditions, I didn’t even get my camera out of the bag.  This morning, I just couldn’t stand it anymore, so my camera and I took a short walk in one of the small prairies here in town.  I needed to be on a conference call, but I managed to multi-task fairly effectively – participating in the call with my cell phone and earbuds while photographing dead flowers.  My colleagues are pretty understanding…

The first photo I took this morning was of sensitive briar (Mimosa quadrivalvus).  There was one lone seed still hanging on inside the spiny pods.
A light overnight frost was being systematically melted as morning sunlight crept across the prairie.  However, by finding plants that were just being illuminated, I could take a few photos before the frost disappeared.  In this case, the sun had just reached this roundheaded bushclover (Lespdeza capitata) plant, but the background was still in shadow.
The frost was quickly melting off of these aster (Aster lanceolatus) seed heads.
Birds, mice, and other creatures have already stripped all the seeds out of the sunflower plants in the prairie – including this stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus).

By the time my conference call ended and I headed back to the office, my hands were cold, my knees were wet, and I felt better about the world.  Even in the winter, prairies can provide inspiration and solace to those who go looking for it, including photographers with cabin (office?) fever.

Photo of the Week – December 5, 2013

Continuing the theme from earlier this week, here is another photo of a sunflower seed head.  This one was taken on a frosty morning last week.

A sunflower seed head
A Maximilian sunflower seed head.  Deep Well Wildlife Management Area, Nebraska.

I usually try to avoid putting a horizon line behind the subject of a close-up photo because it can add unnecessary distraction to the image.  In this case, however, I tried the photo both ways and decided I liked the one with the horizon better because it gave the image some additional context and depth.

Here’s the alternate version – see what you think.

The same sunflower head shown above from a slightly different angle to keep the horizon line out of the image.
The same sunflower head shown above, but from a slightly different angle to keep the horizon line out of the image.

Photo of the Week – February 14, 2013

It’s a tough time of year to be a wildflower photographer.  The first spring flowers are still months away, and fall flowers are a distant memory.  What’s a guy to do?  Gotta make the best of things, I guess.

Here’s a shot from a few weeks ago when we still had snow on the ground.

A frosty rosinweed seedhead in winter prairie.
A frosty rosinweed seed head in winter prairie.  Aurora, Nebraska.

Many wildflowers lose the majority of their flower parts as winter sets in, making them relatively uninteresting to photograph.  Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) is an exception; while this one has lost its seeds, it has retained much of its characteristic shape, making it easy to identify and fun to photograph.

The frost doesn’t hurt either.

Photo of the Week – January 27, 2012

During the winter, prairie becomes nearly monochromatic.  The scarcity of color exposes the architecture of the plants.  It’s as if the prairie has been deconstructed before our eyes, stripped down to its framework before being rebuilt for the next season.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) in winter prairie. Sarpy County, Nebraska

Photo of the Week – November 18, 2011

Entire-leaf rosinweed seed heads in late September, 2011. Lincoln Creek Prairie - Aurora, Nebraska.

Entire-leaf rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) looks much like a sunflower when it’s blooming, but it and its close relatives are actually pretty different from sunflowers.  One major difference is the shape and location of the seeds.  Sunflowers produce seeds in the center of the flower head, but rosinweed, compass plant, and other Silphiums have seeds that are located on the outer border of their flowers.  In this photo, the white dots on the left flower are the tips of those seeds. 

Rosinweed seeds are built differently than sunflower seeds as well.   Everyone is familiar with the kind of sunflower seeds sold as snacks – with a two-part shell covering the “meat” of the seed inside.  Prairie sunflowers all have variations on that same structure.  Silphiums, however, produce very large seeds that are encased in a kind of papery sheath about the size and shape of a fingernail.  The photo below shows another rosinweed head on which the seeds are exposed.

This rosinweed seed head shows the ring of seeds around the center of the flower.

The size and shape of the seeds of rosinweed (and other Silphiums)make them easy to identify in our restoration seed mixtures.  They’re also a good example of why it can be challenging to use some kinds of seed drills when planting diverse prairie seed mixtures.  Large flat seeds like those of rosinweed can’t squeeze through small tubes or other small openings.  Combined with other seeds that are fluffy, smooth and hard, or just plain tiny, it can be difficult to get all the seeds to feed smoothly, or at consistent rates, through some kinds of equipment.  Because of this, many of our older prairie restorations were seeded by hand -which works just fine – though now we mainly use a drop spreader (a fertilizer spreader such as an EZ-Flow that is essentially a long box with holes in the bottom and an agitator inside).

Can You Name This Wildflower? (2)

Can you identify this wildflower species from its winter seed head?

If you think you’ve got the answer, write it in the “Comments” below.  (either click on “comments” or write in the “reply” space, depending upon which format you’re seeing this post in)

You can also try an earlier similar quiz here.