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.
I’ve written before about the value of native thistles, both to pollinators and other parts of prairie ecosystems. Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum), in particular, seems to be a key food resource for pollinators during the late growing season, including the migration period for monarch butterflies. Here in the Platte River Prairies, we include native thistles in our seed mixes for prairie restoration work and try to promote them through our management activities. Here are some photos of tall thistle from last month.
This bee was one of many feeding from tall thistles this fall.
Skippers like this one often feed from thistles, but this one was just resting on top of a half-empty seed head.
While bees get great value from tall thistles, this one got trapped and killed by the sticky substance on the bracts beneath the flowers (which is probably meant to capture nectar-stealing ants).