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.
Prairie dandelion, aka prairie false dandelion (Nothocalais cuspidata) is different from common dandelion (Taraxacum officianale), the one most people are familiar with in yards and weedy places. Prairie dandelion is a native perennial wildflower, mainly restricted to dry unplowed prairies, while the other dandelion is a non-native species that seems able to pop up just about anywhere. I’m actually a fan of both species, and don’t mind seeing common dandelion in our prairies, especially as an important early-season pollinator resource, but it’s always a treat to find populations of prairie dandelion.
Prairie dandelion has a similar appearance to common dandelion, but there are some pretty strong differences as well. The flowers are much larger, for example, and the leaves are long and don’t have the large serrations that common dandelion leaves have. Prairie dandelion is considered to be a rare plant in many eastern prairie states, but is found across much of Nebraska – though it is certainly nowhere as abundant as common dandelion.
While I was photographing prairie dandelion flowers this last weekend, I noticed a small grasshopper nymph feeding on the petals of one of the blossoms. I took a few photos of it and moved on. A few minutes later, I walked back past the flower and noticed the grasshopper had moved into a more visible location, so I took a few more photos of it. When I got home and looked through the photos, my first instinct was that the second set of photos were better because I could see the whole grasshopper and it was better framed within the image. Upon more reflection, however, I’m not sure. Since some of you enjoy voting on this kind of thing, I decided to include both images, and you can tell me if you have a preference between them. Just leave your vote in the comments section below.
It was a pretty tough winter for prairie photography around here; not much snow, and not even a lot of ice to photograph – with the exception of one notable ice storm. I’m really glad that flowers and insects are finally breaking up the monotony of drab brown prairie vegetation. It should be a fun spring.