Photo of the Week – June 14, 2018

I took advantage of some nice light to take quite a few photos this week.  Here is a small selection of unrelated images.

Goatsbeard, aka yellow salsify (Tragopogon dubius) is a non-native plant that has become naturalized in our prairies. It appears to be innocuous, and potentially beneficial, at least as an additional resource for pollinators. It’s also gorgeous, especially as it greets the morning sun.
Prairie larkspur (Delphinium carolinianum) has very intricate white flowers arranged on a vertical stalk. It is a perennial species, but becomes much more abundant in some years than others, and I’m not sure what regulates those cycles.
Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum) is an annual native grass that can become abundant in wetlands when plant competition is suppressed. The unique texture of the pastel-colored seedheads can make it look like a patch of foxtail barley is in motion, even when it isn’t.
A small milkweed bug (Lygaeus kalmii) explores a showy milkweed plant (Asclepias speciosa).  They feed on nectar and milkweed seeds, but can also act as scavengers and predators when food is scarce.
Prairie spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) in restored prairie, with serrate-leaf primrose (Calylophus serrulatus) in the background.
Serrate-leaf primrose up close.

Photo of the Week – April 27, 2018

I feel like I need to apologize to long-time readers of this blog.  This is the seventh spring season I’ve photographed and shared via this blog, and each of those spring seasons starts with essentially the same wildflower species.  Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) – in no particular order – are the first three wildflowers I find and photograph almost every single year.  I’m always excited to find them because they are an important signal of a new growing season, but also because I’m desperate for something vibrant and colorful to photograph after a long winter.

Sharing those spring flower photos with you each year feels to me like a shared celebration of the annual prairie rebirth, but I also imagine some of you checking in on the blog, seeing the photos, sighing deeply, and checking right back out again.  If that’s you, I really do apologize, and you’re free to go.  I’ll try to do better next week.  For the rest of you, guess what!  It’s spring!  Look at these gorgeous flowers!!

Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) was blooming at our family prairie this week.  Most were extraordinarily short still, but flowering nonetheless.  It was as if they didn’t feel like they had time to grow to their typical height – they just needed to BLOOM ALREADY.
Quite a few insects were flying between and crawling upon the pussytoes flowers, but many were tiny enough I had to look awfully close to see them.  That included this tiny true bug.
Because of the extended cold weather this spring, the flowering season is getting a late start, but plants seem to be responding with phenomenal speed.  I visited our prairie six days before this photo was taken and didn’t see any flowers of any kind.  Less than a week later, ground plum (shown here) and its colleagues seemed to be racing to catch up, and were in full bloom in all their regular places.
Dandelions bloomed first, but were still difficult to find a week ago. Now they are all over the place, especially in places that were grazed hard last year.
More pussytoes.
While not particularly showy, the flowers of pussytoes must produce fairly significant resources of pollinator insects, at least in comparison to the mostly barren (of flowering plants) landscape around them.  Flies were the most abundant visitors, but so were bees, moths, and even a few butterflies.

Photo of the Week – August 11, 2017

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that I take a lot of photos of insects, especially on flowers.  For some reason, my eyes just gravitate toward flowers in search of little invertebrates.  Over the last couple weeks, though, I’ve made a concerted effort to take at least a few photos of few flowers that didn’t have insects.  As it turns out, flowers are kinda pretty all on their own.

Here are a few.

Illinois tickclover (Desmodium illinoensis). Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.
Entire-leaved rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium). The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Velvety gaura (Gaura parviflora). The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Roundheaded bushclover (Lespedeza capitata). Lincoln Creek Prairie, Aurora, Nebraska.
Rocky mountain bee plant (Cleome serrulata). The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.
Prairie gentian (Eustoma grandiflorum). The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies, Nebraska.

Photo of the Week – April 20, 2017

I’ve been enjoying the early flush of wildflowers this spring, and have been trying to photograph them when I get time.  Because I already have quite a few close-up portraits of most of these species already, I’ve been trying to use a wide-angle lens to show the flowers in a broader context.  It means lying prone on the ground with the camera resting either on the ground or on my hand to get both the flowers and the landscape/sky behind them into the same frame.

Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) at our family prairie near Stockham, Nebraska.

Pussytoes are an easy one to photograph because they are allelopathic and hinder the growth of neighboring plants.  That short vegetation helps pussytoes plants compete with others, but also makes it easier me to photograph them without stray leaves and other plant parts getting in the way.  For other species, I’ve been spending most of my time photographing the flowers growing in sites that were grazed hard last year.  The grazing makes photography easier, but the access to light and weakened grass competition also stimulates more of the plants to flower than in ungrazed sites.  I’ve been collecting data on flowering plant numbers over the last several days, and the data confirm my casual observations.  There are many more flowers in prairie patches recovering from grazing than in patches that haven’t been grazed much in the last year or two.

Prairie violets (Viola pedatifida) in the area of our family prairie we grazed most intensively last year.
Carolina anemone (Anemone caroliniana) at Gjerloff Prairie, owned by Prairie Plains Resource Institute.  They are having a great year in the part of the prairie that was burned and grazed in 2016.
Ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) at the Helzer prairie.
More pussytoes at the Helzer prairie, with a little bit of dried manure for flavor.

For pollinator insects, this early spring period can be very challenging because flowering plants are in pretty short supply.  There aren’t many species blooming, and those that are tend to be spread sparsely across large areas.  At least in the prairies around here, last year’s grazing is increasing numbers of available resources for pollinators, including both short-lived and long-lived plant species.  That appears to be particularly valuable this year, given the number of butterfly and moth species taking advantage of strong south winds to make an early migration to Nebraska.  I can’t remember a year when we’ve seen so many of those insects in April, including monarchs (which we’re now seeing frequently), sulphurs, red admirals and many little moths.

Now, here’s a question I hope someone out there can help answer:  Pussytoes flowers are dioecius, meaning that some plants have male flowers and others have female flowers.  My understanding is that pussytoes is pollinated both by wind and by insects.  If the male flowers produce pollen but the females don’t, what attracts insects to move from male flowers to females and complete the pollination cycle?  Do the female flowers produce nectar?  I see mainly flies, and a few bees, landing on pussytoes.  I don’t think those flies could be accessing nectar from deep inside the flower, and I don’t see any evidence of nectar near the top (or in any part) of the flower.  Also, most of those flies and bees seem to be landing on male flowers, and I rarely see them on female blossoms.  Can anyone help me understand why/how this pollination process works?

Photo of the Week – August 18, 2016

There is an unmistakable look to late summer prairies, and that look is YELLOW.  Sunflowers, goldenrods, and Silphiums (compass plant, cup plant, rosinweed) are all front and center this time of year.  The visual dominance of yellow flowers is obvious as I look back through some of my favorite prairie photos from this week.

Cup plant in restored tallgrass prairie at Deep Well Wildlife Management Area west of Aurora, Nebraska.
Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) in restored tallgrass prairie at Deep Well Wildlife Management Area west of Aurora, Nebraska.
A black blister beetle and another small beetle feed on the same Missouri goldenrod flower head.
A black blister beetle and another small beetle feed on the same Missouri goldenrod flower head.
Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus).
Stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus).
Compass plant.
Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum).
Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium).
Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium).
During yellow season, anything that's not yellow really stands out - especially when it's tall and BLUE. Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea).
During yellow season, anything that’s not yellow really stands out – especially when it’s tall and BLUE. Pitcher sage (Salvia azurea).

I wonder if anyone has gone through all the prairie flower species to see which color is most common (I’ll be someone has).  It has to be yellow, doesn’t it?  Purple, pink, and white are in the running, but I bet yellow wins pretty easily.

No complaints here.

Photo of the Week – May 19, 2016

Gjerloff Prairie, formerly known as Griffith Prairie, is a beautiful site on steep loess hills adjacent to the Platte River.  It’s owned and managed by Prairie Plains Resource Institute, and was burned earlier this spring.  I walked around the prairie for an hour or so this week to see how things were progressing since the fire.  From a distance it didn’t look like there was much to see – just a lot of short green grass.  Up close, however, there was a lot going on, and I didn’t have any trouble finding photography subjects..

The topography of Gjerloff Prairie is always interesting - if challenging to hike - but especially so after a fire.
The topography of Gjerloff Prairie is always interesting – if challenging to hike – but especially so after a fire.
Many plants, including this leadplant (Amorpha canescens), were growing strongly after the fire and a month of good rains.
Many plants, including abundant leadplant (Amorpha canescens), were growing strongly after the fire and a month of good rains.
It was nice to visit the only population of tuberous false dandelion (Pyrrhopappus grandiflorus) in Nebraska. The southern Plains wildflower was discovered at Gjerloff prairie in 2004.
It was nice to revisit the only population of tuberous false dandelion (Pyrrhopappus grandiflorus) in Nebraska. Normally found only in Kansas and southward, this wildflower was discovered at Gjerloff prairie in 2004.
Smooth sumac (Rhus aromatica) can be overly abundant in some prairies in our area, but hangs out mainly on a few waslopes at Gjerloff prairie. It resprouts easily after fires, and looked vibrant and healthy this week.
Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) can be overly abundant in some prairies in our area, but hangs out mainly on a few steep slopes at Gjerloff prairie. It resprouts easily after fires, and looked vibrant and healthy this week.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) was just starting to bloom on the warmer south-facing slopes of the prairie.
Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) was just starting to bloom on the warmer south-facing slopes of the prairie.
And, of course, I found a crab spider to photograph. Although they are particularly small this time of year, they are all over the place on flowers, and weren't difficult to find once I started looking.
And, of course, I found a crab spider to photograph (on pale poppy mallow – Callirhoe alcaeoides). Although they are particularly small this time of year, crab spiders are all over the place on flowers.

 

Photo of the Week – July 30, 2015

During our trip to the Grassland Restoration Network workshop in Minnesota last week, several of us got up early enough to catch sunrise at The Nature Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie on two beautiful mornings.  I shared a few photos from those outings last week, but thought I’d post a few more today.  I’ve got lots more…it wasn’t hard to find subject matter to photograph!

Leadplant and wildflowers.  TNC Bluestem Prairie, Minnesota.
Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) and other wildflowers abound on The Nature Conservancy’s Bluestem Prairie near Glyndon, Minnesota.
Woundwort (Stachys palustris).
Marsh hedge nettle, aka woundwort (Stachys palustris).
The cool dewy morning allowed me to get pretty close to this resting monarch butterfly...
The cool dewy morning allowed me to get pretty close to this roosting monarch butterfly…
Beetle on Flodman's thistle.  TNC Bluestem Prairie, Minnesota.
This beetle was feeding its way across the top of this Flodman’s thistle (Cirsium flodmanii) – at least I think that’s what I think the thistle species was… it’s always dangerous to guess when I’m far from home.
Common milkweed.  The Nature Conservancy's Bluestem Prairie - Minnesota.
Common milkweed flower buds can be just as attractive as the open flowers…
Bee on milkweed.  TNC Bluestem Prairie, Minnesota.
This bee spent the night on a milkweed leaf and wasn’t quite warm and dry enough to fly off when I spotted it.  If you look carefully, you can see pollinia stuck on two (maybe three?) of its feet.  If you’re not familiar with the fascinating (and unlikely) story of how milkweed is pollinated, you can learn more here.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia).  The Nature Conservancy's Bluestem Prairie - Minnesota.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia).  This is a species we don’t find very often in the Platte River Prairies (though it’s fairly common nearby) so I always enjoy seeing and photographing it when I can.  As with other “composite” flowers, coneflowers are actually collections (composites) of two kinds of flowers – the ray flowers that look like petals and the disk flowers in the center.  Occasionally, as in this case, a genetic signal gets crossed and ray flower pops up where a disk flower should be.

If you find yourself traveling to or through northwestern Minnesota (just east of Fargo, ND), I encourage you to make the time to visit Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area.  You can find directions and more information on the site here.  The Nature Conservancy owns about 6,000 acres of prairie there, and their ownership is bolstered by several other tracts of conservation land right next door.  The prairie hosts nesting prairie chickens and beautiful tracts of northern tallgrass prairie.  It’s worth the trip to see it.

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.

Best of Prairie Ecologist Photos – 2013

As promised, here are some my favorite photos from 2013.  It was really tough to narrow these down to 22 (it was going to be 21, but see below) out of the roughly 1,800 images that were “keepers” from my various photography jaunts this year.

Of course, many of you joined in the winnowing process by helping me decide between two similar bison photos last week.  Or at least that’s what was supposed to happen.  Since the vote was nearly evenly split (and a lot of people voted “both”) I decided to include both photos.  You’ll see them displayed back to back below.

I hope you enjoy the photos.  If you let the slideshow run on its own, it’ll take a little under two minutes to cycle through.  You can speed up the process, if you like, by clicking on the arrows within the frame.

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If I had to choose a single favorite from the year, it would probably be the one below.  It tells a great story without having to use any words at all.

Ant and crab spider on an annual sunflower.  The Nature Conservancy's Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.
Ant and crab spider on an annual sunflower. The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska.

I shot quite a few images of crab spider silhouettes that morning, trying to get one that was just right.  I got some pretty nice ones, but none that were as striking as I’d hoped – until I was photo bombed by this ant.  That’s often the way photography goes.  Equipment and technique are both important, but you really just have to be in the right place at the right time.

I’m looking forward to being in lots of right places in 2014.

Hubbard Fellowship Blog – Planning a Prairie Garden

A guest post by Anne Stine, one of our Hubbard Fellows:

It just recently turned cold out, which means I’ve started daydreaming about next year’s garden.  I am a native plant enthusiast, and I have decided that I’ll be planting a prairie garden filled with my favorite flowers that I’ve learned with The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska over the past six months.  I’ve poured through the internet searching for propagation information and bloom times.  I want to make sure I have a continuous bloom period, both because it makes for pleasant viewing and because I want to provide native bee habitat across the growing season.  I also need to know which seeds require stratification or scarification. Because I am me, I made a spreadsheet of all this information (at the bottom of this post).

Who wouldn't want flowers like this in a garden?  Blue lobelia and cardinal flower in The Nature Conservancy's Platte River Prairies.
Who wouldn’t want flowers like this in a garden? Blue lobelia and cardinal flower in The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies.

Ultimately, I want my garden to be a great pollinator resource filled with unique native plants. If it attracts birds and butterflies too, that’s a huge plus. Lastly, if it’s going to survive my schedule, it needs to be low-maintenance.  I am pleased to note that gardening with native plants can fulfil all these objectives.  My table of appealing native plants, though not comprehensive, will help me design my garden to satisfy these requirements.  I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on favorite native plants and propagation tricks.

Happy plann(t)ing!

Click on the tables below to see a larger/clearer version of them.  Or click HERE to see the same information in a PDF format.

plantlist2

plantlist3

*Information on propagation, soil moisture requirements, and bloom period gathered from the USDA Plants Database, http://www.wildflower.org/plants Native Plant Database, and the Missouri Botanical Garden Plantfinder Database.

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