Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Rough Blazingstar

Plant Profile: Rough Blazingstar
Rough blazingstar (Liatris aspera)* are distinguished from prairie blazingstar, by me, at least, because the composite flowers are arranged in very distinct clusters that look like individual pompoms sticking off of the stem.  (This is as opposed to continuous purple all down the stem.)  They are also late-bloomers; these ones are just starting.  They bloom from the top to the bottom; you can see below that the flowers on the top of the stem are in full bloom, but the ones further down haven't opened yet.  We have many more days of blazing, starry loveliness to look forward to!
*(and thankfully, these have kept the genus Liatris!)

Munch Munch Munch

During yesterday's explorations we found a couple of these -- (future) monarchs munching milkweed!  Always an exciting find.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Stiff Goldenrod

Plant Profile: Stiff Goldenrod
Stiff goldenrod is in peak bloom in the prairies, along with many of its weedy and less desirable goldenrod cousins.  The flowers differ in arrangement from other goldenrods, with flat-topped clusters of flowers.  They flowers themselves are also quite large for goldenrods -- though they are still very tiny little daisy-like composites.  The leaves are stiffer, smaller, stouter and thicker than most other goldenrod species as well.  They are attractive to a variety of insects; I see assassin beetles on them pretty frequently.  Stiff goldenrod thrives in hard clay and generally not great soil conditions. I've actually heard tell that in really good garden soil with regular watering, the plants will bend over and suffer.  My kind of garden plant!

An interesting (to me) note on this and several other goldenrod species... I learned them as Solidago, (Solidago rigida in this case) but apparently, they have been reclassified as Oligoneuron.  No idea why.  Learning latin names is hard enough without them going and changing on me!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Grass Flowers

The flowering of prairie grasses is one of my favorite phenological occurrences.  They are full of contradictions... subtle by nature of their size -- in my experiencemost people don't notice them, or even realizes that grasses have flowers... and yet they dangle almost provocatively (flowers are, after all, sexual organs... and grasses put it all out there!)  They are delicate and fragile-looking, and yet they are mighty in numbers.  Mostly they are, if you look closely at them, just incredibly beautiful, with varied colors and textures... 

Here, Indian grass flowers:
Big bluestem flowers, not close-up, but you can see that they're hanging there, right?

And switchgrass flowers, which were so small I had to put my hand there to get the camera to focus at all.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Migration Madness?

Today, the skies were filled with black saddlebags dragonflies.  At first I noticed a few, and by the afternoon we were literally seeing hundreds of them at a time - they don't perch much so no photo... I know they migrate, but I don't know the timing of that.  It seems early, but... it was crazy how many there were.  Really neat.  Kids were just pointing in every direction.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Berry Bliss

There's a rainbow of berries out there:
Red-orange native honeysuckle.

Blue-green cedar.

White red osier dogwood.

Deep purple elderberry.
And crimson Cornelian cherry dogwood.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Emergence

I know... I have been terribly remiss this summer at posting.  No excuse other than inertia, or lack thereof.  (And a foot injury limiting my walking, but really?  I don't need to leave my yard to photograph most of this stuff.)  We missed the prairie clover and blazing star, ironweed and a whole host of yellow composites that are coloring the prairie.  We missed the grasses starting to earn their late summer dominance.  We'll get to some of that, I assume... But I noticed this trailside sight last night, and couldn't resist taking a few photos, so I figured I'd share!

It's been about a week -- maybe a few more days than that -- since the loud, insistent hum of cicadas has become the background noise for the late summer afternoons and evenings.  These, I think, are a phenological harbinger to me.  When does summer become late summer?  It's the cicadas that make it feel like summer is waning.  Well, the cicadas and the yellow, I suppose.  The prairie has so much yellow, and the light just gets a yellower quality to it that I can't quite quantify, but I feel it.  It's funny, because technically, astronomically, we're not even half way through the interval between summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.  And yet.  

Despite the heat, despite the fact that school doesn't start for a little while yet, this part of summer has such a different flavor than the earliest and middle parts.  Ah well, enough of that!  Instead, time for some interesting cicada information.  Anyone familiar with cicadas knows that while they're quite large insects, they also seem pretty clumsy and slow.  So how does such a plump tasty treat avoid being bird prey?  It turns out their mating call is also a defense!  Only make cicadas make noise; they do it to attract a mate.  Their instruments are tiny but powerful -- over 120 decibels.  This is loud enough to be painful to humans... and to birds.  The noise of a group of calling cicadas is both unpleasant to birds and also disrupts their own communications.  This makes it hard for them to pick off the delicious (I'm assuming, to a bird) insects!  

Now we've all learned something, we can get on with our day!