Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Brown-eyed Susans are one of the most common flowers right now -- mighty in both numbers of plants and numbers of blooms per plant.  There are actually several species which we sort of interchangeably call black- or brown-eyed Susans.  This one is the Rudbeckia triloba, but R. hirta is actually the most common, and my yard is dominated right now by R. submentosa, commonly called sweet black-eyed Susan.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Plant Profile: Buttonbush
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), commonly named, I assume, for the fastener-like apperance of the spherical flowers/seedheads, is simultaneously blooming and going to seed.  The flowers started blooming in June, but are still going!  They are white, tiny and four-petaled with rather showy sexual parts that stick out like pincushions and are attractive to a variety of insects and hummingbirds.  There are almost always bumble bees hovering around them.  The nutlets that will eventually form are also a food source for a variety of animals, especially birds and waterfoul.  Birds also love to nest in the dense shrub, which is well-camouflaged by the leaves.  The seed clusters change from green to red to brown as they ripen, are around through the winter, making this a plant that has aesthetic appeal throughout the year.  
Buttonbush grows throughout the eastern part of the country, though we're nearing the northern part of its range.  It prefers wetter areas -- by ponds and wetlands -- and won't flower if the soil is too dry or the conditions too shady.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Just... WOW!

OK, argiope spiders are pretty awesome whenever you see them... the photo may not convey that the body of this bright yellow spider is about an inch, probably larger -- that's not counting the legs.  And the colors and patterns are just lovely.  The markings reflect UV light and help attract prey to the orb webs.  I've seen them with some interesting things in their web, even thrown the occasional grasshopper in to see what happens.  But this one had something I've never seen:
A big old blue darner dragonfly caught in its web.  (Yeah, I was a little saddened by that, but... it's the circle of life, people.  Let's all sing along...)  Anyhow, here they are together:
Nearby, we saw a pair.  This photo illustrates another interesting argiope phenomena.  The smaller spider in the foreground is the male.  The big one is the female.  As Chris aptly put it, the males will only hang around the females if they're really... we'll say "interested in mating," since this is a family-friendly blog.  Because she must be scary, if you're that size.  The male makes a parallel web by the female's; he vibrates her web to alert her of his presence.  After mating, she makes a brown, papery egg sac containing between 300 and 1400 eggs, and places it usually off to the side of the web.  The female will actually watch her eggs as long as she can, but she will die at the first hard frost.  The spiderlings (or whatever) hatch in the fall.   However, they don't come out of the protective egg sac until spring.  
Pretty cool, no? 

Firsts and Lasts in Purple

The very first of the New England Asters are starting to bloom (though most aren't yet)... I see these, I think fall!
The very last of the purple coneflowers are still hanging on, though most are to seed like the one on the left!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Pretty in Pink

The pond is dressed in pink today... 
Last year, this slender false foxglove was a new plant for me -- it's great to see its delicate blooms again!  And swamp milkweed, a late-blooming Asclepias, is flowering!

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


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!