Are you ready? I'm refreshed and set to hit the trail again. Hopefully I can finish documenting this one walkabout before an entire week has passed by. (Now I understand how I've managed to get so many cool photos stored with so few blog posts written about them.) Hmmm. A one hour walkabout that takes a week to write about. This definitely isn't a productive ratio!
But onward. As I was bent over, photographing one of many wildflower blossoms I've shared with you so far, I noticed a little movement nearby in the mowed grasses of the trail. Looking down, I caught a glimpse of this handsome guy and managed to snap a picture before it scurried off. I know very little about spiders, but I like what I know. One of these days I'll get the books out and see if I can learn to identify them better.
Looking up from the anonymous prairie hunting spider, my eye was caught by this small yellow flower swaying gracefully on a thin stalk about 18" above the ground. This is a new-to-my-Back-5 species, an annual, called grooved flax (Linum sulcatum). I found a very small area of them, maybe 6 total plants in all, scattered in a 6' diameter rough circle. I have to assume these annuals I'm seeing suddenly show up after several years are from seeds long dormant in the soil, as I've not scattered any prairie hay or introduced any mixed seed or even walked much of anywhere that I might have tracked such seed in on my shoes.
The somewhat disturbing news about this newcomer to my Back 5 is that the Kansas Wildflowers site says, "All parts of flax can be toxic, but the leaves and seeds are especially so. Sheep are particularly susceptible." Note that this warning applies to flax in general, it says "can be toxic" and...I have a hard time seeing how such a wispy plant could be eaten in sufficient quantities to really cause a problem, at least as it is currently appearing in my pasture. I'll definitely have to keep an eye on it, though.
At the very back of our property, we have nice, expanding patches of white prairie clover (Dalea candida). I like this plant more and more each year. It's not showy. You'd never notice it from the highway, traveling 70 mph, because it isn't colorful enough or the blooms big enough to stand out. But it's a nitrogen fixer and the insects love its quiet blossoms. White prairie clover is another prairie plant I'll probably do a separate post on, but this photo will perhaps tell you of its importance to the native insect life....
That's 3 butterflies and a tiphiid wasp all nectaring on a single white prairie clover flower!
We don't generally think of Kansas as having cactus, but buried in the prairie there are a few native cactus species that thrive. Scattered across our 10 acres, we've got several patches of plains prickly pear (Opuntia macrorhiza). For obvious reasons, I tend to stay clear of it, but the blooms are actually gorgeous. The fruit is well known as a base for jelly (although I've never tried it) and, not surprisingly, wildlife eats the fruit and spreads the seed. Most of the photos of the blossoms show them as pure yellow, but ours all have this deep orange center to them.
After our first burn in 2008, we started having a legume come up that I soon identified as wild alfalfa (Psoralidium tenuiflorum). It's a very pretty plant, but another that doesn't photograph well, being loose and small enough in structure that the eye picks up the details in person, but the camera doesn't capture them well in images. Although a perennial, as the plant completes its annual cycle in late summer, the above ground portion dries out and the stem breaks off at the ground level, freeing the plant to blow in the prairie winds as a tumbleweed, scattering its seed widely. The pretty little butterfly nectaring on it in this photo below is the eastern tailed blue (Cupido comyntas), which is everywhere on flowers around here right now.
Early on after buying this property, I discovered a few plants in the Back 5 that convinced me it had never been plowed, even though it had obviously been grazed to within an inch of its life. One of these plants was a single, reasonably good sized leadplant (Amorpha canescens). I've since discovered 2 or 3 more little leadplants, although I don't know if they are newly established from seed or old ones just finally gaining enough size back to be visible again after the years of grazing pressure. Another of the nitrogen-fixing legumes found on the prairie, leadplant has very pretty foliage. Its flowers are an electric blue, but rather small, so they are not as showy as I would wish. The blue (butterfly) busily nectaring on the left spike of bloom is amazing to me. When I looked at it closely, I'm not sure that I understand how it can still be flying. Life obviously hasn't been easy for this individual.
Another native annual that has begun blooming recently is plains coreopsis, Coreopsis tinctoria. I see this bright, sunshiny wildflower in roadside ditches and, occasionally, in crop fields as well. This is one of the natives that can become a crop "weed," using the definition of weed as a "plant out of place." Most native prairie plants are perennials and, as such, don't become big enough or well enough established in one growing season to become a big nuisance in crop fields. For me it's not a weed, I simply enjoy its bright presence whenever I see it - and I wish it was more widely available in selected horticultural varieties as a garden plant.
Crossing back into the Cedar Grove, I saw a common wood nymph (Cercyonis pegala) buried in the grass near the path. Wood nymphs' larval food is grass, so it's possible that this individual is newly emerged. It certainly looks bright and fresh and newly minted.
There were other flowers blooming: green antelopehorn still had some blossoms, purple poppymallow shone forth in places, two more species of small milkweeds had greenish-white blooms, and yellow sweet clover was pulled in the few instances I saw it, but these were the brightest newbies to the summer's palate that I noticed last Monday. Hope you've enjoyed sharing the walkabout with the boys and me. We've certainly had fun showing off what's living in this little slice of Earth we're stewarding for the time being.