Saturday, June 09, 2012

An Early June Walkabout - Part 3

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.

The next photographic opportunity wasn't long to appear.  A buzzing sound moved around me, motion caught my eye, and just as I focused in on the culprit, the buzzing ceased and the insect responsible for all the furor landed on a grass stem nearby.  Sometimes I just think that certain animals want to have their photos taken.  This robber fly certainly fit that bill.  Robber flies are fierce predators that are very alert and fly rapidly.  If I went out specifically to photograph robber flies, I doubt I would catch any sitting still long enough and near enough for me to actually catch their image, but this one almost seemed to be posing for me.  I'm not sure what the exact species is, but this is a fairly large fly, about 1" in length.  I love its red eyes; another robber fly species that I've seen out back looks very similar but has green eyes - together, they form a grinch-like pair, Christmas colors, but a very un-Christmas like personality!

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.


greggo said...

Nice post. I enjoyed it a lot as I can relate to current happenings in the Kansas prairie.

Went on the Cowley county wildflower tour today and of course saw all plants you described and more.

Unfortunately I didn't see hardly any insects compared to last years tour.

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Is it a wolf spider of some kind? I have them in my garden including a HUGE one by the tomatoes which has dug a LARGE hole to live in. At first I wondered if it was a slithery animal but my wonderful husband got a flashlight, shined it in the hole and there were all the legs of a huge spider.
Interesting that 3 butterflies and a tiphiid wasp were all on one flower!
This just seems to be a great year for wildflowers. All those dormat seeds got rain at the right time. I've noticed a lot of flowers in the pastures this year and saw tons of milkweed today just no monarch caterpillars. I kept looking!

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Hello. You asked about the flower names I learned growing up...
What I think is Prairie Coneflower Ratibida columnifera (see post tomorrow), my mom always calls Indian Tea. Any possibility the Indians used it to make tea???

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, According to the Kansas Wildflowers & Grasses site , "Great Plains Indians brewed a tea from the leaves and flowers and used the leaves and stems medicinally to treat poison ivy, rattlesnake bites, headaches, and stomachaches. Prairie coneflower is sometimes used in flower gardens." Of course the Native Americans brewed tea from quite a few different plants, so many would have been worthy of the name, but it still fits! Thanks for sharing the name your Mom used; that makes me think that some of the European settlers learned of prairie coneflower's medicinal uses too.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Greg, I'm hoping you are planning to share photos and thoughts from the wildflower tour today. I'd love to find out what you saw while you were out!

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, I think you are right and it's a wolf spider of some sort, but I haven't made any effort to officially identify it yet. How cool that you guys were able to see the big spider by shining a light down its hole!

Melanie said...

It's exciting to see everyone's different wildflowers. .that is a new hobby for me. .I have been gardening for years, but, as I mentioned in my post the other day, have never been out to the pasture to REALLY see what is out there!! So many varieties. .Hard to imagine why anyone would NOT believe in an intelligent DESIGNER, but rather an explosion that created life as we see it!!!

Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

Love seeing plants in areas that are untouched. That Kansas Wildflower site is a good one. Have used it a bit, especially when I was visiting my sister in KS.