Color Time

by Carl Strang

Today’s post is just a celebration of some of the colors that fill the landscape this time of year. Plants that blend unobtrusively into the general background of summer green suddenly announce themselves.

At a glance one can see how the shagbark hickories, large and small, are arrayed in the Mayslake woodland.

At a glance one can see how the shagbark hickories, large and small, are arrayed in the Mayslake woodland.

The varied reds draw the eye as well. Here are three.

Virginia creeper winds up its supporting trees with brilliant starbursts.

Virginia creeper winds up its supporting trees with brilliant starbursts.

The Ohio buckeye’s leaves range from red to orange.

The Ohio buckeye’s leaves range from red to orange.

Out in the prairies, tall coreopsis offers a red that leans toward maroon.

Out in the prairies, tall coreopsis offers a red that leans toward maroon.

It’s a time that reminds us to live in the moment. We all know what’s coming.

Assorted Photos 1

by Carl Strang

Photo opportunities arise frequently during my preserve monitoring walks at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Sometimes these lead to blog posts, sometimes they simply are for identifying organisms when I’ve forgotten the distinguishing features, and sometimes they improve or add to my collection of species portraits. This week I’ll share a few of the last.

Hummingbird at cardinal flower.

That first one won’t win any photography prizes, but it does serve to document the use of one plant species for food by the bird, and the use of the bird by the plant for pollination. Another bird photo op came when I encountered a couple cooperative house wrens.

This bird adopted a humorous pose while grooming itself.

I also added to my photos of singing insects. The only picture I had of a Carolina grasshopper was one I took in Canada, and wanted a local example.

An area recently cleared of brush at the edge of the north stream corridor prairie has hosted a concentration of Carolina grasshoppers this year.

Live Tibicen cicadas usually are too high up in trees to photograph. When I found a dog day cicada singing from a tall coreopsis stem in the middle of the prairie I got a rare opportunity.

The wind was swaying the plant, so the insect isn’t perfectly sharp, but close enough for practical purposes.

More photos tomorrow.

Two Tall Prairie Composites

by Carl Strang

Though the tall grass prairie is so named for its grasses, these are not the only, nor the tallest, plants growing there. Today I will feature two members of the sunflower family whose flower stalks tower high above the grass tops.

The first of these is tall coreopsis. In a single season it sends up flowering stalks that reach 6-8 feet in height, bearing a number of small flower heads as shown above. It has a more delicate appearance than the yellow coneflower featured earlier in the winter, but the dead stalks are strong enough to resist winter’s driving snows.

A more robust flower stalk is that of the compass plant.

Its flowers are larger, fewer, and on a relatively unbranched stem.

Prairie plant perennial roots wait until later in the spring to begin growing their annual shoots. This renders them less vulnerable to spring prairie fires. It also makes all the more remarkable the ability of some, including those featured today, to grow so tall in a single season.

Late Summer Prairie Wildflowers

by Carl Strang

The long season of the prairies’ floral displays continues at Mayslake Forest Preserve. In my first year there I am inventorying species and recording first flowering dates for future comparisons. We’ll begin with some goldenrods. The Missouri goldenrod blooms in late July, like the similar early goldenrod of Mayslake’s savanna.

Missouri goldenrod b

August adds the dissimilar grass-leaved goldenrod,

Grass-leaved goldenrod b

and stiff goldenrod,

Stiff goldenrod 1b

both of which grow abundantly at Mayslake.

Three species tower above most of the other prairie plants. One of them, the tall coreopsis, has relatively small, abundant flower heads.

Tall coreopsis 1b

Earlier  we met the compass plant. A close relative is prairie dock.

Prairie dock 3b

A third species in genus Silphium, though not as tall as the others, is rosin weed.

Rosin weed b

Though many of the prairie flowers appearing in this part of the season have yellow blooms, we also see the purple of Missouri ironweed.

Missouri ironweed b

New England aster is just getting under way, and will extend its flowering period into autumn.

New England aster b

The false sunflower does not appear to be as abundant at Mayslake as in some other preserves.

False sunflower 2b

Finally, here are the odd looking flowers of common gaura, a member of the evening primrose family.

Common gaura 2b

All too soon we’ll be entering the autumn chapter of this story.

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