Prairie Prepares to Bloom

By Greg Lecker

Like many recent days, clouds are spectacular this morning.  What appear to be heavily water-laden clouds partially obscure the morning rising sun.  Rim light adds silver borders to the sky patterns. We could use some rain – but no more storms!

Sky ShowSky Show

The woodland is very dark.  Here and there, fairy candles of black cohosh lighten the woodland.  Another item that brings a bit of light is the removal of some trees – likely hemlocks, as evidenced by fairly new stumps.

Tall plant stalks with large palmately divided (like a hand) leaves end in white flower clusters.   Glade mallow stands taller than me, with clean leaves that have not yet been tasted by skeletonizing insects.

Glade MallowGlade Mallow

Flies are bugging me.  I move to the open roadway and head towards the prairie.  Speaking of insects, I’m attracted to the color of a Japanese beetle on the flower spike of giant hyssop.  Next to it, seed heads of wild indigo mimic the shape of the beetle’s body.

Indigo Hyssop and Japanese BeetleWild Indigo, Giant Hyssop and Japanese Beetle

Our native plants did not evolve with this beetle that was introduced early last century.  Even so, the native plants seem to withstand its damage more than our garden flowers.

Now is the time to visit the prairie.  From July through September, sequential waves of flowers add color to the sea of grasses.  The yellow composite flowers – cup plant, for one – are just starting to bloom.  I will examine them further on a future visit.  Presently, I’m drawn to the colorful arcing spikes of lead plant.

Lead PlantLead Plant

Deeply rooted lead plant shows no sign of withering in the heat.  Flower are purple-violet with accents of orange.

A plant with flowers that are even showier is common milkweed.  Flowers appear a candy or bubble-gum pink,

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed

The fragrant, sticky globes of starry, rose-purple flowers are fragrant and attract the adult butterflies.  If the breeze is right or one is nearby, their fragrance is noticeable.  I see no Monarch butterflies this early in the day.  Look for their colorful fluttering mid-day into the afternoon.Monarch butterfly caterpillars consume the plant sap without ill effects, but then become toxic to birds and other animals.  Thus the plant passes to the butterfly its defense mechanism.The seed pods open to distribute many seeds to the wind.   Orioles and some other birds use the fibers from the plants dried stringy stems in making nests.   But there’s plenty of time to enjoy summer before seed pods are the focus of our natural explorations!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

 

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