Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Summer on the Tallgrass

"Viceroy"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

I've been trying to document the native plants on the pasture; spring has gone by so quickly and the spring forb (wildflower) blooming has zipped by too quickly! 

Two evening ago I was out after the wind finally got manageable for photographing and was shooting some video and trying to get still shots when I could.  There was a Monarch flying around quickly here and there but I didn't try chasing it...it was just to animated and would hold still for me.  When I was packing it up and heading back to the studio I walked past a Viceroy nectaring on, of all things, Brome grass!

Well I wished it'd been a Monarch but it was so cooperative I took several shots and did some video of it as well.  I hate admitting there is brome in the pasture but there isn't a prairie that hasn't struggled against that common/nasty cool season (Eurasian) grass the farmers embrace for grazing/haying.

You can almost always tell a Viceroy from a Monarch by its size - its about a third smaller than a Monarch.  Also the Viceroy's hind wing has a line that intersects horizontally through the vertical veins - not seen with Monarchs...the resemblance is remarkable though, and even I have to stop a look more closely when they show up here...they're fairly common here every summer.

I was taken a bit by surprise with a butterfly this size nectaring on a grass in flower...maybe its not uncommon, it is just something I haven't seen before.  I have seen small Skippers and those small Blues, along with Hover flies and such nectar on grass florets but this was new for me!


I'll insert a video of this Viceroy (The link is on You Tube at - https://youtu.be/v4K3v9Zrl_U if this blog doesn't show it for you)  

Have a great summer out there and hope to see you on the Tallgrass!!!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Late Spring on the Prairie!


video

Prairie Phlox (Plox pilosa)

June never seems to let up out here on the prairie.  We sure appreciate the rain but high winds, lightning and hail are the things that keep us on our toes.  We've already had several days in the mid 90's or higher and nights in the mid 70's...top that off with 85-90% humidity and it gets pretty oppressive out there!
 
We have had a good showing of forbs on the pasture and as one would expect - things are gaining momentum.  I haven't been out to area prairies this spring - its a busy spring and summer in store for us, so I'll just try and be satisfied with keeping track of what's happening here.  I've uploaded a video of Prairie Phlox on the pasture here from a couple days back...the last frame of the video is a fun one...but then my idea of fun doesn't always equate to other's opinions :)
 
"Passing Prairie Showers"
oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
 
I just finished a painting in the studio, I had the idea for it for a couple weeks.  This painting depicts the "normal" passing showers that are so common out here in that great openness of the Tallgrass Prairie.  I used our south pasture as the "model" and borrowed some patches of Golden Alexander in bloom, from the north pasture to place in the shadow cast in the foreground during the late afternoon.
 
Late Spring and Summer paintings can be difficult because of the overwhelming greens out there so I like to take some artistic license and warm up the image with the late afternoon sunshine and neutralize it a bit with foreground shadows.  It was a bit warm the day I laid this idea out but even hotter (mid-upper nineties) while I painted in the studio - thank goodness for air-conditioning!
 
Hope to see you on the Tallgrass - stay safe and keep cool out there!
 
 
 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some of My Favorite Things...

 "Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)" 
Color Pencil drawing -  © Bruce A. Morrison

I've been working on more drawings of prairie plants (grasses and forbs) and anyone that really knows me realizes I only do this out of a real love for the subject matter.  I guess I've been watching winter so long that I'm drawing for cathartic reasons!  But the subject matter this time around is one from our prairie pasture and that's the Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis), sometimes these plants have other common names, I think Rattle Pod is one...these names usually make sense too - the seed pods do rattle when shaken about.  

This plant first showed up on our north pasture hillside over 10 years ago and in a location I had not been doing fall or spring seeding...again last year I found several plants in our south pasture, and again in locations not seeded before, so it may very well have been here before these areas were grazed years back.  Also, like some other plants I can think of, we've had some years intermittently that we could find no Canada Milk Vetch anywhere...2012, 2013 and 2014 were such years, yet last year they were "widespread" and in locations we'd never seen them.  That's very interesting to me but I have no answer to why!

Canada Milk Vetch, to me, has a very visually interesting structure...its almost graphic in quality ...although I chose to draw this plant - it would have made a great serigraph as well!  Or even a wood block!  Its a fairly common and somewhat aggressive plant - not one for the garden, but a great plant for the pasture here...I know the deer and rabbits sure love it!  (A lot of pruning going on through the summer.)

I tried treating the drawing's background a bit differently than in the past (more scribbling and less solvent), but tried being true to this forb's anatomy.  I drew this milk vetch at it's peak - which in the summer heat, lasts a fairly short time unfortunately...its a good thing there's lots of different prairie flowers and grasses out there and that they all have their specific bloom time - you have all summer to enjoy!

Spring is on the doorstep - get out and enjoy it!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Going Domestic...Sort Of...

"Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) with European honey bee (Apis mellifera)"
Color Pencil drawing -  © Bruce A. Morrison
 
It's been some time since I've posted on A Tallgrass Journal, with my art studio journal being a more daily focus, I almost forget during the "off season"!  But this one relates a bit so I thought I'd cross over and add it here too!
 
I've read that there are around 4000 species of native bees in North America (http://bugguide.net/node/view/8267) - that seems like an awful lot!  I believe I have read that there are around 30-40 species of  Bumble Bees in Iowa...and many many more species of other less conspicuous native bees in addition to that.
 
But most of us think of the "honey bee" when bees are mentioned.  I remember my grand father bringing us gallon jars of honey when I was a kid...he had a bee keeper keeping their hives on his farm and they'd give him honey for "rent".  I was a honey crazed kid - loved the stuff!  I'm afraid I still do but have to moderate my love for it a bit now.  But the main reason I wanted to have someone keep their honey bees here on our acreage was to help pollinate our berry and fruit tree crops.  Even then, they still get plenty of competition from the native bees and other pollinators.
 
Our pastures are "native" pastures with plenty of native species of gasses and forbs (wildflowers).  Here is where the native bees seem to really shine...I see many types of Bumble Bees there as well as a small Metallic Green Bee that I particularly enjoy watching - just a gorgeous little bee!
 
But the European Honey Bees like the wildflowers in the pastures as well, especially when the garden plants have finished flowering or haven't cycled to new blooms yet.  One flower the Honey Bees especially like are the Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea); this forb is also a favorite of Bumble Bees.  When deciding to do a color drawing of the Purple Prairie Clover, I intended just drawing the flower/plant itself but when going through my files for a subject to draw from, I noticed a lot of photos with bees!  So...in tribute to my sweet tooth and love for honey - I included a Honey Bee.
 
Here's to ALL of our pollinators - may we have a long and ever lasting relationship, and may it always be a good one!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Plant of the Week - Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)


Sneezeweed (Helenium autmnale)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Sneezeweed - bless you!  Well, not really!  There's no pollen in the breeze and sneezing affected as such with this prairie forb...I always wondered why it got this name and the one place I found with a "story" behind the name was in the book "Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie" by Shirley Shirley, a University of Iowa Press publication...a book with some good info on germination and seed I might add.  Shirley Shirley mentions the use of this plant's leaves - dried and made into snuff "cause sneezing and supposedly ridding the body of evil spirits or clearing congestion.  Considered a good tonic by the pioneers."  So there ya go!

Sneezeweed (Helenium autmnale) with Monarch
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

This forb is listed as most commonly found on moist prairies and sites...on our property it exists on a hillside slope that isn't too terribly moist so it may be found in a variety of conditions.  It is one that needs full sun for the most part so ours fits that condition.

 Sneezeweed (Helenium autmnale) with native flies and bees
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Sneezeweed is a late summer/early fall forb here, usually showing up with the flush of goldenrods and the beginning of asters.  And it is a great pollinator plant - attracting bees, wasps, butterflies and flies of all kinds!  It is said to cause "issues" with livestock grazing so that is something to be aware of if it occurs in grazed pastures - this would also make it a dominant forb in such a situation as livestock would tend to avoid it.

Catch the August bloomers while they're still with us - Sneezeweed, the goldenrods and the asters will be with us well into September though!

 


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Prairie Plant of the Week - Siphium laciniatum (Compass Plant)

Siphium laciniatum (Compass Plant)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

This week's prairie plant features the Compass Plant; this plant is fairly iconic on the tallgrass prairie - a large plant, usually towering above me as I walk through the mid to late summer prairie.  The birds love their seeds and this plant provides a solid platform for many bird nests as well.

I first spread seed for this plant in our first year here at the acreage and five years later we had flowering stalks 5-8 feet high!  It was well worth the wait I'd say, but I'd recommend only seeding for 2-3 years (maybe less) and then wait for the plants to establish, otherwise you'll have stands too thick to navigate!

Siphium laciniatum (Compass Plant)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
 
The leaves on Compass Plants are very distinct and quite large and handsome.  The plant gets it's common name from the leaves tending to orient themselves in a general north-south direction...they are very large, a foot or more in length and half a foot or more wide...very thick and substantial to say the least!

The yellow flowers are 3-4 inches wide and are alternate up the plant's heavy/thick stem.  They attract a great variety of pollinators too!

The Compass Plant's leaves and roots was used by several first nation tribes for many different uses...in the book "Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie" by Roosa and Runkel, it is even mentioned that burning a dried root during a lightning storm acted as a charm to ward off lightning strikes...or hopefully so!
It was also said that when in bloom, a gummy material forms along the upper 3rd of the main stem.  This resinous material was used by Native Americans as a chewing gum.

Siphium laciniatum (Compass Plant)
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)
 
This is one plant that deer really seem to like in the early summer stage of growth but avoid later on when it gains height...I don't know how good of a forage it may have been to pioneers first settling the prairies but the Roosa/Runkel book says it was liked by cattle as well; likely being a reason it was pretty much eliminated wherever cattle were grazed year after year...I personally have found that cattle are very hard on native forbs, many will not sustain heavy grazing pressure like that year after year.

Next time you're out on the prairie, walk up next to a Compass plant and see how it measures up!  They're pretty cool in my book!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Prairie Plant of the Week - "Evening Primrose"!

"Evening Primrose - Oenothera biennis 
Photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

This week's prairie plant is another forb (herbacious flowering plant) that most of us see in proliferation each season; though locally it does seem to have its boom and bust years.  The Evening Primrose, or Common Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) is a biennial (note the "biennis" in the latin name), so it takes 2 years to flower.

This plant tends to be grazed on by everything hungry though, and can tend to have some rather ratty looking stands in some years.  We have a large stand of volunteers along side the corn crib that have been skeletonized by this year's crop of grasshoppers!  There are also insects that tend to be found or associated with different plants.  The vertical image below has a couple insects on the top of the plant that can be seen with the Evening Primrose every season.  I'll plead ignorant of the insect's identity and it's association with this plant - something to look into for future reference!
 
"Evening Primrose - Oenothera biennis 
Photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

We have this plant on our prairie pasture frequently; most commonly along the gravel hillside and the gravel road going past our place.  It volunteers quite easily and needs no seeding or help from us.  It is really quite striking in large stands...I once found a stand along a railroad bed that was at least a hundred feet long and 12 feet wide - it was amazing!

Some Native American tribes collected it's seed for food and most first nation people used the "first season" roots - gathereed and dried for food.  They were also adopted for food by the Europeans when they arrived.

They are great food plants for the birds and our pollinators  - very important for all of us!

Thanks for stopping by - next time you're out along a gravel road or prairie remnant - look for this beautiful native prairie plant!