Friday, June 10, 2011

June Native Wildflowers II

Oh dear, a potential obstacle has developed that might affect my plans to leave areas of the yard unmown so that I can "cultivate" the native prairie forbs this year.  I was walking the back garden last night with Mrs. ProfessorRoush and the Primary Rabbit- and Snake-chaser, when Mrs. ProfessorRoush suddenly realized that I have been merely cutting paths through the back yard and was planning to allow most of the native prairie grass to grow for the summer.  She was, to put it mildly, neither impressed by my ecological correctness nor amused when I tried to change the subject by getting her to notice a new rose.  Mrs. ProfessorRoush seems to care less about the potential for beautiful prairie wildflowers than she does about increasing her potential for encountering snakes, mice, chiggers, ticks, and other natural creatures.  So, enjoy the pictures below, because I don't know how long I'm going to be able to let these plants bloom!

A yellow wildflower that is just now coming into bloom are my stalwart Black-eyed Susan's (Rudbeckia hirta) that self-seed through my back patio bed and over the prairie.  In fact, the pictured flower just opened and is the first of many to come this year.  I have a few of these every year, and they bloom dependably through July, but seem sometimes to get a little mildew and the stems and leaves are eaten occasionally by an unidentified insect pest. These cheery little guys seem to be more prevalent than normal this year.  I can understand the cause in the patio bed since I haven't yet mulched that bed this year, trying to encourage growth of the self-seeders, but I can't explain why they're increased on the prairie. 

The delicate, but drought-resistant, Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) is always a welcome sight, as is the related white form of the Showy Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa).  These almost translucent flowers open at sunset and close by mid-morning, so the best time for viewing them is while dew still coats the grass.  They face upwards when they first open, allowing themselves to be pollinated by a night-flying moth, and then turn their faces downwards after pollination, hanging their heads in apparent embarrassment after the sex act has occurred.  I guess the flowers at the right were still virgins.

The not-so-delicate Buffalo Bur (Solanum rostratum) will grab you with it's prickly leaves and spiny calyces (burrs) if you aren't watching out carefully.  This nightshade family member, also known as "Kansas Thistle," thrives on disturbed ground and is extremely drought-resistant and an aggressive self-seeder.  At maturity, the main stem breaks off and the dry bush is blown around the prairie like a tumbleweed, scattering seed as it goes.

The strangely named Goat's Beard (Tragopogon dubius) is eaten by grazers and the mature seed-head resembles a giant dandelion showing a large white ball of plumed seeds.   The edible roots of Goat's Beard are reported to taste like parsnip or oysters (do those taste alike?) and the plant contains a milky latex sap that was chewed as gum by our prairie ancestors. 

Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria) is another oddly named prairie forb that comes in both white and yellow flowers.  We consider it a Kansas native, although the species is actually native to Eurasia.  The individual blooms are a natural artwork of color and form when examined closely.
I think I've identified most of these forbs correctly so far in the last two posts, but I lose some confidence on the myriad of small yellow composite-form flowers that inhabit the prairie.  One of those blooming right now is (I think) properly named Prairie Groundself (Packera plattensis).  If I've got the name of this one wrong, I'm sorry.   This one can be poisonous to cattle, but is rarely consumed in enough quantity to cause a clinical problem.
And somewhere out there amongst the prairie grass, the Killdeer eggs are still incubating in the Kansas sun:


  1. Snakes, mice, chiggers, ticks, and other natural creatures? (By the way, that last one has got to be a euphemism for something dreadful and ugly!) I'm with the Mrs. on this one.

  2. Thanks for the photo of the moth mulleins. I have been trying to identify the yellow version and with your photo I am able to say that is what we have growing in our pastures. Great blog.


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