Going to seed

In the two weeks since I last visited the Lake Johanna Esker property, a few of the prairie plants have bloomed and gone into seed production mode, and a few new species have sprung up from the thin prairie soil on top of the esker.  (For more information about this unusual prairie site and a definition of “esker”, see my earlier post.)

I saw a lot of the Ground Plum in full flower on May 20, not knowing what it was.  Lilac-purple flowers on short stems sticking up from a bush of finely divided leaflets -- it looked like some sort of pea plant.

I saw a lot of the Ground Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) in full flower on May 20, not knowing what it was. Lilac-purple flowers on short stems sticking up from a bush of finely divided leaflets — it looked like some sort of pea plant.

Two weeks later, fruits have formed, although there are far fewer than the number of flowers produced.

Two weeks later, fruits have formed, although there are far fewer than the number of flowers produced.  Their stems are too fragile to support their weight, so they lie on the ground under the vegetation.  

Dakota and Lakota Native Americans ate the fruit which is full of many small black seeds.  They are green and raw tasting inside right now, though, definitely not fully ripe yet.  Ground Plum is easily confused with “loco-weed” which it resembles but the latter is toxic to livestock.  The vegetation and fruits of this plant were apparently eaten by passing herds of buffalo and native people referred to it as “food of buffalo” or “buffalo bean”.

The drooping bright red-pink flowers of Prairie Smoke were seen everywhere on the esker in late May.

The nodding bright reddish-pink flowers of Prairie Smoke (Geum trifolium) were seen everywhere on the esker in late May.

Two weeks later, the flowers have transformed into the wispy tails for which the plant was named.

Two weeks later, the flowers have transformed into the wispy, plume tails for which the plant was named.

The wispy tails are actually the elongated styles  (a tube that carries pollen to the ovary).

The wispy tails are actually the elongated styles (a tube that carries pollen to the ovary) of the flower.  Lined with minute hairs, each style eventually separates from the flower head carrying a seed aloft to be transported elsewhere on the prairie.

The esker has come alive with spring flowers in the warmish June weather.  We counted (and identified) more than 16 species blooming on this trip.

A small sample of spring flowers in bloom on the Lake Johanna esker.

A small sample of spring flowers in bloom on the Lake Johanna esker.

A succession of bloomers and those going to seed will take place over this summer, and I hope to visit often enough to track those changes.

4 thoughts on “Going to seed

    • The wispy prairie smoke is just beautiful right now. There is so much of it, and when it is backlit by morning sun, it truly does look like smoke.

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