The Prairie Plants

“No living man will see again the long-grass prairie, where a sea of prairie flowers lapped at the stirrups of the pioneer.  We shall do well to find a forty here and there on which the prairie plants can be kept alive as species.  There were a hundred such plants, many of exceptional beauty.  Most of them are quite unknown to those who have inherited their domain.”

-Aldo Leopold-

Please here my plea in considering using plant species that were/are native to your geographic area the next time you consider a landscaping project.  I have gotten a lot of pleasure from the couple of native wildflower patches I put into my yard.  If you are a nature photographer or an appreciator of Nature and all her diversity, this is an excellent way to continue these passions while contributing to the conservation ethic.  You may even suggest this to the companies you work for and organizations in which you are involved.


“Autumn Explosion″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/16, 0.4 sec

The Ozark Tree

While growing up in the inner St. Louis suburbs, I have relatively few memories of nature before entering my twenties.  One memory that particularly stands out is on a trip south seeing an Osage orange fruit for the first time.  Just what the heck was this strange fruit, so reminiscent of the cerebral cortex of the human brain?  Like so many ignorant of nature, I wondered what its purpose was and why it had to be so creepy.

Thirty years later I realized I still did not know much about this tree.  Sarah found this fruit on our trip through the Ozarks and I brought it back to make it the subject of this study.  The common name, “Osage orange” is rather self explanatory.  The name Osage comes from the Osage tribe that was historically found over much of Missouri and the fruit does resemble an orange, so commonly eaten.  I have since learned that the best adaptive story to explain such a large amount of flesh covering the hidden nut is that the primary disperser of these seeds were the Mastadons.  Following the disappearance of these large herbivores, humans became the primary dispersers of this species, planting these trees as windbreaks and fences.  The wood of these trees is some of the heaviest, densest and hardest in the Ozarks.  This fact plus the thorns on young branches made this the perfect species for such purposes.

The nature of this species wood also made them perfect for use in making bows by native Americans.  This fact prompted the French to name them “Bois d’Arc” or bowwood.  This name is the most favored in being responsible for the name “Ozarks” given to the hills and habitats of Missouri, Arkansas and surrounding states.  It is theorized that Bois d’Arc was bastardized to “Bodark”, and later to Ozarks by English settlers.  To my understanding, this cannot be proven, but is the best conjecture given by historians.  That is why I titled this post “The Ozark Tree”.

So, I brought this fruit home and took it out in the backyard and placed it among colorful white-oak leaves, a milkweed pod, Monarda seed heads, and a prairie dock leaf.  It is still siting in my backyard.  I want to see, if left alone to rot over winter, whether or not the seeds will germinate.

“Bois d’Arc″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/14, 1/6 sec

When the Maples Blaze

“I do not see what the Puritans did at this season, when the Maples blaze out in scarlet. They certainly could not have worshiped in groves then. Perhaps that is what they built meeting-houses and fenced them round with horse-sheds for.”

-Henry David Thoreau-

“When the Maples Blaze″
Technical details: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, ISO 160,  f/16, 1.3 sec

The Dutchman’s Lesser Known Brother

“Squirrel Corn”

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 160,  f/11, 1/8 sec

Leaving my Missouri Ozarks this weekend, I found myself visiting some of the places I’ve been wanting to visit in the equally desirable Shawnee National Forest region of Southern Illinois.  Towards the end of the day I wound up at Giant City State Park, known mostly for its rock outcropping features, but just as bountiful in spring-ephemeral wildflowers.

The plant featured above is called squirrel corn and is in the same genus as its more famous sibling, the Dutchman’s breeches.  Unlike Dutchman’s breeches, squirrel corn is pretty rare in the Missouri Ozarks, having been found in only a handful of counties.  Along a trail in this state park, the two were found in almost equal abundance.  It was very nice seeing the two flowering in synch within inches of one another. The density of wildflowers here was bewildering.  Colors littered the ground everywhere I looked and the possibilities for composition seemed endless.

With failing light and late afternoon winds, it was challenging for macro photography.  I had not yet photographed this species, nor had I even seen another species that was just beginning to bloom here – the white trillium.  So, I pulled out the macro gear and went to work with sounds of recently arrived songbirds advertising their newly acquired real estates and small streams funneling their light charge of the previous day’s rain down the sandstone steps.  This, unfortunately was broken too often from the idiots pounding large plastic containers against rocks for some reason.  State Parks.  I love them and hate them.

Flowers and Blood


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 160,  f/16, 1/13 sec

I’ve been having a lot of fun with the spring ephemeral wildflowers this year.  It is hard to believe the numbers and diversity that are in peak bloom already this year.  I can’t imagine what the woods are going to look like by the end of April.  You might as well stock up on pyrethrin because by mid-summer the ticks are going to be owning us all.

This image was taken in the Labarque Creek watershed during a early spring hike.  Bloodroot are fascinating plants, getting their name from the reddish sap that is especially prominent in their tuber-like rhizome.  Several Native American tribes have been known to use this sap as a natural dye for artwork projects.

These plants will spread and grow easily clonally and vast colonies can be found that may have started from a single individual.  Another method of reproduction these plants use is myrmecochory, which means that their seeds are dispersed by ants.  The ants feed on a fruit-like structure that is attached to the seed.  The ants move the seeds to the relative safety of their colony and after the ants feed on the fruit they deposit the seed into their underground middens, or trash heaps.  Here the seeds can safely germinate and have access to some useful fertilizer in the process.

Bloodroot sends up a flowering stalk usually before the leaves begin to emerge and blooms usually open before the leaves have fully expanded.  The flowers last less than a full day, so it is recommended you get out on the trail before noon if you really want to seem them in their full glory.

It’s Spring Again. Everybody Know it’s Spring Again.


Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. ISO 250,  f/11, 1/13 sec

“To the girls and boys and people above, This is the time to fall in love”

Sorry, I always turn on the Biz Markie this time of year.  It wouldn’t be spring without him.

This image and post is dedicated to my stepfather, Wally, who bought me my first camera about 20 years ago.  Wally has a birthday this month.  Happy Birthday!  It was a Pentax K-1000, a manual-only film camera in which I learned the basics of exposure.  In my opinion, this body is one of the best values of this class and generation of camera available and still underrated.  It’s too bad they don’t make a digital version of this camera today.  Having a manual-only digital body would something else.  I use manual mode about 95% of the time anyway, so I guess it wouldn’t be a big difference.

I took this photo on a recent hike in the Missouri Ozarks.  This bush must have had two dozen of these emerging leaf buds, each with a drop or two from gutation.  This phenomenon is seen when plants are growing in high humidity or in very saturated soils, like many parts of our region have been experiencing lately.  Between the low light and the high macro magnification getting a sharp image of the foreground subject was tricky.  I pulled out the reflectors to bring a little more light to the situation, but this only helped a little.

Spring has Sprung. Winter MIA and Presumed Dead

I spent the majority of the day at Shaw Nature Reserve in Grey Summit, Missouri.  Mother Nature is busy transitioning to the next phase.  As the photo shows, I found harbinger of spring as well as spring beauty and a couple of very early blood roots in bloom.  It’s nice to get out looking for wildflowers this time of year because there are so few I can identify them all!  Over the next three months or so, Shaw NR will have an ever changing cycle of blooming spring-ephemerals, then the summer plants start!  The bird life I witnessed today also suggests that nature is moving on even though old man winter was playing dead beat dad this time around.  I had my first Pheobe and Field Sparrow of the year. I love listening to the Field Sparrows sing their bouncing ping-pong ball type of advertisement song across the open savannahs and woodlands.  It was also entertaining watching and listening to the Eastern Bluebirds who were busy building their nests in the boxes provided them across the reserve.  Yellow-rumped Warblers were seen in increasing number and the Woodpeckers could be seen and heard in every part of the preserve all day long.  The weather was fantastic today, although the sky was that boring, uninterrupted Robbin’s egg blue without a single cloud.  The morning was chilly though still, with no wind, which is so important for macro photography.  The best part of the day was finding the location of this year’s Red-shouldered Hawk nest.  This pair of Hawks or their descendants have nested in the same section of SNR for at least the past five years.  I’m glad I found the location this early.  It seems to be in a good location for making some good images.  It looked like there were already eggs in the nest and I can’t wait to get back and watch and take some photos.

Technical details: Canon EOS 7D camera, EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, ISO 160,  f/11, 1/6 sec