You may remember a previous post, in early July, where I was able to visit one of the more remote prairies at Walpole Island, along with the owner and her family. It looked like this:
I had memories of this site from a few years earlier, when it was in its peak of colour with the Dense Blazing-star in its prime, along with several other showy species, so we planned to re-visit in early August to again see it in that showy condition. On the way in, we saw various prairie flowers in their prime, including Flowering Spurge.
|Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata)|
Grey-headed Coneflower was also doing well. It is provincially ranked as S3, meaning there are fewer than 80 locations for it in Ontario and is vulnerable to extirpation..
|Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)|
As we got to the site we were headed for, we were not disappointed.
Dense Blazing-star (Liatris spicata) is one of the prairie plant species which many consider to be iconic.....that is, when one sees it, it evokes a sense of place that is a high quality tallgrass prairie. Mind you it can grow in some rather disturbed sites as well, but in a setting such as the one above with a multitude of other quality prairie species, it truly is an indication of a special place. Dense Blazing-star is a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Under the Provincial Ranking system, it is S3.
Purple is the primary colour, but if you look closely at the image preceding this, you may have noticed a white plant. It is a rare white colour form; less than one per cent of all blazing-star stems are white. It serves to add to the diversity of colour at this time of year when so many prairie plants are purple against a green background.
On the day of our visit, it was a wonderful day to see some butterflies as well. Monarchs, Red-spotted Purples and Black Swallowtails were fairly abundant, but the one that caught my eye was Giant Swallowtail. There were several flitting about, enjoying the nectar of the rich purples available to them in this setting. Giant Swallowtails are ranked as S2 in the provincial ranking system, meaning that there are likely fewer than 20 populations and have a restricted range in Ontario and are very vulnerable to extirpation.
There are two species of ironweed on the Ontario prairies. For many years it was believed there was just one species, but in the early 1990s while a botanical colleague and I were photographing some prairie plants on Walpole, he realized there was something different about some, and after a closer examination of images and confirming using technical manuals, I concurred, thus adding with some certainty that there was in fact another species. The differences are somewhat subtle, and are based in part on the number of florets (small, individual flowers on the flower head). One species is Tall Ironweed and the other is Missouri Ironweed. The next photo is of the latter, and most recently confirmed, species. It is provincially ranked as S3.
|Missouri Ironweed (Vernonia missurica)|
Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is one of the main grasses to be found on a tallgrass prairie. Grasses have flowers too, although most people do not pay much attention to them. This particular plant was in good flower, with the bright yellow stamens visible here.
In this next photo, there are some tall grasses visible amongst the forbs, although more in the background. They are Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), a.k.a. Turkeyfoot, named because of the 3-4 flower and seed spikes at the top that may resemble the foot of a turkey. It is by far the most abundant grass of most tallgrass prairies.
Also in this image is a Tall Sunflower (Helianthus gigantea) visible in the upper right. In a few days, this scene will have taken on a decidedly yellow look, as the many goldenrod species open up. There are some goldenrods in this image that are in a tight bud stage, but have not yet opened.
I will be posting more on Ontario's tallgrass prairies in the future!