I promised a few photos of flowers from the Whetstone Prairie in Columbus, OH, and here they are, at least some for now.
Every time I walk through it, I notice yet another wildflower to add to the list. This time I found a Thistle bush, some kind of Speedwell, Aster, Blue Indian Grass and Joe Pie Weed. Some of these are not very prolific yet, but I’m sure they will spread their seed over time. I also know that volunteers are continuing to plant seedlings of unusual varieties to maintain a colorful balance. (click on the thumbnail for a larger photo on another page)
The Sullivant’s Milkweed was covered with bees. The plant is about 3 feet tall with large oval leaves. The individual flowers, about a quarter inch across and held in clusters of dozens, look like Jetsons spaceships.
As I took photos of them, another insect swooped in and floated by each flower like a humming bird while it sucked the nectar from them. Apparently it’s named as it should be, a Hummingbird Moth. I had seen these in my garden but never this close. What a cool insect!!
Now the Sullivant’s Milkweed has gone to seed. The fertilized flowers extend and twist down, then up. Large pods form at the ends of these snake like heads. These will bloat and stretch to 6 inches long by 2 inches wide, before bursting open to release thousands of flying seeds.
Back in June, the Cup Plants had already reached 3 or 4 feet tall. For the most part they had not started flowering. Now they are 6-8 feet tall and in full flower. However the flowers are the the most interesting part of these prairie giants. Their usefulness as a water holder for birds and insects makes these plants one of the most important of the prairie. During dry spells, their cupped leaves hold water for weeks until the next rain. And each morning, any dew collected by the leaves drips into this cup.
This Summer has been one of the driest in recent memory. The ground is cracked and parched. Yet the flowers in the prairie are glorious. One barely notices any stress for these plants. They have evolved to grow very deep roots, often 8-10 feet deep, to withstand harsh, dry and hot Summers.
One of my favorite parts of the prairie is a large stand of Bee Balm, or wild Monarda, mixed with Coneflowers (Echinacia). The flower has a subtle, pale lavender color and emits a wonderful cinnamon, cedar smell.
The smells in the air change each time I walk through the field, depending on the time of day, direction of breeze and flower season. Near sunset, the air changes. If the sky is clear, cooler air falls into the center of the field, lowering the temperature there an hour before the areas around the edge, which are buffered by large trees. During this change, all the smells become denser and richer. Evening swallows emerge and swirl above the scene as the sun sets in the cradle formed by two large trees at the west end of the field.